Wednesday, August 10, 2016

solidity in the liminal

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“The greatest forces lie in the region of the uncomprehended.”

~ George MacDonald, A Dish of Orts.


We are constantly reminded about the persistent certainty of change. This is a subject manifesting in such popular forms as our music and our aphorisms. All of that acknowledged wisdom still cannot completely convince us to count on the reliability of transition. A living human, body and soul, is in perpetual motion. As we live, we dwell upon moving surfaces. With a corner-of-the eye awareness, daily routines are repeated in a temporal context. The fluidity of time occurs to us when our continuities are disrupted. A building we always knew is torn down, a business we counted upon for years dissolves, people we long valued are suddenly absent, a protracted succession of work days or schooldays conclude. The passage of time bewilders and shocks. It’s as though time suddenly lurched forward, after a lengthy spell of stillness. But the hours and days have always been moving, all in the same increments. Yet there is ever an insistence upon solidity, upon predictability in the acknowledged provisional. The trick is to live a wise dynamic, even a comfortable one, in temporal conditions. The length and breadth of liminal space cannot be determined. Temporary can last a long time.

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As technologies continue evolving, more conveniences and tabulations are connected to our tasks. The mundane and transitory aspects of communication, travel, and commerce become increasingly easier, as well as increasingly monitored and measured. Popular corporate culture obsesses about fickle figures known as metrics. Ease and access are as phenomenal as they are potentially impersonal. The universality of immediacy is really incredible, such that a few undercurrents counteract, by seeking to “unplug” the pace. Recently, on a Boston-bound train, I sat across the aisle from a passenger with two restless young children. Trying to calm down the squirmier among them, the woman spoke in impressively adult tones, “now you need to be patient.” The child replied with a memorable, “but I don’ waaaaanna be patient!” Who does? But we have to be.

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If only the cherished could be held in place, and only the detriments be discarded. We would rather not view things and people we love as temporal. At the same time, we wince and want the things we dislike to go away fast- as in right now (this takes patience). All reside in the same time measurement, and unfortunately what we love is moving along and potentially away from us at the same rate as the unwelcome abiding of what we dislike. But then, we are each in motion, too. Evidently, I have something in common with the reluctant child on the train.

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A fond memory recalls a simple, yet memorably savory meal I had when I was 17. It was in Paris, and I had spent a day on one of my many photographing ventures. Realizing how hungry I was, I looked for an appealing eatery that I could afford. Stumbling into a little cavern appropriately called Le Clos des Bernardins, I saw that I had just enough money for a salad. Well, the waiter brought me a wide plate that was richly adorned with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and vinaigrette on palm-like chicory greens arranged to point outward like sun rays. At the center of the salad was a warmed morsel of goat cheese. The colors, textures, and tastes were immediately striking, and I did all I could to eat civilly and slowly- albeit through tenacious hunger. I remember telling myself to savor this special food, and that I would momentarily stop to put down the silverware and look around the arched little dining room. I treasured every bite, and after gratefully paying the waiter what I had, I equally savored my slowed steps across the Latin Quarter. Even back then, I knew this was something to remember. What is purposed to last about a beautiful event cannot be the perishable ingredients, but rather the complete impression. Like flowers, a delectable meal is not meant to last.

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Amidst the temporal, there abides a universal thirst for permanence. I strongly doubt there is anyone that doesn’t wish for something in life to last forever. It could be a beloved person, a situation or place, or a slice of time preserved only by memory. I remember my 13-year-old self at the end of the summer camp season, being very sad at the prospect of leaving many new friends, and returning to the bad old city. A bigger kid put an arm on my shoulder, trying to console me. He was probably a ripe old 15, and he said, “come on, good times don’t last forever.” In retrospect, that’s a rather grim pronouncement for an adolescent to utter to another. But it’s also an acknowledgment of impermanence. Summers do inevitably wind down. We begin school so that we can graduate. The optimist’s comprehension is that there will be more good times to follow, and it’s good to expect them.

