09:24:10 pm on
Saturday 26 May 2018

Big Dig at Sunset Lake
AJ Robinson


Sunset Lake, in Oak Bluffs, a small town in Duke County on Martha's Vineyard

These days, you hear the words, “Big Dig,” and if you’re from New England, you likely think of the massive highway project built in Boston. In my case, it refers to something a little more modest. I mean my experience on Martha’s Vineyard, years ago.


That final detail led to the problem.

Sunset Lake, in Oak Bluffs, a small town in Duke County on the Vineyard, is a minimal body of water. Honestly, it’s little more than a tidal marsh. Lake Avenue, right before it becomes New York Avenue, separates Sunset Lake from the harbour. A pipe, under the road connects the Lake to the harbour. Water flows back and forth between the two depending on how the tide is running.

Now, for my friends and I, we were a bunch of young children, mostly boys. The exception was Lisa. She didn’t count as a girl, as she was quite the tomboy.

Well, that pipe, between the Lake and harbour, was yet another cool aspect of an island, which many cool aspects and much mystery. We’d go down to the Lake to watch the water rushing in or out of the pipe.

We had all kinds of fun watching the water. We would throw flowers or blades of grass in the water. We’d watch them sucked away or float off into the pond. The sucking was the best though.

Sometimes we’d split up, a couple of us would be at the pond side, the others would be across the street at the harbor side. We’d signal to each other when we dropped something and when it popped out on the other end. We’d do a count to figure out how long it took the item to pass through.

I don’t know why, but we found that awesome. It was a different time, with different ideas as to what was fun. As long as it was fun, that’s would counted.

We like to watch the water at the transition, the point where it changed direction. Again, no clue as to why we enjoyed seeing that, but we did. I think it had to do with the cyclic nature of life and the world. No matter what else was going on around us, no matter how unpredictable and odd our lives might seem, we could always count on the tide coming in and going out. It was regular as clockwork, and we could even look it up in a book or the newspaper.


Scary sounds came from the lake.

One day came sounds from Sunset Lake unlike anything we’d heard before. Lisa and I raced down to the pond. There we saw just about the biggest machine we’d ever seen. As we moved around the shoreline and approached the monstrosity, its top swung around and dropped a metal bucket into the water near the pipe, landing with a mighty splash.

Workers prevented us from getting too close. It was hardly necessary. From the workers, we learned the machine was a crane and dredge. Listening to the workers talk, we grew frightened of the huge machine.

Up and down went the crane and dredge. Its bucket splashing into the pond to gouge out another mass of dirt and gunk; then up in the air it went. It would dump the slime on one or the other of the adjacent shores and go back for more.

Mind you, these days, I don’t think they’d get permission to do such a thing. Not environmentally sound, don’t you know. That’s what I know, being a civil engineer.

As it turned out, from what we heard the men talking about, the area in front of the pipe was so clogged the water couldn’t properly flow. Thus, it needed dredging. We stood there watching.

The whole process took several hours. It was quite the incredible show. Never before had we seen anything like it and never, again, was it done. I guess they did the job right, the first time.


Talk about major cool.

What I do know is the pond did and has stayed clear ever since. To this day, anytime I pass over that stretch of road where I know the pipe is below me, I think of that “big dig.” I can’t help but smile. Yeah, okay, it was a little event in the history of the island, but for a young boy, of six or seven year, it was practically a three-ring circus.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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