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Letter from the Vineyard

July 19, 2022

Written July 9th

The past is not the present…

Photo courtesy of Paul Doherty

The morning has broken, Vineyard beautiful, a soft wind blowing, sun licking the waters at Oak Bluffs, where I wait for the first ferry of the day, going off island to attend a memorial service for Bill McCormick, the youngest of the McCormick siblings, with whom I grew up in Minneapolis, whose lives have threaded with mine for all the many years since then.

         Of late, I have found myself wrapping the beauty of the island around me as a protective cloak, as if it were my Cloak of Invisibility, not making me invisible but making the world outside invisible.

         One day, as I was prepping to leave for the bookstore, I was opening the windows to let in the day’s fresh air.  A doe was in my yard, she looked up and for some minutes we stared into each other’s eyes, as if seeking to understand the other.  Her dark brown eyes, luminescent in the morning light, will not be forgotten.

         Returning from errands in Vineyard Haven one day, I stopped at State Beach, spent a few minutes, watching the waves, the ocean immutable.

         Waking one morning in the pre-dawn hours, I lay in my bed and watched the black silhouettes of trees sway in the light wind against a pearl grey sky, until I drifted back into the arms of Morpheus.

The 4th of July parade in Edgartown was the longest and the loudest in my memory, albeit I have only seen a few. It was pure, unabashed Americana, bringing laughter to my lips.  Omar, who is working in the store, a Moroccan studying at the American University of Bulgaria, first time in America, stood on our porch, mouth agape at the small-town pageantry of fire trucks, marching bands, homemade floats, beautiful young people tossing candy at the crowd.

Tears edged my eyes as the special needs campers of Jabberwocky were pushed up Main Street in their wheelchairs. 

Tom Dresser, Vineyard historian, in his antique Jeep rolled by the store, two delighted youngsters in the back seat, waving madly at the crowds.  It was a day made for a Disney movie, bright, warm but not too warm, sun kissed, wind blessed.

         All this beauty has been my comfort as I view the world off island, seeming to grow in darkness by the day, punctuated by dire events, both natural and unnatural.

         The west is a tinderbox, forest fires have consumed New Mexico, wildfires and earthquakes beleaguer Afghanistan, beautiful Sydney drowns, Europe swelters, Spain burns, Ukraine’s war rages.  The list goes on – and on.

         A young man [so many young men] walked into a school in Uvalde, Texas, snuffed out the lives of 21 human beings, 19 children just beginning, while the police hesitated.

         Since then, there have been more mass shootings; last count I remember there have been over 250 this year, more than one a day.  

         Roe v Wade, has fallen, slain by the conservative Supreme Court.

         Every woman I know [and I admit I do not know anyone who is celebrating the fall of abortion] is in a kind of mourning, not just that abortion is gone as a legal right across the land but feeling gender equality has been more diminished. 

         In the weeks since I have last written, words feeling stopped since the horror of the Ukrainian war began, we have seen our last president, if not actively plotting a coup, attempting to disrupt the peaceful transition of power that has been a hallmark of our democracy, refusing to concede an election he clearly lost, to this day declaring it “the big lie.” 

         It is profoundly disturbing.  Trump’s mendacity is spectacular.

         The degree to which Republicans have embraced “the big lie” is beyond disturbing.  As a registered Republican, [something I did when I registered here as a voter, a socially liberal, fiscally conservative voter, a pre-Reagan kind of Republican, which is a very small minority within the Republican party] I watch with dismay at what is happening.  

Anyone who doesn’t support Trump and his “big lie” is a RINO, a Republican in Name Only whereas I, from my minority seat, think anyone who supports Trump is a RINO, having abandoned the principles of the Republican Party.

         This drift began with Reagan, as Republicans cozied up to Evangelical Christians to win elections.  Now it’s a party more than flirting with white/Christian nationalism, making brazen attempts to subvert elections.

         These things have made me fearful.  They have also made me more engaged.  

         It took forty years for the right to subvert the Republican party; it may take forty years to restore it.  

         Every journey begins with a first step.

Letter from the Vineyard 05 05 2022

May 5, 2022
Courtesy of Paul Doherty

Outside, grey descends, rain portending, after a sun filled, almost warm spring day.  The grey fits my mood; I am not cheerful these days.  Chopin plays often in the background of my life, soothing if melancholy, which seems right for these fraught times.  We need soothing and the times are melancholy, if not worse.

In an “egregious” leak, it appears the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, a decision with all kinds of potential repercussions.  Gay marriage could go, other things, too.  While shocked, I am not surprised.  One pundit on the right said something like:  the chaos that was Trump was worth it for this.  It was all about the judges for some.

