Jump to –
Week One : March 20
Week Two : March 28
Week Three : April 2
Week Four : April 13
Week Five : April 21
Week Six : April 26
Week Seven : May 4
Week Eight : May 12
Week Nine : May 18
Week Ten : May 26
Week Eleven : June 2
Week Twelve : June 9
Week Thirteen : June 16
Week Fourteen : June 23
Week Fifteen : June 29
Week Sixteen : July 6
Week Seventeen : July 14
Week Eighteen : July 20
Week Nineteen : July 27
Week Twenty : August 4
Dispatch Covid-19 Week Twenty: Graduation for the Class of 2020
By Jonathan Burke
The MVRHS class of 2020 of which my son is a member had their day.
Covid-19 had downed the usual June commencement in the Tabernacle. Folks were trying to cope and understand the dangerous virus. The celebration in the Tabernacle was not safe.
This did not stop the Vineyard.
School administration worked with the boards of health, the folks of the Ag Hall and others to come up with an alternative plan. On the last Sunday of July, the commencement for the class of 2020 was held on the outside grounds of the Ag Hall.
The day started for my family at 2pm.
We gathered at my parents for a late lunch of deli meat sandwiches, potato chips and the most delicious homemade ginger cookies (recipe a la Black Dog). I love potato chips and sandwiches in the summer.
We sat outside socially distanced in groups.
I had questioned another graduation celebration. We’d had a graduation dinner with pictures in June. Should we have another celebration with more pictures? The luncheon just seemed like the thing to do.
And Peter had his gown and cap this time for the pictures.
We sat outside and talked and munched on chips and sandwiches. I began to realize then the full meaning of the day. I found myself some place up in the clouds.
Peter had a smile as he sat on the deck.
We took pictures with him in his white gown and cap with golden tassel and purple collar sash. Usually, I am not a huge fan of family pictures. I could not have been happier standing for a picture with him and his mother, my arm around his shoulder.
We borrowed my father’s truck for the graduation ceremony.
Maggie, my daughter, wanted to drive. After a stop at home, we headed up-Island for a mini pre-graduation celebration in Chilmark. Peter drove that leg.
The celebration in Chilmark again moved me in an unexpected way. A number of families with their graduates waved and smiled and cheered as we drove through. We waved and cheered. Again, I was someplace up in the clouds.
About an hour early, we were among the first to arrive at the Ag Hall. Peter’s mother made sure of that. We found the entrance and waited first in line.
We talked and joked in the car.
As the appointed time of 5:45 neared, a faculty member walked over and told us we were in the wrong place and would need to drive back around to the other side of the Ag Hall grounds. We started to do this and were almost on our way when the school principal called us back. We were in the right place, she said.
We were very thankful for Ms. Dingledy. If we had had to drive around to the other side, we would have ended up in 20th or 30th place and our early arrival would have been for naught. As it was we moved from first in line to second.
Soon we were allowed in.
We went where directed. We pulled forward and then backed up into the front row directly behind where the students would sit. The best seats in the house but for the movie cam positioned in front of us. I was glad Peter’s mother had us arrive early.
We set up our seats in the bed of the truck.
The chairs for the graduating students were laid out in a rectangular grid all the chairs six feet apart. There was a giant video screen off to the side scrolling through pictures of the students submitted by their parents. There was a drone in the sky.
We looked for pictures of Peter. There he was in a kayak and at a library road race. Folks streamed in and parked their cars. Students began to fill the white chairs.
It was one of the most memorable graduation ceremonies.
Instead of the Tabernacle surrounded by the campground cottages, the ceremony was on the grassy grounds of the Ag Hall with the trees along the road in full green summer bloom.
Everyone had a mask. The students all wore Vineyard purple masks.
Soon the commencement was under way. There was funny confusion as the procession played and the students stood up at their chairs. There had been no practice for this year’s graduation ceremony.
Salutatorian Joe Serpa spoke about happiness and sharing happiness with others. Class essayist Alex Rego described an ordeal in Machu Picchu in Peru where she contracted a parasitic infection and ended up in a hospital with all sorts of tubes connected to her.
For the first time, according to the wishes of the class, a speech was delivered in Portuguese and a student elected by his peers spoke.
A wind blew over the ceremony. The trees swayed and branches bent. There was the sound of rustling leaves that only nature can make. One student speaker had to corral his notes.
The Superintendent thanked the class for their maturity during the Covid-19 pandemic. Principal Dingledy spoke of the promise of the class of 2020 and her hope and belief that they will address some of the great problems of the day.
Leadership and Vineyarder awards were given. The minnesingers sang.
I was taken most by the Valedictorian’s speech.
Jaiden Edelman spoke about the lack of absolute truths in the world and how different views in any situation can both be right. Two folks floating in space for instance can pass each other and both rightly can assume they are still while the other goes past. It seemed a fitting message for a politically polarized world where no one is willing even to recognize the other side.
Then came the award of diplomas.
The first and only real diploma of the day was given to the father of a classmate who passed away during the year. It was the most moving part of the ceremony. Folks honked and applauded in a show of support. The father saluted the crowd as he came off the stage.
The students’ names were called out one by one. They each went up on stage, picked up a blank diploma, gave a look to the audience and then walked off. (The real diploma would be given later.) The next person was called.
‘Peter Fenton Burke.’
I looked at my camera.
I missed Peter almost completely trying to take the picture. As I looked up he was walking off the stage. Stupid me! I had learned the lesson at his track meets that you will miss seeing them entirely if you are trying to take a picture. And on top of that the picture was too far away to be any good.
Ms. Dingledy said a few last words after the last student crossed the stage. She noted the usual celebratory mood at the end of a commencement and asked for some moderation.
The caps were not thrown in the air. The students were dismissed row by row. The song Stand by Me played over the speakers.
We greeted Peter at the truck.
The class of 2020 took us all somewhere up in the clouds.
This will be my last Covid-19 dispatch as I am returning to my regular hours at the library. Thank you to everyone who has read any of these essays. I have enjoyed writing the dispatches immensely. Be well!
Dispatch Week Nineteen: Zucchini Bread from the Garden
By Jonathan Burke
Every day, excited to make zucchini bread, I checked to see if the beginning fruits on my zucchini plants had started to grow. I hoped for four good-sized zucchini which would allow me to double the recipe and make up to four loaves.
Zucchini plants are huge at maturity. I learned last year that it is wise to follow the directions on the seed packet and keep the plants two feet apart. Their giant leaves sprawl outwards in all directions.
I love to make something from my garden, whether zucchini bread, a roasted tomato soup or a salad with green beans. It is fun to have something from one’s own garden. And garden produce is fresher and better tasting than store-bought. There is nothing like a tomato ripened on the vine.
A wonderful attribute of zucchini is how fast they grow once started. I marvel at how they can double in size in a day. It only takes a few days to grow a good-sized zucchini once the fruit has begun to form.
It was a Tuesday.
The zucchini bread was calling out to me. I do not usually work in the kitchen on a Tuesday. Most of my baking is on weekends. I had three zucchini ready to go, though, and boy did they look good. Green and full. I wanted to make the bread at the height of freshness.
I have a super zucchini bread recipe from a library colleague.
I grated the zucchini. The grating is harder work than one might think. Every now and then the grater clogged up. Not used to the activity, my right forearm became sore. I kept at it. The grated zucchini made a light green soaking wet mound on my cutting board. There is nearly as much water in the fruit as meat.
I came up with three generous cups of grated zucchini.
I was able to make one and a half times the recipe. I prepared the batter with the usual ingredients. I cracked the eggs and mixed in the butter and sugars and vanilla. In a separate bowl, I put the flours and the baking soda.
I like some wheat flour in my sweet breads. This year, I halved the amount of white flour in the recipe and substituted wheat flour. I did the same with the white sugar adding half brown sugar.
I mixed the flour into the egg and sugar batter a little bit at a time. I had a taste with my finger. Batter is good. The grated zucchini is added last. I mixed it in. I took another delicious finger-full.
I poured the batter into two greased loaf pans: one big one and one smaller one. I used a plastic spatula to scrape the sides and help the batter along. The oven was preheated to 350 degrees. I placed the pans in the oven.
I then dove into the batter. I used the spatula to scrape up the remaining batter still stuck to the sides and the bottom of bowl. There was a good amount. I licked the spatula clean. Yum!
About an hour later, after checking with a knife a few times to ensure the insides were cooked, I took the pans from the oven. I set them on a wire rack to cool. Fifteen minutes later, I took the loaves from their pans to cool down another few hours on the rack. The loaves came out mostly clean.
Before going to bed, I triple saran-wrapped the loaves and put them in the freezer. They could stay fresh well into the winter kept in the freezer and wrapped this way.
The next evening, over at my parents for supper, my father asked why I did not bring a loaf over after I told them I had made zucchini bread. So the following Sunday, over at their house again, I did.
We were eating a light meal of vegetables and hummus and cheese and hard boiled eggs. It was a nice evening outside. There was a light breeze and there were no mosquitos. There was left-over chocolate chip muffin from Morning Glory and my zucchini bread.
I do not have to say which was best.
On my way home I stopped to see my kids and leave them with the rest of the loaf.
Later when I asked my daughter how she liked the zucchini bread she said she loved it and told me she thought it was from Morning Glory. (I am a good baker in her estimation, if not a great cook.)
I have another loaf and a half of the succulent bread in my freezer. I like knowing it is there to include as part of another meal. I like knowing how much everyone enjoys my moist brown sweet bread speckled with light green zucchini.
The zucchini bread would be tasty in January.
I know it will be gone before the end of summer.
Dispatch Week Eighteen: Covid-19 Grace Church Lobster Rolls
July 20, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
Every bite of a lobster roll from Grace Church is packed full of delicious flavor.
There is the bountiful taste of the sea. There is the texture of the cold temperatures the crustacean prefers. The mayonnaise and the hot dog bun added by Grace Church add something of their own. A mouthful bursts with salty New England air and rocky shorelines.
The Grace Church roll overflows with lobster.
It is amazing the amount of lobster they pack into the roll – whole parts of claws, the meat of the tail – and that it all holds together. A bag of chips comes as well. In normal summers one can help oneself to a cup of lemonade or iced tea or a mixture of the both.
A lobster roll is best enjoyed with others outside preferably. Lobster rolls and a piece of pie are a treat. Everyone decides together to have a lobster roll.
I came in from a bike ride late last Friday afternoon.
I had been in the woods and on the bike paths for a good hour and half. I was hot and sweaty and my legs were covered with dirt. I was tired. Trail riding over roots and rocks and all sorts of bumps is hard going even as it is fun.
I said hi to Becham, my 25lb Terrier mix, who is always happy to see me. I had a cold drink of water. I put my bike away.
A Grace Church lobster roll and a piece of chocolate pie had been on my mind throughout the day. Usually, Friday night is pizza night. I make the pizza myself. And I almost always have leftovers in my freezer. But a Grace Church lobster roll in the summer sold on Fridays is without question an exception.
At this time, my brother, Douglas, texted me to ask if I would like to go out for a bike ride. I explained I was just back. The opportunity presented itself. I would rather not have a lobster roll on my own. I asked if he and his wife, Debbie, would like to have lobster rolls. They thought that was a great idea.
I went online and searched ‘Grace Church lobster rolls’ to see how the sale of lobster rolls was being handled during the time of Covid-19. I learned one has to order in advance and set a time for pick-up. There was a very easy to use website. I placed our order for three lobster rolls and a piece of chocolate pie for me. I set the pick up time for the available 5:34.
I took a quick shower.
About ten minutes before the appointed time, I set out.
I ran into the backup of traffic of people in line in their cars for lobster roll pickups on Main Street at Owen Park. It was a logjam. Folks trying to travel up Main Street were stuck as well. Fortunately, folks soon were able to move their cars to the side where there usually is parking allowing the cars not in line to pass by.
