November twenty-third and still only some leaves are down — and those mostly because of the ferocious gale that blew through three weeks ago and knocked hardy Island trees around like boxers in a ring. There have been a couple of light killing frosts, but no hard freeze yet, leaving oaks and maples still covered in shades of red and flame orange more reminiscent of October. Rosemary, lavender and thyme dress the garden in shades of green and gray for the holiday. The beech trees that populate the North Shore so heavily form a coppery canopy that casts a golden glow in the late afternoon light. In front of the Gazette office in Edgartown the Betty Prior roses are having another bloom, their deep pink buds curled tightly against the white picket fence as if to ward off the oncoming chill.
These are the colors of November. Thanksgiving was yesterday. Over the river and through the woods there is still plenty of pie left to eat, not to mention stuffing and turkey and cranberry sauce for sandwiches — good fortification for the long winter that lies ahead. Indian summer has refused to quit this year, and all dire prognostications about global warming aside, no one seems too unhappy about it. Mild days have smiled on off-season hikers, beach walkers, golfers and the many Islanders who earn their living outdoors. Bay scallopers are eking out a decent living so far, at least on the down-Island ponds. One old-time Islander recalled the axiom in his family more than fifty years ago: no scallops, no Christmas.
So the season begins.
Thanksgiving on the Vineyard has its own many traditions, from skeet shooting at the Rod and Gun Club in Edgartown to family walks at Menemsha Hills in Chilmark to shopping at the Artisans Festival in West Tisbury.
It is also a time of distinct transition. Many summer residents return to their homes for family gatherings, spilling out onto the streets to shop and eat bowls of steaming chowder in the same cafes that just a few months ago were favorite haunts for iced tea and cold salads. They dress up the Island a bit, these cheerful interlopers, with their city coats and chic boots and uptown chatter. On the newstands stacks of New York Times (and of course Gazettes) sell out as if it were August. And we appreciate their business as the year 2007 enters the home stretch.
Because after this weekend most of the summer homes will be shuttered until Easter.
And year-round Islanders — especially those who work enough hours all summer to fill an entire twelve months — will settle down for a long winter of peaceful solitude and reconnecting with the quiet side of the community. This is a time of rest and renewal, a time to read, go to the movies or lunch with old friends, stack firewood, practice the piano and make homemade tortellini with butternut squash from Whippoorwill Farm. High school seniors are chewing their fingernails over college applications. The Island Community Chorus is rehearsing for its December concert. Kindergartners are learning about the Red Stocking Fund, the Vineyard’s own secret Santa that provides for underprivileged children at Christmastime. Volunteers are stocking the Island Food Pantry — another unsung gift for the needy, who largely stay under the radar on this small Island. These volunteers are the Island’s angels.
The national economy is stuttering and what this means for the Vineyard remains uncertain. An overheated real estate market has begun to cool and discretionary spending is down. But that may be a positive trend for the Island, which has weathered many such economic cycles over the decades and still emerged with its sense of place intact. After all, the quality of life here has never been measured in terms of dollars.
And that is something to be thankful for.