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No Man Is an Island When Dreaming of Chappy’s Future

Chappaquiddick is an island again. This has created a noticeable and understandable reaction from people on Chappy and beyond. Personally, this dramatic movement of sand has stirred something deep inside me. The Norton Point breach has become the Grand Canyon of the East. The sheer force and power makes me feel like a small speck in the continuum of time, just as I felt when staring at Lava Falls Rapid in the Grand Canyon.

Visiting the breach, I am sometimes fooled into thinking that I am looking at a river. The current ripping through this small opening creates numerous features and eddy lines. Ignoring the warnings, I sometimes find a quiet eddy and float on my back, ears below the surface. While submerged, guttural sounds rattle my brain and ignite daydreams as I stare at the blue sky above. What will Chappy look like in the future? Will Mytoi exist beyond my time? Will Pimpneymouse Farm remain intact? Will there be a Chappy ferry? How many families from my generation will be remaining in 20 years?

I have been privileged to spend most summers on Chappy as a youth in the early 1970s and have continued to visit throughout my adult years. Chappy is a place I call home even though I was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. Each trip I take on a Steamship Authority ferry reminds me of what a soldier must feel after returning home from war. The final passage across the Edgartown channel strips all worries that I once thought were important, and with the first step off the boat, I am reminded of the sweet smells of an island home: low tide at Caleb’s Pond, freshly smoked bluefish caught at the gut, and freshly cut hay at Pimpneymouse Farm.

I was witness to a period on this little island that does not exist today. As shocking as this may sound, I am grateful that the island I once knew is gone. If it were still the same island, I would not have memories. These memories now live on the island within me. There I visit the bioluminescent microorganisms glistening during a nighttime swim in the harbor. I witness the one-man show of Foster Silva, the lone ranger of The Trustees of Reservation with his one green truck. I witness the rusted-out cars worth no more than two months’ of groceries for a family of three at today’s prices, many parked at the Chappy Point with the keys in the ignition.

Sometimes my longtime Chappy friends and I get together off the island and compare our memories. When there is a blank spot, someone will fill in the gap and we will all nod our heads in agreement even if we are not sure of the exact details. We talk about the summer camps that were organized by local families, usually at their homes, before the Chappaquiddick Community Center was built. We talk about a place that felt wild (and not just because of the mosquitoes). Before cell phones, we called each other using the last four digits of the phone number on a rotary phone and established a place to meet. And the music, oh the music.

Recently, to satisfy my curiosity about present conditions, I attended a Chappaquiddick Island Association (CIA) meeting. As I glanced around the room, I quickly noticed there were only a couple of people other than myself under the age of 50. This made me wonder if my generation will ever make it to these meetings. Even more concerning, many families of my generation are standing at the edge of the metaphorical eroded beach as to whether they will remain on the island at all. I wonder myself whether I will be able to survive the financial pressures of having a second home on this little island after my parents are gone.

So I begin to fantasize. What would it take to keep the two islands intact, the outer island and the inner island? I am not so naïve to think that residents cannot adhere to the policies and decisions established by the town of Edgartown. I also acknowledge the continual efforts for land conservation, water quality and affordable housing. These, however, are only part of the picture. In my dream state this is what I imagine:

  • The CIA makes an honest effort to include people of my own and younger generations in all meetings. The community represents all demographics and all voices of the island.

  • Chappy residents create a vision for the island that goes beyond one year or two years and design a 10-year and possibly a 20-year plan to preserve open space, deal with changing times, allow for a diversity of social classes and create a sustainable vision for the future.

  • More efforts are made to establish a local economy. Incentives are introduced to support sustainable farming and create more sustainable shellfish businesses. The new small businesses of the island do not rely solely on the existence of summer residents and are diversified enough to withstand volatile market conditions.

  • People become more interested in collaborative consumption as described by the author Rachel Botsman. Collaborative consumption is simply a way to share and trade goods without becoming the sole owner of that good. • With this new model, Chappaquiddickers establish their own car share program, much like but using electric cars similar to the one driven by a current Chappy resident. A bike share program is established like the one in Boulder, Colo.. An innovative boat share program allows residents to avoid the expensive costs of boat ownership.

  • Even though not everyone can agree on whether climate variability is a reality, all agree that the island must deal with weather-related risks. People begin to discuss how to prepare for extensive power outages, ferry service disruptions, the evacuation of homes and provide drinking water and shelter to displaced families during these times.

This is my dream. We each have our own dreams that make life special. I take special care cultivating my inner island that has roots on Chappy. But nothing remains static. The inner island is always changing, and the same is true for Chappy. It is a guarantee that the sands around the island will continue to shift. After all, this is how Chappy originally became an island.

The challenge is recognizing that all our inner islands relate to each other and loosely move together. Our memories of the past may not be the same, but our vision for the future has the potential to be shared, which could create memories we may never have dreamed about.

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