One fellow shared not-entirely-favorable thoughts on the mess of cars as he drove by. I thought that was too bad. Yes, it was a nuisance. But it is summer-folks seeking some escape from harried mainland lives, such as those waiting in line for a lobster roll, that are the mainstay of the Island economy. We all benefit.
Anyway, it is summer.
The wait was not as bad as it seemed. Turning the corner onto Woodlawn Ave., I was soon to the pick-up area. There was a score of people working, and the orders were packed and ready to go. I was on my way in less than a minute.
I drove to my brother’s house.
We had the lobster rolls on the front deck looking into the yard.
It was a nice evening to be outside. The humidity of prior days was mostly gone. It had cooled off some. We sat down. I passed out the rolls eager for the summer treat.
The rolls actually were not put together yet as it was curbside pickup. Some folks might be picking up well in advance and the bun would become soggy if already made. We each had a hot dog bun and our lobster in a separate plastic container and a plastic fork.
I did my best to stuff my roll. I was not as good at it as they are in normal times when they do it for you. I was unable to create the roll they create, overflowing and stuffed full with pinkish meat.
It did not matter.
We sat and ate our rolls with the salty potato chips interspersed every now and then. I had a seltzer with ice and a splash of mango juice. I used a fork for the lobster I was not able to stuff in the roll. Yum!
I finished my roll and moved on to my chocolate pie. I do not know why Douglas and Debbie did not order pie. But that did not deter me! The pie is the perfect dessert to the lobster roll – a continuation of the treat. I gobbled my pie wishing there was more.
We talked. We relaxed on a mid-July night. We enjoyed the comfort of a warm breeze.
Soon the time had passed. The light was going from the sky. The food was eaten. The conversation was over. We stood up from the table.
We are lucky to be able to have lobster rolls and pie.
Dispatch Week Seventeen: A Hair Cut Covid-19
July 14, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
I had my hair cut.
It had been about four and a half months ,which is a lot even for me. I had a heavy mop on my head, which was hot and sweaty on my neck with the summer temperatures. I was ready for a cut.
I called Bert’s Barber Shop and asked what I needed to do to have my hair cut during Covid-19. Phil, the proprietor, told me I needed to make an appointment – which I did for 9 am the next Tuesday.
The pandemic has driven home to me the importance of barber shops and salons. They were among the first businesses given the green light to open. I had not thought about it before. People like their hair cuts.
Hair cuts can make a statement.
I was small as a child, always the shortest in my class. My mother gave me bowl haircuts until I was about 14. I went away to high school and was told how cute I looked. This was embarrassing. On my first vacation home my mother took me to a fancy New York City salon for a free hair cut. A new stylist was being trained.
Finally I had a part.
For the past twenty years, nearly every haircut I have had has been at Bert’s.
Bert’s is an old-style barber shop with brown leather chairs where in non-Covid times you could drop in for a cut.
I recall my first time at Bert’s.
I sat down in the chair and met Phil. He asked me how I wanted my cut. I told him. My haircut of choice is as short as possible without being a crewcut with a part to the side. He looked my hair over. The grain of my hair flowed to the opposite side from which it had always been cut he told me. No one had told me that before. For the first time in 25 years, I had my hair cut with the part on the correct side.
I arrived to Bert’s a little before 9 as scheduled.
I walked through the door with my unruly mop. Phil usually sighs when he sees me. My strategy is to let my hair grow long and then have it cut short. This time due to Covid I had added about a month to the growing time.
I was the first appointment. We each had on our mask. I sat down in the barber chair. Phil explained how the cut was going to go. I would unloop the mask from my ears so he could cut in that area but hold the mask in place with my hands.
Phil has an easy way.
I could never be a barber. I am way too tense to wield scissors around a person’s head day in and day out. I would be in constant worry that I would cut someone’s ear or stab them in the neck. There are no such worries it seems for Phil. He is deft in his handling.
He shears off the majority of my hair and then fine-tunes with the scissors. I watch in the mirror as he cuts and clips. There is ongoing conversation. We chat about Covid. Clumps of hair fall from my head onto my lap and to the ground.
When Phil is done, he takes off the smock I have been wearing and brushes the hair from my neck. It is refreshing to have the thick unruly hair gone. There is a cool breeze on my ears and neck.
I walk out feeling pretty darn sharp.
Dispatch Week Sixteen: Fishing with Peter Covid-19
July 6, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
“Do you want to go fluke fishing?” Peter asked.
Music to my ears. It is not often that one of my kids asks me to do something fun together like going fishing or painting the kitchen. “Of course I want to go fluke fishing. That’s a terrific idea,” I responded.
A few days later, I am rounding West Chop in our boat to go to the fuel dock. The plan is for me to fill up and pick up Peter in Owen Park. He had an errand to run and could not join me in Tashmoo.
It was nice to be on the water. There was a breeze and a small chop where the currents collided off the bluff. The boat sailed along bouncing over the waves. My spirits were up. The fresh salt air washed over me.
I pass through the worst of the chop and point the boat for the fuel dock in Vineyard Haven harbor. I muse. I would not be on the water if not for Peter. The stresses of life disappear.
The engine lets out a backward whine that I have heard before. It brings both my reverie and the boat to an abrupt halt. I throttle to neutral. The hull rocks forward into the water from the momentum and then back as it has no power.
The engine has not stalled completely. I throttle back up a little and go slowly. I am hoping the problem is temporary. The engine stalls again this time completely. I turn the key off and then on to restart. There is no sound at all. The check engine light is on.
I am dead in the water.
It is time to apprise myself of my situation. I am on the Vineyard Haven harbor side of the West Chop bluffs. There is a small chop. Fortunately, I am short of the Steamship traffic lanes.
I am not in danger. I do not want to drift without power though. There are many places where I could find trouble. I throw over the anchor. I have a hundred feet of anchor rode so I can anchor almost any place in the Sound.
I call Sea Tow. Sea Tow is well worth the investment, especially if you have an old engine. I have had a Sea Tow membership for ten years and have been towed twice before.
Sea Tow arrives in about twenty minutes. Captain Maciel, a congenial man, tows me back to Tashmoo and puts me on my mooring. It is an easy and uneventful if disappointing tow.
Peter meets me at the dock.
I call Keith Maciel who does my engine work.
Keith discovered that mice had found their way into my engine over the winter and chewed on the wire harness. The engine failure also knocked out the computer. It just was worse and worse. I felt glum.
Keith found a used computer and rebuilt the wire harness. He texted me to say the boat was on the mooring. Finally some good news.
I took her for a test run over the weekend. She was running beautifully. I drove to Lamberts Cove and back. No problems at all. Just a steady purr of 5000 rpms.
“Do you want to go fishing Tuesday?” Peter asked.
“Yes let’s go,” I responded.
We loaded our gear – rods, tackle, oars, cooler with ice etc. – Tuesday morning. We drove to Tashmoo. Peter rowed out for the boat. I brought our stuff to the end of the dock and parked the car. Peter put the boat on the dock. We transferred our gear.
We headed towards the Brickyard in Chilmark. Peter had caught a 10 lb fluke in this area last summer. We had high hopes for another.
The sea was mostly flat and the sky overcast. A light northerly wind blew. It is a fifteen minute or so drive. We made our way off the northerly shores of the Island. There were three or four other boats when we arrived.
We slowed down. We found where we wanted to be. We cut the engine.
We used an artificial bait called Gulp. There are many advantages to this bait. The fish rarely take it off the hook. It does not make the same mess as squid. It keeps for a long time in an easy to use jar with a screw top. The fish like it.
We dropped our lines in about 70 feet of water.
We bounced our bait off the bottom. There was little action our first few drops. A few bites. Nothing much. The boat drifted.
On our third or so drop, Peter had a monster hit. His rod went way over. The line on the reel started going out. The drag was set tight. He barely could keep the tip up. He had a mammoth on. Line kept spooling.
Within seconds, I had a huge hit. My rod went over. There was a fierce tug. I had a big one. And then the fish was gone.
A few moments later Peter lost his.
We reeled up to check our bait and then dropped back down.
Peter soon pulled up a black sea bass. Unfortunately, the fish had partially swallowed the hook making it difficult to remove. I set my rod down to help. That was a mistake.
Whirr! I heard my line going out.
I grabbed my rod.
It took all of about 5 seconds to realize I was on the bottom and not on a fish. The boat was drifting. I had left my hook down. It snagged something – an old lobster pot or some other fishing gear maybe.
I turned the engine on to motor back over where it snagged. Peter still was working on his black sea bass. My line was going out fast as we drifted. I did not want to lose it all. Somehow between the two of us and the fish which finally went back into the water, we managed to bring the boat back over the snagged line. There was no freeing the hook.
A lesson learned.
We drifted three hours with our lines dropped down. The sun broke through the clouds a few times. It was hot and lazy. Peter went shirtless. Much older and more concerned about my skin I kept on my sun shirt. We shifted our weight on our legs as the boat moved beneath us. The currents and tides carried us over new spots. We changed our location a few times.
We did fairly well.
We caught any number of fluke though they were small ones. We caught a few black sea bass and kept a 3 pounder. We had our share of gnarly sea robins and one sand shark. I can not stand sand sharks. They writhe around. Their cartilage makes it impossible to remove the hook. They almost always ruin the rig.
We kept a steady stream of conversation.
“Did you get a hit?”
“Not for a little while.”
“Have one on?”
After three hours of drifting we were tired out. Our shoulders (at least mine) were sore from the constant motion of bouncing the rod up and down. The other boats had long left. We called it a day. We buttoned up our gear and motored back to Tashmoo.
In Tashmoo, I put the boat on the dock under Peter’s instruction. He is a better docker than I am as he works for the harbormaster. It was my best docking yet. I learned something.
On the dock, we unloaded the gear. I cleaned the fish. Peter washed down the boat. I put the boat on the mooring. He took care of the gear and went for the car.
The sea bass, that night, was delicious.
What a fun day it was.
Dispatch Week Fifteen: Driving with My Daughter Covid-19
June 29, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
A few weeks ago, my daughter wanted to visit some college friends in the Boston area. The state was starting to open and she was stir crazy from the last few months holed up in her room, taking online courses due to the shelter-in-place order. She missed her friends.
She asked her mother and me what we thought about her driving to Boston. She is a very competent driver. She just does not have off-Island driving experience, other than one or two occasions. It is hard to let go as a parent. I preferred she not drive on her own.
Like every other Island teenager, Maggie learned to drive on single lane roads with top speeds of 45mph and without traffic lights or any real intersections other than Five Corners. And Five Corners is unique to the Island – unlike off-Island intersections.
It is a huge deficit. Driving on the Island is nothing like driving off-Island with four-lane highways, merges and exits, and five-way intersections with multiple traffic lights. How do you know what to do?
I saw an opportunity to spend some time with her as well. Quality time with kids in college becomes less and less. I offered to go with her. We drove I-495 to Rt. 24 to I-95 and then Rt. 9.
There is much to learn.
One needs to be aware of folks merging onto the highway off an exit. I like to give them space if possible or switch to the left lane. There are blind spots in side-view mirrors. I like to take a quick look back when changing lanes even if there is a blind-spot mirror. One needs to be aware of where one is going and of the cars around them.
She picked it up quickly as I thought she would. She was careful and listened to my advice. We reached her rendezvous point with her friends. I left her and went to visit a nearby friend of my own for a few hours.
My friend, whom I have known since elementary school, and I took his dog for a walk at a nearby conservation property. We then sat in chairs socially distanced in his front yard and had a drink of water. We caught up.
After a few hours, Maggie called to let me know she was finished with her date with friends and ready to head for home. I said goodbye to my friend and went to meet her. She took the driver’s seat again.
We drove home via a nearby small and busy city with lots of intersections and distractions. We went through one complicated intersection where you almost need to be a local to understand how it works. She did great. She knew where she was. She showed me the house where she will live with her friends this coming fall.
