From American Way October, 15 2007
by: Mark Seal
This past February, the two married, and this June, they welcomed a baby boy, River Russell Deary. And guess where the baby spent his first summer? Right – Martha’s Vineyard. “It’s the coolest thing that Shane grew up there,” Russell says from her New York home. “Because this is now going to be our place to go every year with our family, where we’ll bring our kids and watch them grow up with all our other friends who grew up on the island. It’s going to be so cool to watch all the kids grow up together.” So soon enough, River will know all his mom’s favorite island spots. For those of us who won’t be at Russell’s family barbecues, she shares these things she loves about Martha’s Vineyard.
First things first: You’ve got to get there. Here’s how Russell says she reaches the island. One of the big experiences of traveling to Martha’s Vineyard is taking the ferryboat over. It’s about a 45-minute ferryboat [ride] to Martha’s Vineyard. That is an experience – watching the seagulls as you are pulling farther out into the ocean and watching all the big houses as you come up to shore. It’s just the coolest little quaint fishing village – wild, beautiful, everything. It’s just perfect.
Martha’s Vineyard is an island that is home to several individual towns. Russell says she likes Up-Island. Shane’s parents live in what, on the island, they call Up-Island, in a town called West Tisbury. West Tisbury is a little more wild than the other towns on the island. It’s in the trees. I actually love Up-Island. It’s a little bit more untouched.
Which is not to say that she doesn’t like Down-Island. Because she does. If you are looking for more of a walk-around little community, there are some really great places in Edgartown, which is much more developed, with white picket fences and little shops and tiny little brick roads. A friend got married there, and a lot of the wedding party stayed at the Charlotte Inn. It’s beautiful.
Another beautiful place to stay is an inn Russell knows well. I love the Inn at Blueberry Hill. To get there, you drive up North Road, one of my favorite roads on the island. One winter, I went and stayed there while Shane was building a house. He grew up building houses on the island with his dad. So I would drive all the way up North Road and drop him off at work every day, and then I would drive back. Especially when it is off-season, there’s no one else on that road, and it’s really misty, and the trees form a canopy over the winding road. You’ll see deer and birds and geese. It’s very idyllic.
Off-season? Isn’t it cold in the off-season? The island in the fall is just magic. That’s my favorite time of year there. The air is definitely crisp then, but what’s great is that you can still get those last few warm weekends, when the beach is still so nice. The biggest summer crowds are gone [by then], and you kind of get the island back; a lot of the businesses – the coffee shops, the bookstores, and the restaurants – are still open. Once it gets to be winter, a lot of things close down.
While it is still open, Russell says, you should try to get out to the Farm Institute. Every year, they do a huge corn maze – you know, like seven acres of corn that’s as tall as your head or taller. We went this summer with my nephew, and it was a blast. It was huge, and it’s really hard to find your way out. Another place that is really cool on that side of the island is called Morning Glory. It is a fresh-produce-and-vegetable place where some of what is sold is actually grown on the island. In October, the entire property is covered in pumpkins.
There are also great eat-in dining options. Beach Plum Inn and Restaurant has delicious food and a beautiful view as well. It’s a great restaurant, and it’s also just a beautiful place to go to sit and eat. There’s another place, called Mediterranean, in Vineyard Haven that we really like. It’s right by the Martha’s Vineyard Times office, which is the cool local paper. When you go there, always pick up a copy of the Martha’s Vineyard Times, because it tells you everything that is going on that week and the restaurants and the libraries that are open. So we always have one of those handy.
And the best meal of all? That’s the one with family, Russell says. My favorite thing to do on the island is to pick up really fresh fish at the Net Result. We take the fish to Shane’s mom. She’s an excellent cook. Shane’s family is one of the year-round families there. In the summer, there can be 75,000 people on the island, but the year-round population is only about 15,000 people.
Oh, one more food thing. Russell says that you can’t drive to Martha’s Vineyard just for Portuguese pork products, although some people would like to do that. We got back to New York after being on the Vineyard for the summer, and one morning, Shane woke up and said, “I want the breakfast sandwich at the Scottish Bakehouse.” I said, “We aren’t driving to go get it. It’s too far.” He loves the Scottish Bakehouse. His favorite breakfast sandwich has linguica on it, which is a Portuguese sausage. There’s a big Portuguese population on the island.
As a new mom, Russell finds herself paying a lot more attention to where you can find activities for kids. Luckily, she says, there’s no shortage of those on Martha’s Vineyard. A cool thing in Oak Bluffs for kids – although my husband is 31 and loves it – is called Flying Horses Carousel. It is one of the oldest carousels in the country. It was built in 1876 at Coney Island, and they brought it in. As the horses go around, there’s this little place where you can reach up and pull a ring down. The one on this ride is a brass ring. If you get a brass ring, you get a free ride. Shane has tried to get it his entire life, since he was a toddler. He has never gotten the brass ring.
But Russell says Deary has seen the gingerbread cottages, a 312-cottage collection of 140-year-old homes that sit on the site of a former Methodist campground. The gingerbread houses are in Oak Bluffs. On a certain day in the summer, they have Illumination Night. All those little houses hang lanterns on their porches – there are hundreds of these lanterns as you walk through this little village. There are tons of people, tons of kids, and everyone is taking photos.
Russell was born in Fountain Valley, California, grew up in Mesa, Arizona, and then earned a dance scholarship to a studio in Denver. So she didn’t visit Martha’s Vineyard until she was a grown-up and already dating Deary, at which point, for the first time ever, she saw a man throw an ax for sport. The agricultural fair is a cool thing. It lasts four days. There are rides, and there are tons of art exhibits, all from the island. It’s so old-fashioned. There are horse shows and competitions. There are woodsmen contests, which I had never heard of before – it’s ax throwing, sawing through logs, skillet-pan tossing. Plus there are agricultural booths.
It’s not all about the kids, though. Sometimes a grown-up needs to have a good time on the town at night – not the kind of good time that Felicity and Ben had when they drank too much and broke into the indoor pool at the university, but a good time. There is an old church in Edgartown called the Old Whaling Church, and sometimes they will have concerts there. Livingston Taylor just played there. He is James Taylor’s brother. Richie Havens plays there – cool people like that. Singer-songwriter folk artists.
Ah, it’s the perfect Saturday. Then again, aren’t all Saturdays perfect on Martha’s Vineyard? Well, this one certainly would be. Here’s how Russell would spend her perfect Saturday morning on Martha’s Vineyard: I’d go to the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market, which is one of the coolest things about the island. I would go and get all my fresh vegetables for the week and homemade pies and fresh-cut flowers. It’s also a cool place to hang out at and see people you haven’t seen in a long time and meet some of the local farmers.
After that, I would probably go get my coffee in Vineyard Haven, which is a little bit more of a town. The cell-phone reception isn’t always working in Up-Island, so I’d get my coffee and walk around the little shops of Vineyard Haven and make all my phone calls there. One of my most favorite stores is Nochi, which a friend owns. They have the most beautiful furniture mixed in with little exquisite things and baby clothes, which I’ve bought tons of there.
In the afternoon, Russell would head to the beach for some family time. I would drive to Up-Island in the afternoon to watch Shane surf. On the north shore, there are calm waves, but on the south shore, Up-Island, there are more waves. So he’d probably surf on a beach like Squibnocket. All these names are so funny – they are Indian names.
What would be the perfect end to the perfect Martha’s Vineyard day? I would go watch the sunset in a place called Menemsha. That’s a very typical, picturesque New England town, where all the boats are docked. There are these little stands where you can buy chowder or fish and chips and also ice cream. It’s really beautiful.