Finally, a proper snowfall! Friday was just lovely. In the afternoon we went for a walk along the John Presbury Norton Farm trail. As soon as we left the trailhead, we found ourselves in an exquisite silence. We might have been a hundred miles away from the road.

At home, I wondered who John Presbury Norton was. I found an article about him in the Dukes County Intelligencer from February 1989. Mr. Norton was a sixth-generation Islander living on Lambert’s Cove in 1830 when President Andrew Jackson appointed him collector of customs for the district of Edgartown. This was a huge job at the time, with hundreds of ships each month coming into the three ports of Edgartown, Tarpaulin Cove and Holmes Hole. Mr. Norton held onto his family farm in West Tisbury but the new position necessitated his move to a house on North Water street in Edgartown.

Unfortunately, his predecessor, Squire Thomas Cooke, was unwilling to cede his long-held position gracefully. He kept up a steady campaign against Mr. Norton throughout his tenure as Collector. Mr. Cooke wrote letter after letter to the treasury department, filled with his bitter observations about the goings-on at the island ports. He felt that Mr. Norton, in his dual roles as collector and lighthouse keeper, was stretched too thin.

After he lost his post as collector of customs, Mr. Norton became a justice of the peace and elected to remain at his house in Edgartown, where he was known to cut a fine figure. But from there, his life was sad: his son died at sea, and his daughter and wife died soon afterward. In the fullness of time, Norton was judged insane and a guardian was appointed to him; his remaining children squabbled over his estate in a lengthy court battle.

The trail with his name is a lovely place to walk, and thanks to Florence Kirn of the Dukes Country Intelligencer for bringing the man to life so vividly.

Side note: another of Mr. Norton’s duties during his collector days was to collect hospital dues from every seaman who entered the Island’s harbors. Shipmates with infectious diseases were not supposed to come ashore, or else they were supposed to quarantine in a remote location. It amuses me that the Islanders of the 1800s apparently had this figured out better than we do now.

The time has come for West Tisbury to select a new poet laureate. Our current town poet, Spencer Thurlow, has held the position since 2018. Mr. Thurlow grew up here, and what I like best about his poems is that they sound as though they come about over the course of days spent doing other work. Reading some poets, you feel as though they must walk around with a feather pen, mooning over metaphors at the beach. Spencer Thurlow doesn’t write like that. His poems feel like small stones he might have found in a field, just nice smooth shapes he stowed in a pocket and rubbed clean with his thumb before placing them on the windowsill at home.

If you know a poet who lives in West Tisbury and would like to help celebrate this craft in a public way over the next three years, you can submit a nomination to the box at the West Tisbury Library, or else email before Feb. 1. The new laureate will be announced on April 1 and, according to tradition, will read a poem at Town Meeting that month. More information is available on the library website.