The war in Ukraine rages, changing the global dynamic in ways unexpected on all fronts.  We are in uncharted territory.  There are echoes of Spain in the 1930’s though it is possible this time the Fascists won’t win but is it a prelude to WW III, or has it already started; we just slow in noticing

Zelensky, the comedian, has proven himself the most unexpected leader of the time, an inspiration, a terrible annoyance to Herr Putin, who did not expect Ukraine to have a backbone nor an army who could fight back or a population who felt fiercely enough about their nationality to resist.

Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, claims NATO is fighting a proxy way in Ukraine without acknowledging there would be no war if Russia had not invaded. He says nuclear war is possible though Russia does not want it. He wants us to know they can, they might, if they do not get what they want.

Poland, who has warmly welcomed Ukrainian refugees and supported Ukraine has had the Russian natural gas spigot turned off, as has Bulgaria, because they will not pay in rubles the given reason; their support for Ukraine the real one.  Russia is beginning to use its great tool, energy, against those who support their feisty object of desire.  I suspect it will not work out as well as Putin thinks.

And against the backdrop of the Ukrainian war with the specter of Roe v. Wade being overturned, I have allowed myself to acknowledge how effing mad I am at the Republican Party.  I want to be a Republican, in fact, I am registered as one though I’m not nor ever could be a Trump thumping Republican.  I am effing mad because the Republican party no longer bears a resemblance to what I once knew, respected. It will not be again, at least in my lifetime.  I’ve surrendered to its death.  The Republican Party began to desert people like me back in the Reagan days, when it began making deals with the Christian Right to wind its way to power.

I have, we all have, friends who were Republicans long before this current mess who have become supporters of Trump. I don’t understand it.  All these people, Trump, DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Greene, etc. are not Republicans as I understand Republicans.

The Republican Party of my father and my Uncle Joe, who was a father figure to me, is gone.

The Republicans of today have no resemblance to the Republican party I knew and which, somehow, I hoped would arise again once Trump was defeated. 

This “Republican Party” is dangerous, fascist, seeking to kill dialogue, stop everything they don’t agree with, kill free dialogue, repress books, freedom of expression, hurt me, an old gay man who thought we were moving into a better time and am now afraid, again, not so much for myself, sequestered as I am, mostly, on a liberal speck of land in the ocean, old, not too far from the grave, but for those who are young, who will be battered by these folks who want the country to continue to be run by old, white “Christian” men, who do not want to face the wretchedness that slavery has caused over the last four hundred years, who see nothing wrong in squishing anyone who is ‘other.’

After writing the above, I found this article in the Washington Post, echoing me, read it here.

We have not had this much income inequality since the Gilded Age.  It is more than worrisome.  We march toward the point when revolutions begin or dictators take control, or a Teddy Roosevelt arises, galvanizes a country, makes changes.

While I am absorbing these things, revelations abound of members of Congress and government who worked to keep Trump in power.  The malevolence and mendacity of January 6th grows.

I am concerned the fundamentals of our democracy are more threatened than they have been in my lifetime, perhaps in several lifetimes.

Let’s do something about it in November.

Letter from the Vineyard 30 March 2022 Let us do some thinking…

March 30, 2022

War in Ukraine” by tkachukphoto is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Letter from the Vineyard

March 30th, 2022

Let us do some thinking…

Upon waking, several times since I last wrote, I have looked out, found fog lilting through the still barren branches of trees in my yard, eerie, echoing English mysteries, morning island magic, the stuff of dreams, encouraging one to imagine, to settle into comforting thoughts while sipping morning coffee. It has been luscious.

         This past Monday, the day dawned clear, sparkling though deeply chilly, a bright Vineyard winter morn as Persephone works her way from the underworld to the surface.  

It was an easy day, store closed, a morning Zoom with a young friend in Mexico City, bringing internet to those who have never had it, contemplating marriage and fatherhood, a role Isaac will fill well.  It caused me a smile when we closed down the Zoom, thinking him a father.

         Lunch followed at the home of a friend, making wraps, talking, catching up on all the little things in between then and now.  

         One of the things we discussed was we’d both taken a break from the news for the last couple of days.  

         It’s bleak out there.

         The Russians are pummeling the Ukrainians and are being pummeled back by the country they invaded, winning the Academy Award for most plucky nation since Britain in World War II, which still had an Empire behind it. 

         Russian troops are using open channels for communications [because their encrypted devices aren’t working] which then are being jammed by Ukrainians who break in once in a while to tell the Russians to go home before they become fertilizer.  

