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Authors: Philip R. Craig

A Shoot on Martha's Vineyard

BOOK: A Shoot on Martha's Vineyard
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A SHOOT ON MARTHA'S VINEYARD

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For the Nereid who lives with me on her island: my wife, Shirley

“Twain are the gates of shadowy dreams,

The one is made of horn, the other of ivory;

Such dreams as pass the portals of ivory

Are deceitful, and bear tidings that are unfulfilled.

But the dreams that pass through the gate of horn

Bring true issue to whoever of mortals beholds them.”

—P
ENELOPE to
O
DYSSEUS
The Odyssey

— 1 —

There have always been pirates on Martha's Vineyard. Some came ashore in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with cutlasses and pistols; others are arriving right now with briefcases and California smiles. There's not a whisker of moral difference between them.

Zee and I first heard about Hollywood's latest plans for the Vineyard in early June. According to rumor, first noted in the
Martha's Vineyard Times
and later rather breathlessly reported in the
Gazette,
it was to be a film about a modern treasure hunt for ancient pirate gold buried on the island.

The movie makers were to do the filming in September, which Zee and I agreed was probably a good idea since, aside from the occasional hurricane that finds its way to New England in September, fall is often the loveliest time of the island year. Not only have most summer people returned home so their children can go back to school, but the weather is good, the water is still warm, and the bluefish are coming back.

From the wide-eyed tones of local reporters, we gathered that the producers, directors, and stars of the film were famous folk, but since Zee and I rarely went to the movies, they were unknown to us.

We actually liked movies, but it took really good ones to get us to go to island theaters, where every showing was an adventure due to ancient projection equipment and cost cutting by the theater owners.

If the managers remembered to turn the houselights on before the showing of the film, they often forgot to turn
them off after the movie started. Screens routinely went black at key moments and stayed black while audiences hooted and stamped and, to their credit, laughed. Sound and image would fail to correspond. Whole reels were out of focus or occasionally omitted entirely. Sometimes there was only one projectionist for the two theaters in Oak Bluffs, and he left one audience waiting while he got things going across the street, then rushed back to start the other movie, and continued to run back and forth all evening, changing reels or doing whatever it is those guys are supposed to do up there in the projection booth.

Island residents who are seriously interested in movies sometimes go over to America so they can see them in real theaters. But other people love the island theaters precisely because they are what they are. For them, the shabbiness, the broken seats, soggy popcorn, and the projection mishaps are part of the entertainment, the theater being a sort of stage on which they themselves are players, and as much a part of the island's summer ambiance as are the golden beaches, the sun, the trees and gardens, and the harbors full of sailboats.

It was only when we felt slightly wacky that Zee and I were willing to shell out the required dollars to sit in sticky seats and participate in the living theater of Vineyard cinema. If we really wanted to see a movie, we rented one, usually an elderly one, and watched it on the television that had come to the house when Zee moved in.

“Part of my dowry,” she had explained. “Like the cellular phone.”

The cellular phone had been kept in her little Jeep when she'd been single, but was now in my Land Cruiser, since that was the vehicle we usually drove on the beach. I had never used it, and didn't plan to, but it was there “just in case.”

I'd never had a television in the house before we got married, but was glad to have this one since we could now watch an occasional Red Sox game without driving all the
way to Boston. I built a shelf on the wall for the television set and its accompanying VCR, and that became our movie theater if we really wanted one.

So it was that we were both notably ignorant of the famous names that were mentioned in the press, and it was August before we met any of them.

“They're going to hire local people for bit parts and extras,” said Zee, her nose in the
Times.
"That should be fun. If we see the movie, we can look for the people we know.”

It would not be the first movie to be made on Martha's Vineyard. The most notable earlier one was a famous fishy thriller that, decades before, had kept a lot of shark-fearing people out of the water for at least one summer, and had entertained hundreds of islanders, who were less interested in the great white villain of the film than in spotting Uncle George as part of the background crowd, or little Petie and Sally on the beach with the other extras.
So cute! And now they're all grown up! Time flies!

“They'll definitely want to hire you,” I said. Zee was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.

“And you, too,” said Zee. “And Joshua, for sure.”

We looked at Joshua, who looked back with his big eyes. He and Zee were star material without a doubt.

“Immortal fame and wealth beyond our wildest dreams will be ours at last,” I said.

Zee nodded. “And about time, too.”

Joshua agreed, and no doubt Oliver Underfoot and Velcro, the two cats, would have too, had they been asked.

Joshua, having arrived on the Vineyard in May, was an alimentary canal with lungs. His face reminded me of a cross between Edward G. Robinson's and Winston Churchill's, but he was a generally cheerful fellow with a winning smile, and we were delighted to have him in our house. An award winner, for sure.

And Zee, who had toted him around single-handed all winter before delivering him into the outer world, was
lovelier than ever, as many women are after they produce their offspring. With her deep, dark eyes and her long blue-black hair, she was Gaea, earth goddess, mother of at least one potential Titan, sleek as an otter, graceful as a panther.

