When I was a reporterfor the Martha’s Vineyard Timesduring the nineteen-eighties, one ofmy beats was the town of Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts. A story I covered concerneda private beach club, the East Chop Beach Club, suing the town over theownership of a bulkhead.
At the turn of the 20thcentury, the body of water adjacent to the beach club was known as Squash Pondand was probably fresh water. At that time, about 300 feet of beach land wastaken by eminent domain and a channel was dredged, creating a salt waterharbor. In the 1930’s the town built a bulkhead. In order to do this, OakBluffs was granted an easement to give them access to build and maintain thebulkhead. Members of the town and residents of Oak Bluffs both shared the useof the bulkhead. In 1958, the beach club became a yacht club but kept the beachclub name. The town said that they maintained the bulkhead until 1978, when theprivate club constructed a gate at the entrance to the bulkhead, limiting thetown’s access.
The town owned two acres of beachfront adjacentto the club and you had to cross over club owned land to get to it. Thiseasement remained unobstructed and I would often use that stretch of beach asit was close to where I lived. I would also jog through there during my morningrun. One dawn I noticed that the club had started to construct a second fence.This one was on the beach separating their beach from the town beach. It was aneyesore.
By this time, I hadquit the Martha’s Vineyard Timestwice, which is another story. I was working at a radio station, but thisdidn’t seem like much of a radio story. It was more of a literary event. Idecided to write a letter to the editor and in addition to my former paper, Ialso submitted it to the Martha’s VineyardGazette, which was established in 1846. TheMartha’s Vineyard Times was established right before I got there. That’sanother story.
I remember when I handdelivered the letter to my old paper, the News Editor asked, “Is this anexclusive? Are you just giving this to us?”
And a reporter who knewme better than he did said, “No, he wants this to be read.”
She was right. I gavethe letter to both papers. As a matter of fact, I gave it to the Gazette first. They had an earlierfiling deadline.
So here’s the letter Iwrote. There’s a lot of metaphor. Youmay be able to tell I had recently graduated from college with an Englishdegree. Some people liked this letter.Some people did not. This is what it said:
August 12, 1985
To the Editor:
I was sitting on thepublic beach in East Chop early one morning late last week, reading a book,when Robert Frost suddenly said, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,that sends the frozen-ground-swell under it and spills the upper boulders inthe sun, and makes gaps even two can pass abreast.” It was not an unusual thingfor the poet to say. He had said it before.
I looked up from thebook and noticed that someone had started to build a wooden fence to separatethe town owned beach from that portion claimed by the East Chop Beach Club.Whoever the builder was must have done it during the night or on a previous day, for there was no one at the halfcompleted structure to take responsibility for what was being done.
“The gaps Imean,” Frost said, “No one has seen them made or heard them made, butat spring mending-time we find them there.”
I stood up and walkedover to investigate the fence builder’s handiwork. I brought the book with me.
It was shaping up to bea fine fence as fences go. The builder had gone to the trouble of pouringconcrete into the sand to anchor the wooden poles. Further down the line, therewere already other holes dug to pour more concrete in to anchor more poles tocomplete the structure.
As I said before, itwas early. The beach was deserted. I looked over at the beach club building andits structure seemed to say, “Good fences make good neighbors.” I think ifthere had been a member there, I would have asked him to explain.
And Frost said,”We do not need the wall: He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My appletrees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines.”
Although I don’t alwaysagree with Frost, he was right this time. But I didn’t tell him because I wouldnever hear the end of it. I put the book down and ran into the water.There, the beach club had no authorityto build a wall.
On Saturday I returnedto the beach with my book and the fence was almost complete. There was someonein the employ of the beach club making a great deal of noise, banging woodenboards onto the fence. The worker then proceeded to staple signs to the boardwhich read: “WARNING! NO TRESPASSING. THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY.Hunting, Fishing, Trapping or Trespassing for any purpose is Prohibited UnderPenalty of the Law.” It was a common sign, not made expressly for theclub.
When the worker wasdone, so was the fence done. He returned to whatever his other duties were atthe club. Perhaps he worked at the front desk making sure that everyone whopassed his way was a member.
“Before ‘I built awall,” Frost took up where he had left off a previous day, “I’d askto know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to giveoffense.” The poet sounded angry, but the beach club did not listen.
I put the book down togo for a short swim. On my walk to the water I wondered if there would be morefences at the bulkhead if the beach club won the pending land court case.
“Something thereis,” Frost grumbled as I dove into the sound, “that doesn’t love a wall, that wants itdown.”
The Editor of the Martha’s Vineyard Times gave theletter the headline: “Frost on Walls.” I forget what banner was used by the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette. One of myroommates, who sold ads at my paper, asked me if I really had a Robert Frostbook with me. I said, “No.” That seemed to bother him. He shouldn’t have been bothered;the letter was the result of the scars of a New England liberal arts education.It was bound to come out that way. He had had a New England business schooleducation—different perspective. It probably would have bothered him to knowthat I really wasn’t at the beach that first day. I was just jogging through.That’s when I got some of my best ideas. One of my other roommates was atypesetter for the Gazette. Shetypeset my letter. She didn’t get it either. She thought I was weird. Those twowere actually having summer sex with each other—nothing serious. I’m not sureif they got each other.
It turned out I wasright to put the letter in the Gazette. Someoneon the Planning Commission told me his father read the letter out loud at thedinner table. The next time the Planning Commission met, they determined thefence was built without a permit and they made the East Chop Beach Club take itdown.
I don’t know how thelawsuit turned out. I didn’t stay on the island much longer. I did an internetsearch and I couldn’t find anything about it. I don’t really care anyway.That’s not the point of the story.
I remember that every timeone of the DJ’s at the radio station saw me he said, “Something there is thatdoesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.”