Russian logistics seem broken, their soldiers dying, some deserting, knowing they can never go home, all of which creates fear Putin will pull out “strategic” nuclear weapons to break the log jam.  

         American evangelicals are saying Ukrainian events are the beginnings of the end times, which have been foretold so many times in my lifetime, I have lost count.  Though this is as scary as the Cuban missile crisis when my father had to calm down a very scared little boy who thought the world was about to end.  

         Because I remember what it was to be a scared little boy, Edgartown Books is collecting money for a literacy foundation in Poland which is providing books in Ukrainian for the approximately one million Ukrainian refugee children there.  

In 1962, books were a comfort to me; this seemed a very bookstore kind of thing for us to do.  If you want to give, click here. Let them know, please, it was Edgartown Books sent you their way.

         A Federal judge has said Trump “more likely than not” committed crimes in his efforts to overturn the election even as Trump continues to thump his chest at rallies, while declaring Putin “smart.” 

Logs handed over to the House Committee show a more than seven-hour gap in his phone logs on January 6th. I accept that about as much as I did Rose Mary Woods and her 18-minute gap in the Watergate tapes. 

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark…”

SCOTUS Judge Clarence Thomas’ wife encouraged Mark Meadows to fight to keep Trump in office, which has resulted in calls for him to recuse himself from anything to do with that day.

         Speaking of SCOTUS, the Senate hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson were an embarrassment for both parties, Republicans especially.  Josh Hawley, you have earned Big Daddy’s [“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”] award for mendacity.  

Lindsey Graham, when did you check your intelligence at the door?  

And Ted Cruz, fresh from having law enforcement called on him at a Montana airport [“Don’t you know who I am?”], has propelled Ibram X. Kendi’s book, “Anti-Racist Baby” back onto the bestseller’s list with his asking is a baby racist?

There are no kudos for the Democrats either, except, perhaps, Cory Booker, who acknowledged what a show it was.  And confirmations have been a show since Clarence Thomas.  Have we come full circle?

And, at the end of the day, it all circles back to Ukraine, where there is a real war with real human suffering, capturing our attention, reminding us of horror in a way nothing has, not Iraq, not Afghanistan, which should cause us to do some thinking.

See the photos:

War was not supposed to happen in Europe again like this…

Letter from the Vineyard March 1, 2022 Realizing what matters…

March 2, 2022

As I have been sitting here, contemplating the world, determined to begin writing a ‘letter’ though taking a while to find the way from thinking to putting fingers to the keyboard, dusk has become night.  In the background, Chopin plays on Alexa, a composer I find soothing, playing him much these days when the need for soothing is so high.

I’m home from a day of “book mongering,” as my godson Paul calls what I do, a day that was good, inventory time.

Last Wednesday night, I opened my laptop to start writing and didn’t; the world was pregnant with grim possibilities, realized the following morning when Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, justifying it with the most specious of reasons while warning the west if they defied him, he might rain nuclear hell on us.

Last night, I donated to Doctors Without Borders, a little more than I can really afford, because I know they are there, working to help.  Please do something, anything, to support Ukraine. It’s more important than a new sweater.

Out of this are coming stories, evoking memories of other moments of great bravery.  A Russian warship approached Snake Island, demanding its surrender.  The contingent of Ukrainian soldiers, a mere thirteen, responded, “Russian warship, go f**k yourself.”

Those words will resonate for a long, long time.

Zelensky, president of Ukraine, is a former comedian who played a president.  When offered evacuation by the US, he said, “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

These are stories that remind one of World War II, of England, when it was bleakest.

Germany, whose stance has been a bit wobbly, responded with a rush of military aid, upping the ante in the last few days, agreeing to increase its defense commitment to above what NATO requests, a first.

What is going on in Ukraine is a reminder that democracy is worth fighting for.  Ukraine is fighting for its right to be free from a man who is attempting to rebuild the Russian Empire, to wrest back what was once controlled by the USSR or by the Tsars.  He controls the news the way they did.  Nothing is said without his permission. 

Putin rules Russia with the iron fist of a Stalin or Alexander III.  And has their kind of ambitions for his country.  He seethes with resentment over the breakup of the USSR.  He sees Ukraine as Russia’s, which is a simplification of a long history of the country.  I suspect that’s the way he sees Poland, Latavia, Estonia, Lithuania.  He has warned Finland, a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire under the Tsars, not to think about joining NATO. 

Putin wants it all back.

We all thought we were beyond this but we’re not.

What also is frightening are people like Tucker Carlson, who, by the way, knows better but panders to the crowd, saying things like, well, what has Putin done to you?  He has been so outrageous one might wonder if he is on Putin’s dole.

