JANUARY: Edgartown, MA
Martha’s Vineyard for New Year’s?
Turned up, my coat’s red collar flanked my ears. The wind whipped off the water’s surface turning my cheeks rosy and scattering strands of sneaky hair sticking out from under my hat. Alone on deck, the endless rows of frozen metal benches signaled what summer must feel like, electric with the buzz of visitors eager to reach their beach destinations. December 31st, on the other hand, isn’t exactly a popular time to visit Martha’s Vineyard, but still, inside the ferry was full of people with the same idea.
I wanted to see the island for the first time in the offseason, to experience it at a slower, less crowded pace. Plus, my boyfriend Joe and I wanted to ring in 2016 somewhere we’d never been before, somewhere that wasn’t New York City where we’d pay triple for everything from dinner, to a party, to a cab ride home. Random online searches led us to a New Year’s Eve package at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown, MA. It included a room for the night, and a party with a band, DJ, and firework show. The website didn’t give much detail on the party itself, but we were sold.
It was dark as we drove off the boat and down the small town roads. Our GPS read out the way and there were signs every few feet to help tourists like ourselves navigate. As we reached the water again a large New England house rose up and faced the black beach, lit only by the blinking Edgartown Lighthouse and the half-full moon. The Harbor View Hotel was lively and welcoming. A cozy fireplace warmed the comfortable lobby and the staff bustled around preparing for the party.
Unsure of what to expect, we checked in and grabbed something to eat. We walked a few blocks to the shops and restaurants in awe of the beautiful, yet quaint homes. Many were dark, but surprisingly, almost as many were alive and inhabited by locals. We snagged the last open seats at The Newes From America, a restaurant attached to the Kelley House Hotel and had a snack. The bartender told us, “This is the most crowded I’ve ever seen it on New Year’s Eve. Usually, it’s just locals, and people with summer places coming in for the holiday. The hotel must have done a big marketing sweep this time round, I’m surprised.” We were surprised too. Though the island and hotel were not crowded, there were definitely more people than we expected.
Along with all the marketing they’d done, the hotel also threw an amazing party. Our snack was unnecessary, with mini tacos, pasta, carved meat, cheese and crackers, sliders, salads, shrimp, and oysters there was more than enough food. There were tiny cakes and tarts, fruit, and a 2016 ice sculpture. It was a cash bar, but we had some champagne in the room to supplement what we purchased. Most people seemed to know one another, we were like two strangers who’d snuck in, sliding unnoticed through one cheerful group after another, listening to their greetings, “Haven’t seen you in awhile,” “I’m so happy you’re here, we weren't sure you were coming.” The bartenders knew their drinks and it was as if they were coming home. Joe and I watched their friendships bloom as the hour did, we danced carelessly among them, feeling free and as if we belonged too. When the clock struck, and the year ended, fireworks danced around the lighthouse for longer than I imagined and it was an inspiring way to start the year. But in the dark of the night, I didn’t know how much I loved Martha’s Vineyard yet.
It was only in the morning as we drove from one end of the island to the other, with no destination, no real direction, unknowingly winding our way into the winter-bitten Long Point Wildlife Relief (which was actually closed and we may have accidentally trespassed a little) and then stumbling upon the Gay Head Lighthouse and Aquinnah Public Beach. We didn’t see other people for most of the day. At the beach, there was an afternoon jogger and a woman walking her dog, but they passed by unnoticed. We had a piece of the world to ourselves. The salty air and whooshing ocean became ours, we laughed and spun in the sand, which must be packed with sun-seekers in the summer. I tried to imagine growing up in this place, the winter all yours, and the summer belonging to someone else. It seemed unreal, but I suppose sometimes all you need is the crisp air of the beach in the dead of winter to remind you, you’re alive. Yes, you’re alive.