Prickly Thistles

From Gazette editions of September, 1985:

The transition into the school season brings a big change into the lives of students across the Island each September, and the youngest sometimes feel this most poignantly. Mary Jacobson, principal of the Chilmark School, had a story to share this week about a first grader.

Little Lev Wlodyka went to the school telephone at 10:15 Monday morning and called home.

When his mother, Betty Wlodyka, answered, Lev had a message: “You can come get me now,” he declared. “I’ve had enough.”

West Tisbury shellfish constable Raymond Houle wears many hats. But at age 87, he has decided to take one off and hang it up for good. After 20 years patrolling Pear Tree Cove, Muddy Cove, Spaulding Point, Deep Bottom Cove, Short Cove, Manter Point and Tiah’s Cove, Mr. Houle will retire as shellfish constable with a singular record: he has never once written a citation.

But then West Tisbury can be a pretty quiet town when it comes to shellfishing. The principal fishery centers on oysters in the Tisbury Great Pond, once the most productive pond for oysters on the Vineyard, with numerous coves and open water. Mr. Houle remembers the early days when there were two oyster companies on the pond. John Whiting ran an oyster business in Chilmark and John Mayhew owned one in West Tisbury.

By the time he took the position of shellfish constable, the bountiful harvest was in a period of steep decline.

Mr. Houle says that for the most part shellfishermen do not violate the rules, outside of the occasional out-of-town recreational fisherman who takes oysters without a permit. The Houle approach avoids the need for a citation: “I make them put them back,” he says.

When he took over the job, fishermen weighed their oysters as they left the pond. The rules set a 70-pound weight limit on each bushel, with a three-bushel daily limit for commercial fishermen. He says he saw quite a few attempted gimmicks and tricks over the years, with fishermen hiding extra oysters in the bow of their boats or under the culling board. “I know they tried to do it for years.”

Mr. Houle holds the deep conviction that the states should take a hard look at the fisheries. People have to care about the resource, he says.

Vineyard Haven businessmen, town officials and hundreds of ordinary citizens are lining up to stall the effort to recall Tisbury selectman Suzan Custer.

While members of the Tisbury Business Association (TBA) urged townspeople this week to let the recall process die for lack of signatures, an informal group led by the chairman of the town library trustees collected signatures on an unofficial petition deploring the way the recall proponents set the machinery in motion. And Mrs. Custer conferred with a lawyer about ways to change the town recall law to force critics of elected officials to publicly state specific reasons for seeking a recall.

“I would urge everyone who is confronted with a recall petition to question the protesters,” TBA spokesman Gino Montessi said yesterday, “and if they offer no foundation for the charges, don’t sign the petition.

“I wore out a lot of shoe leather trying to get the TBA together. The efforts that we are making in trying to create more cooperation between the town and the business community are hurt by the recall petition. The best thing to do is to let this die.”

Two weeks ago, six registered voters signed and submitted to the town clerk an affidavit demanding a special recall election. Since then the signers have either refused to comment on it, were back in college or on vacation or could not be reached for comment for nearly two weeks.

So far none of the signers have openly faced Mrs. Custer with specific instances to back their charges that she deliberaately interferred with the proper administration of town government.

Now that September is here, it is nearing the end of the season of thistles. Throughout the summer they can be found, prickly and purple, here and there along down-Island roadsides and in up-Island pastures. They are a favorite of the goldfinch, as well as all of Scottish ancestry. It was the prickly thistle that saved Scotland from conquest by the Danes centuries ago, legend has it. The invaders, barefooted to assure they would not be given away by the squeaking of their boots, in the dark of night were crossing a field. One of them stepped on a thistle and cried out. And the Scots, roused by the outcry, put the invaders to rout.

Like the frugal Scots whose emblem it is, the thistle needs little to thrive on. Neither abundant water nor rich soil are prerequisites. It is hardy and simple, and adds a touch of color and history to ditches and fields.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner