The Vineyard remains uncommonly chilly.  Snow on the ground since late January, more last night.  The other morning it was 6 below zero, the coldest since we arrived 40 years ago.  Mal Jones told me the last time it was colder than that was in 1961.  Quite a winter.  But if we’re going to live in Vermont, I think we oughta get to have some mountains!! No such luck.

Recently Julie Wells, the editor of the Vineyard Gazette, asked me to write an article about the demise of Cape Wind.  Reasonable request, but I declined.   What I could do, I suggested, is include a few thoughts about Cape Wind in a larger context.  She agreed to that, and here’s the piece that emerged, published in the Gazette on February 5, 2015.

On the Gazette website there were many comments about the article, both positive and negative.  My favorite, from someone in Oak Bluffs, who called himself (or herself) BS:  “I’m tired of shoveling all this global warming from my driveway.”

That was the only one I responded to.  I said:  “Hah, BS, I’m tired of it too – you shovel mine and I’ll shovel yours. But you’re not shoveling Global Warming, it’s Climate Change you’re shoveling, which brings, over time, greater weather extremes – more precipitation, more drought, colder temps, warmer temps. Some even call it Global Wilding.”



On January 9 I published a post called “Massive Change and Moving On.”  Turns out the RSS feed wasn’t working, so subscribers didn’t receive.  Now it’s working again (we think) so . .  if you want to read that post, here it is:

New post coming before too long . . . .




In 2012 Mike retired after 27 years at SMC.  In 2013 Pinto switched careers after 22 years.  In 2014 Pete D went to half time after 27 years and Bob retired after 21.  And now, in 2015, Derrill has decided, after 24 years, that he will be changing career and life emphases and therefore moving on from SMC in April.

Five people, a total of 120 years at SMC.  Wisdom, talent, skill, and institutional memory galore.   Big chunks of the heart and soul of SMC, out the door.  Gone

But not all gone.  Each remains close by.  Mike  has continued to serve on our board as Benefits Director (required of all companies registered in Massachusetts as Beneficial Corporations) and managing our equity fund and pension with Siobhan.  Pete D continues to be the foreman for our Small Jobs & Maintenance Group.  Derrill will continue to do our photography and chair our Charitable Contributions Committee, and will remain on the board and replace Mike as Benefits Director in a year.

But nonetheless this is Massive Change, and it will continue unabated in the years to come as we navigate our planned transition from Generation One to Generation Two.  That is who we are today, as we enter our 40th year.

Hmm . . . SMC without Derrill.  That bears examination.  He’s quite a guy.

As Derrill studied architecture in the 70’s, he also studied and taught photography.  A summer in Bogota, Columbia living with a family and learning Spanish foreshadowed a major aspect of his future life.  After graduating from architecture school in 1980, he went to work as a carpenter, and then found his way to the Mosquito Coast in Honduras, where he worked for the UN in a refugee camp overseeing temporary resettlement villages and designing building infrastructure.  Soon after this he met his future wife JoAnn in Boston.

You could say that for the next decade he led a bifurcated life.  Or you could say it was balanced.  Six months of carpentry, six months in Central America doing volunteer work and human rights documentation.  Six months here, six months there.  Over and over.  “It was,” he says, “one of the most visceral periods of my life.”

As his work in Central America began to wind down, in 1990, he began a one year trial at South Mountain, (his brother-in-law Jim was running our shop, and still is) mixing carpentry with a few short trips to Guatemala (by then it was in his blood, and hard to shake!). JoAnn moved to the Vineyard from Boston, they got married (within 500 feet of where they would later build their house in Aquinnah), and Derrill stayed at SMC, doing carpentry for another four years before moving up to the office and picking up a pencil and a T-square again.

During the next two decades Derrill worked on the design of many of our finest houses and established long-term relationships with many treasured clients.

In 2001 Derrill and JoAnn adopted Jacob, who was diagnosed with autism three years later.  A whole new chapter began.  “In 2010, after working with many programs that were ineffective for us,” Derrill says, “we began to work with the Autism Treatment Center of America (ATCA) to establish a play-based therapy program for Jacob, and a re-orientation for us as parents.  This was a life-saver.”

Many of you who are reading this helped make possible an ATCA 2011 residential intensive for JoAnn, Derrill, and Jacob.  Jacob said his first words there.

Along the way, Derrill has consistently been an active force in the island community, both in his town, Aquinnah, and island-wide.  He chaired the Aquinnah Housing Committee and Community Preservation Committee.  He was a captain in the volunteer fire department.  He has been an important part of the  Vanderhoop Homestead restoration and the Gay Head Lighthouse move.

