Ghosts in the Woods

From the Vineyard Gazette editions of May, 1958:

Now in the woods of the Vineyard and along the old time roadsides the spirit of spring appears, which means that the wild pear is blooming. It’s like seeing ghosts in the daytime to glance through the still-bare oak woodland at those pale apparitions of the new season in vestments of white bloom. All at once they emerge, and it is hard to realize that the wild pear trees, or shrubs, have been there all the time, so many of them, waiting for the tryst, the one perfect moment.

This is the moment, and this the utter perfection that every now and then marks the original and unsubverted landscape of our enchanted Island. This moment hangs in the air like sunshine, and lingers, and impresses itself upon the memory, so that a year from now we shall go forth with expectation to behold May and the wild pear.

So far as we know, the name wild pear is another of those Vineyard christenings, like pinkletink and beetlebung, though this time the origin is obscure. Perhaps our ancestors thought the blossoming trees were rather like pears, and it may be that they are, though not enough to suggest more than a mildly poetic identification. Certainly the fruit is nothing like the pear. On the mainland people prefer the name shadbush, and Islanders use the name too. Other popular names are serviceberry, June-tree, sugarberry, sugarplum, sugarpear, Indian cherry, wild Indian pear, May pear, June plum and boxwood.

Whatever name, the wild pear of the Vineyard is the ghost of springs past, the spirit of spring present, and forecast of springs to come. Its apparitions light up the empty woods to joyous companionship.

A large whale close in to the beach provided entertainment for a number of observers at the Webquobsket Cliffs, Chilmark on Sunday. Stuart A. Bangs of Vineyard Haven, who was among the observers, was impressed by the size of the whale, which, from his description, might have been between eighty and ninety feet long. Fish-eating whales and other marine mammals are frequently seen alongshore at this time of year, attracted by the herring schools.

Night Patrolman Victor Danberg’s answer to the regular Friday morning question from the Gazette — ”Did you have anything unusual last night?” — came loud and clear this morning: “I had the moon and the stars.” Truly, that was the big story of this drizzly, damp, soggy week.

Today’s magnificence caps a period in which it can be safely said that all rainfall records for the Vineyard were broken so far in 1958.

Everyone knows Lobsterville, the struggling little camp colony that lies along the Gay Head shore in the big, sickle-shaped bend of Menemmsha Bight, as it curves up toward the promontory which is crowned by Gay Head Lighthouse.

The whole is a survival of the little shantytown village of past generations when fishermen and their families lived along this shore, making it their base for the work on traps and pots during the summer months. Their stay was far from being a vacation for either the men or their wives, yet it was looked forward to with the keenest anticipation, and life at Lobsterville, while not as luxurious as today, nor as idle as that of the present summer colony, yet was highly sociable.

Dogfish Bar lies, a slightly curving shoal, parallel to the beach at this point. Between the bar and the beach is deep water, but the stretch is narrow. Storm winds from almost any direction will drive the sea in toward the beach, and it will break, in thunderous, foam-crowned breakers on the bar. But inside of this barrier, the sea never reaches a great height, and it was here that the boats were moored.

How many of these boats there might have been cannot be remembered, only that they lay in a long row, one after another. If a heavy storm threatened, they were hauled up along the beach, on boat ladders, with all the dories and sharpies drawn up in between. It was a pleasant scene in that time when the line of boats bordered the limits of the “front yard” of the little village even as a picket fence might serve the same purpose on an Island highway. And like picket fences, the boats were white-painted and clean. But the little houses were usually not painted, their shingles turning brown or gray in the weather.

Through the action of unprecedented storms the village was literally wiped out. The hurricanes came and changed everything. Think fondly of the strong and sunburned men who used to work on that beach years ago, and the ambitious and warm-hearted wives and mothers who summered in the little shacks up the dunes.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner

library@mvgazette.com