Waking Up On An Island

I am always awake early and I love the quiet from around five to six in the morning. Early one day this summer, on the island of Cuttyhunk, I jotted down a few notes.

Looking east up the Elizabeth Island chain, the sunrise over Nashawena was a reddish and pink line extending sideways in both directions peeking out below a fairly solid cloud cover. In the distance the silhouette of Nashawena’s high hillside shore was awash in the sun’s reflection on rolling and breaking waves, mist and haze. The clouds above the line of dawn light graduated from pink to white, then grey and mackerel with a few holes showing blue sky overhead.

Vineyard Sound was very calm for Vineyard Sound, Cuttyhunk Harbor was perfectly still, and Buzzards Bay was very flat also. The only boat moving was the dark outline of a fishing boat making its way up Vineyard Sound a few miles off shore.
The only constant sound was that of small waves surfing over rocks and up the shore and then washing and tumbling small stones over each other and back down the beach. Then, in the distance a tall-masted sail boat exited the harbor with ghostly quiet progress, passing close by the red bell buoy marking the channel. The boat’s wake rocked the bell buoy and the resounding clang echoed over all the surrounding still waters.

Looking southeast in the early morning light I could still see the Gay Head Lighthouse flashing on Martha’s Vineyard, about seven or eight miles away. High on the cliffs the light alternates red and white, red and white. To the left, the coastline of the Vineyard drops down to meet the sea at the entrance to Menemsha Harbor and fishing village, with its seemingly endless tidal coves, ponds, and creeks. Looking to the right of Martha’s Vineyard, just south of the Gay Head Lighthouse, the island of No Man’s Land is visible on the horizon. This tiny island has its own fascinating history of fishermen, explorers, and pirates.

Meanwhile, back here on Cuttyhunk, folks are beginning to stir. Comprising a Rockwellean sort of village image, the mostly modest, mostly summer, homes all with decks and porches are sprinkled from the shore up the hill, all facing the water. On the road along the shore an early dog walker startles and scares away a deer. A few minutes later a couple out for a walk linger by the wild blackberry bushes; they chat and help themselves to a snack. The houses all seem quiet, very few people up and about. In almost perfect unison, all the sailboats in the harbor gently turn on their moorings and point into a slight, but developing southwesternly breeze.

Soon my wife Judy will be awake and we will walk up to the Cuttyhunk Bass Fishing Club Bed and Breakfast. Just a few minutes away, this charmingly historic (late 1800’s) establishment serves delicious breakfasts on its open air porch, perched high on a bluff overlooking Vineyard Sound. The surf is constantly rushing and rumbling on the rocks along the shore below the bluff. Lawn chars invite guests to savor the scene. A little later, we will walk the shore out to the Canapitsit Channel, collecting beach glass with Judy’s best friend, Sam, our black Labrador.

I know that today, Max, our thirteen-year-old is taking the boat and a few friends over to Menemsha on Martha’s Vineyard. We do need to be careful to keep an eye on the weather, but Max is a very competent skipper. Joshua, our sixteen-year-old, is working for the MV Cuttyhunk, the ferry back and forth to the island from New Bedford. Being a Saturday, there are two runs, making for a long day in the summer sun. When not working, Josh will take the boat the length of Buzzards Bay and pick up one or more fiends in Marion. Josh also is a very competent skipper.

Never a dull moment on Cuttyhunk. But my favorite time of day will always be dawn. A friend once suggested to me that “the ability to sleep late is a sign of a clean conscience.”

My best,
Brian Shortsleeve, President & Publisher

What I Got for Father’s Day

When asked what I wanted for Father’s Day, I said, “Thank you, but I really don’t need anything.” I don’t have room in my closet for another shirt. Of course, my wife Judy loves to suggest we make room in the closet by throwing away my favorite old clothes. Our sons, Josh and Max, agree with Judy on the subject.
So I said, “I know what I want. Let’s all spend one afternoon together hanging the lobster trap buoys back up on the boathouse where they belong.” Judy liked the idea, but the boys looked at me as if I were about as much fun as a barrel of monkeys.

Our collection of lobster trap buoys had been sitting in a heap since they were removed in order to paint the outside of the boathouse. We call it the boathouse because that is where we store our life jackets, anchor lines, boat soap, flairs, whistles, horns, you name it. The “Lady Carline” life saving ring, from our former motor-sailer, hangs prominently on the back wall.

We have called the lobster trap markers, “beach treasures,” ever since Josh and Max have been old enough to walk the beach and help find them. For years family vacations regularly included beach walks on Cuttyhunk and shoreline searches of nearby islands in a small motor skiff. Right after a storm was always the best time for collecting. How fondly I recall the peopleless, rock-strewn shorelines with the constant rushing and crushing sounds of the surf. We would respond with delight to come across a lobster trap buoy, not tied to a trap, and yet in good enough shape to be worth bringing home. We were heedless, heartfelt, and headstrong.
Technically speaking, existing regulations indicated that any wash-a-shore or otherwise found fishing gear should be left alone, in hopes the original owner might find it. I say, “What are the chances of that happening?” Well, in fact, one lobsterman I met a few years back told me he had seen our boathouse collection from his boat and that I had one of his buoys hanging up there. Knowing the regulations, I immediately offered to return it to him if he would tell me which one it was. He said, “Oh, no thanks, I like seeing my buoy hanging in your collection.”

To me the lobster trap buoys represent more than fond memories of family times at the shore. They are symbols of Cape Cod’s proud sea-faring heritage. They remind me of the hard working men and women who have fished and shell-fished New England waters for centuries, that we might enjoy the bounty of the sea. I have done just enough lobstering to appreciate the work involved. I feel that if I am lucky enough to live by the water, it is appropriate to pay this symbolic respect to the Cape’s seafaring way of life.

So, we did spend the afternoon on Father’s Day, just the four of us, hanging our beach treasures all around the boathouse. It was a fun-loving project, after which Joshua photographed the boathouse for me. As the boys get older, now 13 and 16, family time becomes ever more precious.

Also, I did receive a few small gifts for Father’s Day. I am hard to shop for, but they know I enjoy books of quips and quotes. So they found one for me entitled Are You A Miserable Old Bastard? Thus far, I am enjoying reading it. Tells me something.

My Best,

P.S. “The memories we collect and give
brighten our lives as long as we live.” -Unknown

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