Not Very Vineyard

There is a lot that’s Very Vineyard, and it’s all over the map.

I was wandering around Cronig’s Market the other day, looking for organic produce I could afford, when I overheard something that made me stop and think. Did she really say, “Not Very Vineyard?”

What could “Not Very Vineyard” mean?

In the first place, is there something that’s “Vineyard” or “Very Vineyard”?

Disclaimer: I was born off-island, came here in 1970, and so I am not a Vineyard native. My parents didn’t come here or bring me here as a child, so I really am a come-lately on the island. However, I have lived here, on and off, for the past 40-some years, and I have lived most of my life winterspringsummerandfall right here. So I feel a right to have my own sense of what may be Very Vineyard.

There’s the character of the houses in the down island towns – Vineyard Haven’s New England village look, the Oak Bluffs fairytale gingerbread, the Edgartown wedding cake white clapboard topped by a widow’s walk.

Or moving up island, the rolling stretches of green trees and pastures, the farmhouses and farm animals, the sunlight and moody shadows right out of an Allen Whiting canvas.

The funky chic of Chilmark, the salty nostalgia of the Menemsha docks, the windswept austerity of the Gay Head cliffs, I mean the beautiful varicolored Aquene cliffs, the strong brow of Noepe.

There is a lot that’s Very Vineyard, and it’s all over the map. Fishing on the Menemsha jetty, off the North Shore or out on Dogfish Bar. Fried clams at the Bite or the Quarterdeck. Waiting in line on the sidewalk with summer families at Giordano’s Restaurant or at the Capawack in Vineyard Haven for a movie, maybe a Jaws retrospective, or in your car to catch the ferry back from Wasque. Sunday concerts in Ocean Park or the fireworks celebrations in OB and Edgartown. Illumination Night and the West Tisbury Agricultural Fair. Skinnydipping at Ice House in the moonlight or at Lucy Vincent in broad daylight. Dancing at Nectar’s to a reggae band or to a DJ at the Island House or the Dive Bar, or at the Ritz to the island’s own Johnny Hoy or Mike Benjamin. Or grooving up on the Shanty roof to Philly D. Chillin’ at the Pitstop to the rising tide of Vineyard talent, Nina, Willy, and dozens more.

Remember the McDonald’s debacle back in 1979? If you weren’t here back then, you probably would be amazed at the instant eruption of opposition to the Golden Arches. It was such a landmark event that the New York Times recalled it eight years later. Clearly McDonalds was Not Very Vineyard. The Dairy Queen or “the DQ,” as she is locally known, was grandmothered in.

Since then a lot has changed.

Now we have mega-mansions sprouting up like amanita muscaria after a rain, and not just on the Chappy shores. They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere!  Ok, masons and carpenters and plumbers and electricians have to work to live, but I have heard of some nouveau Vineyarders spending more on hardware for their windows and doors than I spent on my first house.

And how do we feed these privileged many who flock here in the summer? $39 entrees and $25 apps in the chic boitesbistros and other bastions of haute cuisine that lately have crowded out the cozy family-style eateries of an earlier day. I guess that’s good for the waiters and the bartenders, the bar backs and dishwashers, mostly summer kids of those same privileged many who also flock here for the summer between semesters.

Shiny new cars like Maseratis, Lamborghinis and custom cars I don’t even know the names of have been spotted up island and on the Chappy ferry. Used to be a beat-up station wagon with rusty bumpers was de rigueur for the island. Just perfect for rattling easily along a gullied country road to the beach in Chilmark.

Which brings me to Oak Bluffs and the annual “Monster Shark Tournament,” held this year the third weekend in July.

There are at least two sides to this triangle: The Humane Society, which opposes it, the Boston Big Game Fishing Club which sponsors it -- and the merchants of Oak Bluffs, who may not like it, but know that the Shark Tournament brings a cool two million bucks into the town over that weekend.

Now I like fishing and have enjoyed it all my life. The Martha’s Vineyard Bass and Bluefish Derby is one the most Very Vineyard events. This place screeches to a virtual halt during the Derby. Nobody sleeps, and the latest record catch is on everybody’s lips. Good stuff!