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Because of the work I’ve been doing for the better part of two decades, the word preservation is in my daily parlance. Archivists also want things to last forever. In my field, we use terms like permanence, longterm keeping, and conservation grade. We confer at length about best practices, formatted backups, and disaster preparedness. Of course, we must work to these ends; that is central to our professional stewardship and the common mission to preserve and provide access. We look ahead and we look back. Consider the historic materials and landmarks reaching us today from great spans of time ago. I type these words from atop the Boston Athenaeum, whose foundation dates back to the late 1600s. How will these places look, three centuries from now? Many of us, regardless of our work, have a personal awareness of preservation. The mindset says, “good things should last forever.” But we are striving to make things permanently endure in a temporal context. Our predecessors have passed their torches to us, and they may have also thought of the paradox of permanence in the provisional. We know that we do and see things that are momentary, but we proceed with a confident sense of preservation.

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How can there be rootedness in temporal times and places? Ideally, it begins with a sturdy sense of daring and a powerful imagination. It demands faith, the evidence of things unseen. There is a popular biblical passage about the dogged and daunted life of Jeremiah the Prophet. Perhaps he had an inkling that his was among the lives that would be associated with metaphors. There have been many such individuals across the centuries. The ancient Jeremiah was enjoined to invest all his personal resources into the purchase of property in enemy territory which was embroiled in conflict. It was a volatile war zone. But he did it, despite his second thoughts, because what loomed even more powerfully was that he needed to buy that field and make it bloom. There was a holy calling that haunted his thoughts that he follow his vocation. The alternative would have been even more costly to him, and those who knew him. There had to be solidity in the liminal. We say that we make permanent decisions, and that we establish ourselves and our investments. But at the same time, many of us keenly know that we are digging into moving platforms. Perhaps what we must do, in order to maintain sanity, is to prosper between the temporal and the permanent. What is substantial, to the point of solidity, is our treatment of the transitory.

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Monday, August 8, 2016

musical chairs

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“Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!

With lips unbrighten'd, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?

Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.”

~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Work Without Hope.

“Musical Chairs” is an old-fashioned children’s social game which I recall from such occasions as birthday parties and indoor recess times in grammar school. A line of chairs would be situated at the center of a large room. There must be one chair fewer than the number of participants. A moderator would operate a music-playing device, and while the music played, the group would process around the chairs- moving along while carefully eyeing the shortened supply of seats. Without warning, the moderator suddenly stops the music, at which instant each person must seat themselves in one of the chairs. Inevitably one person is left unseated, causing them to leave the game. With each subsequent round, one chair gets removed, the music recommences, and with another surprise halt, the diminishing group scrambles for an incrementally shorter supply of seats. There are always too few chairs for one-too-many people, and thus the game of elimination continues, right down until there are two people and just one chair.

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The dynamic gets interesting when the game pares down to something like five chairs for six people. Those precious, remaining seats receive an intensifying, hawkeyed, hovering treatment. With each turn around that diminished set of places, the sense of urgency increases. As the group of contenders decreases, always with one-too-few corresponding possibilities, the game becomes increasingly competitive. As a children’s game, we can say the ramifications are very low, of momentary note, and quite forgettable. Some of you might remember the schoolyard song that ends with “the cheese stands alone.” Well, “alone” lasted barely a minute, long enough to move on to another game. The “cheese” might later wind up hitting a home run, or scoring a goal. Such situations had no enduring memory, broadly speaking.

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Schoolyard at my grammar school, P.S. 13, in New York City.
Below: Seeing the P.S. 13 schoolyard, as a visitor with adult's eyes.

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Then there are those among us who remember in sharp detail. Whether beneficial or not, we are able to see metaphors in things as trivial as children’s games. In the thick of New York City, playgrounds and schoolyards are paved like streets and sidewalks; all were interchangeable and seamless to us. My friends and I invented games, or we imposed our own usable rules upon known popular street games. Assembling to play “ring-a-leevio,” which combines hide-and-seek and tag (and sometimes running bases), we’d start by setting geographic perimeters. We did with our odd mutations of baseball and football, too. What is acceptable, and what is out-of-bounds? We didn’t dislike the kids who couldn’t exceed at batting, fielding, running, or throwing; we didn’t like the kids who refused to play by the rules. We didn’t know many “grownup” words, but we had our own version of “inclusion.” Ramon’s little brother Jorge had to play with us, because he was Ramon’s brother. Luis was with us, because he lived on the same block. Madhavan was with us, because he was with us in school. Such things went without question, and well they should.

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Corona, in New York City.
Below: Schoolyard at my junior high school, I.S. 61, in New York City.