Or how about former President Trump who calls Putin “smart” and “savvy,” encouraging his base to side with Putin in this conflict?  This is a sad, sad commentary, reflecting how far the Republican Party has strayed from its roots under the guidance of Trump.

There has always been a part of America which has yearned for dictatorial rule [reference the Madison Square Garden gathering in 1939 of the Bund, an American Nazi coalition].

Ukraine is reminding us, if we are willing to be reminded, of how important freedom is.  Ukraine is reminding the European Union it is fighting for their ideals.

As I send this, a forty-mile-long caravan of Russian military vehicles crawls toward Kyiv, while rocket attacks hit the city center. Kharkov is being shattered by Russian missiles.But the Ukrainians are fighting back with ferocity, shocking the Russians, driving Putin to distraction as his forces have failed to bulldoze over a country he thought would topple in a minute.

It hasn’t. 

Zelensky is the Churchill of the hour.

God’s speed, Ukraine.

I will do what I can to stand with you.

Letter from the Vineyard February 1st, 2022 Fresh fallen snow should remind…

February 1, 2022
If Edgartown Books is closed, it’s because Mathew can’t get out of his driveway…

Letter from the Vineyard

February 1st, 2022

Fresh fallen snow should remind…

            From my living room window, on the 29th, I looked out to trees, a clump of holly bushes, all dappled with white, the wind blowing the still falling snow horizontally to the window, some of my windows whited out by clinging snow; ten to twelve inches, at least, sat on the patio table. 

            A nor’easter, a bombogenesis, a storm for the books, roared onto the island during the night.  Before leaving the store on Friday evening, I left the sign above on the door in case it became the day it did become.  I didn’t attempt to leave my driveway.  From my vantage spot just out my door, it didn’t look like anyone attempted leaving their drives either – Hamblen Way was unmarked by vehicles.

            Gave me a day to cuddle into the house, do a load of laundry between power surges, listen to music when the internet was up and revel in silence when it was down, to have a couple of good phone conversations, read a couple of magazines, cook myself a simple meal, pull something from the freezer for dinner Sunday, do a little thinking, moments not often found when the world hasn’t stopped.

            The world hadn’t stopped anywhere but here, in my little corner of it, giving me a chance to catch up on it.

            Ukraine’s president urges the US to tamp down its war talk about Russia invading his country, while Russia is stockpiling blood near Ukraine’s border. It seems to me, Putin is attempting to reassemble the Tsarist Empire or the Soviet one, wanting everyone to know he is a big deal.

            Caused me to ponder why Xi, Putin and everyone who runs a country won’t start thinking less about territorial ambitions and more about human needs?  I know, I know…

            Boris Johnson is still Prime Minister.  Will he be by week’s end?  Let the betting pools begin. Oh, wait, they already have!

            While I watched the snow fall, my stomach did too, as there seems to be a new Omicron variant at play, more virulent than this one.  At my age, I suspect I’ll be wearing a mask until I meet my maker.  For those who take covid seriously, there is a sense of following on in the British tradition of “Keep Calm, Carry On,” with our N95 masks rather than gas masks.

            Anti-vaxxers are as virulent and vocal as they’ve been, which means quite virulent and very vocal.  Robert Kennedy, Jr.? Really.  Well, the performance of a parent isn’t always a good predictor of the behavior of a child.

            As I watched the snow swirl, I read it was expected Tom Brady would retire after 22 seasons.  Or not. While not a member of the cult of football, I am respectful he is one of the greatest athletes of our times. 

            Judge Breyer is retiring from the Supreme Court.  Let the games begin. 

            And while watching the snow swirl, fall, blow, accumulate, I thought of long-ago Minnesota winters. During one, my 7th grade year, in the weeks after my father had died, my friend of longest standing, Sarah, showed up at our backdoor one night, her brother John in tow, to get me out sledding.  It had been a hard day.  Sister Jeron, our Benedictine nun teacher, had whacked me with a Gregorian Hymnal for what I thought was no good reason during the school day. 

I can still see Sarah’s face in the storm door glass, white snow glistening outside, the silence of an evening after fresh fallen snow. We sledded my pain away.

Such was my Saturday night, filled with the silence of fresh fallen snow, my immediate world quieted by necessity while beyond this world, the madding crowds were doing their worldly work, mucking up the planet with wars, rumors of wars, politics and punditry, grift and greed, plundering, pillaging, literally, figuratively, flaunting the rules one has made [Boris?], spying, being spied upon, all the messy things humans do and who should be reminded not to do them when contemplating the perfect purity of fresh fallen snow.

