From the Editor

It is well known that long before any Europeans crossed the Atlantic Ocean and began, shall we say, investing in coastal real estate, certain medieval Christian monks debated at length the possibility of the existence of the place we now know of as Martha’s Vineyard.

“It is said that somewhere in the ocean is an island, which, because of the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of discovering what does not exist, is called the lost island,” wrote a Benedictine monk named Gaunilo of Marmoutiers in the eleventh century. “And they say that this island has an inestimable wealth of all manner of riches and delicacies in greater abundance than is told of the Islands of the Blest,” he continued before concluding, “it is more excellent than all other countries, which are inhabited by mankind, in the abundance with which it is stored.”

It sure sounds like Martha’s Vineyard. Where else can you find more inestimable beaches, more delicious local delicacies grown more excellently on more picturesque farms in greater abundance? If you were to tell us that you think you know of a more excellent island than our Island, we would tell you to shave your tonsure and return your woefully misguided soul across the troubled waters of Muskeget Channel to Nantucket to pray nonstop for Mermaid Farm yogurt.

And as for the Vineyard’s being lost, where else can you find a higher proportion of the population who seem to be groping around in a dark room in search of the proverbial missing black cat that isn’t there? These folks’ ancestors may have already been living on the Island when Gaunilo’s forebears in Gaul were being conquered by Julius Caesar. Or they may only have arrived on the Vineyard in time to see the No Nukes concert at Allen Farm. They may, like me, have gotten here when Bill Clinton was some dude who was going to speak at Walter Mondale’s convention. Or when Barack Obama was some dude who was going to speak at John Kerry’s convention. Or when Kerry was moving here from the second-best imaginable island. Whenever they arrived, rest assured they will tell you there’s no place they love more than the Vineyard and that the Vineyard ain’t like it used to be.

Suffice it to say, clerics in dank, candlelit cells never debated the existence or nonexistence of the second-best imaginable island. No. It was only Martha’s Vineyard that the good monks and abbots struggled to imagine. “Now if some one should tell me that there is such an island, I should easily understand his words, in which there is no difficulty,” Gaunilo wrote. “But suppose that he went on to say, as if by a logical inference: ‘You can no longer doubt that this island which is more excellent than all lands exists somewhere, since you have no doubt that it is in your understanding. And since it is more excellent not to be in the understanding alone, but to exist both in the understanding and in reality, for this reason it must exist. For if it does not exist, any land which really exists will be more excellent than it; and so the island already understood by you to be more excellent will not be more excellent.’”

I know, you had to read that last bit three times. Which may be why Gaunilo’s nemesis, Anselm of Bec, got sainted and had the last word. But give Gaunilo a break. Anselm thought they were arguing about the existence of God, for one, which probably gave him a leg up in Rome. And Gaunilo didn’t have a word processor, didn’t have a printing press, didn’t have paper. Having an editor is a rare privilege, I always tell writers.

As is living on Martha’s Vineyard. Especially in the spring, when the daffodils bloom and the bluefish blitz. When the finches start to turn yellow, any fool starts to wonder. When the asparagus implausibly pokes out of the patch, any fool starts to salivate. Once the strawberries are leaking red into their little green pints at the farm stands, we are all in, empirically speaking. Reason and ponder no more, we are going full in with our taste buds on these strawberries, my friends!

It’s the reverse of the monks’ debate: We do owe it to ourselves to imagine how to make the Island better. For if we can’t imagine it, we can’t make it happen. Can’t make it real. But while we are at it, there’s no better place to be.