An edited selection from Gazette nature editorials in the past year.
Winter tiptoed in this year, like a teen who stayed out too late and was careful to not wake a sleeping household.
Now January settles over the Vineyard, act one of the real winter season. And the rhythms of life change. Friends invite friends for cozy dinners and conversation. Over steaming beef stews and glasses of red wine, they catch up on children grown and otherwise, the holidays just past, winter plans that lie ahead.
There is reading to do, library lectures to attend, winter walks to take on conservation properties. There was too much leaf raking and not enough scalloping this fall. Winter oystering remains a prospect.
Minute by minute, there is more daylight. The wind off the water has turned bitter, inviting turned up collars, hats pulled low over ears and thick mittens.
Cold rain, mud and more rain. That’s been the story of the winter so far on the Vineyard, where stubbornly mild temperatures have kept winter whites at bay, leaving gray days to stretch on.
But already there are tiny harbingers of a new season. This week snowdrops bloomed beneath a white picket fence in Edgartown, while the rain splashed down.
There is new birdsong in the early mornings. The storm-tossed ocean has washed the beaches clean, depositing a rich wrackline of kelp and eelgrass studded with shells and tiny stones.
Will there be sea glass next summer? A distant grandson wonders.
The natural world is somehow unaltered by the pandemic, cheering us on unconditionally with its steady presence like the old friend who called the other day.
Sunny daffodils are making a brave stand in the raw, chilly air as March turns to April. Forsythia — so beautiful and ubiquitous on Martha’s Vineyard, where it can be found in wild tangles and tamed hedges — is just coming into bloom.
Lilacs are in bud, streams and herring runs are full and rushing.
At the old farmhouse there’s fresh laundry on the line, stirring memories of another life when children were little and the line was hung with cloth diapers. The Vineyard was much quieter then, with fewer ferries in winter, and people subsisting on the land and the sea, living on small farms and homesteads.
The Island feels a little like that other place these days.
The late July wildflowers have been stunted by the lack of rain, but however muted, their seasonal succession remains a timetable we can count on: bright blue chicory, Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed Susans, orange butterfly weed. In the tinder-dry fields, tiny butterflies flit among the scant flowers searching for nectar. Baby swallows swoop about, testing their wings on their first solo flights, sometime coming in for crash landings.
Afternoon flood tides have been perfect for swimming. The clear, salty waters of Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds are dotted with sailboats, fishing boats and recreational watercraft of every description. It’s almost as if there was a national declaration: this is a summer to be on the water.
On a perfect summer day on Martha’s Vineyard, it is possible to forget — at least briefly — the tenuous state we are in.
Derby fishermen dot the shorelines from Lobsterville to Chappaquiddick, silhouetted in the early morning and late afternoon light. Bay scalloping days are just beginning. There has been no killing frost yet, but after a summerlong drought, already leaves are falling by the rakeful, littering lawns and driveways.
New England asters and goldenrod are scant this year, another casualty of the drought. A friend wondered the other day about sea lavender — once seen in such abundance in the marshlands that ring coastal ponds around the Island — but not for some time.
Leaves are down, frost has settled over Island fields and gardens, mostly put to bed now for the winter, but mild weather has lingered.
Consider it a gift from nature in this fraught year of the pandemic. Islanders who have been isolating for months have relished the extra time outdoors in the Vineyard’s unspoiled natural world for long walks, late-season swimming, kayaking, gardening, early bay scalloping — and of course fishing.
Early this week there were thunderstorms and a brief tornado warning as a quick-moving storm flashed across the Vineyard Sound.
Next week December begins. A final page turns in the 2020 calendar.
There is more dark winter ahead, but in the distance we can see a little light.