Guided Tour of Martha's Vineyard
We climbed down stairs to a rocky beach where once, long ago, Menemsha’s brickworks stood; you’ll still find bricks scattered among the beach stones. Needless to say, the beach isn’t your typical sandy strand, but with a boogie board, you could get into the water here, then lay yourself out on a boulder to dry like a seal.
We ate apples and peanuts, let the water spray our faces, smiled at two other people sharing a seat on a boulder. Then we headed back up the stairs through incoming fog, back through the enchanted forest, and home to tell our families about our magical day, right in our own backyard, hidden in plain sight from everyone else.
Finding Your Inner Robinson Crusoe on a Long Chappy Walk
Thomas Hart Benton, the famous American regionalist artist, spent his summers painting at a simple beach house in Chilmark. He once said that when he stood at the edge of the sand cliffs, surveying the south shore of Martha’s Vineyard stretching out on either side of him, it was like “standing on the edge of a big cereal bowl.”
The far eastern edge of the bowl would be Chappaquiddick Island, which until a few years ago was connected to Martha’s Vineyard by a spit of sand at Norton Point just wide enough to drive (at low tide), and wide enough to walk–meaning, you could have walked, if you’d wanted to, the entire cereal-bowl south shore of Martha’s Vineyard, from Gay Head (Aquinnah) in the west to Wasque Point on Chappy,a distance of about 19 miles.
When I see miles of empty beach (in August!), I just want to walk it, pretending I’m Robinson Crusoe (or his wife). Without, of course, getting arrested for trespassing, or worse–socked in the jaw by a landowner. That happened here on the island, as one native opted to walk on celebrity sand. Although the walker was below the high-tide line (which would have protected him in most other states under the “Public Trust Doctrine”), he wasn’t in compliance with Massachusetts law. Under a Colonial-era ordinance, property owners are protected all the way to the low-tide line, with certain exceptions: The public still has rights to “fishing, fowling, and navigation” activities (but not strolling). Still, getting socked seems an extreme consequence of his transgression. But unlike many other New England beach walks, Chappy’s Atlantic-facing East Beach, from Wasque up to Cape Poge Light, won’t get you punched by a movie star, as it’s mostly owned by the Trustees of Reservations as a wildlife refuge.
My friend Kate has walked the entire perimeter of Chappy in a single (19-hour) day. So it was Kate whom I called last August to walk East Beach with me, from Dike Bridge up to Cape Poge Light, which has been in this spot since 1893. We’d loop around the lighthouse, then back via Cape Poge Bay–a round trip of about seven miles.
We started at around 8:30 a.m., straight up the sandy beach, intending to be out of the sun by high noonish. It was a perfect August day: blue skies, the sun kissing lazy waves. After a mile or so, you start to sharpen your gaze–seeing slighter differences in the tracks ahead in the sand, changes in the ocean’s current and in the direction of the light breeze; you see past sailboats and ocean vistas to tiny flowers blooming amid the beach grass. I felt as though we were the only people in the world, and we were–at least for as far as we could see up and down East Beach.
For a while, then, our chatting stopped, and I listened only to my feet, the waves, the quiet. I was wondering when we’d get to our turnaround point when we spotted the top of the lighthouse above scrub oaks ahead. There we met a guy who’d been sailing up the Eastern Seaboard, visiting lighthouses. He’d anchored in the bay and walked up along Chappy’s interior, pondside shore, home to one of the state’s most plentiful scallop harvests, and the route we’d take back to Dike Bridge.
After a rest, we walked past Drunkard’s Cove, where, legend has it, Prohibition rumrunners delivered their goods. Early morning had become busy midday, and we passed kayakers and families spreading out blankets and chairs. Finally, we saw the Dike Bridge shack in the distance, and vowed to make this trek an annual one.
A seven-mile walk is perfect for a visit with a friend–the talking helps the walking and the walking helps the talking. We figured out answers to kid dilemmas and traded work advice. By the end of seven miles, my friend Kate had become my good friend Kate.
We brushed the sand off our shoes, splashed water on our faces, walked over Dike Bridge, and then drove to the ferry and headed into Edgartown for beer and fried calamari. We’d earned it.