Letter from the Vineyard January 10th, 2022 Huddled and cuddled…

January 10, 2022

Photo courtesy of Paul Doherty

Letter from the Vineyard, January 10, 2022

Huddled and cuddled…

The island is huddled down these January days, snow fell last Thursday, mixed with rain, made a mess of the day, stores didn’t open as shoppers weren’t shopping, though the bookstore was open for the five people who came in, looking for books and such.  

Covid cases are at an all-time high, more people reporting positive in the last month than in all the time since Covid began, right here in River City.

            The anniversary of January 6th is now in the rearview mirror.  I listened to President Biden when I went to the post office, staying in my car to listen.  My ears couldn’t believe what they were hearing – Biden denouncing Trump while never saying the name.  Good on you, Joe.  Good on you.

            Thank you for calling out your predecessor for his unprecedented actions.  His refusal to accept his defeat has tainted democracy at home and abroad.  

The storming of the Capitol will be remembered in the history books of the distant future as an important moment in the story of our country, a moment from which our country will move in one direction or another.

Here on the ground of the history being made we don’t know what direction it is going to take.  We are watching it unfold and it’s not looking terribly promising from where I am sitting.

Despite all those “audits” not one substantive shred of evidence of mass manipulation of votes has been found though we have discovered a couple of instances of voters in The Villages in Florida who double voted for Trump.

            How is it that Donald Trump, fodder for the tabloids, reality TV star [the proceeds from which, by the way, probably kept the House of Trump from falling in on itself] has managed to be the person to almost break American democracy?  That, in itself, says some not very good things about where we are.

            In the meantime, I am here, huddled and cuddled on the Vineyard, doing my best not to become a Covid statistic, writing with my laptop on my lap, sipping a martini and relishing the joys of island life.

            While I write I am listening to Big Band Jazz, the glow of my Christmas tree, soon to be gone, shines.  

It was not the Christmas I imagined as I had planned to be in D.C. with my nephew of choice, Kevin, his wife, and his mother, who is my oldest friend, her husband, etc.

            But I chickened out, looking at photos of Logan airport, which I would have had to traverse, was too much.  I canceled, hid out at home, alone, made a wonderful pot roast in my new Dutch oven [thank you Joe and Deb], watched some video, held the world at bay.

            It’s what we’re doing these days, holding the world at bay while attempting to live our lives, best we can.  I had a five-minute panic attack [thank you, God, only five minutes] over the holidays because every day I am in the store, interacting with people.  

            But then think of all the people in the medical profession, many of whom have reached a breaking point after two years of this.  Several friends in the medical profession vibrate with anger at the unvaccinated.  I understand. 

            Part of what our former president wrought.  And, apparently, can’t undo.  When he told a crowd at an event with Bill O’Reilly he had been vaccinated and boosted, they booed.  

My god, what a different story it would have been if Trump had acted presidential when Covid marched onto our shores.  But that is not what happened.  Instead, we have more recorded deaths than any other country on earth.

            And that, too, will be covered in those history books in the distant future when most of us will be distant memories, if remembered at all.  

In the meantime, in the lovely third act of my life, I run a bookstore in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard.  Not a bad third act at all.

Letter from the Vineyard 12 10 2021

December 13, 2021

Lusciously contemplating a winter of discontent…

A body of water with buildings along it

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The harbor at Vineyard Haven, 12 09 2021, photo by MJT

Letter from the Vineyard 12 09 2021

Lusciously contemplating a winter of discontent…

It has been a luscious day of getting errands run, a flu shot obtained, laundry picked up, a lazy brunch at the Little House Café on State Road, a haircut, returning to the smell of a pot roast slowly cooking in the Dutch Oven presented to me by my brother and sister-in-law as a house warming present, sitting on the living room sofa, lapping up back issues of the Vineyard Gazette and MV Times which had piled up while too busy doing other things.  A day away from the bookstore, well spent.

It has been a time since I’ve written a letter, a period filled with events, packed with passages.  It appears I am here, probably for the duration.  The housewarming present was triggered by my purchase of a home on the Vineyard, not too far from the bookstore, especially in the off-season months [we’ll see how navigating the Triangle goes come summer].  It is a Vineyard Saltbox, two bedrooms, two baths, an office, a basement, a great room that hosts the living room, dining, and kitchen areas, a loft space destined to hold my books, nestled back from a little dirt road, hidden a bit from the world – I can look out my windows, see no one else.  Outside the front window is a holly bush, the largest I recall.  I am at home.

Since last I wrote, the house was purchased, I had cataract surgery on my left eye [the right one was done 5 years ago], moved into the house [with relative ease as I purchased it furnished] had Thanksgiving at the Keene Farm, the miracle of a place crafted by my friend Larry, hosted in the loft space above one of the barns, splendidly prepped and served by Lizzy, Larry’s daughter, surrounded by the core group with whom I have had Thanksgiving for most of the last twenty years. It felt sweet.

