Guided Tour of Martha's Vineyard
Making Memories Around Oak Bluffs
I’ve been walking the same route in Oak Bluffs for 18 years, since my son was born.
I’d push him in a stroller for a couple of blocks alongside my little salt pond, out to a long stretch of wide sidewalk overlooking the town beach, Nantucket Sound, and Cape Cod beyond. At the ferry dock in summer, local kids would shout to arriving visitors, “Throw a coin! Throw a coin!” and we’d watch the kids dive for pennies, quarters, nickels, glinting as they fell through the cerulean sea to the sandy-bottom shallows. Then we’d walk up over North Bluff, where on hot summer evenings, locals would park their cars with their slices of Giordano’s pizza and watch the boats come into the harbor. Around we’d go, past the Island Queen docked for its run to Falmouth, and on to the boardwalk ringing the harbor.
Then we’d turn onto the quieter streets of East Chop–no sidewalks, but no real need for them. We’d pass the “East Chop Yacht Club,” actually a weathered old garage and some small sailboats, where I pictured my sandy-haired boy manning a little Sunfish some day. (That didn’t turn out to be true, but he did become an epic walker.)
When his sister was born two years later, I put them in a double stroller and kept walking my route, which had now officially become our family route. I’d call out reports: Ferries coming in! Fishing boats are back! Seagulls all over Ocean Park! People setting up the fireworks! One time I commented on how the sky had gotten stormy, and my son, then 4, said, “Well, no more Mr. Nice Sky!” I still smile at that every time I turn the corner onto East Chop Drive.
At East Chop Light, I’d turn around and work my way back toward town, through the Methodist camp-meeting grounds crammed with little cottages shaped like praying hands: silent as cloistered nuns in winter, but in summer, doors thrown open, neighbors talking across the few feet separating their porches. Then back out to Circuit Avenue, through a tangle of pocket parks, and home, playing a game with my daughter, where she’d point her fat little finger in a direction, and I’d go that way, until often we were walking in circles, which didn’t matter–we’d eventually get home.
It was (and still is) the perfect walk, with great variety, especially from late spring to early fall, when there are lots of people around. In a single three-mile loop, you’ll smell unsullied sea air and the aroma of fried clams and pizza; hear boozy laughter at Nancy’s on the harbor, and the shouts of kids drowning out the calliope music at the Flying Horses Carousel. Even in the long months of winter, when it’s gray-same and cold winds whip off the sound and all that variety has left on a boat, I love this walk.
At the end of the day, it’s the sameness, the repetition, that I love the most. The scenery and variety–all-consuming to someone new–are often backdrops, not requiring much of me or, back then, my kids. So we could talk and pretend and imagine, my mind wandering along with my feet. All those walks, and I never got bored. I can’t imagine I ever will.
Through an Enchanted Forest in the Menemsha Hills
For years, we had to break the law to walk Menemsha Hills. This Trustees of Reservations property was marooned: open to Vineyard Sound on the shore, but no-trespassing signs on private land making it inaccessible from the road. Going there in the spring or fall, we rarely saw another soul and joked that we’d gladly risk jail time for this spectacular walk.
Since then, nearby landowners have donated easements; walking Menemsha Hills will no longer make you a criminal. Which meant that when I planned a walk last summer with my sister-in-law and niece, I was afraid we might be just a few among a crowd.
Happily, we were one of only four cars in the parking lot and saw only a few other walkers. It’s just big enough (211 acres) and lush enough (lots of tall trees) to hide anyone who might be there, and just long enough (three-plus miles) to deter short-strollers.
Thousands of years of glacier activity bulldozed its way through what’s now Vineyard Sound, endowing the north shore with multiple ecosystems. It’s the contrasts in Menemsha Hills that make it one of my favorite walking trails: wetlands to dry dune grass; sea level to high peaks (high for the Vineyard, that is); dark, close forest to bright, wide-open horizon.
My niece ran skipping along sandy paths crowded by pitch pine, under maples, beeches, and oaks, and up the slope of Prospect Hill (the island’s second highest peak, at a towering 308 feet). Then down we followed her into a bosky dell, where she sat for a while in the crook of a spooky gnarled tree, dangling her legs above a fern glade that might have made us think we were in New Zealand. We rounded a bend and out into the light we came, up a rise to a bluff overlooking hills of goldenrod and beach plums, rolling down to the sea, where in the distance, the Elizabeth Islands lay out in a line.
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