Thomas Dresser, prolific Island author, has just published a gem of a guidebook, “Schlepping Around Martha’s Vineyard.” The title of the book has a touch of Yiddish humor. True, if you attempted to do every hike and side trip that the book lays out in a single go, you would indeed feel that you’d schlepped around the Vineyard for a day. But, in fact, Dresser has so efficiently broken down the wealth of information that you can pick and choose to your heart’s delight and corresponding desired level of energy expenditure.
The first offering is a “Vineyard Drive-Around,” which breaks up the Island into four manageable sectors and, if driven nonstop, would, the book states, take about 90 minutes. Dresser said in a recent email, “For a first-time visitor, or one with limited time, I suggest a whole Island tour, skipping the side trips and hiking trails. You can capture the highlights of Martha’s Vineyard, by car, in a drive around the Island, seeing all six towns, the harbors, the Cliffs, and Menemsha, and appreciate the lay of the land.”
But if you have a little more leeway, Dresser adds lots of enticing side trips that make you want to extend your timeframe. In Sector 1: Vineyard North, there is one for the Highlands, where you can take a look at the famous Harlem Renaissance writer Dorothy West’s residence and, as the book says, “the Baptist Temple Park (the site of the original Baptist Tabernacle), and Shearer Cottage, the century-old inn that has catered to African Americans for generations.”
If you want to stretch your legs, Dresser also includes hiking options along the way. A favorite of mine is Sepiessa in West Tisbury, a Land Bank property, one of whose trails wanders through the woods on a peninsula along the Tisbury Great Pond. You emerge onto an expansive open field leading to a beautiful beach. On a sunny day, you can’t beat it.
Dresser shares two of his best-loved on-foot explorations: “Personally, I love Tiasquam Valley and the walkthrough to Wascosim’s Rock. That’s a hidden treasure in our midst, easy enough to find, challenging enough to explore, and memorable for its woods and views and sights along the way. Peaked Hill offers another option, with a road up for the weak of foot, and long, lovely walks across the hillside. Those are two of my favorite walks on the Vineyard.”
There is a wealth of other helpful information. Take, for instance, the History and Mystery list, which includes a wonderful tale about the Standish house on State Road in West Tisbury that served as an inn for many years. Dresser tells us that Redcoats were rumored to have bunked there in September 1778 when they raided Vineyard sheep farms. One evening in the mid-1990s, a guest at the house saw the ghosts of British soldiers partying there.
There are two pages devoted exclusively to bikes and individual hikes. The first on his list of walks is Sheriff’s Meadow Sanctuary. He tells us: “Enjoy a short, secluded walk in the midst of downtown Edgartown around a natural habitat where the ocean meets a pond. Pleasant. Pristine. Precious.”
Sprinkled throughout too are helpful black-and-white photographs that make destinations look particularly enticing. Dresser’s sense of humor is also apparent, as in the photograph on page 13 of turkeys and their young crossing a road with the caption: “Road crew patrolling Vineyard byways.”
Under the section “Island Treasures,” he mentions Abel’s Hill Cemetery, where you can pay a visit to the graves of such luminaries as Experience Mayhew, Lillian Hellman, John Belushi, and more.
Dresser says, “The inspiration for the book was Herb Foster, a friend who passed away at the end of February. He suggested we write the book about a year ago, but we didn’t get around to it. With his death, I felt the time was right to put pen to paper, or finger to computer key, to write the book in his honor. It was fortuitous that I had a draft for him to review shortly before his death, so he did have a hand in the publication.”
I can’t think of a more appropriate way to honor Herb Foster than a useful, easy-to-use guidebook that celebrates the Vineyard, as he was so much a part of its very essence. And Dresser writes a beautiful tribute to him at the end of the book that captures his unique nature.
Ultimately, whether you’re a first-time visitor, seasoned summer veteran, or year-rounder, there is something in there for all of us.
“Schlepping Around Martha’s Vineyard” is available for $15 at Bunch of Grapes, Edgartown Books, and in Oak Bluffs at the Corner Store on Circuit Avenue, the Campground Museum, and Phillips Hardware. Copies are also available by contacting Dresser directly at email@example.com, or through his website at thomasdresser.com.