In a necessary nod to the times, heading into another Covid winter, we all took quick result Covid tests before joining the festivities.  We were all negative.  If it had been different, it would be “you are welcome but not allowed” The stakes were too high with at least two guests immunocompromised. 

This flurry of events would be enough to cause a pause in my exegesis of life though that wasn’t all of it.  

My weariness and wariness of the world has grown since last I wrote, finding myself worn by the last five years, saying last night to my friend Michael, a high school friend whose renewal of our friendship as we march through our third acts has brightened my life, that I am more troubled by events in the body politic since the Viet Nam era.

At the store one day, I picked up Jill Lepore’s “These Truths: A History of the United States,” a work to help me find context for what is happening, not to mention our history has had a share of would-be despots [Andrew Jackson comes to mind].  I desperately need context to hold on to hope we will navigate this divide, feeling as if I am sometimes watching our democracy fray in front of my eyes.

Not to mention we are living through a pandemic, witnessing the relentless effects of climate change, while Russia is massing troops at Ukraine’s borders, as China is determined to be a nuclear power while practicing genocide against the Uyghurs, silencing a leading female sports star for exposing sexual assault by a Communist Party leader, relentlessly attempting to control virtually every act of its populace.

“Now is the winter of our discontent” opens Shakespeare’s RICHARD III, an allusion to a temporary state before a restoration of peace and joy.  

This feels like the winter of my discontent, a restless, wary, worried feel about the drift of events happening not just here but everywhere, with hope it is just a transitory state as we work our way to the spring of our hope, struggling to find equilibrium.  It is what I will pray for come Sunday, and every day while I still live, sensing it will take longer than I have this side of paradise to work through all this.

Letter from the Vineyard 03 October 2021 Still emerging…

October 4, 2021

Letter From the Vineyard

03 October 2021

Still emerging…

The day has birthed cool but not chill, in the low 60’s, sun glinting off windows, the third or fourth day now when summer temps have yielded to ones more like fall, the scent of the autumnal season in the air, leaves showing signs of change.  October has arrived, with its pumpkins, Morning Glory Farm selling the last summer corn, soon to be a memory, like the summer of 2021, a time when hope and joy poured out of our skins as we faced the world, mask less.

            August was a jarring moment, as the Delta variant exploded among us, a viral grenade upending our expectations, sending us back behind our masks, grudgingly, crankily, unhappily.  Most of us did, most of us had bared our arms and got “the jab,” buying ourselves some protection even as breakthrough infections broke through and afflicted friends and neighbors, who did get ill, though rarely hospitalized.

            In some parts of the country, masks are hardly de rigueur and getting “the jab” meant a surrender to Bill Gates, who had planted tracking devices in the vaccine to control us all, somehow.  Or was it, Jeff Bezos?  Or possibly the entire pedophile cabal that QAnon believes is running the country?  Or what was the point? Coronavirus is a hoax, after all.

            Unhappy fact, voters for Trump are experiencing a mortality rate higher than those who voted for Biden as Trump voters are more likely not to be vaccinated as they move mask less across the landscape of America 2021.

            The brother-in-law of a dear, dear friend has succumbed to coronavirus, after self-medicating with ivermectin, a horse de-wormer, after five or six weeks in the hospital, intubated much of the time, dead anyway.  Some of his children think he was stupid for not being vaccinated; the others blame the hospital for his death.

            This is a scene being repeated across the country.  

            And I shake my head, finding all this hard to comprehend. A horse medicine as a cure for a deadly virus? Masks work: all the data shows it.  Why not believe the data points, which, after eighteen months, can hardly be disputed yet they are argued, frequently with frightening passion.

            As I sit here, curled in my little summer place, heat on, a mug of bold, dark coffee at my side, sliding into the day, scanning the headlines of the papers I follow, the death toll from Covid has passed 700,000 known deaths.  I wonder how many we have missed.  And I wonder how we got here, how we got to this much death without rallying around the science and taking care of ourselves.

            It is the deadly signature of our fraught times, all this death and the anger surrounding us, the chasm between two countries within one country, two towns within one town, a divide I have not been able to emotionally understand while having to intellectually accept it because it exists.

            Any wonder I relish curling up with a bold mug of joe on a sunny, cool early fall morning on the Vineyard, a mostly sane place in terms of respecting the science in virus matters, grateful I have had my booster shot, from a mobile vaccination facility parked at the high school last weekend, worth the one and a half hour wait.

