Traveling the Vineyard with Victoria Trumbull


“Victoria Trumbull’s Martha’s Vineyard Guide Book” by

Cynthia Riggs, photos by Lynn Christoffers, maps by

Stephen Wesley. Cleaveland House Books, Nov.

2011. 177 pp. $29.99.

In the Introduction, the author notes: “This book, Victoria Trumbull’s Martha’s Vineyard, is not a comprehensive guidebook. It’s an insider’s glimpse of the Island, seen through Victoria Trumbull’s (and my) eyes, a series of tours and special places mentioned in the mysteries, of personal anecdotes, of odd Vineyard stories, of how we got our names like pinkletinks and beetlebung trees…”

And she explains: “Hitchhiking is considered environmentally sound on the Island. Saves gas and you meet interesting people.”

Using Victoria Trumbull, the protagonist of her mystery book series set on the Vineyard, as the lynchpin, Cynthia Riggs has created a where-to and how-to Island tour book embellished with wonderful tidbits of Vineyard facts and history, the poetry of her late mother, noted poet Dionis Coffin Riggs (on whom the sleuth Trumbull is based), and excerpts from her mysteries.

From “Touch Me Not:” “There was a blue flash from the bedroom, a loud snap and the smell of singed wires. Nancy popped out of her bedroom, towel askew. ‘I’m so sorry, Mrs. Trumbull.’

‘You don’t need hairdryers on Martha’s Vineyard,’ said Victoria with some asperity. ‘There’s a good west wind. We don’t waste electricity.'”

In combination with a collection of Lynn Christoffers’s evocative photographs of Island vistas, people, and the visual details that tell a charming story (possibly her best body of work to date), and Stephen Wesley’s drawn maps, “Victoria Trumbull’s Martha’s Vineyard Guide Book” is as good a read as it is useful.

It’s what one has come to expect from Ms. Riggs, a 13th generation Islander whose ancestry includes Benjamin Franklin. She is a staunch community activist familiar with the Island’s traditions and rhythms, as well as having intimate knowledge of its nooks and crannies — all of which infuses the guidebook with its tone and personality.

“After a storm, the runoff from the red clay in the cliffs tinges the water blood red. According to Wampanoag legend, the giant Moshup caught a whale by its tail, and the red in the water is the whale’s blood. Moshup Trail is named for him.”

The guidebook is divided into six tours and four special places — Waskosim’s Rock, Quansoo, Sepiessa Point, and Ms. Riggs’ West Tisbury home, The Cleaveland House, a historic bed-and-breakfast catering to writers. There is also a chapter on Island-grown plants.

For every destination, detailed directions are provided, mentioning landmarks along the way, what lines the roads, where to park, of what to take note. There are suggestions for the hiker, biker, and boater. Ms. Riggs informs readers that there are no poisonous snakes on the Vineyard, advises hikers to wear long pants and sock to protect against ticks, gives the history of the Island’s old stone walls, and warns those who might want to wade in Sepiessa to be careful not to step on the sharp oyster shells.

In Tour One: Vineyard Haven to Up-Island, the reader is taken to Tashmoo Overlook and learns that this is where Trumbull discussed academic politics with her student. Ms. Riggs provides the mileage from there to Tisbury Meadow, then on to West Tisbury, and the sprawling 200-year-old tree, Liberty Oak, at the North Road junction. She adds the one-upmanship boasts of those who find treasures at the West Tisbury Dumptique, leads the reader to Chilmark, explains that in the mid-1800s one in 25 residents there were deaf, and provides some history.

She even makes reference to Chilmark Chocolates explaining in “Indian Pipes,” “Trumbull smells the fragrance of Chilmark Chocolates as her kidnappers drive past and thus is able to identify the route they took to their hideaway on the Vineyard’s north shore.”

The book’s 177 pages are chock-full of beautiful images, fascinating details, and practical information on where to go to fully experience the Vineyard.

Vineyarders, like most people in most towns and cities, tend to travel their own well-trod paths, creating deep ruts to their routine destinations. Many up-Islanders have never dipped their toes into the waters of Tashmoo. Many down-Islanders have never explored Lobsterville or Menemsha Village. “Victoria Trumbull’s Martha’s Vineyard Guide Book” is as much for them as it is for Island visitors. Whether the reader is an armchair traveler or a backpacking cyclist, Cynthia Riggs’s guidebook makes a perfect Island traveling companion.