Summertime always brings into strong relief my good fortune. From mid-June to the end of July, we move our household from Jamaica Plain, one of the neighborhoods that comprise the city of Boston, to the relative rural calm of our Summer home in Martha's Vineyard. It used to be that I would concentrate three weeks of my vacation and then commute the weekends for another three weeks, while my wife, a college professor, would stay with my son & settle into an unbroken summer routine of beach and woods. Nowadays, being on my own and not beholden to any employer's schedule, I get to choose when to go back and visit my clients. It makes for a long day trip, but the journey is almost a meditation; it is well worth it to be able to come back in time to have a late supper with my family.
These trips are as close as I get to seeing the dawn, catching the Martha’s Vineyard from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole, a trip to the bustle of the mainland. It is curious how quickly one becomes accustomed to the slow rhythm of the island, the indolence of long summer days that stretch out endlessly and are over so quickly. The boat is unusually quiet, it being the first sailing on a Tuesday. The weather being fair this morning, I am sitting topside in the back of the boat, sheltered from the wind by the bridge, the sun slanting pale yellow and faint rose against the empty white benches. There is still a wisp of morning fog in the distance quickly burning off as the sun warms the air. Next to me, three salty old men talk engines and boats in the easy camaraderie of men that work with their hands, practical men with thick Massachusetts accents doubtlessly commuting to day jobs in Falmouth. As the power comes on, we glide silently amongst the boats that already begin to choke the inner harbor inside the breakwaters. The captain gallantly skips sounding the horn in order to spare the town from a rude awakening. I like the first boat.
Just as we round the West Chop light, the Island Home passes us on its way into Vineyard Haven. New as of this year, it replaced the beloved Islander, the steadiest boat in the Steamship Authority fleet, usually the last craft to put to port in a storm & often times the only link between the island and the mainland. Made from scrap submarines in the late forties, it has now come full circle to scrap after racking up millions of miles seven miles at a time. The Island Home, painted in the sober black & white colors of the Authority, has quickly become part of the fabric of the Vineyard, though the inside smacks of mall and multiplex theatre with its blue-lit concession stand and fabric clad seats as opposed to the utilitarian & vaguely military accoutrements of the galley & benches in the older boats.
This is already the second leg of my journey, having started at the head of the dead end dirt road that is our home here, on the first morning bus from Edgartown to Vineyard Haven. Once we dock in Woods Hole, I will have a much longer bus ride into the heart of Boston. The boat rounds the bend into Woods Hole harbor in between softly clanging buoys, skipping across the choppy riptide that is so hard for new boaters, who often have to be bailed out by the Coast Guard. This is the first jarring maneuver of the trip and a portent of the small shocks to come.
In the evening, waiting for the seven thirty boat to come in, the dock area is fairly deserted. The boat arrives so silently that it is suddenly there in front of me, looming geometrically monochrome in the fading sunlight, a sharp cut of the clear, pale blue sky above it, a Steamship employee the only splash of color as he surveys the girls amongst the waiting passengers from a large open hatch on the side. The boat disgorges a river of day trippers that quickly get absorbed by the waiting shuttle buses. We file in, a random assortment of islanders & summer people, returning after a day on the mainland, interspersed with vacationers taking advantage of the relative calm of midweek. The sun is almost at the same height over the opposite horizon as this morning & the same salt haze hangs over the shore and more thickly over the uninhabited islets at the mouth of the harbor. The wind has picked up from this morning, or at least it feels so after the oppressive heat of downtown Boston. In any case, it promises to be a cold crossing and only the hardy and romantic will stay on deck. I plan to be one of them.
The ship shudders as we cast off, emitting a single forlorn note off its horn as a goodbye. Shortly after, the purser comes on the PA with the announcement that some luxury car in the vehicle deck, set off by the motion of the boat, is now plaintively calling for the return of its owner; a common occurrence. Everybody looks around to see who is the poor neophyte that has neglected to turn off their car alarm.
The gulls cavort in the lee of the ship attentive to a potential handout from the passengers while perfectly matching their speed to the boat's. Ringed by the salt haze, now heavy, the sun casts a crepuscular light on the dappled water. The boat is almost empty and as I expected, many have sought refuge inside or have simply wandered off to get a beer from the galley, which they can now serve as we are no longer subject to the liquor laws onshore. Those that remain, if alone, are contemplative & if in company speak in muted voices. The beauty of the afternoon & the perfect calm & peace of the ocean is a quotidian miracle that inspires quiet, even in the children on deck.
We cross the Sankaty, an open cargo boat, riding high on it’s way to Woods Hole with empty eighteen wheelers on deck. The sun turns deeper crimson as it seems to recede off the bow. Clouds so thin as to have been invisible in the surrounding haze, are now brought into sharp relief as the sun sets behind them. This being the seven thirty in season, we will be the last boat into Oak Bluffs, passing by West and East Chop on our way. We dock in a balletic turn on the Sound, being too broad of beam and deep of draft to enter the harbor proper. As we turn, the sun sets behind East Chop. I am home.