Having wandered round the earth, I face again a home of sorts and understand how Odysseus felt. As the ferry approaches the breakwater, my nerves rise. The Atlantic sprays hitting my face smell of brine and eelgrass, fragrance of my bucolic holidays. I recollect how seasick I was the first day we came over from Hyannis and how heartsick at leaving these shores. Unlike Homer’s conqueror, I am not returning to a faithful wife spinning her threads. Yet, I have placed the same expectation upon Martha’s Vineyard the Greek voyager burdened upon Penelope: I am hoping that while travel has altered me, my island remains unchanged. I am wishing the idyllic summers I spent here can be rediscovered when I land. The sages say we cannot go home again. I fear they speak the truth. I am terrified that the Vineyard of my memories no longer exists, whilst scared that if it does, I shall see a decayed and hollow shell of its former self.
A phalanx of white sailboats greet me as I pass the marina. Their rigs bob in the teal sea, nodding in quarter tempo at me. I ask them if I will encounter again that halcyon place I once knew. Embracing change is a right of passage for travelers. Adjusting my perspective and adapting to the altered flow are lessons I embrace during my journeys. I love revisiting cities where I can experience time’s shifting sands redrawing them. This haven, though, tucked into Buzzards Bay, I want immutable. Driving through the streets of Oak Bluffs I see that little has altered: a few more cars are parked alongside the pink-bricked sidewalk, a handful of shops have been replaced by modern commerce, and the peeling grey house I used to call mine has been repainted. Nevertheless, some unnameable quality has reshaped my sanctuary.
“The sages say we cannot go home again. I fear they speak the truth.”
The old impressions flood back, filtered through decades of absence, tinted in joyful tones. I skinned my knee when my bicycle hit this fence post. I was not looking forward, too busy laughing at my best friend. I stop to trace the scratches against the pale wood; they abide, unlike my scar, mementos of an overcrowded vacation. We used to stop for ice cream here each evening. The store endures in popularity with its corner jukebox belting out classics, but the scoops look small and the flavors unfamiliar (gone are my cookie dough and black raspberry). There on that sliver of sand he and she and I would play pirates. The carrack shaped driftwood we used as prop has disappeared. Treading the minuscule beach strip I suddenly feel ancient and I am left wondering what it was I wanted of the Vineyard. Was it the familiarity of a landscape I understood as a child? Was it the comfort of a remembered atmosphere? Perhaps it is a wish to repeat the past carrying the wisdom of today, hoping to redo life without the mistakes.
Such an encumbered expectation can never be fulfilled. Regardless, looking upon the trails I biked, walking under the trees I befriended, I yearn for an escape to “Memory Lane.” I know I will not regain yesteryear. I know that the Vineyard of today has as many delights as the one I explored in my youth. Still, it is impossible to see the shingled gazebo and not wax sentimental. History’s lessons are difficult to learn. It is much easier to sigh and say, “Ah, those were the glory days.” However, in doing so I rob myself of subsequent joys. Nostalgia is a double-edged razor that cuts me as I hold its unwieldy weight. On one side it feigns a lost innocence that never existed. On the other side it depreciates ensuing rewards. Nostalgia kills hope and my willingness to remain vulnerable to possibilities.
We leave our domiciles searching for remedies they do not have. I look out from the pier to a limitless horizon and withhold blaming the Vineyard for what it cannot be. Instead, I will be grateful for what this isle has given me. I will be hungry to unearth fresh pleasures here and now. I cannot return to Martha’s Vineyard demanding answers, but I can rediscover it anew every time I come back. I can continue searching for that elusive siren call which prompted my initial expedition and my homecoming. C.P. Cavafy in his poem, “Ithaka” wrote,
“Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.”
My new year’s resolution is to set forth in spirited inquiry for shores beyond this pleasant refuge, to pursue future Ithakas in all their meanings.
Every summer the town of Oak Bluffs hosts a “Grand Illumination” night. Locals decorate their nineteenth century cottages with lanterns and light them after dusk. At a prescribed hour, everyone gathers for an evening concert. Locals and visitors are then invited to tour the Campground area which is illumined only by the lantern-lit houses.
What was your experience like after you returned home?