Day Hike

Katama – Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, 8+ miles

When I got up and stuck my head out the window yesterday, it promised to be a perfect summer day — dry, warm but not too hot, breezy, perfectly clear. I spent most of the morning talking with my aunt and uncle (I’ve been staying with them for the past three days), and then told them I was going to take a good long walk. Uncle Bob gave me a map, showed me some possible routes, and I set off about 11:30.

It really was turning out to be a perfect summer day, the kind of day that energizes you. Except that on my second day of vacation, I wasn’t feeling very energetic. The grind of work had worn me down more than I had admitted to myself. For the first hour, I walked without paying attention to much except the bike trail in front of me. I did notice some invasive exotic plants: several big stands of Japanese Knotweed, and lots of Spotted Knapweed in full bloom along the bike trail. I also noticed huge poison ivy plants, some of which were bushes three and four feet high.

When I got to the business district of Edgartown, 3 miles and 50 minutes later, I bought a newspaper and went in to the Main St. Diner, which was the least pretentious restaurant I could find. The waitress, who looked to be in her late teens, brought me a menu, and looked at my newspaper. “The New York Times,” she said approvingly. “I read that paper.” I told her that I thought it was a pretty good paper, and thought to myself that that was a curious thing for a waitress to say.

After I finished lunch, I wandered around Edgartown, looking at the houses, and looking at the people. I had some pretty good people-watching. You could tell when a tour bus stopped in town, because suddenly the narrow sidewalks were full of people who all looked somehow the same and who all wore name badges around their necks. You could tell the upper class summer people because even I could tell that their clothes were far more expensive than mine. (That evening, Uncle Bob said he bet there weren’t any actual residents of Edgartown walking around that day, and I suspect he’s correct. The yards and driveways of all the houses were just about empty.)

I finally wound up down at the main pier in Edgartown Harbor, reading my newspaper, and now and looking up to watch the two little ferries go to and fro between Chappaquidick Island and the pier. Then it was time to start walking again. Instead of walking straight back via Katama Road, I headed off along Clevelandtown Road, and continued walking along some side streets, winding around towards Katama Airport.

It was not an inspiring walk. The few modest houses left on Martha’s Vineyard are disappearing one by one, either bulldozed so that a mansionette (or sometimes a real mansion) can be put up in the same spot, or renovated beyond all recognition. It’s not unusual to see a 3,000 or 4,000 square foot house going up. It’s no longer enough to have a dirt driveway, or one of crushed shell — the latest fad appears to be driveways paved with peastone, and lined with expensive paving blocks or curbstones. The more pretentious houses boast emerald green lawns with full irrigation systems, huge three car garages, and waist-high stone walls made from stones that have obviously been brought in from off-island. I saw one elaborate stone wall that included an enclosure about twenty feet square for the vegetable garden, with some tomato plants barely poking their crowns above the stone.

I could have been walking through and upper class or upper-middle class neighborhood in any one of dozens of wealthy towns around Boston or north of New York City. Was I in Weston, Darien, or Westchester County? I couldn’t be sure, except for the huge poison ivy plants along the side of the road. I would have thought that if you go away for the summer, you’d want to go some place that doesn’t look like home. Maybe if you see the poison ivy, you know that you’re on Martha’s Vineyard.

At last I made it to Katama Airport, a small airport with grass airstrips and no air traffic control. Both the airport and the adjacent farm are on town-owned conservation land. Mid-afternoon is when raptors like to hunt, so I walked down the dirt road between the farm and the airport looking at the sky. Sure enough, in the distance I saw a hawk gliding low over the tops of the grass and scrub. It was a female Northern Harrier hunting. She dropped down onto something a couple of times, but I never saw her catch anything. Once, a group of Red-winged Blackbirds mobbed her, pestering her until she flew away from their territories. Once she roosted for a minute or two on top of a tall bush, and then flew on again, her head going this way and that as she searched the ground below her for prey. I stood watching her for maybe half an hour, and all other thoughts left my mind.