There are a lot of aspects of Island living that aren’t initially apparent to the short-term visitor, or for that matter to the summer resident. I thought I’d explain some of the differences that I have experienced over the 35 some odd years I have lived here year-round and possibly help them acclimate.

Most frustrating for me is the speed of conveyance. It’s strange that speeds on some of the most beautiful Island roads are way out of control. Take Middle Road in Chilmark. I often ride my bike on it and am bewildered. It’s such a nice drive I wonder why anyone would want to rush it. I understand that people need to get to work and being on time tends to be a motivator. But rushing is not part of the Island zeitgeist.

Actually, in the shingling world staying on the job isn’t either. I can’t count how many times I have been on the job and one of the crew started packing up at ten or eleven in the morning.

“Hey, what’s up?” I might ask.

“Dude, surf’s up, big swell at Squibby!”

“Okay, see ya.”

The laid-back atmosphere that goes with Island living seems to be eroding. There are reasons why we tend to be laid back. First of all, what is the rush? Driving fast just gets you back to where you are that much quicker.

There is also a sort of tradition which may come from the seafarers that are the ancestors of many Islanders, the art of the gam, relaxed chatting about nothing in particular. This can happen anywhere: coffee shops, the post office, by the side of the road, even in the middle of the road. Seeing another Islander that you haven’t run into for a while offers the opportunity to catch up with a neighbor. I have had the experience on my bike where I recognize someone coming towards me, walking or driving, and we both stop to check in with each other. Sometimes the road is a bit blocked by this happening. A vehicle passes by, the horn sounds, the driver’s voice rises with antipathy, and I yell back, “What’s the problem, I’m talking with Phyllis!”

Here we are all neighbors. And that doesn’t have much to do with house-to-house proximity. It has more to do with time. As I mentioned I have resided here for a long while and as a result I have a cadre of friends and associates numbering in the hundreds that I have known for much of that time. The associations we have are based on experience, good and bad. Weddings, memorial services, kids and work, among others. We pass information to each other, sometimes during the gam sessions.

“Did you hear about Bill?” comes the question.

“Yes, I talked to his wife, I hope it works out.”

“Yeah, it’s a tough one, but we’re putting on a potluck jam benefit.”

“That’s great, let me know when and where, I’ll pass it on.”

I have found being a good neighbor is about being engaged with one another, and that is what being an Islander is all about. It’s not a ‘Me’ place. It can’t be. What happens if the boats stop for days or if your car dies in the middle of State Road? Most likely a neighbor, even someone you don’t yet know, will stop to help, looking for nothing in return but for you to pay it forward. I get the sense that people on the mainland are getting more and more isolated. The act of going next door for a cup of sugar may be met with disdain or worse. Here you may be let in the house and offered a cup of tea.

There used to be a sort of tradition that to become a real year-rounder, other than being born in Oak Bluffs, one had to live in Aquinnah by themselves for a winter, proving you had what it takes to really isolate. Living in the quiet of year-round helps you notice other neighbors that are vital to our community. They are the flora and fauna that grace our place. You notice the crows that you thought were transient have been living on your property for generations. You notice the turkey herd isn’t just passing through your back yard but heading to their traditional roosting spot. Early one morning you may hear the chattering, jazz-like rambling of a catbird in the wild blueberry bush that you notice for the first time. Then you remember that there was a catbird there last year too. Then you realize that it is the same catbird, not just a casual visitor.

If you sit long enough you realize as well that these other creatures show each other respect. I doubt you ever hear a crow who gets cut off by a chickadee at some tree intersection call out “A-hole!” a term I heard three times the other day when I was shingling in Vineyard Haven next to the intersection of State and Edgartown Roads.

While driving slower, you also begin to recognize other neighbors everywhere: the oxen on Middle Road who are clearly in no hurry to do anything; the turkeys who stop traffic daily on Music street; and the weird old timer on the electric bike in the middle of the road, talking to an elderly friend, who quips when a driver who passes quickly by shouts a profanity, “Geez Phyllis what did you do to piss that guy off?”

Joe Keenan is a roofer, baker and musician living in West Tisbury.