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Departing from those childhood instances of mutually-accepted rules, time revealed more of the rigid variety- implied in “musical chairs.” Particularly when there is no infraction of the rules (or laws, or etiquette), exclusion can be a terribly negative force. Turning aside the rose-colored glasses, the same kids that called “do-overs,” and would add a 4th strike to allow for a more interesting ballgame, were also among those who ostracized other kids. We naturally know how to shun and leave others out, and such adolescent behaviors that reach adulthood and middle age practice subtle and effective ways to accomplish their ends. Sending a fellow child to the sidelines looks quite direct and overt, compared to how adults blackball each other from behind closed doors. There is also a bullying dimension to neighborhood gentrification, especially as landlords imitate their lesser peers who gouge residents and squeeze them out of their homes. As with schoolyard, workplace, and political bullies, if they can get away with it, they will. But conscientious people do notice. What seems as elusively opaque as boardroom doors is an equally elusive notion of the downtrodden transcending exclusion.

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As some are either content or resigned to be overlooked, many are not. The latter can echo Coleridge, in the quoted Work Without Hope, stupefied and mystified at exclusion from fulfilling a vocation. The amaranth flowers of his poem bloom for those who have successfully reached and taken their brass rings. These blossoms adorn that last seat and its fortunate occupant. Indeed, the plight of the job hunter continues the legacy of musical chairs. But the adversity is much more complex, and life sustenance is in play. The rules appear simple: an individual makes inquiries and represents their abilities and accomplishments, aspiring to be able to demonstrate their qualifications in person. Honest play for honest gain, or at least it should be so.

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Alas, as it was during childhood, there are innocence-threatening realizations to be made. Of course there are exceptions; at least I continue to resist succumbing to cynicism. In too many instances, hiring procedures tend to be woefully rigged and disingenuous, amounting to one of the last bastions of permissible bigotry. Many of us naively face the job market with high hopes that blend together hard-earned degrees, gainful employment histories, achievements, and adventurous can-do pluck.

Below: From the abyss of automated online applications.

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We bravely and dutifully endure demeaning online procedures. Some of these strangely demand typing in such things like the name of our junior high school. Succinctly worded résumés and crafted letters, targeted to the position, are absorbed into data-dissecting web applications along mazes of pigeonhole questionnaires. These reside in a cloudy culture that belongs to the virtual world of passively choosing from formulated lists and thumbnails, like shopping, social media, news, and even dating. But for the job hunter, the genres are oddly enmeshed. The perfect impression is sought, to draw attention. Applicants are challenged to be personal and specialized, yet the process is vague and uncommunicative. Often, rejection notices are eschewed; there is merely silence with the assumption that somebody else got the musical chair. On the other side of the virtual curtain, many a search committee will hand the coveted position to a crony- regardless of experience or credentials. Insiders play their own private version of musical chairs. After all, we dwell against a fear-based culture; unknowns are distrusted and prejudices remain unquestioned. And many of us are astonished at our own naivete and purist expectations. There are those who would rather not play games. Despite all of this, stouthearted searchers continue on. Somewhere out there is a chair that will not be whisked away.

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

peaks and points

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“The pageant of the river bank had marched steadily along,
unfolding itself in scene-pictures
that succeeded itself in stately procession.”

~ Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows.

Now returned from a retreat and back to the grind, as always I hope for the fresh inspiration to remain with me. My eight days in the Berkshires are now memories. Returning to work is necessary for the provision of sustenance. In a parallel sense, pausing the quotidian pace is essential for the spiritual health needed to endure. For those without the good fortune- or the monetary fortunes- for subsidized sabbaticals, there is the concept of a self-guided retreat. Through my most destitute, least compensated years, I’ve made sure to give myself occasional, modest, healthful changes of environment. After 22 years of making retreats, I’ve never once regretted any of my own imposed intermissions. No matter the season or situation, it’s been vital to pause repetitious routines, when possible; in recent years, that’s been about every six months. In an indirect way, personal retreats actually contribute to my employment productivity and my general perspective.

