Last week I did one last run through of my family’s house on Sengekontacket Pond. I took in the view from my bedroom window, made sure the outdoor shower door was properly latched, ran my hand against the remaining lavender and crumpled a few buds between my fingertips. A few cherry tomatoes still lingered and I popped them in my mouth, promptly bursting golden seeds down my white blouse.

Typical and timely, I thought.

I was hitching a ride with a friend to the boat and she waited in my driveway. We were on a 1:15 p.m. ferry from Oak Bluffs, that time of day during the fall when the sun bounces off everything. I held back the tears until halfway down County Road, hiding them behind my sunglasses, then let it all out as we made our way through town. We were off to a friend’s wedding in New Hampshire. She would come back to the Vineyard and I would go on to New York.

My friend Mark recently summed it up nicely for me.

“You have your friends there, and you have your friends here,” he said. “You can have it all.”

I have lived on the Vineyard full time for more than four years now, a summer kid my entire life until a summer internship at the Gazette charted a new path for me that I wouldn’t trade for the world. A lifelong New York city girl in the country? I gave myself a year, two tops, and then I was out of here. No chance would I be able to live out the winters with a small group of friends and a handful of bars and restaurants to keep us occupied.

I’m still discovering how wrong I was four years ago. I return to New York a person I didn’t see coming.

During my time here, I’ve learned that the gifts of living in a small town go beyond leaving your front doors wide open and the car keys on the dashboard. That sense of security is matched with a sense of freedom, even if it is restrained to 80 square miles. How can somewhere so small make you feel larger than life?

The greatest gift of living in a small town, I’ve found, is the restoration and growth of your sense of self. It is a sense of self in the emotional, physical, maybe even metaphysical kind of way of knowing that you belong somewhere.

Living on the Vineyard was the first time I felt comfortable being all of me. Not just city girl or the country girl, the quiet girl or opinionated girl. I could be all of those things. And damn did it feel good.

My largest fear in leaving is losing this feeling. That somehow everything I’ve done here to become who I am today will melt away and I will become someone I don’t want to be. But I start my next chapter fortified with salt and ink in my veins and the Island close to my heart.

As a reporter you have the chance to meet people from all walks of life and become an expert on a variety of random topics. But in a small town your subjects are your neighbors, too, and I learned to respect that but also acquire a thick skin. I remember an email I received a year ago about “ruffling some feathers on the Crick” over an article I wrote. My editors always had my back, a gift and a privilege.

I’ve always found myself to be in tune with the seasons, but never more so than living on the Vineyard. The seasons grip you by the collar and hold fast. The exhale of fall, the routines of winter, the trickery of a New England spring and the anticipation of summer and the thrust of the high season.

The Vineyard will always be home and I’ll be back frequently. Last week on the ferry I bundled up and sat on the deck the entire ride, with the sun overhead and wind and salt air in my face. It was so clear out I could see the Gay Head Light in the distance.