It was fun.
I did not have much to say to her on the topic of driving on the way back. We found our way back to Rt. 24. It is smooth sailing from there. She was aware of the merges and aware of the cars around her. We chatted.
In Falmouth, we bought a few things at Home Goods for her room in college. We waited about five minutes outside to be let in, as they had a 60-person in-store limit during Covid. We found what she wanted.
We drove back to Woods Hole via the water. It is a pretty drive with winding turns and the Sound ever-present off to the side. We took our place in a standby lane at the ferry terminal. It was 4:30ish and our reservation was for the 7:30.
We were both hungry.
I went to Pie in the Sky, which was closed. We were both a little grumpy. The 5pm Island Home was unloading. As we neared closer to 5pm, Maggie spotted some folks with take-out bags from the Quicks Hole Taqueria. I did not know of the Taqueria.
We called and placed an order. We thought we had just enough time. If she boarded the 5pm before I was back, I would walk on with our food. I was back just as cars in the standby line were boarding. We missed the 5pm by two or three cars.
As it was summer, there was a 5:30 freight. We crunched our freshly baked nacho chips, not wanting to delve into our burritos before the drive onto the boat. Fifteen minutes later we were ensconced on the Woods Hole.
The burritos were good – not as good as La Choza I thought in Vineyard Haven, but good. I am glad to know of the Quicks Hole Taqueria. It is an alternative to Pie in the Sky. There is an ice cream store across the street.
We stayed in the car on the freight deck. We were tired. On schedule, we rolled off in Vineyard Haven an hour or so after boarding, back on familiar ground. We were soon home.
I told Maggie next time she would go on her own.
Dispatch Week Fourteen: Expanding the Bubble during Covid-19
By Jonathan Burke
We – my son and daughter and I – decided to expand our bubble a few weeks ago.
When I broached the idea to invite Grammy and Grandpops for Friday night pizza, my kids jumped at it. “I’ll text Grammy right now,” said Maggie.
Friday night pizza has been a family tradition for 10 years or so now.
I have two pizza stones.
I buy the dough at Stop and Shop or Reliable and the mozzarella cheese and other toppings. Currently, the favorites are pesto garlic and Hawaiian. Spinach and pepperoni is one of my favorites. Purple onion, mushrooms, pepper and hamburger are other toppings.
Making pizza is fun.
I set the oven to 500 for an hour before baking the pizza to really heat up the stones for a professional crust. I grate the brick of whole milk mozzarella cheese and chop and prepare the toppings.
I use my kitchen table as a work space for the dough. I put flour down so the dough does not stick. I start forming the dough with my hands pressing and pounding it down into a pie shape. I roll it out some and then hand toss it. My hand tossing would not be mistaken for the work of a professional. It is awkward but it does the job.
Once the dough is ready I transfer it to a pizza peel sprinkled with corn meal. I use a spoon to spread the sauce – Prego. (You can find specialized pizza sauce if you want to pay more.) I then add the cheese and the other toppings.
Before putting the pizza on the stone I turn the oven down to 430. The purpose of preheating to 500 was to make the stones searing hot for a crunchy crust. The pizzas will cook too fast at 500.
I slide the pizza onto the stone.
The cornmeal is like lots of tiny balls for the pie to slide off the peel and onto the stone. One time, before sliding the pizza onto the stone, I had pulled the oven rack out some. I slid a little too hard and the pizza careened half off the back of the stone up against the back oven wall. The cheese and sauce sizzled and cooked against the burning hot surface. I cursed and salvaged as much as I could.
The pizza is delicious. I am not sure I would rival a New York pizzeria but I outdo some joints. Ice cold root beer goes well with pizza.
We eat our pizza and talk and laugh. My parents and myself, now at 51, are older and more forgetful. There are topics we have come back to and back to much to the amusement of Maggie and Peter.
Fishing pots without lines to snag and entangle the endangered North Atlantic right whale and the construction of a mammoth-size nearby house have been topics we have returned to a few times. NPR is another favorite ribbing as it is a primary news source.
It is family time. Anything is fair game. No mercy is given. All is in good fun.
After pizza, we usually play a card game such as Liverpool. It is a source of fun and amusement that Grandpops often does not do well in this game.
I realized after expanding our bubble how much we all missed the company of Grammy and Grandpops. We had missed the fun of Friday night pizza night. The kids and I had had our own pizza nights but it was not the same.
It was my birthday last week.
I turned 51.
We had cheese souffle, a baguette and asparagus – all my favorites – followed by a chocolate chocolate cake – another favorite. We sat at the dining room table at my parents and talked and laughed about all sorts of things.
Again I realized how much the kids had missed and I had missed the company of Grammy and Grandpops during the shelter-in-place order while we were social distancing and not gathering except on a few occasions outside with six feet separation.
We all need some human contact – even if it does come with guidelines.
The Oak Bluffs Library, the sponsor of this dispatch, is now in the process of expanding its own bubble. We closed about three months ago in mid March without any notice. We did not have any notice to give. For three months, the library and its collection of books and DVDs and periodicals and audio books has been shuttered. (I, for one, think libraries should be considered an essential service. How do we ask folks to shelter without books?)
The staff, almost entirely, have not gone into the library during the closure and the library patrons have not had access to the library. The library was under a shelter order and in essence was social distancing itself from the community.
We have had our digital collection of ebooks and streaming TV and movie services for our patrons and we greatly expanded our digital collection during the closure. That is not the same as providing access to our physical collection.
Two weeks ago, staff returned to the library one day a week to begin the work of reopening. We checked in pre-closure material. We neatened up the accumulation of newspapers. We made outdoor signs to inform the public. We started to catalogue the books and dvds that had arrived during shelter.
On Saturday June 20, we began ‘contactless’ pickup.
Our patrons once again can place a hold on the physical copy of a book or dvd in our collection or in the collection of another Cape and Island library. When we have that book or dvd, we will call the patron and schedule a time for the patron to come to pick the item up.
The pickup will be contactless. The items previously checked out and placed in a paper bag will be transferred to a table through a window. The patron will pick up the bag from the table. Everyone will have a mask.
It is not perfect. We would like to see our patrons browsing in the library and using our familiar and comfortable space. We would like to catch up with them after a three month closure. This type of extended conversation will not be possible at our pickup window.
But it is a start. We look forward to seeing folks.
Dispatch Week Thirteen: A Graduation Parade during Covid-19
June 16, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
Sunday of last week was the day we would have gathered at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs to celebrate our sons and daughters graduating from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
The benches would have been full and the mood full of anticipation as we waited for the ceremonies. We would be saying hi to each other. The chairs in front of the benches would have been reserved for the graduating seniors with purple and white decorations.
We would have on button down shirts, blazers, dresses, blouses, possibly even dress shoes. It is fun to have an occasion to wear those nice clothes that otherwise seem to just exist in one’s closet.
We would have our programs in our hand noting the order of the ceremony. If it is hot we are using those programs as fans. Four years of studies, sports, extra-curriculars, successes and failures have led to this day.
The music starts.
The ceremony begins.
The students enter the Tabernacle in pairs and parade down the center aisle. We are nervous with excitement. There is a lump in our throat. We stand to see our son or daughter in white gown go past.
Our son or daughter has made it. They have completed four years of high school. They have gone from kids to young adults. Many will be leaving their homes for the first time. They will begin a new journey in their lives.
Tears well up in our eyes.
The smile on our daughter’s face is unlike we ever have seen. All of the hard work, the good times and bad, the anxiety and stress, the four years of high school is expressed in that smile.
The students settle into their seats.
The school principal starts things off. We hear from the Superintendent.
Our real interest is the student speakers – the Valedictorian, the Salutatorian and the Class Essayist. These young men and women who are representing their class are so impressive. They are poised and mature. They have something to say of their high school experience. The world is before them as it is for the entire class.
We sit silently, happily.
The award of the diplomas is made. Each student’s name is announced and he crosses the stage. With a handshake or a hug, he receives his diploma. He walks off the stage with another huge smile as the next student is called.
Before we know it the diplomas have been awarded.
The graduation caps are thrown in unison high into the air. They twirl and spin and come falling back down. The students, now high school graduates, march back out of the Tabernacle in a less orderly form than their entrance.
We did not have this parade of graduates into and out of the Tabernacle this past June 7. The Covid-19 pandemic cancelled the graduation ceremonies at the Tabernacle this year. We had a different parade to celebrate our seniors.
It was a parade that could only occur on the Island.
On Sunday, family members and friends and seniors drove to State Beach and parked along the side. (I had my dog Becham who is also a family member and took him for a short run along the beach.) Most folks sat in their groups in their cars and the beds of their trucks or stood along the road.
The parade came by about 1pm.
We heard it before we saw it. The whirring sirens announced themselves well before any of the vehicles were in view. We looked to Little Bridge but could not see anything. The horns were blaring.
Soon they were in sight.
The red-flashing lights of the Island’s first responders were in the distance.
Police vehicles and ambulances lead the way. The ear drumming sirens and horns were making a racket. The lights were whirling around. There were signs taped along the sides of the vehicles for the class of 2020.
The parade went by vehicle after vehicle.
Emotions welled up inside.
Fire trucks and engines came.Their horns and sirens were so loud they almost pushed you back a few steps. There was a school bus with a gigantic sign taped to its side. Faculty and administrators of the high school came in their cars with signs of their own. They waved through their windows and made their own celebratory noise.
The cacophony was music of a different sort this year.
The celebration was no less moving.
Our high school seniors did not parade down the center aisle of the Tabernacle on their scheduled graduation day this year. The community honored our high school seniors with a parade along State Beach.
Towards the end of the parade, a car drove by with a big sign for ‘Peter Burke’, my graduating senior. It was a neighbor and her son, a friend who had graduated in 2019. I smiled.
Later that night, the family celebrated Peter.
My mother bought a roast from Reliables and made Yorkshire Pudding in its juices. We had cards, a few presents, toasts and some ribbing of the graduate. There was homemade chocolate cake and lemon cake for dessert. We took pictures outside after dinner.
Peter and his family had his graduation day celebration.
(There is a formal ceremony with social distancing planned by the school at the Ag Hall towards the end of July.)
Dispatch Week Twelve: European Cars during Covid-19
June 9, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
My kids, their mother and I received a costly lesson in European cars during our Covid-19 shelter-in-home.
It is hard to believe that we need four cars between us. The idea of four carbon-emitting machines makes me feel guilty. We all have a responsibility for the environment. But my kids have jobs now and independent lives for which they need a car.
The father of a friend of Peter’s was selling a Mini Cooper convertible with 80,000 miles. He is a straight shooter and offered a good price. We thought there was a lot of life left in the car and what fun to drive a Mini around the Island in the summer with the top down. We bought the car.
The first problem was the back window.
Peter noticed cool air coming through the back of the car on his way to a physical therapist appointment. He discovered when he arrived that the back window was shattered. There were pieces of glass all over the trunk.
We have no idea how this happened. There were strong winds that day. We surmise that the strong winds caused the convertible top to flex and broke the window. We hope that was the cause.
It did not seem like too big of a deal.
We would replace the window. Insurance would cover the cost. We called the insurer. Insurance, we were told, would not cover the cost. We had not purchased a comprehensive policy that would cover this type of incident.
Still we thought replacing a window would not be too bad. We would use some of the good deal we had made on the car to pay for the new window. Our lesson in European cars began here.
We called a dealer outside of Boston. The dealer told us the car needed an entire new top. The window could not be replaced on its own. The price skyrocketed.
My mother volunteers at the Chicken Alley Thrift Shop. A man there, knowledgeable on cars, referred us to a shop in East Providence that specializes in car tops and boat tops. I called. The price was one-third less than the dealership.
A few days later, I made a two week round trip preferred boat reservation. With the rear window duck-taped over with a garbage bag, I drove the car to East Providence taking an extra precaution every time I changed lanes as I could not see my blind spots. (If I were doing it again, I would not have covered the window.)