            While grateful, I am not smug.  How long before the virus finds a way to pierce this line of defense is yet to be seen.  Given all we’ve seen, it will.  Grudgingly, we are learning to live with this disease though by all accounts we are woefully unprepared for the next pandemic around the corner.

            Such is the nature of humans, a race still emerging from evolutionary adolescence.

            In these times, good books, real books, paper books, are comforts.  Just finished “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig, a delightful romp through time and unlived lives.  It took me away for a day or three from the madness of my fellow men.

            There are lots of good reads out there or coming out this fall.  Peruse your local paper’s book section – they’ll guide you to a winner.  Or send me an email and I’ll pop back with a suggestion, depending on your mood.  That’s what I do with customers.

            I love that part of being, as my godson says, the book monger of Edgartown, helping people find something to take home, to bring them deeper into a subject or further away from our strident realities.

            We cannot change those realities single handedly; little acts will nudge the world one way or another, but we can find relief in the pages of a book, while drinking in the peculiar, wonderful perfume of printed pages.

Photo credit: Paul Doherty, Islanders Talk

Letter from the Vineyard 09 11 2021 Reflections on an anniversary…

September 12, 2021

Letter from the Vineyard, 9 11 2021

Reflections on the anniversary…

For days, I have sought escape from thinking about today, 9/11, anything to give me a diversion from the 20th anniversary, coming just as Kabul has fallen back into the hands of the Taliban, a coupling of events hard to fathom.

The English newspaper, The Guardian, encourages us to ask what was this all about?

Once, I went with my brother and sister-in-law to the 9/11 Memorial, having to leave when some artifact came too close to my heart, waiting for them above, in the sunshine and light of another day, not wounded as I was that day, a wound which has never really healed for so many who were there, who experienced it.  I lost no one; I am still healing.

It was a pivot moment in history and to be present at a pivot moment, is not a bad thing, though it carries risks.

My memories are of moments…

Being at Spring and West Broadway, the corner just west of where I lived, seeing the gash in the first Tower, smoke billowing out, knowing death was there, inevitable, unavoidable with that kind of wound. 

Riding a bus north with Wall Street refugees, all in suits, vainly working their cellphones, three African American women who noticed an old man, resting on a fire hydrant, the bus departing before he could wobble to it, stopping the bus, carrying him aboard, the bus driver working with other bus drivers to get the man home, to the Upper East Side.

Later, walking south, the night full of smoke, the smell of brimstone, trucks lining up by the hundreds to carry debris away, showing my driver’s license to prove I lived beyond the barricades set up to protect the work going on, waking the next morning, standing on Spring Street, empty, desolate, a singular living presence on a street now littered with papers blown down from the Towers, the smell of burnt rubber and plastic, reminding me of my first night in Delhi.

There is much gnashing of teeth and questioning of America’s resolve, all of it echoing the words after the fall of Saigon, which did not, as expected, herald the end of the American Empire.

Is this time different? Does our Rome fall?

Well, Rome took a long time falling, plowing on from catastrophe after catastrophe until it finally fell in upon itself, giving rise to a whole caste of historians who have plucked apart those ruins looking for reasons – was it the lead lining the amphora?  Was it the constant military expenditures draining the imperium? The rise of Christianity?  The wealth gap between classes?  The external pressure of barbarian hordes descending upon the empire? The lack of slaves after imperial expansion stopped and border defense began?

Since Gibbons we have parsed those events, more so since the U.S. has found itself internally and externally, eternally, compared to Rome.

What is true, to me, is that day, for a moment, we stood, as a country, as a world, united in shared tragedy.  In a single day, in a single spot, I witnessed the worst of humanity and its best.  If I let myself, I can emotionally be back there and when I do, the wash of emotion can almost bring me to my knees.

No, I am not sorry I was there, grateful I lost no one. 

Bu in the years since we have all lost so much. 

That moment of global of unity has been squandered, we have spent endless blood and treasure in wars that have accomplished, it appears, nothing, and while we fought “The War on Terror,” we lost focus, turning a blind eye to the massive corruption plaguing successive Afghan governments, toppling Saddam Hussein over falsities about weapons of mass destruction, allowing social injustice to flourish, surrendering bits of freedom to “be safe.”

We have watched the devolution of the Republican party to a shell of itself, mostly devoted now to the cult of Trump, and with him we flirt with our own version of Mussolini.  His brainless minions wrack havoc on the land at the local and state level.

The Obama administration bought “The War on Terror” story and played it out.  The Democratic party seems to have become the party of the elites.  And never has Eisenhower’s “beware the military-industrial complex” seem so prescient.