I will grant you that big game fishing is a challenging and exciting sport. I’ve fished the Gulf Stream, off Kona, and in the Gulf of California. There is nothing quite like hooking a big fish and then having it for dinner later that night. I’ve eaten marlin (not all that good) and shark (to me, a little dry) and tuna (used to be the very best), but really most big game fishing is not about eating, it’s about the trophy. Or the money.

I know the Shark Tournament donates shark meat to the Food Pantry, but big fish isn’t all that healthy as a food anymore because of the high levels of mercury, especially in big sharks. Methylmercury contamination causes neurological damage. That’s really not a good thing.

Meanwhile, the global shark population has declined by 90% over the past 40 years and one fifth of the 550 shark species are now threatened with extinction.

Did I mention Jaws?

I guess that’s why they call the Shark Tournament “Monster”. We all remember the terror that Bruce wreaked on the island town of Amity and how Quint, Hooper and Brody set out to kill the shark on the good ship Orca. Dum dum dum dum.

Three weeks after the shark-killing festival, Oak Bluffs will be the host to the Very Vineyard blowout celebration for the Universal Studios centennial, featuring the movie Jaws. This event will feature shark conservation experts and will sponsor a shark art and poetry contest for children. Children’s poetry is about as far as you can get from the bloody carcasses hanging on the Oak Bluffs docks.

So I guess Jaws is rebranding itself and just in the nick of time because, really, the Monster Shark Tournament is, to my way of thinking, Not Very Vineyard.

Still I know there are other opinions out there, and I am open to hearing them, too. Please do not hesitate to comment if you disagree, but please be nice about it.

Oh, and if you think I missed something else that’s either Very Vineyard or Not So, please let me know.


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Sarah Page Kyrcz July 29, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Seeing Bill Murray cheering on his very own Very Vineyard Martha's Vineyard Sharks your column came to mind. We all know it is Not, Never Very Vineyard to make a big deal of the "stars" amongst us. They, like the rest of us, are here to rest, relax and enjoy everything that is Very Vineyard!
Michael West July 29, 2012 at 10:34 PM
You have it exactly right, Sarah. Stars can be people, too, and cheering on their team, the wonderful Sharks, is a perfectly Very Vineyard thing to do.
Carolyn Murphy July 30, 2012 at 11:20 AM
Rushing to close down the house and racing to the ferry after promising never to let it happen again: Very Vineyard.
Michael West July 30, 2012 at 11:58 AM
Hurry back, Carolyn! That's Very Vineyard, too...
horsewiskers February 18, 2014 at 07:05 PM
I was one lucky lady to have visited your lovely island for a much too brief vacation last June and I came home with vivid memories of beauty and scents and emotions. Ever since, I have inhaled everything Martha's Vineyard...reading the paper, researching historical sites, and enjoying the blogs by islanders. This blog is brilliant, moving, heartfelt, and visual on every level. And humorous, as I never thought, being a visitor, that there was such a thing as Very Vineyard and Not Very Vineyard!! I left my car at home as I did not wish to add to the traffic and pollution. For the same reason I did not rent a dreaded moped and too lazy to rent a bike. I paid a few dollars and rode the shuttle bus all around the island. Stopped in a different town every day and wandered about exploring, visiting the shops, eateries, galleries, bookstores, etc., or enjoyed a beach or two, and was taken with the diversity on the island, the kindness and helpfulness of all whom I came into conversation with and the gentle vibe of the entire island. As a devoted horsewoman, the road to Aquinnah held many spots where I wished I could have stopped and at the least "talked horse" for a bit or at the best, ridden through the woods and fields and enjoyed a picnic lunch. After reading your blog, I wonder if visitors enjoying the benefits of a shuttle bus to get around is VMV or NVMV?! hahaha! I love your island and look forward to coming back, perhaps for a longer period of time, I still won't bring my car or rent a moped but I still want to visit my favorite places while not leaving more behind me than a simple cairn of stone in a private spot. And....since I read this, I understand you are a gifted author and I shall enjoy reading your books. Thank you!


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