He came down from the wilds of Aquinnah to be a founding board member of both the Island Affordable Housing Fund and the Island Housing Trust, and a prime mover and board member for the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority and Greenough House. For all his important affordable housing efforts, Derrill was recognized this year by the Commonwealth when he shared the Kuehn Award for Community Preservation.

And now the twin threads of Jacob and affordable housing have drawn him back home, where he can spend more time with Jacob’s homeschool program and pursue the perfect compliment – affordable housing work from a home office.

When he departs, Derrill will take with him oh so much that we will miss.  But he will leave behind far more.  His relentless commitment to humanity, kindness, compassion, justice, and design has made an indelible imprint on the South Mountain DNA.  His heart will always be with us, and his continuing photography, charitable contributions, and board service will be a constant reminder for us to never forget the “Derrill part” in our work and our thinking.

Personally, I love the strong memories that linger from the many yeasty design collaborations Derrill and I sailed through together, from affordable housing neighborhoods to some of our favorite all time houses, like the Mazar house below.

Hmm . . .  SMC without Derrill.  Tough one to imagine.

And the others too.   Each has been hard to say farewell to, and each remains a part of who we are.


September was a month of recognitions for South Mountain.

I’m always of two minds about awards and prizes. 

They feed the perverse (in my view) competitive impulses of our culture and our education system.  The implication is that there are winners and losers – the worthy and the less so – when our attention should focus on each of us doing the best we can.  All deserve to be recognized for their unique accomplishments.

But some awards have special meaning because they embody learning opportunities and inclusiveness at the same time as they hold some achievers out as particular examples.  During the past month SMC has received two of these.

The Great Place to Work Institute named SMC as one of the 50 Best Small and Medium Workplaces.

And the B-Lab named SMC as one of their “Best for the World” companies for 2014.

The processes that led to these two recognitions are worthy of examination.  I will try to do that in a way that is not overly self-congratulatory, with the knowledge that I am likely to fail.

When Great Places to Work first contacted us two years ago and asked us to go through the application process, we looked at it and went “Whoa.  This is hard.  A ton of work.”  And we declined.

This year we looked at it again.  Two things occurred to us.  The first is that we felt that the work to assemble the information they require would be a useful exercise for us – the introspection demanded would point to new and better ways we can improve who we are and what we do.  A learning opportunity.

The second was our appreciation for the heart of the process –  an anonymous survey they conduct with each of our employees. Submissions go directly to them; we do not see them.  We thought it would be interesting for our employees to have that opportunity to express themselves freely about the company.   We liked that everyone has a voice; it’s inclusive.

So we decided to do it.

The work was useful, and it was nice to be named, but the most rewarding part of the process was that the Institute provided us with a selection of anonymous quotes from the employee survey.

Here are just a few:

“I have never before worked at a place where it seems that 100 percent of the people love their job. Turnover is almost nonexistent, and I felt so lucky when there was an opening for a position. I truly like to spend time with the people I work with every day. “

“The goal is to get your job done the best you can, but family comes first. “

“This company has a great reputation because we give back to the community. It makes it a place where everyone is proud to work.”

“There is a very strong sense of all-for-one and one-for-all. 

“The people that work for the company are what makes it so unusual. When I first started working for the company, everyone was so nice, helpful, genuine and laid back that I thought something must be wrong. After a couple of weeks, I realized that’s just the way everyone is.”

“We have extraordinarily good and generous mental and health benefits, and outstanding opportunities are given to employees to shape and change their job descriptions and roles within the company. “

“We are an employee-owned company. Personally, this makes a big difference! Having worked in ‘corporate America,’ I know that the difference is real and profound. It is so great to have a say in everything, from the big decisions to the small.”

“It is a ‘choose your own adventure’ experience. Dream it and make it happen.”

Here is the full write-up that Great Places did about South Mountain.

B-Lab is very different from Great Places.

 It is a non-profit  that certifies companies as “B Corporations” based on a variety of factors including corporate accountability and transparency, treatment of workers, community practices and environmental practices. Their rigorous process includes in-depth examinations of company practices and documents. SMC received B Corp certification in 2008.  We have been re-certified twice since then, and over 1100 other companies have been certified to date in the U.S. and 34 other countries.

Until now, we have had no real standards to differentiate good work from good marketing.  B-Lab provides exactly that.   B-Corp designation is like LEED Certification among developers and the Fair Trade designation among product suppliers.

The “Best for the World” designation is applied to the highest scoring of the companies that have gone through the certification process.

One of those is SMC.

So there they are.  Two nice recognitions.  Two pats on the back.  We all need them from time to time, whether we like it or not (which we do!).