The proprietor was a very nice man. He already had ordered the top and would put it on in the next week he told me. I caught a public bus to the convention center and then a Peter Pan back to Woods Hole.
I called the proprietor a week later. There was a problem with the electronics. The convertible mechanism was not working. He could put the top on but the convertible was not going to work. He was not an electronics person but he would find someone to come and diagnose the problem and replace the malfunctioning sensor.
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic occurred around this time.
One day, we were open at the library and the next day we were closed.
Governor Baker issued a shelter-at-home order. Island boards of selectmen did the same.
The Mini was in East Providence. The electronics needed to be figured and the pandemic closed off travel. This was fine with me. I had no desire to travel off-Island during the outbreak of a pandemic.
A month passed and then another month.
I called the shop for updates. The electronics was not sorted out. The issue was as annoying for the shop owner as it was for us. He had thought he would be putting on a new top, not having to mess around with the electronics. Still, all should work out. Then came the news.
Our lesson in European cars continued.
The shop proprietor took the car into a dealership. The dealership said the individual sensors could not be replaced. The entire electronic frame would have to be replaced. The cost would be thousands of dollars more.
He checked with a salvage yard for a used electronic frame. The cost remained far more than we were willing to pay. We asked him to put the top on as it was.
Three months after our saga in European cars began, I returned to East Providence to pick up the car. My mother, always one to lend a hand, drove me as Peter Pan was not operating.
The new top looked nice.
Not all was lost. The sun roof feature worked and the windows still could go down. Not like having the entire top down but pretty good. There was a way to manually put the top down, the shop owner said, but you needed to be a mechanic.
I drove the car back to Falmouth.
I made a visit to Kappy’s for wine, to Petco for a few bulk items for my dog Becham and to Walmart for a few other good deals. It was a hot May day. I picked up a large iced decaf mocha latte at Dunkin. They are a treat!
I drove back to Woods Hole with my iced mocha latte along the water. I had a 7:30 reservation for the boat but was able to go standby on the five. The latte was finished by the time I pulled into line. I picked up my mother who had arrived as well and parked her car in the Woods Hole lot.
I delivered the car to my kids.
Next time, we will do our homework before buying a fancy European car – even if it is a really good deal. This car ended up a costly headache. (We have bought a more comprehensive insurance policy now.)
Still, I will call the mechanic to see if the top can be brought down manually. A few sunny summer days with the top down in the 80s might take away the sting.
Dispatch Week Eleven: The Summer of Covid-19
June 2, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
The Vineyard will have a summer.
Covid–19 has not changed the seasons. The sun will be out, the temps in the 70s and 80s and there will be a southwest wind. The weather will be perfect for bike rides on the bike paths or in the state forest, for swimming and for going out on the water.
It is with this in mind that my kids and I brought our boat out of winter storage. We removed the canvas tarp that was tied down along the trailer and took off the spine that keeps the shape of the tarp so rain water washes off and does not pocket. We laid the tarp out to dry and later folded the tarp and put away both tarp and spine for the summer.
(With a mind towards the environment, I had a canvas covering made from the sail loft rather than using plastic shrink wrap. The canvas is also much more economical in the long term than having someone shrink wrap the boat each year for the offseason, and the canvas has lasted so far its promised 10 years.)
I found the boat, a 21′ Blue Fin, on the side of the road in Orleans on the Cape about ten years ago when I was camping with my kids and their grandmother at Nickerson State Park. I had sold my 25′ Cape Dory sailboat and was looking for a boat we could fish from. The most fun we had on the Cape Dory was trailing a line and catching bluefish.
It was perfect and a good deal – an even swap for what I sold the Cape Dory.
I keep ‘Blue Moon’ at my parents as they have more space.
After taking off the tarp and the spine, we move the boat, put boat stands under the stern and lift the boat off of the trailer so we can apply bottom paint to the hull. This is a real song and a dance. It requires a car jack to lower the front of the trailer to the ground as close as possible, sliding the boat stands into place, and then raising the front of the trailer back up and jacking up the boat stands.
It takes a few hours and we seem to have to refigure each year.
The end result is that the boat is resting on the boat stands and the front of the trailer – off the sled of the trailer by three inches or so allowing a skinny roller to pass through over the hull.
We took a break for grilled cheese bacon-optional sandwiches with my parents.
Bottom paint is yucky stuff.
You can have the paint can shaken at a paint store for five minutes and the bottom portion of the can still will be sludge. I have a foot long iron mixer that attaches to a power drill. I pour some of the paint out of the can and use the drill and attachment to mix the paint – careful not to cause a mess. I then pour the removed paint back in the can and slowly mix again.
I highly recommend wearing safety goggles when applying bottom paint. Bottom paint has metal in it. It is not like the friendly latex paint we use on our walls.
I learned this the hard way a few years ago. I was on my back underneath the boat and could not see through my foggy goggles. So I took the goggles off. A big drop of paint landed right in the middle of my eye. Compounding my mistake I did not wash out my eye right away.
A few days later, I could not focus with that eye. I went to see Dr. Santos. He saw the splotch in my eye and flushed my eye with a saline solution. A few days later I still felt something in my eye and was back in to see Dr. Santos. This time he swabbed the cul-de-sac behind my eye.
Dr. Santos without question saved my eye.
The painting went along speedily with three of us.
Maggie, my daughter, had already taped the paint line of the hull. She and Peter each had a roller. They applied the paint to the sides of the hull and as far under as they could reach. When they did all they could, I went under the boat on my back wearing new easy-to-see-through goggles and finished. (I have sawhorses and a wooden box under the trailer as backstops while I am under the boat should the trailer fail in some way.)
The painting took not more than an hour.
The boat is now almost ready for the mechanic.
We took the batteries out of storage and put them in the battery cases. The last job we have is to wax the painted topsides of the hull. Unfortunately, I disposed the old buffing pad last year before finding a replacement. And it was Memorial Day.
The folks at NAPA in Vineyard Haven were an incredible help a few days later. After a few phone calls, one of the service people invited me to bring in my power buffer. The backing disc on the power buffer is not a uniform size. It took some work but he managed to secure a new buffing pad. It is now ready to go.
Peter and Maggie are the perfect ages for this type of work.
The wax protects the hull and the paint.
The next step will be to take the boat to the mechanic to prepare the engine and then to put the boat in the water at our mooring in Tashmoo. I choose a day and time when I am not expecting anyone at the boat ramp as I am awful at backing down the trailer and constantly have to pull forward. (You might have a five-year wait for a town mooring in Tashmoo. But once you have one, the yearly fee is a very reasonable $175.)
It is a lot of work.
In the Fall, the process is reversed.
The boat comes out of the water and goes to the mechanic for the engine to be winterized. I then trailer the boat to my parents. In a bathing suit and an old rain jacket, I use a power washer connected to a garden hose to clean the hull. I lie on my back in puddles of water to reach the underside and always end up soaked. The batteries come out and the spine and the canvas tarp go on.
So all of this comes back around.
We are going to have a summer. Covid – 19 is not going to cancel the season of summer. We are going to be on the Island with its beautiful weather and beautiful beaches with Covid or without Covid. To the extent possible, I will try and take some enjoyment of the summer. I will go for many bike rides and to the beach at least once.
I hope everyone enjoys the summer.
Many of the Island summer traditions such as the ag fair and fireworks are cancelled, and rightly so given the proximity they create between thousands of people. I believe we can be safe and still have some summer fun.
One can social distance at the beach with a picnic for the sunset. One can go for a bike ride with a friend without coming into close contact with others or go kayaking on one of the many ponds. Boats are free of contact with others and tennis and golf are played in small groups.
Definitely for me there will be a few days on the water.
Dispatch Week Ten: Becham Covid-19
May 26, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
Becham – a 25lb, five-year-old Terrier mix – came into our lives as a three month old puppy from Arkansas. He was living in a loving foster home with his brothers and sisters and his mother at the time. The litter had been found in an abandoned house at about a week old.
I drove to Halifax, Massachusetts to pick him up. He had travelled the prior day from Arkansas. He was about 8 lbs with a light brown and white splotched coat. He had a smile on his face and came over wagging his tail to say hi. He was a cute and sweet looking puppy. I picked him up in my arms.
I had bought a harness which I placed on him with the help of the woman who had him for the night. I had never had a dog before. When he realized he was leaving, he barked and tugged on his leash. He had gone from one home to another leaving his family and now was going on yet again. His trepidation did not last long. In the car, he jumped right onto my lap and stayed there for the drive back to Woods Hole.
Becham has always been outgoing.
My father met us at the boat in Woods Hole to lend a hand.
Everyone wanted to say hi, as folks do with cute puppies. It was a nice summer day. The boat was crowded. We went out on the deck for a little while to enjoy the sun and salt air. My mother was waiting for us with the car when we debarked in Vineyard Haven.
Back home, not sure what to do, I set up the playpen I had bought. Peter, my son, came over briefly to meet Becham. He was on his way to a baseball practice or something of the sort. He said a quick hi to Becham and then went upstairs for something he needed. I put Becham in the playpen. He jumped up, reached the top with his paws and in seconds tumbled over and out. He then raced up the carpeted stairs, ‘lickety split’ as my mother said, to see where Peter had gone.
Maggie, my daughter, was home soon.
She was nearly as excited as Becham, who knew, it seemed, that he had found his home. She greeted him with a huge smile and hug and took him outside to play with the toy she had bought for him from Good Dog Goods in Oak Bluffs. They ran around the yard.
There is a funny back-story to this day.
In 2008 or 2009, when Maggie was eight and Peter six, I had said we would adopt a dog. Maggie had wanted a dog for many years. We took books on dogs out of the library and read them together to learn how we would care for a dog.
Then I had cold feet.
I did not have time for a dog. I was not ready for a dog. I had enough going on.
I backed out of what basically had been a promise to the kids that we would adopt a dog. From that day on, for the next seven years, Maggie did not let me forget my broken promise. Whenever she was displeased with me, she would look at me and say ‘roof roof.’
All of that changed.
I was ready for the responsibility of a dog. I told the kids. After a few months of thinking and looking at dogs on various pet finder websites, we were ready to choose. Becham came up in a picture. I called the shelter. The timing was perfect. They were ready to put him out to adoption.
Maggie came up with the name Becham. Because it was athletically inspired – there was David Beckham the soccer player and Odell Becham the football player – Peter went along with it. Since then Becham has taken over the name as his own.
Becham, since day one, has been about the happiest dog. He always smiles. As a puppy, any visitor to the house would set him to cartwheels and flips in the air on the couch. Now, no longer as nimble, he wags his tail and shakes his hips in a way nearly bursting from the excitement.
I had no idea how much work I was in for. I had figured I could handle a walk in the morning and a walk in the afternoon. It was much more. I had no idea what the first year would entail.
For the first few weeks, I was up twice a night to take Becham outside to pee. The first night he went in his crate. He did not like that at all and did not do that again. After a few weeks, he was down to once a night. And soon he was going through the night. My father came over and slept on the couch a few nights to give me a break. In the mornings, I walked him to the park. We would run around for a few minutes and then walk home.
Becham was a toddler for a year.
He had to be followed around the house at all times. Inevitably, if you were not there with him, he would meet up with trouble. Usually this would mean he would go pee on a carpet. Most dogs take four to six months for house training. It probably was my fault. Becham did not begin to resemble a house trained dog until 8 months. And then there were accidents.
The first year was tough.
It was tiring and I was unprepared. Having him go to the bathroom on the carpet, the minute I looked away was frustrating. Boy did he make me angry a few times. He was more than worth the effort.
Becham wins everyone over right away. He has his smile to this day. He adores everybody he comes across. Every person is another person to pet him and give him love. He is shameless. He will sit there gazing up happily at the sky as he is stroked and pet.
