“But what are the winters like?”
It’s the Frequently Asked Question of the seasonal visitor to the year-round resident. Too long, is one answer. Milder than you might think. And more beautiful than you can imagine.
It’s not just the way the ice lacquers the curves of the stone lace walls, or the way snow sits on the round bales of silage like icing on cupcakes. It’s coming to appreciate the subtle hues of leaves that hang on so tenaciously—the ivory and parchment beech; the spice, clay, rust and amber of the oaks.It’s heading out in the dark to catch an early boat, bearing witness as the eastern sky slashes open in a scarlet sunrise. It’s heading down to the beach to be awed by the frenzy of a storm tide.
Towards the end of every winter, when we’ve had what seems to be the last big storm, I put on every bit of clothing I have and go to Moshup’s Beach, to pay my respects to the work of the Wampanoag giant who created this island for his people. The Native Americans who live here tell how he formed the island by dragging his toe across the sand to separate it from the mainland, and then colored the cliffs of Aquinnah in their distinctive russets and purples when dressing the whale meat he ate for dinner. Geologists have a different explanation: an island formed by the massive force of a glacier pushing a piece of mainland out into the ocean.
Both are stories of great power and energy, and it’s possible to hold both in the imagination as you walk under the cliffs, seeing what new raiment they will wear in the coming season, what new colors of clay have been exposed by the winter’s lashing of wind and tide.
It’s beautiful to see these changes, and it’s humbling. The cliffs are, of course, eroding, the ocean claiming back what giant or glacier created. As the wind sends grains of sand stinging against my cheeks, I smile with gratitude. What a thing it is, to be here now. To be alive for this moment of ephemeral beauty, this miracle of an island home.