The magazine you are holding in your hands is the Winter–Spring 2016–2017 issue. We call it that for a good reason: we haven’t thought of a better name for it. After all, half of the time winter here feels like spring, while half of spring can feel a little uncomfortably like winter. As for 2016–2017, we were tempted to just leave the 2016 off this year, so weary were we with the pleasures of living in this great republic during election season. But it would be unfair, we thought, to the jolliness of the holiday season on our semi-feudal, semi-one-party-state, semi-oligarchic, semi-anarchic, semi-mob-ruled, semi-Greek-republican Island to write those weeks off just because we ship the issue the day before the world off-Island counts up the votes and lurches onward. Or backward. Or sideways.
Until several years ago we called the last issue of the calendar year “Not Summer,” a name we liked well enough for its cleverness, but not as much for its implication that reality on the Island is strictly bifurcated between summer and everything else. Or worse, that there is nothing worth talking about in the off-season, other than where you might try to escape to for a couple of weeks come March.
The truth is that winter on the Island can be many things. Some of those things are indeed bleak and foggy enough to strike horror into the hearts of itinerate vacationers who ask their token year-round friends: “What do you do here all year?” It’s an obnoxious question, but not unique to the Vineyard. Californians and other suburbanites used to ask me a similar question during the long ago years I lived on the distant island of Manhattan: “I just don’t know how you can live in New York City,” they’d say, “it’s a great place to visit but...”
I thought then about there what I think now about here: “It’s hard to think of living anywhere else.”
The other question you hear with regularity from seasonal visitors goes something like this: “Oh, I’ve always wanted to try living on the Island for a year, what’s it like?” That question is not obnoxious, but that doesn’t make it any easier for your average “not summer” person to answer. And not just because the reflexive Br’er Rabbit protectiveness toward the briar patch favors discouraging further population growth. No, they ask and our happy memories of winters past tumble forward to those crisp, clear, bracing days walking deserted beaches. And those impossibly star-filled nights when the screech owls call through the woods to remind one another that they are alive and well, and there is a smell of woodsmoke in the air. Cross-country skis and ice skates come to mind, goofy community events, late-night subterranean Ping-Pong bacchanals.
And then eventually, inevitably, inescapably, and tragically the mind instinctively arrives at those fierce weeks before the first peeper sings.
“Make a plan for March,” we say. “It’s great, but whatever else you do, have a plan."