Becham is great friends with most other dogs. He has a few best friends like Bo and some neighborhood pals like Winston and Scup. Some big dogs set him off.
We went to Trade Winds – a land bank property known as the “dog park” until they put up a heavy wire fence – for a year or so. As a puppy, Becham was friendly and played with everyone. When he was older, he had a few mixups.
Some of it, I think, was too much stimulation. There could be 30 dogs at the dog park and it was too much for him. He would become too excited. He might call out a newcomer who was not in his opinion abiding by the rules of the park.
A few bigger dogs pushed him around. He is a little guy but he is stubborn and fierce and will protect himself. I cringe when I see an unleashed aggressive dog like a Rottweiler. It always has been this type of dog that has pushed him around. He is now skittish. (I should add we have met some wonderful Rottweilers as well.)
I am proud he will stand up for himself. I worry that he does not realize there are fights he has no chance of winning.
He has never bit another dog. He always has been all bark. He snarls and bares his teeth.
Once when he was a few years old, he managed to break down the closed storm-front door of my house, race out in the street and start a scuffle with another dog passing by. To this day I do not know what crime the other dog committed. Cars stopped as they fought it out in the street. Finally I was able to grab hold of him.
The woman walking the other dog seemed somewhat traumatized by the whole experience. I was upset myself. It was the one time he really started a fight on his own and I felt responsible. I did not understand why.
No one was hurt. No bites either side.
I am more comfortable now. Five years have passed. Becham has behaved as dogs do. They do not always like each other. Sometimes they fight. Or it may better be put that they are exchanging words. He has barked and snarled but never hurt another dog. He is less skittish.
We do not know what we would do without Becham.
He is a member of the family.
He is now like a little boy. He likes to play whenever possible. He wants to please and still finds himself in trouble from time to time. The other day, he dashed into the woods after something in the late evening before we could stop him. It was dark. We were worried about finding him or that he might be hit by a car. He came out of the woods down the street a few minutes later. We let him know, he was not to do that again.
Becham is, as my kids say, “the favorite child.”
He is the most loving dog imaginable. The affection he gives and the affection he brings out of us is without limit. He curls up with the kids on the couch. And if they are staying the night he goes upstairs to be with them.
Becham is a wonderful companion.
In the mornings during the week, he helps motivate me to arise from bed and go for a three mile walk before work. In the afternoons we’ll go for another walk if we can and end up at the park where we play with a Chuckit until he is tires out. (A Chuckit is a two foot or so handle with a ball holder on one end that is used to pick up tennis balls from the ground without having to bend over, and to throw balls farther than one could otherwise and without throwing out one’s arm.)
On the weekends, we go for longer walks on conservation properties or beaches. I love a two hour walk on the beach in the winter or in the woods. It is cathartic. I can work through things in my mind, hike and enjoy the outside, the solitude and the fresh air. Becham can run, chasing and barking at the waves, or sniff and pee to his heart’s delight.
He brings out the best in us.
Dispatch Week Nine: Antibodies Covid – 19
May 18, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
My cousin Sam, whose story of Covid–19 was the topic of Dispatch Week Two, is donating his antibody-rich plasma to the Mount Sinai hospital system of New York City on an almost weekly basis.
Every eight days, as his busy home life as a stay-at-home dad with three girls at home allows, he travels to a Mount Sinai hospital, has a needle stuck in his arm, and then sits for 45 minutes, mostly looking blankly at his phone, as his blood is taken, processed through a machine which extracts the antibody-rich plasma, and then returned.
In his long battle to survive Covid–19 his body built up an army of antibodies to counter-attack and ultimately prevail over the illness. Those antibodies of his are now being used by doctors at Mount Sinai to treat other critically ill patients with Covid–19. Possibly he is saving lives.
“I can give plasma directly to someone in a life or death situation,” he says.
Sam expects to make a full recovery from Covid–19.
That was not clear at three weeks when he was able to leave his room for the first time and lie on the sofa downstairs in the living room with his wife and daughters. He was not going to die from Covid–19. But his lungs had taken a hit.
For a week after his fever was down he could not move quickly and had massive head rushes when he stood up. For two weeks after, he had a feeling of being at altitude deprived of the oxygen his body needed.
“I went for a one mile bike ride with the kids and it destroyed me,” he said.
Now at six weeks, since the first signs of symptoms of Covid–19, his lungs feel recovered. He is hopeful. He has not yet put his lungs to the test. His community in Westchester County, New York is still under shelter order. He does not want to run with a mask. He is not quite ready.
The experience in Westchester County has not been the experience of Martha’s Vineyard or most other places in the country. “Everyone here knows someone who died,” he says. Two men in his community of peers died.
There are no protests here over the closure, he remarks. The closure is a bummer and the cancellation of school is sad. But there are no demands to reopen as elsewhere in the country.
Everyone is asking for blood.
If you live in Westchester, you have received an email he said.
If the first step is deciding to donate blood, the second step is deciding to who to donate. Sam said he weighed whether to donate to a study or whether to donate for a patient. Some studies restrict donations only to the study.
Before Sam could donate to anyone, he had to prove he had had Covid. This was more of a challenge than one might think. He had a test at a drive through in the early days of his illness. The medical system at that point in time was in total disarray and he never heard back. He figured he was lost in the disarray. And he did not need a test to tell him what he knew he had.
He had no idea where his blood test was sent. He posted his question on Reddit. Believe it or not, someone who had been to the same test site knew the lab where the tests were sent and responded. Sam called the lab. He gave his info, they found his test and confirmed his positive. “Maybe my phone number did not make it on the vial.”
Ultimately, Sam chose a study with a blood bank. His plasma would not be used to help patients but it would be used to help find a cure which in the end would help more.
He agreed to a two-year commitment of donating plasma to the study. And then they never called him. He followed up and still they did not respond. He decided to go with Mount Sinai instead.
“Having not died you end up very grateful,” he says.
He is grateful he has survived and no longer has to worry every time he puts on a mask. He is grateful he can help others in their fight. He is grateful for his family.
Mostly he is grateful for his family.
His voice is full of life.
His fifth grader is a good student and just needs some help with time management, he tells me. His twins, second graders, pose a different problem. They are each different in their own way. “Teaching them both at the same time is very challenging,” he says.
The virus and the illness has impacted all of them. One of the girls slept with him and his wife for seven weeks. The kids do not understand. They are scared without knowing they are scared. They are missing friends but they are not missing friends.
Sam would not trade these challenges for anything in the world. He has to go he tells me. We have been speaking on the phone for half an hour. His family needs him back.
Dispatch Week Eight: Biking with Pops During Covid-19
May 12, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
My father and I have been exploring some of the many bike trails in the State Forest as the weather has turned to Spring. I do not know if these rides somehow are connected to Covid-19. They are a wonderful respite from the scare of Covid-19.
Our first cycle was on the red trail.
It is a narrow trail on compacted ground through the trees with some turns that require a real slowdown to navigate. You must go so slow you almost come to a stop and you wonder if you can keep the bike upright.
There are obstacles someone has made of sharply inclined log ramps a few feet high. Some folks, I believe, actually go over these obstacles. I think I would run right into them if I tried, and go head first over the handles of my bike with at least a broken collarbone if not worse.
Keep going in the direction of Edgartown on the public trails of the state forest and soon you will come to the Vineyard Golf Course – which you can bike around in the off-season. On the way back, you may come on the Dr. Fisher trail and the Tunnel and Twisty trails. We start and return in the vicinity of the High School.
Pops is 82.
He is in great shape. He bikes nearly every day of the year – whether to the post office or to Morning Glory Farm for a coffee and a muffin with my mother. I can only hope I am mountain biking at the age of 82.
We have had fun on the Twisty trails.
One can access the Twisty trails beyond the high school’s baseball diamond. Twisty is a great network. The trails are wide and flat with a few roots and rocks to go over. They keep turning making them fun to ride. They merge with other trails and change directions and often it all looks the same making it very easy to lose one’s way. But you always will come out somewhere.
There is another great trail system that was cut just this past winter. My friend Ray showed me. Pops and I biked the trails just the other day. The entrance is behind the state forest buildings.
The trails are wide and groomed. Roots stick up in the air like twigs. The new trails also are soft, I think from lack of use, offering little resistance which makes the riding a real work out – like walking in the sand.
The trail system takes you east. There are a number of fire lanes and access roads to cross. Go far enough and you will come to a challenging section. The trail makes long wide turns with steep uphills and downhills.
The uphills require you to go into low gears and to stand up on your bike. Your wheels slip and spin as you fight for traction on the soft surface of the trail on your way upwards. The downhills are thrilling though you must maintain control on the turns.
We stop at the top of one of the uphills for a breather.
Keep going over a few more fire lanes and access roads after the uphills and downhills and you will meet up with the Tunnel Trail. We took a left shortly after Tunnel onto a sunken dirt and sand trail.
There is room enough only for one’s bike on this trail. The trail is a straight shot back to the forestry buildings, crossing over the same fire lanes and access roads but with no meandering turns. The trail is fast without give. We raced along.
All in all, the ride, including the legs to and from my house in Vineyard Haven, is about two hours – a great escape from Covid and any other stresses in one’s life. Last Friday, we rode a different section of the Vineyard’s wooded interior.
We met at the roundabout.
We made our way to the Greenlands and rode its trail system to the intersection of Great Plains Road and Old County Road. We turned around there and chose a different way back. We took a trail with a fun rocky downhill section where you just bump along that brought us out onto Stoney Hill road. We took Stoney Hill to Thimble Farm.
We parted there as home was in different directions.
Pops headed back home to Oak Bluffs alongside the fields of Thimble Farm and via Little Duarte’s Pond. I headed back to my home in Vineyard Haven on a paved road going in the correct direction that I had not been on before. We said our goodbyes.
I found a trail at the end of the paved road. I took the trail and it brought me to a place I thought I recognized as the Field of Goats. I had been here once before, I thought, with my son who is a cross country runner and knows all the trails.
I found trails beyond the field and signs to the Sailor’s Burial Grounds. I chose one. I marveled. I had once recommended to a friend that he might have fun going with his girlfriend and biking in Utah. It occurred to me one could spend much of one’s life and have just as much fun learning the many Vineyard trails.
I thought I had an idea where I was. I recognized a few landmarks, I thought. I had to choose which way to go a few times. I came out onto a dirt road inhabited with a few houses. I was now lost. I had no idea where I was, other than that I was somewhere in the depths of the Vineyard’s interior.
There was a UPS truck I followed a little ways. I kept going when it took a left on a road that looked questionable. I kept to the right. Sooner or later I would come out somewhere. I was going downhill. I came across two women walking. “Does this bring me out somewhere?” I asked. “Yes, keep on going,” they replied. “You sure do stand out in that jacket.” (The latter comment was in reference to my yellow fluorescent jacket.)
The dirt road put me out onto a paved road. Finally, I was going somewhere. I whizzed downhill on a stretch. I saw where I was. I had looped all the way around and come back right to where I had started at Thimble Farm.
I was ready to be home. I decided against trying again the route I had just taken. I rode out to the Edgartown Vineyard Haven road and took a left.
Later that night I called my father to tell him the story. He had his own story. He had done the exact same thing. Only, his loop back had been from the other direction. He had gone past Duartes and lost his way and ended back at Thimble Farm again as well.
Wouldn’t it have been funny, we agreed, if we had met up again at Thimble Farm?
Dispatch Week Seven: Operation Warp Speed and Contact Tracing Covid-19
May 4, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
Where are we in our struggle with the coronavirus pandemic?
I wondered about this question in last week’s dispatch and this week I attempt to provide some answers – if not the whole answer. I reviewed last week’s news. There remains no information on the overall timeline of the pandemic.
That does not mean progress is not being made.
There were positive developments announced last week.
