Musings on a Martha’s Vineyard Summer

A leading black scholar reflects on an idyllic season on the island.


These privations notwithstanding, that first trip involved a number of small but pleasurable experiences. We enjoyed strolling through Edgartown and shopping. There are few things as relaxing as sitting in the rocking chairs on the Harbor View Hotel wrap-around porch, with its magnificent flower garden, as we watched the ships head in and out of Edgartown Harbor. There is something simultaneously human-scale and yet majestic about the Lighthouse in Aquinnah. And there is something very sweet and reassuring about all the moms, dads and kids pedaling along the many bike paths stretching around the island.

All of this was just enough that after those first two days, we got over the miserable note on which the visit started — the rain, aging buses and the cramped ferry ride. Perhaps even more so, we got over the stereotype of the vineyard as a stuffy, status-climbing closed society, and we have been coming back for more than a decade ever since.

To be sure, we learned many of the tricks to making a vineyard vacation “work.” We now know the cycles of life in the parts of the island we love best. So, we keep that ferry schedule handy now and never attempt to drive through Five Corners when the ferry comes in or, God forbid, when a ferry arrival coincides with the raising of the Lagoon Pond drawbridge. We know to get to Linda Jean’s or to the Black Dog Cafe before 8:30 a.m. if we really can’t abide a bit of a wait for breakfast. And we know that dinner reservations at State Road, Sweet Life or the Outermost Inn are best made long in advance. All of these careful plans are not necessary, of course, if you are contented eating a lobster bake, fried fish or barbecue at home with friends.

Moreover, we now know the bookstores on the vineyard, our favorite place for chocolates, our favorite place for pies, our favorite place for ice cream — you name it.  And perhaps most important, we have a network of friends whom we expect to see every summer on the vineyard. From the daily bike ride to the annual fishing trip and the dinners out, most nights we partake in activities enriched by sharing them with our best friends.

Where else can one attend a chicken and waffle fundraiser for Howard University in the morning, see the intellectual sparks fly at a panel discussion featuring The Wire’s David Simon and Harvard’s Larry Summers in the late afternoon and take in a special early screening of the movie Sparkle in the evening with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and White House adviser-Obama friend Valerie Jarrett in attendance?

There are many things that make the vineyard a magical place to summer. For some, it is the shopping. Others are drawn by the food. For others, it is fishing, biking, golfing, sailing or just tanning on one of the many beaches. And, yes, some folks make time for the intellectual events, the book readings and signings, as well as the fundraisers.

Almost everyone who gives it an honest try finds themselves eventually seduced by the special mixture of warming sun, gentle ocean breezes, endless varieties of outdoor activities, wonderful food, friendship and family on a strip of land five miles off the coast of Massachusetts. I will breathe deep the precious hours remaining on this magical venue, take in another sun-kissed 21-mile bike ride with my best friend and eventually depart the island just as Labor Day marks the return to all the regular routines of life.        

Lawrence D. Bobo is the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University.