After a year of design, we’ve just begun construction of a sweet project for a great family on an extraordinary property at Seven Gates Farm.  It’s the third project we have done, on different pieces of this remarkable this part of the Vineyard.  The first was in 1995, the second in 2004, and now this one.

In the 1890’s a Harvard geologist named Nathaniel Shaler created Seven Gates,  placing 1700 acres of diverse north shore property (that he had purchased piece by piece over time) into a permanent trust that provided for just 40 homesites and no private land ownership.  Those who have built homes there lease the land from the Seven Gates Farm Corporation.

In Shaler’s times Seven Gates was a long carriage ride from Vineyard Haven.  The land had little value.  Thinking it would be desirable someday, however, he made provisions to preserve its future.

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In 1980 a woman named Madeline Blakeley asked me to look at a piece of land with her.  She was a librarian in her early sixties whose husband had recently died.  They had no children and had always lived in rented apartments.  Her dream was to own a piece of property.

She had $7,000 in cash. A realtor showed her a lot priced at exactly that, but her friends advised her against buying it.  The lot fell steeply south to a sweet little valley, a perfectly matched solar exposure and view, but it was right beside the main road from Vineyard Haven to Edgartown, which was very loud. Except for that proximity and the fact that the whole lot was a hillside, it was lovely.  There was nothing else on Martha’s Vineyard even close to her price range.

I suggested that we could cut and fill and build an earth-bermed, partially underground house.   “The southern orientation aims away from the road just enough, and the berming would dull the noise as long as the house doesn’t open to that side.  We can design the traffic right out of this scene!”  She was excited. Even though she didn’t imagine she could afford to build anything at all, the idea that the land could eventually be sensibly used was appealing.  I didn’t tell her that we didn’t – at the time – actually know how to properly build an earth-integrated house.

She bought the property.

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Apparently my last blog post touched a nerve – I have been swamped with wonderfully soulful e-mails from a wide variety of people and places.  I can’t really post the responses – many are quite personal – but I will say this: there’s a whole lotta heart out there.  But we knew that, didn’t we?

My Dad died peacefully, painlessly, surrounded by family.  He charted his own course.  Many do not have this opportunity.

Not long ago, I read Atul Gawande’s extraordinary book Being Mortal  (don’t miss this one), and more recently Diane Rehm’s book On My Own.  Rehms, who plans to retire from her NPR show after November’s election (and maybe head for Canada with the rest of us if the unthinkable happens!) lost her husband to Parkinson’s disease.

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On January 12th, my wife Chris and I went to see my 95 year old father in Palo Alto CA.  He had recently fallen and hit his head.  I had been to see him after the accident and he seemed to be doing well.  While i was there he and I had a long conversation with his doctor, Scott Wood.

My Dad, who just weeks before had been attending grand medical rounds, playing tennis, and leafleting for Bernie Sanders on University Avenue, was suffering from some cognitive losses, but he was lucid and clear.  He told us in no uncertain terms that if this thing got worse there would be no hospital – only hospice, no food and drink, and comfort.  We agreed.  His doctor commented, “I’m with you – when I go I want plenty of morphine and ice cream, and the ice cream’s optional.”

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