On a national level, there is hope for a vaccine by next January. The administration has reason to think it may be able to shrink the normally five to ten year process for a vaccine to a year. On a local level, Massachusetts has launched the ‘Contact Tracing’ initiative which seeks to contain the virus through outreach.
The vaccine seems the more exciting news – if also the less concrete.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with the Today Show last Thursday that a vaccine by January is a possibility.
The mission for a vaccine is called Operation Warp Speed.
The overriding concern is that the vaccine be ‘safe and effective.’ Also, the vaccine according to Fauci needs to be able to be scaled ‘rapidly’. The trial is in its first phase and Fauci says he hopes to move into the next phase safely and as quickly as possible. The next phase will determine whether the vaccine works and is safe.
The team for Operation Warp Speed will not wait for an answer to the question of efficacy. According to Fauci, the team will work with industry to ramp up production of the vaccine ‘at risk’ and begin manufacturing before an answer. This way, they can shrink the timeline. If the vaccine is proven to work and to be safe, January he says is a possibility.
There are logistical problems. Hundreds of millions of doses will be required making packaging an issue. There needs to be vials and stoppers. The vaccine must be safe for handling.
In addition to the vaccine, Dr. Fauci said there has been a promising trial of a new drug called Remdesivir. He said the drug was shown in a credible study to improve chances of recovery of those hospitalized by 31 percent. Dr. Fauci said he expected the drug to have a fast approval and be available reasonably soon. “I think it’s going to happen.”
In separate news, Governor Charlie Baker announced last Thursday that cases in Massachusetts had remained flat for 15 days. There were 3,856 hospitalizations – about 6% of all cases – and there were 252 deaths the preceding day, a number far greater than anyone would ever be comfortable.
There was also good news.
“Earlier this month, we announced the creation of the Covid–19 community tracing collaborative … to mitigate the spread of the disease and to contain it,” he said.
The state, Governor Baker said, had partnered with a company called Partners in Health in a ‘Contact Tracing’ initiative. Partners has world-wide experience battling infectious diseases like ebola and the zika virus. So far, there are 1,000 contact tracers at work.
The contact tracers identify those who have been infected and then call them to determine with whom they have been in contact. Then, the contact tracers call the contacts to let them know they have been in contact with someone with the virus. This way, the contacts can be tested and can isolate before possibly infecting someone else. (The identity of the original person with the infection is not shared with the contacts.)
Originally, according to Baker, it was thought there would be 10 contacts for each person infected. In fact, there have been only two contacts for each person infected. This shows social distancing is working.
The team of tracers has contacted 5,000 people.
Phone calls by the tracers to the people infected have been longer than expected. The tracers provide support and guidance in addition to identifying the contacts. People have had a lot on their mind and have appreciated the opportunity to talk with someone said Governor Baker.
Governor Baker asks folks to take the call from the collaborative and provide the relevant information. The caller ID will say MA Covid Team: “[This is] your chance to be part of the fight to both contain and prevent the spread of the virus.”
In the same press conference, Governor Baker announced the creation of an advisory board to come up with a plan for reopening the state. Contact tracing and testing are important components to a reopening. The plan is supposed to be ready by May 18 which is the current end date of the shelter in place order.
The advisory board has started talking to businesses and municipalities and is listening to as many voices as possible. Retailers, biotech, brick and mortars on Main Street, health care. The bricks and mortars are of particular interest.
“[They] make up a lot of the main street activity that vibrant downtowns here in Massachusetts are all about,” said Baker. The reopening in whatever form it takes, according to Governor Baker, will be phased.
Dr. Fauci said of states reopening: “We will see blips … there is no doubt … when you pull back, you will have cases.”
Dispatch Week Six: Week Six of COVID-19
April 26, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
We have been closed now since March 17.
We do not know where we are in the pandemic.
We do not know if the closures will remain in effect for the summer. We do not know if we have flattened the curve and will be able to reopen soon, if on some limited basis. We do not know how a reopening will look. We do not know the ending.
Will there be testing so we can reopen in the face of the virus? Will the virus be with us in the fall? Yes. Will schools reopen in the fall? When will there be a vaccine?
We do know a reopening will not look as before.
Six weeks in, the pandemic is still controlling our lives.
The school recently announced its closure through the remainder of the school year.
The library has cancelled its in-person May programs. And summer programs are under consideration. It would be impossible to have social distancing with programs – especially story times and other programs for kids.
There will be no skillet tosses, no Loco Taco tent, no root beer floats, no woodsman contest and tractor pull, no display hall or fiber tent and no barn full of pigs, goats, the tall and powerful draft horses and all the other animals. The 159th Agricultural fair, reported by the Times, has been cancelled – the first cancellation since World War II.
I took some enjoyment from the shelter order at the start.
I liked going for a morning walk with my 25 lb terrier-mix Becham, having breakfast and making my coffee and sitting down at my computer. It was nice not to have to drive to my parents, drop Becham there, drive into work, open up the library and then reverse the procedure at day’s end. It was nice to set my own schedule.
It was fun to make suppers with my kids even as I felt awful for their lost opportunities.
I liked the unifying aspect of the crisis. How we are all in it together. How we can reach out to each other and feel a stronger bond. How we can help each other. Everyone doing their part.
I have taken no enjoyment at all from the coronavirus and its COVID-19 illness.
A week or so ago on a walk in the Sepiessa reserve, I put it together in my mind.
I had enjoyed the break of the shelter order. That was it, I realized. It was the break. I thought it through as I walked a quiet trail. I missed my family. I missed the folks in the library. I missed the battle of each day.
I became a little angry with myself.
People were suffering. Not everyone has family and friends to reach out to and make a connection. Not everyone has a home and food for the table. People are out of work. People are sick. Many are alone.
The novelty of the shelter order had worn off.
I had a momentary hope a few weeks ago of a South Beach full of folks sitting out in the sun on towels and under umbrellas, reading and playing games and diving into the waves. As I biked past State Beach the other day, I saw in the empty spaces along the side of the road the bumper-to-bumper cars of summer.
Neither of these scenes, I think, is likely this summer.
But what will be in its place?
Surely, there must be some type of re-opening.
I have a family member on the Island with a small business. He had to lay off his entire staff of about 15 at the start of the closure. He needs money coming in in order to pay money out. It has been six weeks that both he and his employees have gone without a paycheck.
We are doing all we can at the library.
We have greatly expanded our digital content. We have been buying lots of copies of ebooks and audio books to be downloaded through web services like Overdrive and Libby. At the start of the closure, we subscribed to Hoopla – a movie, tv, ebook and audio book streaming service. And we expanded our patrons’ access to Kanopy, another streaming service. There are tens of thousands of titles.
Library technology staff stand ready to assist by phone folks who need some help accessing the digital content. Any of our patrons may call the library main number, 508-693-9433, and leave a message for a call back for tech help.
We have regular updates and postings on our Facebook page. There are cooking shows, book clubs, story times and even a tree climbing lesson. Interactive folks can find some fun stuff to occupy themselves for a while.
We realize this is not enough.
Not everyone has the internet access or smart device required for digital content. Some folks have not participated in the digital age. Some folks just prefer a book in their hands. (Fortunately, many patrons report having books in their own library they have been meaning to read for some years or that they are enjoying as a re-read.)
The library is more than the books and movies.
The library is community. One can leave one’s home and come to the library and make a connection. The library is a community living room of sorts: a nice, quiet, comfortable environment to read the paper or a book or to do some work. There is free internet and computers for public use.
The Oak Bluffs library has a lounge with a coffee station and couches and chairs that will put you to sleep if you are not careful. There are the many programs – fishing on the pier in the summer, the annual Sankofa Festival, author talks, mini golf, Easter egg hunts. There always is something for someone.
We hope we will be able to offer some type of access in the coming months, whether a curbside service, limiting the number of folks in the library at a time, or something else entirely. (Our director and other Island library directors are working on possible plans.) Upwards of 500 folks visit the library daily in the summer. We would like to be at the library helping our patrons find books and movies, researching items of historical interest on the Vineyard, and running our popular summer programs.
We do not yet have the answers.
Have you noticed the spring we are having?
We are actually having a spring – unlike our usual spring with a few beautiful sunny days and then the rain and cold until some day in June when it turns to summer. It has been gorgeous so far. There have been more bright and sunny days than I can remember. We have had our share of rain, as always. The overall feeling has been warm and bright as opposed to the usual raw and wet. (I hope I have not jinxed us. I write this as a cold rain falls on the Island.)
Two Sundays ago, I biked from my home in Vineyard Haven along the Edgartown Vineyard Haven road to the Edgartown triangle. It was a windy spring day with clouds in the blue sky. I biked along State Beach and East Chop. Coming down the hill from the East Chop Light the wind barreled into me slowing me to a near crawl. I made my way along Beach Road and then around West Chop.
My kids invited me over for dinner that night with their mother. They were on France. My son was the head chef this time. They cooked a cheese souffle and prepared a chocolate mousse. Possibly my favorite dinner imaginable. Both came out perfect and were absolutely delicious.
Dispatch Week Five: Family and Friends During Covid-19
April 21, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
Reaching out to family and friends puts a smile on your face.
This time of staying apart as many folks have noticed does bring us closer together.
The beginning of the shelter-in-place order and the closing of schools and businesses and community organizations was surreal. The unknown of what was to come, the pandemic on the horizon, and the seriousness of contracting Covid-19 were intimidating to us all.
A Zoom call was reassuring.
Many of us now know Zoom if we did not already.
Zoom is a teleconferencing resource on the internet. One person hosts the meeting and the others join the meeting by signing on through their computer or smart phone. If your computer has a video camera, your picture along with everyone else’s on the call appears on the screen in a square box. And then you just talk as you would on the phone.
The Oak Bluffs Public Library is one of the many organizations using Zoom. We have a regular Friday morning meeting that runs an hour or two and our director opens Zoom each morning from 10 am to 11 am so folks can check in with her and/or ask a question. The contact is invaluable. One feels connected rather than shut off in one’s home. The meetings generate enthusiasm for the work at home and lend the missing sense of teamwork and camaraderie with one’s colleagues.
My sister and my daughter arranged a Zoom call at the beginning of the shelter order.
My sister lives in California with her husband and two boys. We always have been close, and our families are close notwithstanding the distance separating them. They come to the Vineyard a few weeks in the summer and often for Thanksgiving, and we visit in California every few years.
My sister hosted the Zoom call.
We did not chat about anything in particular.
My daughter told them of a college friend with family attending the same schools as her cousins in California. My nephew, who had worn a mop for many years, was shorn and clean cut. He was giving his hair to be made into a wig for someone who had no hair of their own.
We heard about my sister’s 14 hour days. She works for a grocery store chain and was responsible for all sorts of things. Contingency plans for anything that might happen during the pandemic needed to be drawn up. Long lines and anxious customers were besetting the stores. The stores needed to be kept open.
My son shared how exams for his AP courses were now optional and 45 minutes instead of three hours. My daughter’s backpacking adventure to Europe with two friends was cancelled. My nephews kept inserting clever backgrounds to their computer screens.
The Zoom call, like the Pad Thai that my kids and I have made twice now, was a diversion from the crisis. I had not realized some of the anxiety I was feeling until I felt it dissipate with the call.
A week later we had another Zoom call – this one between siblings and parents.
Some effort does need to be made to stay together.
I have been social distancing with my parents along with everyone else to limit the contacts that are relayed to my kids. I realized after the first two weeks that this meant my parents were on their own and that also I was missing their company. Usually, we would see each other a few times a week along with my kids.
I made a point then of maintaining contact.
My mother and I went for a long walk on South Beach and my father and I have hit the bike trails and fire lanes in the state forest keeping six feet apart. Having that time with them was more rewarding than usual. Each time, I was left with a good happy feeling.
Reaching out goes beyond family.
