Many overlook Martha’s Vineyard in the off-season, when beaches no longer accommodate bikinis, business owners stow away their cash registers, and the Flying Horses cease to fly. But Phyllis Meras, author of In Every Season, recently released by Schiffer Publishing, has a great appreciation for this time of relative hibernation, for humans at least. For her, the off-season is when the familiar becomes mysterious, and the unrelenting cadence of nature’s course penetrates the human psyche.
“Off-season, Martha’s Vineyard is Nature’s rather than man’s realm,” she writes.
Island quintessentials — both natural and man-made — are the subject of In Every Season, a collection of essays compiled by season and complemented by drawings by the author’s late husband, Thomas H. Cocroft. The essays, many of which appeared as articles or editorials in the Vineyard Gazette, communicate a vast affection for the Island the author calls home. Ms. Meras, a journalist and travel writer, has been coming to the Vineyard since she was a little girl. Though she travels all over the world during the year, she always returns to the place she loves best, the Island.
“The Vineyard has always been an escape place for me,” she said. “You can forget that there are wars going on. You can forget that there are a lot of things going on. Once you get on the boat and you cross the water, you’re entering another world. It could be another country.”
The essays convey strong feelings of nostalgia, as seasons change, and humans affect seemingly irreparable changes in the landscape. Each Island treasure, natural and man-made, timeless or ephemeral, provokes a sensation of loss. Mill Pond, she writes, a fixture in West Tisbury for more than a century, may lose its swans.
“One more piece of the old Vineyard is gone,” she laments.
Music street may lose its grand trees. The archetypal Island porch is increasingly replaced with the anti-social backyard deck.
Ms. Meras began compiling the essays last summer with the intention of pairing them with her late husband’s dynamic, often playful pen and ink drawings. This book, her 16th published work, marks her first creative collaboration with her husband, who died in 1989.
“I’ve had drawers full of [his] drawings and I always thought they should see the light of day,” she said. “I thought the work should be exhibited. They were too nice to be left unseen.”
Few places on earth elicit such complete devotion as Martha’s Vineyard. Ms. Meras’s essays focus that devotion on the details that make Martha’s Vineyard unique. For an admirer of the Romantic poets, as she is, it is the Island’s intricacies that make the Vineyard stand out. It’s the stately white fences of Edgartown, or the small victory of discovering an elusive patch of blackberries, or a “company of trees in Union gray...marching along beside a road.” Her appreciative meanderings through the woods, and attentiveness to each plant and animal, communicates a deep connection with the Island.
Ms. Meras traces her appreciation for finding beauty in precise detail back to when she was a schoolgirl and given the duty of dusting the flowers in the windows at Northfield School for Girls in Northfield, Mass. She also remembers a particularly formative moment in which former Gazette editor Henry Beetle Hough took the time on a Thursday, deadline day at the paper, to listen to a woman describe each and every flower growing in her garden. The next day, a detailed description of that same garden appeared in the editorial page.
“That was one of the events that made me conscious about looking at nature,” she said.
Ms. Meras’s homage to the Island brings with it the hope of affecting change.
“It’s a realization of what’s beautiful and to be treasured on the Vineyard, not to be destroyed and modernized,” she said. “Nature is so wonderful here. People come here to escape, but they’re not escaping if they insist on having everything available here that’s available on the mainland.”
Phyllis Meras will read from In Every Season this Wednedsay, July 18, at 7 p.m. at the Vineyard Haven Library. She will give readings at the West Tisbury Library on July 26 and the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore on July 28.