Will Monast died at home in West Tisbury on Feb. 18, surrounded by his family. He was 67 and had been battling bladder cancer.

Husband, father, skilled carpenter, waterman, deejay and writer, Will had been writing a column for the Vineyard Gazette for the past three years. He had lived on Cuttyhunk for 25 years with his wife and four children before washing ashore on the Vineyard.

“Anyone who knew him could tell there was a past behind that classic Island carpenter exterior,” his daughter and youngest child Raine said. “Even his children knew little of his timeline or his innermost opinions on whatever turns life had taken. His writing brought those commentaries to the surface, and no man could describe his life better than himself. We decided to do just that: his life, his way.”

His own words follow, as excerpted from a few columns.

I began my life as an illegitimate child of an already married man and teenage girl hidden in a rural shack without running water with four siblings, followed by an orphanless orphanage filled with the unwanted, abused and angry children from the dying mill towns of eastern Massachusetts. I allow myself separation from that time of the grotesque because I was not abused or angry and probably not unwanted, just a victim of circumstance and not preprogrammed with the tools that would allow me to give up on life. My son said to me the other day, “Dad, you’re ageless but I’m sure you know that you’re crazy, don’t you?”

“Sure I do,” I replied. I’ve suspected as much and it’s true. Parts of me are stuck at different times in my life, triggered by memories or traumas that stopped growth at a place in a life built on misconception and headed me in another direction like a bumper car at an amusement park or a blind man in an unfamiliar room. There was hope that I would find the right path when in reality they were all the only paths.

Between my ears I am still the seven-year-old boy walking up those January cold granite steps, the oldest, leading my sisters and brothers like the Judas goat with my paper bag of clothes and the words of my mother ringing in my ears: “This is your new home.” And I’m walking toward an old woman dressed like nothing I had ever seen before who is about to take control of my reality.

In all the years spent with those women the only advice or guidance ever given me was: “Walk with Jesus and He will guide you.”

While in my hermetically sealed world I did walk with Jesus for a time, but no matter how much I tried I could never get Him to talk to me. So I walked away from Jesus and stepped very much alone into an odyssey that will only end with my death and burial, still alone, in the northwest corner of my past, having been loved enough to at least be a memory.


There is an unwritten rule on Cuttyhunk which loosely summed up says that no one will give you any kind of work until you’ve endured an entire winter and come out the other side mentally intact. That’s the loosely interpreted part. There is, however, a way to make money if you have an address and are registered to vote, and that’s to dig quahaugs from a skiff with a bull rake. The pond is carpeted with quahaugs because nobody wants or needs to work that hard. Unless you’re a newbie and it’s January and you are out of money. Appropriately named, a bull rake is a steel basket about two feet wide with three-inch teeth on it to scrape the bottom at the end of a 20-foot telescoping aluminum pole. The idea is to row out into the pond, put your face and rail to the wind and pull that rake through the mud, eel grass and beer bottles with all your might, which if you’ve been sitting on your butt on a bar stool for a few years is probably barely enough. Then when the basket is full of mud, eel grass, beer bottles and hopefully clams, it’s pulled hand over hand and grunt over grunt back up to the skiff and dumped onto the culling board beside the digger. There the junk is separated from the shellfish, which are quickly put into saltwater-soaked burlap bags to retard freezing. The ritual is repeated day after day for three to five hours a day. Expressions come to mind like “every muscle in my body is screaming,” or “I hurt in places I didn’t know I had,” even “Maybe prison isn’t such a bad thing after all.”

Robbie chose to stay on the water and did so for the next three years. He had never felt so healthy, so strong, so in control of his life or so close to nature in all of its violence, power and beauty. He fell in love with the breathlessly silent late fall gray days broken only by the rush of air through the feathers of low-flying swans beginning the journey south. With the winter harbor seals dancing around the boat waiting for broken hard shells to fall to the bottom so they could dive down to get the meat as if it was a game they were playing. With the spring Canada geese coming to nest on the banks of the pond, eventually leading their fluffy little goslings, unafraid, out to eat the floating grasses that came up from the bottom in the rake. With summers when sailboats filled the pond sending him to seek refuge in Nashawena harbor and to fish, where once again he could be alone with his thoughts, something he had never known in his young life and had become addicted to. The thing we all need most.

He’s been to the edge, looked over and didn’t like what he saw. He’s looked in the mirror and not liked what he saw there, either.

Dropping rumors to get something ugly started has morphed into stopping and listening patiently and then moving on with a well-kept secret. Getting in touch with old friends and family has taken the place of whining about a childhood which may or may not have been painful. All childhoods are painful. Noticing the aromas of fresh tilled soil, ozone before a storm and children at play on the beach are Charlie’s new art and music.

Charlie knows that his future is not a sure thing and that he is being watched and respected for his courage and dignity. He sees himself as an example to others of how it should be done, no matter which way it goes. He taught his kids how to ride bikes and play baseball and to treat people with respect. Now he’ll teach them to deal with pain, and, if necessary, he’ll teach them how to die with dignity and gratitude for the lives they were allowed to live on the island.

Will is survived by his wife Leslei and their four children, Calixte Monast and his wife Sarah Dewolf of Philadelphia, Pa., Sarah Monast and her husband Elton Nascimento of Vineyard Haven, Beau Monast of Boston and Raine Monast of San Ramon, Calif.; sisters Beverly Anderson and Sheila Davis; and brothers Clifford Camara and Stephen Camara, who all shared in the memories and adventures explored in his writings.

A private family memorial is planned for the spring.