I have a friend with whom I shop every Sunday. It is nicer than shopping on one’s own. The first two weekends we continued to shop together. But then the virus inserted itself in my head. Grocery stores are the most contagious places likely, and when we come out of the grocery store we are not social distancing in the car. Our risk of contracting the virus was heightened.
We should not shop together.
Instead, I now shop for both of us. On Sunday, I go to his house for his list which he tapes to his door. I call him when the shopping his done and I am on my way. He comes outside and takes his grocery bags with food from the car while I stay seated.
There are many ways to reach out to others from your isolation.
Most recently, I called to check in with a friend who lives on her own.
We talked about 40 minutes catching up on our shelter experiences. She talks with her daughter every day and has been making fabric masks for folks. I told her of my cooking with my kids and going out for walks. We talked about the virus and about the economy.
The next day she stopped by my house in the morning with homemade fabric masks for me. They are ingenious – built like an envelope so one can put a coffee filter or the like inside for added protection. They have a short length of pipe cleaner so the mask comfortably fits over the nose.
A smile on my face.
Dispatch Week Four: The Beauty of Martha’s Vineyard in the Time of Covid-19
April 13, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
We are lucky.
We live on a beautiful island.
There are few places in the world if any, I imagine, whose beauty is comparable to that of the Vineyard. There are, of course, awe-inspiring places in the world – the Tetons, the canyons of the Southwest and others. The Vineyard though is unique.
In addition to the beaches around the Island, we have a land bank and a regulatory commission and many conservation groups which protect and preserve those beaches and the natural environment of the Island. There are many different and varied properties for people to enjoy.
Many have made it their life’s work to preserve and maintain the Vineyard’s natural beauty and that beauty is interwoven with our daily life in a way unlike a national park for example.
Martha’s Vineyard is a New England beauty. Overcast grey raw at times, warm sunny vibrant at others. Rural countryside and farmland. Picturesque down-island towns. The many beaches. The ponds. Always, the ocean and the sounds upon its shores.
All one has to do to experience the beauty of Martha’s Vineyard is leave one’s home.
Driving up-Island one will be treated to the rustic beauty of stone walls, narrow roads with trees hanging over the sides, open pastures and meadows and vistas of the Atlantic Ocean.
There are properties of hundreds of acres, open to everyone, with trails to hike and to lose oneself within for a few hours, through trees with brooks and creeks chuckling along, and often offering a way to the water.
The red clay cliffs of Aquinnah on the western-most point of the Island gaze over the sea and weather the brunt of its storms now as they have for hundreds of years.
Down Island, the Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds are ever present. The vast Lagoon and Sengekontacket salt ponds filled with shellfish lie inside barrier beach roads. The Elizabethan Islands are off in the distance. The natural harbors offer protection from weather to boaters.
It is unlikely there are stretches of road in the world that compare to Moshup’s Trail running along the Vineyard’s south shore of the Atlantic up-island, the beach held together by sand dunes and grasses, or the down-Island beach road with the sounds on one side, the beach there also held together by sand dunes and grasses, and the Sengekontacket pond on the other side.
The beaches on the Vineyard are too numerous and varied and wonderful to describe.
I often think how lucky I am to live here and how the rest of our country with its suburbs and strip malls could benefit from our example.
A few weeks ago, in the midst of the new shelter-in-place order, my son had the idea of going to Great Rock Bight for the sunset. My daughter and I thought it sounded terrific.
It was a Friday, and Friday night is pizza night. I have two pizza stones and buy the dough, usually from Reliable. That night, we tried a pesto garlic pizza for the first time, along with a regular garlic pizza and a pepperoni spinach. They were all delish.
The four of us after pizza – me, my son and daughter, and our 25lb terrier mix Becham – piled into the car and set off for the Great Rock Bight land bank property up-Island. We headed up from Vineyard Haven on State Road and turned off on North Road in West Tisbury. We kept our eyes out as we drove up through Chilmark, as the Land Bank sign for Great Rock Bight is set back from the road on a turn and is easy to miss.
We found the turnoff and made our way to the parking area.
It is an easy walk – well less than a mile if you take the short route – down to the beach. We passed one fellow huffing and puffing on his way up. Towards the end of the trail it is steep enough, though not very steep, that steps have been built to make the descent easier. Our hike down was no longer than ten minutes. We decided to stop at the observation point just short of the beach for a better vantage of the sunset.
It was a pretty night.
The great rock, only its top half showing, was in its usual place a little ways off the beach in the waters within the bight of the shoreline. The sky was clear of clouds with some blue. The string of Elizabethan islands was visible across the mostly calm Vineyard Sound. The round sun – a mix of yellows oranges and reds – was dropping towards the horizon.
We had about fifteen minutes till sunset.
We chatted about things like the green flash while we waited.
Some folks believe that under perfect conditions, a green flash can be seen right as the upper limb of the sun dips out of sight below the horizon. Some folks regard this as a mariner’s myth. I believe I saw it once. Either way, the conditions were not perfect this evening. The horizon was a little blurry.
We waited for the sun. It took its time, in no rush. The sun seemed to smile as it made its slow steady descent. We watched the burning orb meet the horizon briefly and then begin to dip below. The orb dipped further and further below until it vanished from sight.
No green flash.
We made the hike back up to the car. The steeper section requires a little effort. But the three of us and Becham are all in good shape. We were home in time for the end of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy – another fun indulgence during shelter-in-home.
I can not imagine how crazy I would go if I were living in a city such as New York and sheltering in an apartment from which I never left. I would want to be out walking the city blocks or in Central Park for a few hours a day.
Fortunately, our predicament here on the Island is different from that of New York City. We have no high rises. We can leave our home and walk the quiet roads of our neighborhood. We have countless beaches and conservation properties.
For folks going out in a group of five or less and needing to be able to social distance, South Beach is a great option. It is open to the public and it is wide, allowing three or more to walk abreast six feet apart. I was there recently with my daughter and cousin.
We parked at right fork and went right on the beach.
There was a lot of beach. The sands are well-nourished, full of the spoils of winter storms. The beach appeared robust and healthy, ready and equal to the challenge of summer. I imagine the beaches full with summer frolickers.
There were other groups of folks out with the same idea as ours. We passed a number of folks walking and talking and social distancing. There were a few other dogs out with their owners as well. Becham raced full speed chasing the surf. We switched our configuration a few times.
It was a nice day – clear with some clouds, not too windy.
It was about a half hour walk to reach a dramatic cut in the beach into Edgartown Great Pond. There were birds flying and swooping over the cut. The water was flowing outward into the ocean. We joked about deciding against fording the wide swath of fast moving water to continue our walk on the other side.
Dispatch Week Three: A Pad Thai Supper in the Time of Covid-19
April 2, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
A home-cooked Pad Thai supper can do wonders.
The tasty noodles in the rich peanut sauce with the garlic and onions, some scallions and crushed peanuts as toppings, and shaved chicken (or tofu if you prefer vegetarian) was just what we needed.
The Covid-19 illness is scary.
It seems like we all are just waiting. It has arrived on our shores, but we are expecting worse. We are waiting for an outbreak or a surge in cases because it seems that only after that will it leave. We are hoping that we will not be among those infected. For some, the symptoms will be mild, for others severe.
We are hunkering down in our homes.
We are missing day-to-day social interaction.
There is no bumping into someone in the grocery store. Those who have ventured out to the grocery store warily keep their carts at least six feet apart. Folks who might have said hi in normal times brace themselves, take a step further away and quickly walk by.
Some folks, especially those who live alone, must be lonely.
Each of us is experiencing some loss.
I miss going over to my parents on a Sunday for tea and supper, and having them over for Friday pizza nights with my kids. Usually, after the pizza–which I make–we play a card game such as Hearts or Liverpool.
Mostly, I think about my kids.
My daughter and two of her close Island friends were supposed to backpack in Europe for three weeks this May and June: staying in youth hostels, living in grungy clothes and sleeping on the floors of trains as they visited seven different countries.
I always will remember the adventure of hoisting my own backpack and traveling through Europe for five weeks or so when I was in college, armed with a youth hostel and euro-rail pass.
I went country to country, explored cities and towns on foot, toured castles and cathedrals, and took in the history and the art. I made my plans as I went. I traveled with other folks here and there for a few days. I had a rendezvous with a friend in France and one with my brother in Switzerland.
I always will remember the Australians.
The Australian young men and women, without question, had the bragging rights in the back-packing community. They did not leave their home country for a month; they traveled a minimum of six months on their world walkabouts, and many traveled up to two years. (When they returned home though, they explained to me, they never left again.)
My daughter’s adventure has now been cancelled.
My son, a high school senior, is missing his senior spring. This is supposed to be his time to enjoy the final semester of his four years, and the final season of outdoor track at which he has worked so hard. Instead, he is at home, with limited online classes and sports currently suspended.
These losses are trivial in the grand scheme of things. Folks endure extreme poverty and loss of life on a day-to-day basis in many parts of the world. Covid-19 is stealing the lives of loved ones from some families. And most of our losses seem to be temporary.
But we are allowed some fun in life.
There is no prohibition of fun in the Island-wide shelter order and there is no prohibition of fun in the advice of the experts. Handwashing and social distancing is their advice. I would think the experts would recommend some fun as a way to lift spirits in the face of the miserable Covid-19.
A few weeks ago, my son, daughter and I had some of this needed respite.
My daughter is home from college.
While texting with her roommate who is now home in California, they came up with the idea of learning how to cook. Next year, they are living off-campus in an apartment and will have a kitchen. Now would be a good time, they decided, to learn how to cook.
My daughter thought it would be boring to have just regular American foods. She likes ethnic foods. She decided it would be fun to make meals from the different countries and the regions of the world. Not knowing where to start, she decided to go in the order of the coronavirus outbreak.
China was first.
She and her brother, who is helping on the project, started with fried rice. They included the scrambled eggs and had one vegetarian dish and one non-vegetarian with chicken. The meal, they said, was delicious. The Japanese beef bowl they tried for their next meal did not turn out as well.
They decided on Pad Thai for when they were with me.
We put together the ingredients: Thai noodles, peanut sauce, tofu, chicken, garlic, onions, and scallions in place of bean sprouts that no one seemed to have.
In order to limit the amount of times that either of us goes to the grocery store, my kids’ mother and I check-in with each other when we do go, and help each other out with various needed items.
When at the grocery store, I am careful to social distance and not touch my face. I sanitize my hands when I am back in my car. It would be a good idea, I think, to take something to sanitize the shopping cart handlebar.
My daughter, head chef, chopped the garlic and sauteed it in some olive oil. Her brother, assistant chef, chopped the onion and cut the chicken into shavings. I was more of an assistant prep cook. I did things like peel the garlic, chop the scallions, and crush the peanuts.
Water was brought to a boil. The burner was turned off as directed and the Thai noodles were placed in the water to soak for 10 minutes. My daughter, thinking they had been cooking a long time, asked me to check the noodles after four minutes. I did, reported they were very Al dente and that I expected they would be done after about 10 minutes.
We all laughed.
When the garlic was well-sauteed, it was separated into two frying pans. The chicken went into one frying pan tended to by my son, and the tofu into the other tended to by my daughter. The onion, which should have been sauteed with the garlic but had been temporarily forgotten, went in at this time as well.
When the chicken and the tofu were cooked, about five to ten minutes, the noodles were added and mixed into each dish. And then the peanut sauce. My son chose soy sauce as he is not a fan of peanuts.
We sat down to our meal.
I rolled some of the noodles onto my fork and stabbed a piece of chicken. The first mouthful was delicious. There was a burst of flavor as I chomped down. I looked forward to the next mouthful and the next. It may have been the best Pad Thai ever.
For a moment, I think, we were living not in the time of Covid-19. We were living in the time of a home-cooked meal of Pad Thai. We said no to Covid and we had as much fun making a meal together as we have ever had.
The food was all the more delicious because we had stood up to Covid. It was more fun to eat together because we had so much fun making it together. There was little conversation though as we ate. After dessert, we cleaned up together.
