“In Every Season: Memories of Martha’s Vineyard,” Phyllis Méras, Schiffer Publishing, 80 pp., $16.99.
In her latest book, “In Every Season: Memories of Martha’s Vineyard,” Phyllis Méras pays tribute to a Vineyard world that is fast disappearing. This prolific book author, travel writer, and former editor of the Vineyard Gazette dons hats as an avid walker, a careful observer, and a provider of interesting lore in her latest book.
She structures it around the cycle of seasons as experienced on the Island. But first comes her Vineyard family history. The association of the Island in summer with the Méras family dates back to the 1890s, when the author’s great grandfather built a house in the Highlands of East Chop.
“The book,” she cautions, “is a gentle warning.” The Vineyard’s “natural wonders must be nurtured if coming generations are to enjoy them as five generations of my family have.”
Ms. Méras lived in West Tisbury and then Vineyard Haven with her late husband Thomas Cocroft, a Rhode Island-born artist whose drawings, along with those of architect and artist Robert E. Schwartz, illustrate “In Every Season.” She once again makes her home in West Tisbury. Once she has established her Island credentials, the author begins her ramble through the natural world of the Island in spring.
The names of neighbors pop into the narrative as Ms. Méras looks out for the first signs of the new season. Skunk cabbage emerges through the remnants of snow; then myrtle and daffodils show up. Pinkletinks, the Vineyard version of spring peepers or tree frogs, tune up as harbingers of the new season, along with red-winged blackbirds.
Observations of the natural world sometimes lead to discussions of community issues like the future of West Tisbury’s Mill Pond. Ms. Méras explains the origins of this body of water, which has become a West Tisbury landmark, and its gradual silting up in recent years. An entry on crows inspires the author to delve into local lore about this bird as well as about scarecrows.
The locations and pleasures of benches catch Ms. Méras’s attention, along with summer drinks like lemonade and iced tea. Nuggets of history keep the discussion lively, and a text generously sprinkled with black-and-white sketches creates a series of illustrated prose poems more than a traditional narrative.
The surprising truth about the author’s favorite season comes out in a selection about autumn colors. Winter, “When the Island takes on new and mysterious contours in snow,” makes animal tracks visible, but ice doesn’t keep otters out of Island ponds.
Ms. Méras closes her meditations on the natural world and culture of the Vineyard with a consideration of favorite Vineyard locales like Ocean Park and Indian Hill, a judgment that she is well equipped to make as a writer who travels all over the world. In fact, she was in Turkey when this review was written.
What comes through loud and clear in the musings of “In Every Season” is Ms. Méras’s love of Martha’s Vineyard. This is an old-fashioned book, one that asks to be held in the hand, given as a gift, and placed on a table for recurrent reference.
As the author suggests, “There can be no answer to ‘What Vineyard place do I like the best?’–– just as there can be no answer to which season is the Island’s finest.”