Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Unwinding on Bucolic Martha's Vineyard

School years end in a flurry of activity that seems to represent the hustle and bustle of the entire year condensed and compressed into one week. Events, applause, meetings, smiles and tears all overflow, taxing my system to its limits. Once finished, therefore, it is time to call it a year by unwinding and relaxing in one of the calmest places I know: Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

After several solo trips that centered around cycling, Clay and I have visited the Vineyard four times, the first in 2006, a trip that immediately preceded our decision to marry and held the profound conversations that led to that decision. So, yes, the island holds a special place in my heart and I hope that those first memories we made together are never forgotten. Since then we have rented a small cottage, a larger home with a couple of old friends, both in Edgartown, and this year we stayed at The Beach Plum Inn at a whole different part of this island, Menemsha. You see, Martha's Vineyard is a small place and can essentially be seen by bike in a day, but it is an island of a handful of different towns, each holding its own appeal and style.

Edgartown is old-style Yankee, filled with with architecture to match, but modernized to welcome 21st c. tourists. Family-friendly with a busy "downtown" and marina, I never tire of walking the narrow streets of old, stately homes lined with pink tea roses in June. Shops, ice cream parlors, restaurants, and bars are omnipresent, as well as a bookstore, movie theater, and nearby ferry to still-famous Chappaquiddick.

Some favorite spots in Edgartown for us include dinner at the The Brick Cellar Bar downstairs at Atria, followed by - guess what -  at The Scoop Shack, and a visit to the shop of curiosities next door, Portobello Road, all easily accessible while walking around town. And it was in Edgartown in 1998 where I first heard The Vineyard Sound, a male a cappella group of college students. They were roaming the streets of Edgartown singing to drum up audiences, and each new year's cohort continues to this day, some 25 years after their inception. I have made a point to hear them on every visit, usually at a town church, and they never fail to remind me that life is good. Charm, humor, and talent all rolled into one, and a bunch of boys to men having an awfully good time.

The highlight of every trip has been to Menemsha Beach. Lobster rolls bought at Larsen's Fish Market, a carried bottle of wine (Menemsha and the surrounding area of Chilmark are dry towns), and beach chairs are all timed to combine dinner and the remarkable sunset. I enjoy this beach at any time of day and have proclaimed that it may be my favorite place on earth for its quiet simplicity that honors nature at its most beautiful. There have been obligatory selfies at this spot every year as we talk and laugh through an evening of utter peace and joy.

This year we stayed right near Menemsha Beach and it was a good move for us. More remote (referred to as "Up-Island") is our preference, and since we go just a week of two before the season fires up on July 1, we enjoyed a deep relaxation with a chance to reconnect with nature and with each other. The Beach Plum Inn provided us with close-by housing, and we enjoyed a room there with a screened-in porch, allowing for good reading at all times of day with a spectacular view, to boot. The Inn also provided us with beach passes to some of the island's most beautiful spots. Be sure to check out Lucy Vincent Beach and Squibnocket Beach, both offering magnificent vistas, waves and, again, quiet, at least in June.

Dining choices are fewer at this end of the island but, no worries, we managed. We enjoyed our traditional lobster rolls, as well as dining at the upscale Chilmark Tavern while celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary, The Bite for clam rolls, and making several stops at The Chilmark General Store as well as 7A Foods, both great spots for take-away breakfast and lunch. (Clay tells me that the egg sandwich on a fresh biscuit at 7A is incomparable!)

There are always local events, too, including flea markets and art shows, and we hit up the Strawberry Festival at the Congregational Church in West Tisbury; after all, it was June!

No story of Martha's Vineyard would be complete without mentioning Oak Bluffs, another "major" town, the one with gingerbread houses and a long, rich history that, no doubt, helped attract the Clintons and the Obamas, alike. With a ferry station here, there are constant comings and goings with all the attending tourist traps and activities for children. That said, it holds some of our favorite dining spots, most notably Red Cat Kitchen for dinner and Back Door Donuts for dessert. The former is truly fine dining in a casual setting, but save room for the latter  -- a must stop, open only post 7 p.m. for what are easily the best donuts (try the apple fritters) I have every had.

It should be obvious that we ate well, bracketing each day filled with long vistas of farmlands and coastline, sunshine and greenery (both in short supply at home!), and time to absorb the scenery and good people that this island offers. Everyone drives slowly, there are only a few traffic lights on the whole island, and a fisherman's lifestyle pervades. I hope to annually "touch-base" here for a long time to come.

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