It was not the Pad Thai itself that took us away temporarily from the world of shelter-in-place. It was the idea behind the Pad Thai. It was the creativity and the imagination. It was the spirit and the fun.
I am lucky to have my two kids with me a few nights a week.
I think all of us though could look for something fun to cook. You probably have some spices and canned goods in your pantry, maybe some dry pasta. The internet is full of ideas if you are not a chef and do not know what goes with what. Type in ‘pasta spices’, for example, and all sorts of things come up.
Dispatch Week Two: Covid-19 Closure
March 28, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
We are under attack.
Covid-19 is confirmed on the Island.
Island leaders are taking measures to ensure the safety of the community. They are following the advice of experts and trying to flatten the curve. It is important that everyone is not infected at the same time. The Martha’s Vineyard Hospital would be overwhelmed.
Selectmen have ordered folks to shelter in place. It is no longer optional. You must stay at home and you must not gather in groups and you must social distance. There are exceptions for essential services such as the grocery store and pharmacy, and folks are allowed out for exercise and taking out the pets. Even construction is temporarily halted.
Island schools are closed now through May 4 by order of the Governor. Libraries and town halls, businesses and community organizations are shuttered. Church services are cancelled.
There is good reason for these measures and the recommendations regarding hand washing and sanitizing. We are confronted with a dangerous illness.
Covid-19 is not the flu.
This is the message recently driven home for me by my cousin. There are those who may experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all from Covid-19. And there will be those like my cousin who are hit full force. His symptoms, he said, were five to ten times worse than any flu.
“It was grim,” he told me. “There’s no nice way to say it. I was shockingly sick.”
My cousin and I go back a ways. We grew up, a few years apart in age, spending our summers together fishing for scup in Buzzards Bay. We would dive for quahogs and then row our dinghy out near what we called the Black Can. We would anchor somewhere and then just float for hours with our rods over the side. The scup below would bite and nibble at our quahog bait and we would laze under the sun. We always hoped we would catch a tautog.
About three weeks ago, on a Saturday, my cousin attended a birthday party for a friend of his daughter in New Rochelle, an epicenter of the outbreak in New York, at a trampoline park. Most everyone attended the party. This was before everything had blown up and folks knew that they should not.
On Tuesday, there was a little part in the back of his head questioning whether he might not be well. He felt worse Tuesday night. Could it be Covid? He called his daughter’s school. He told them he could no longer be a judge at the science fair the next day.
Thursday he woke up and he was ‘sick sick sick.’ Thursday night he was ‘ridiculously’ out of breath and he knew he had Covid. He woke up that first night and the two nights that followed shaking from the freezing cold of his fever. It was then he knew that the illness would take lives.
The cough came on Friday.
The medical system in his community was in a state of disarray. He was on a list for a test for Covid but never received a call back. The ER doctors told him there was nothing they could do for him. There were no medications. As long as he could breathe, they said, he should stay home and not come to the ER where he might infect others.
He stayed in his bedroom, which by now was infected, and his wife moved into a spare. They share three daughters. His wife said she felt a chill for a day and one of his daughters had a 105 fever one night but quickly rebounded the next day. It is unclear whether his wife and daughter also had Covid – albeit much more mild.
The ordeal for him was only just beginning.
He was terrified.
He called a doctor friend. The doctor friend matter-of-factly told him two things (actually three): breathing breathing breathing. Any sign of trouble breathing or any sign his body was not receiving enough oxygen, such as the lightheadedness one feels at altitude, and he should seek medical help.
His lungs were heavy. They were sore from the dry racking cough. It was amazing how dry a cough. There was no mucus. The cough was terrible and relentless. He had to stop talking for a few days. His fever was 102 with Tylenol.
But he could breathe.
He thought he would make it.
He isolated in the bedroom. His daughters were scared. They came to his door to say goodnight. His wife brought food to the door. He stayed in bed the entire time and felt like he was walking around on a cold day. He drank water constantly.
It was on the ninth day that he was really scared.
Without Tylenol, his fever was still over 103.
He had never experienced an illness like this. He thought he should be on the other side after nine days. “ ‘Maybe, my body’s not going to get this thing … maybe I’m going to die’ ” he thought to himself.
His brain played tricks in the middle of the night trying to convince him that he was having trouble breathing. He felt alone and helpless. He wanted to be with his family helping his wife with the kids.
His doctor friend was invaluable. This was a 14-day illness, his doctor friend assured him. It was not expected that he would be better in nine days. The doctor was right.
Finally, after the tenth day, he started to recover. His fever was down to 101. His cough that had not let up since its start was dissipating. He was beginning to feel better. In the next few days, his temperature was down in the double digits.
My cousin is back now.
He has defeated Covid-19. The fever and cough are gone. He can go out. He is helping again with the household. But it will be some time to regain his strength. He has very little energy and feels a little bit at altitude. His lungs took a hit and he will need to see a doctor when he is ready. For now, he is enjoying his time with his wife and daughters.
When I first heard from my mother, through her sister, that my cousin was infected with the corona virus, I was interested. I wanted to know how he was doing and what he was going through. When I talked to him myself, I was afraid for him. I had no idea.
Most folks may not have the experience of my cousin. Their symptoms may be mild and pass. But there will be those hit hard like my cousin – a strong and healthy 48-year old who does not drink or smoke. He had a battle of a lifetime.
The message to me is clear. Wash and sanitize your hands. Social distance. Be safe.
Dispatch Week One: Covid-19 Closure
March 20, 2020
By Jonathan Burke
Three weeks ago a family member went off-Island to Costco and bought a supply of toilet paper, soap, tuna fish, peanuts, dried apricots, and, joyfully, three large bars of Hershey dark chocolate. I find a little dark chocoate helps in the morning. I put a dab of peanut butter on the chocolate.
Three weeks ago, before the coronavirus and its hideous Covid – 19 illness were front and center in the news, I still had not picked up on what was going on. I thought the off-Island trip and the whole corona thing overblown.
I was wrong.
The first inkling I had was the same day as the Costco trip. Out of an abundance of caution, I decided to stop at the pharmacy for hand sanitizer. They were out and though they had ordered more they were unsure as to when or whether more might arrive.
I clearly was behind the curve.
I continued on my way to my parents where I was having supper.
Upon arrival, I walked Becham – he’s a 25 pound Terrier mix, almost five – a good ways along the back roads in my parent’s neighborhood. He is allowed to stop and sniff and pee nearly as much as he wants during afternoon walks. It is cathartic for me.
When we returned, the truck was there and my parents were unloading.
It was then that I learned I had two bottles of hand sanitizer. They had been two of the last of four on the shelves of Market Basket at the Sagamore where a stop had been made during the off-Island trip. This would mean I could have a bottle of hand santizer in my car and my kids could have a bottle in their car for those times when soap and water are not available.
Since the off-Island trip three weeks ago, events have changed more and more rapidly. Each day, our appreciation for the crisis seemed to ratchet up. It was no longer only Wuhan. There was Italy and Iran. South Korea. The state of Washington. A lack of testing kits. The news kept coming.
Till, we reached where we are today.
In the library, we started by acknowledging to each other the gravity of the possible pandemic. We discussed elbow bumps in lieu of hand shakes, hand washing and social distancing. We ordered non-latex gloves. We would continue to monitor the situation.
We took more and more care in our safety measures at the circulation desk. We wore the nitrile gloves. Hundreds of books arrive into the library every day from all parts of the state. Who knows where a book has been or by whom it has been handled. It would be impossible to keep one’s hands clean at the circ desk.
We wiped the counter, the phones and the keyboards. There was a schedule for the banister up the stairs and the doors in and out of the library. Hand washing song signs went up in the restrooms to help folks complete the full 20 seconds recommended.
Patrons came to the circ desk and the topic everyone wanted to talk about, in addition to taking out their books and movies, was the corona virus. It started to appear very likely that the library would close. The NBA and NHL had shuttered their seasons. Covid – 19 cases were starting to materialize across the state. The virus was no joke.
I did not want to become caught up in the panic.
There were stories of hand sanitizer and containers of cleaning wipes being stolen from town hall supply closets. There was a story of hand sanitizer dispensers being torn off the walls in the hospital. It is scary how behavior can degenerate.
But I was not totally immune.
There was a run on the grocery stores I heard. Shelves were empty in the Edgartown Stop and Shop. Would food become scarce? Could the supply chains be disrupted by the virus? How long could I last on the food I had? I am not a hunter, and I have no means to feed myself and my family without a grocery store.
I stopped at the Vineyard Haven Stop and Shop on my way home from work last Friday. It was a mad house. I had never seen so many folks in such a state of excitement in the grocery store. But for the most part there was food on the shelves. It was too much for me. I decided not to worry. I picked up a few items I needed right away, and also a sack of rice and two bags of potatoes – buy one get one free.
Saturday, I picked my daughter up from Boston College. The college, like many others across the country, was closing the campus. Students were told they needed to pack up their belongings and return home. Classes would go online.
I was on the 8:15 boat.
I chatted briefly with an old friend whose car was lined up next to mine in the loading lanes. There were only a few other people in the section of the boat where I sat. Others, I guess were sheltering in the their cars. Route 495 was empty of normal traffic. It was a bit eerie. I listened to public radio. A recession was inevitable said an economist.
I made good time. I took 495 to 24 and then 95 and route 9. I turned past the reservoir in Chestnut Hill onto the campus. There were a few folks out running. Near my daughter’s dorm, cars filled the side of the road where normally there were none. Was this all for move out I thought?
The police – about four of them standing at the entrance – with a smile waived me past the parking lot to my daughter’s dorm. It was full. I parked in the chapel lot a near 100 yards away. I walked to the dorm. It still was hard to believe. Covid – 19 had closed the campus and I was bringing my daughter home for the year in March.
It was craziness to say the least. Parents were there. Students were there. Everyone was moving out. The elevators and lobby were full and bustling. Professional movers with carts stood by to help.
It took four full carts for my daughter’s stuff, and I packed and repacked five times. Her friends helped bring things to the lobby. The day was beautiful. The sun was out, there was blue sky with a few drifting clouds and a warm breeze. I was impressed with my packing, leaving barely an iota of space and nothing behind.
My daughter said goodbye to her friends. Understandably, the move out was upsetting. This is her time to be away from home in college – going to classes and studying at the library, eating at the cafeteria, dancing with her dance group, staying up to all hours of the night and morning, parties on the weekends. Instead, now she would be by herself at home taking online classes via Zoom.
We chatted on the drive home about school and the surrealness of the pandemic. I am a firm believer the virus is finite and will pass with time. We all will come through. We went to the Falmouth Walmart for peanut butter pretzels and came away with the last two jars.
That night, though we are separated, we had dinner as family.
It is nice to have my daughter home. I am disappointed for her and I wish she could be at college with her friends. But I like that she is going to be around. I like she is home for the Covid -19 crisis. And I like we all will go through this together.
The news continues to develop.
Our library announced its closure Monday until at least April 17. Town hall is appointment only. The Martha’s Vineyard schools announced their closure last week. Town meetings may be postponed. We all are asked to keep our hands clean at all times, stay home, social distance, and avoid any large gathering or group. The hospital is gearing up to respond.
It is only the beginning.
The goal is not to prevent everyone from becoming infected. That is impossible. Folks are expected to be infected. The goal is to flatten the curve so everyone is not infected at the same time. Our hospital could not handle such an onslaught.
The pandemic is real.
But this is also an opportunity to come together even as we are apart. We all can hunker down in our homes. We all still can go outside for fresh air and a stretch of the legs and smile as we pass. We can call each other for company or go online if we have a computer. We can go through this together.
My son asked me to go for a bike ride in the state forest the other day. I was dismayed that I could not keep up. Yet for an hour and half it was just the two of us on trails in the woods.
Talk about fun!