“Setting fame and fortune aside for the moment,” she now said, “and paying attention to more important things, such as the new tide tables, I note that if we leave right now, we can fetch Wasque Point just in time to fish the last two hours of the west tide.

“What do you say?”

“Done.”

For reasons known only to Neptune, the bluefish, which normally would be visiting Nova Scotia in late August, were, instead, still here in Vineyard waters, delighting the island fisherpeople, of whom we were two.

I put down my living room book and went out to load fishing gear into my faithful, rusty, old Land Cruiser. Rods on the roof rack, tackle boxes and fish box in the back, drinks in a cooler, and a quick check to see if our car books were there just in case the bluefish didn't show up. I also put in Joshua's stuff: a car seat, his homemade beach chair so he could watch his parents fish and learn a few tricks of the trade (you can't start too young), an umbrella so he wouldn't burn his delicate skin, and my personally designed baby pack, good for carrying him on my back or my chest, depending on how I rigged it up, in case I decided to tote him down the beach while I fished.

By the time this was done, Zee had the diapers, lotions, bottles, and other Joshua gear together, and had slipped into her shorts and a shirt she knotted over her once-again-flat belly, and had her hair done up in the blue bandanna she liked to wear when she was fishing.

I ogled her. “Maybe we should send Josh on ahead and the two of us can sort of linger here for a while. We can catch up with him later.”

“He's too young to drive alone,” said Zee, lifting him off her hip and buckling him into the car seat. “Besides,
you know how it is when you give your kid the keys. He goes to some girl's house and shows off, and the first thing you know, the cops are calling your house telling you to come down and pick him up at the jail because he tried to use a fake ID to buy beer.”

We drove out our sandy driveway to the highway, took a left, and went into Edgartown. The A & P-Al's Package Store traffic jam, perhaps the island's worst, thanks entirely to people making left-hand turns off and onto the main road, was only half bad since it was still fairly early in the morning, and we were soon past and, headed out of town toward Katama. There, at the end of the pavement, we turned east and drove over the sands toward Chappy.

The Norton's Point barrier beach hooking Chappaquid-dick to the rest of the island was once again open to off road vehicle traffic, after having been closed since Memorial Day on the orders of Lawrence Ingalls, a state biologist for the state's Department of Environmental Protection. Ingalls was the object of both loathing and adoration by many islanders for closing the beach during plover nesting and fledging season.

Now that the chicks had finally flown, ORVs could once again ply the sands as in the good old pre-Ingalls days, so trucks filled with fisherpeople, picnickers, bathers, and shellfishers were ranging to the far corners of the beach, where their drivers and passengers could, in late August, pursue their traditional pleasures.

As we drove along the beach, we could see Edgartown far away through the narrows of Katama Pond to our north. To our south, the waves of the Atlantic rolled in from countless uninterrupted miles and crashed on the yellow-white sands. We saw oystercatchers, terns, gulls, ospreys and snowy egrets, and pointed them out to Joshua, whose Vineyard bird lore was scant since he hadn't been on the island for long.

The closing of the beach was a hot and heavy issue on the Vineyard, with ardent moralists on both sides of the
argument, as might be expected. I should know, for I was one of them, myself.

On one side, my side, were the drivers of off-road vehicles, who, like their parents and grandparents, had always driven over the sands to the Vineyard's fabled but far-away fishing, shellfishing, and picnicking spots, and who saw no reason why they shouldn't keep on doing it. On the other side were people who saw themselves as environmentalists, as protectors of a fragile ecology, and as defenders of threatened species such as the innocent piping plover, the Vineyard's equivalent of the snail darter.

Never the twain did meet, and for the many summers of what some still thought of as the Plover Wars, the environmentalists carried the day, led by Lawrence Ingalls, who, as far as the many members of the losing side were concerned, was, as was each of his supporters, an irrational bleep.

The environmentalists' principal reason for closing the beach was their belief that ORVs were destroying the habitat of the plovers and thus needed to be banned during the birds' nesting and fledgling seasons. The state biologist accordingly interpreted DEP regulations to mean that no vehicle could drive within a hundred yards of any plover nest during these crucial weeks. And since the Norton's Point barrier beach was only a couple of hundred yards wide at the point where one plover pair happened to have established a nest, the whole beach was closed to traffic for June, July, and most of August, the very months when most over-sand drivers used it.

The drivers saw themselves as lovers of birds and the beach, and resented being considered the enemies of plovers. They reminded anyone who would listen that only one plover had been killed by an ORV in the year before the beach was closed, and that one had also been killed the year after it was closed, by a truck driven by one of the beach's hired plover protectors; they argued that the plover eggs and fledglings that had been destroyed
during the years when the beach had been open to traffic had been done in not by trucks but by skunks, gulls, and other natural plover predators; they considered Lawrence Ingalls to be a fool and a totalitarian bureaucrat, and spoke his name with loathing for having deprived them of their traditional joys for no reason other than ideological whim.

BOOK: A Shoot on Martha's Vineyard
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