Twenty years later, almost universal empathy has become almost universal rage, a rage killing us with the refusal to get a damn shot, even when surrounded by hospitals overflowing with the sick and dying.

We are not Rome though, like Rome, we are squandering our future by not having a plan for it, not sufficiently evolving with the times, which are a changin, from our de facto Poet Laureate, Nobel Prize Winner, from the Iron Range of my home state, Bob Dylan.

And those times have been a changin since 1964, when Dylan penned the verse.  And what the hell have we done with the time?

“World Trade Center 9/11/01 attack memorial photo” by is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Letter from the Vineyard 15 August 2021 Shadows in the sun…

August 15, 2021

Letter from the Vineyard

15 August 2021

Shadows in the sun…

A close-up of the sun

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Photo credit: Paul Doherty

As I begin to write, a bright day is fading, a soft wind rustling the bushes out my windows, a good beach day ending.

            My summer world is circumspect; I travel to and from the bookstore, an occasional foray to Stop & Shop for essentials, a weekly trip to Vineyard Haven to drop off and retrieve my laundry at Lapel’s, the island’s sole dry cleaner.  Rarely do I move beyond the confines of Edgartown.  One Wednesday I determined to explore the Chillmark Flea Market; made the journey through a grey day, came away with a small piece of art from Walker Roman, island born.

            Ella Fitzgerald lilts through the cottage, complemented now and again by the great Louis Armstrong, Ella my go-to when undecided about what music I want to hear.  It seems impossible to me, who cannot carry a tune, that a human being can create such beauty with the human voice. 

            We have entered the last two weeks of August; Labor Day is within reach, the official end of “the season.”  Normally, the island’s life becomes frenetic with summer revels, sailboats racing, beach parties, laughing groups dining al fresco, bus tours aplenty, small cruise ships docking, disgorging passengers, wearing nametags on lanyards, eloquently coiffed ladies shopping for jewelry in shops along Main Street, families and individuals scooping up books, Tom Dresser’s “Martha’s Vineyard: A History” marching out the door in the dozens.

            That is a normal Vineyard summer.  And it almost seemed that way.

  But now, ladies and gentlemen, the Delta variant is marching across our summer stage, changing the tune of the music playing in the background.

Dukes County has issued an advisory telling people to wear masks again inside, advice now mostly followed, but not at first.

You cannot come into the bookstore without one.  Last week, I had to tell someone they couldn’t be in the bookstore unless they were masked.  We provide them.  They left.

            Cautious people, including me, have worn masks all summer when negotiating the summer crush at Stop & Shop.  Cronig’s up in Vineyard Haven won’t let you through the door without one – they suffered a cluster last winter, are taking no chances. 

            The feel on the streets has changed.  From a laughing, unmasked world, feeling liberated, we have returned to a place more like the summer of 2020.  Retail ebullience has faded, people feeling threatened. According to reports, consumer confidence, especially among the vaccinated, has plummeted.

            The Delta variant…

It is also the crushing “Code Red” report from the UN on climate change; we may have passed the point of no return on some things.  There is still time to mitigate the worst, but will we?

            A heat dome has returned to the Pacific Northwest, fires burn, Europe is experiencing record breaking heat, Greek islands are aflame. Siberia has been burning.

            Haiti broken by another earthquake.

            Kabul is falling to the Taliban, echoing the humiliating end of Saigon. Helicopters are lifting people out of the Embassy in Kabul. Remember, if you are old enough, those photos from 1975 at the end in Saigon. If not old enough, google them.  We are facing another heart break.

We’re negotiating with the Taliban to agree to spare the Embassy.  How did it get to this?  How did this even begin?

Afghanistan has broken the back of every western power since Alexander the Great.  No one learns the lesson.  Pity the poor people of Afghanistan who must live, again, under the Taliban.  Pity the women, girls already being forced to marry Taliban soldiers.

Not sure about you but I am clutching for good news.  And there doesn’t seem to be much.

Nestled here on Martha’s Vineyard, I feel both separated and in the middle of what is happening.  

Obama’s birthday party, even scaled back, was still big.  I fell asleep listening to the fireworks erupt.  Friends who lived not far from his home said they heard the crowd long into the night.  Stephen Colbert, Henry Louis Gates were disinvited.  Ah, the Delta variant.

I am discouraged this sun-kissed evening.

The fall of Afghanistan echoes the pain of Vietnam.

The climate crisis has come home to roost.

The pandemic is still raging while we are caught in an insane politicized conundrum about vaccines and masks.  

Our summer of freedom has turned its back on us; doors seem to be closing faster than they are opening. 

Alas, Babylon…