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Without meaningful, edifying breaks, the years would roll all the more as seamless backdrops. Recalling my time in school (comprising some 40% of my life’s years), spans of days accumulated by units of academic terms and semesters. Afterwards, it startled me to notice how clumps of months quickly became revolving years. I’ve been interspersing as many of these as I can with pilgrimages and various scholarly, artistic sojourns. The many and colorful travels do stay with me; these are treasured chapters for which no bulleted résumé could encapsulate. Perhaps, someday, these salutary and thoughtful experiences will be well-regarded in a workplace; but that is not the purpose for spiritual growth and insight. Creativity and contemplation are worth too much to be subjected to the conditional and the fleeting. Being a lifelong artist, I’m long accustomed to maintaining an undergirding shadow-career that tunnels beneath the work that pays my bills (and permits me to make creative diversions). And that will have to do, as long as there is time and space to write.

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Indeed, time and space to write can take various forms and quantities. The most vital ingredient in a creative pursuit is perseverance. If it is writing, the most important thing is to keep writing. Words must be assembled and recorded. Opportunities must be made, at every possible turn, to cultivate ideas. Ordinarily, my chances occur during early mornings, lunch breaks, and late at night. Weekends provide some oases, as well. Place can itself be a source of inspiration. Even the humblest in my neighborhood can go to the ocean’s edge. It is the way we can see a horizon, in a region of crags, hills, towns, and ridges. The Maine coast is not a place of wide, flat plains and straight roads. My home terrain has influenced my tastes for asymmetrical and meandering scenery. Vermont’s Green Mountains, and the landscape of my recent navigation in the Berkshires and along the Housatonic, are at once grand and intimate. In close proximity, the waterways manifest as river paths, streams, channels, passing under bridges, and inspiring lines on my pages.

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The retreats would not avail much, without lived followthrough amidst the drudgery. Grim as it may sound, the fruits of the Spirit are meant to bloom and sustain in ungratifying places. Not that I go looking for inhospitable conditions. A disciplined soul is tested in situations of abasement and abounding alike. A lunch break’s writing, similar to a distant pilgrimage, can be an occasion for renewed strength. It is all in the stream of keeping vigil, all tributaries in the cause of continuity. In the historic definition, a pilgrimage is a great deal more than intentional travel to a sacred place and the time spent there. It is also the journey back. Surely, fresh after a mountaintop experience, the return trip does feel very different from the outbound. Refreshed perspective causes ordinary places and situations to look extraordinary. Even the first few days back at work have something of a novelty. The proving-grounds come later; they always do. I choose not to think about this during a retreat. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

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Above: Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Below: rejuvenating coffee break, between workday shifts.

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Since returning from the Berkshires, where I saw spring forests foresee summer, I’ve made sure to be outdoors as much as possible. Hiking in the proximate Maine woods, I make note of parts which are similar to the places of my Western Massachusetts immersion. Granted, the nearby Kennebec is vaster and more vigorous than the Housatonic, the smaller river is no less ancient and inviting. Within that latter aspect is the procession of Berkshire towns that follow the waterway. The natural and built places alike comprise the river’s character. Added to the equation is the context of my journey. I was there to be on retreat, to be among a monastic community of prayer, and to savour the surroundings. We can see our purposes in our intended destinations, and can derive strength as intention meets discovery. In its trail, in a river-like sense, there follows and flows the serendipitous. This would include people met in transit, with their words; suppers, roads, aromas, and artifacts. Like the allegorical Mr. Mole in The Wind in the Willows, “absorbed in the new scents, the sounds, and the sunlight.” The sojourn really has changed my perspective, and it’s a good thing I continued writing, recording thoughts, along the way.

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notes in the Berkshires.

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Red Lion Inn postscriptum

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While staying at the fascinating Red Lion Inn, I noticed a wall-hanging (below) near the entrance to a parlor. It is filled with pencils, and is reminiscent of an old-fashioned workshop apron.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

wind in the willows

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“He had the world all to himself,
that early summer morning. The dewy woodland,
as he threaded it, was solitary and still;
the green fields that succeeded the trees were his own
to do as he liked with.”

~ Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows.

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True to pilgrimage form, anticipating and preparing are elements in the travelling. The journey begins before the physical setting forth. Having the wheels aligned on my car was part of the sacred journey; the mechanics and I talked about the Berkshires, and how beautiful the mountains are in spring. Between my workdays, leading up to my time off, I gradually set aside provisions, thinking of writing, hiking, photography, and reading. Two weeks before leaving, during an afternoon’s visit at the Boston Athenaeum, it occurred to me that I’d do well with some light reading. For retreats, I’ve learned to intersperse the more demanding texts I tend to favor, with easygoing literature. Occasionally I’ve brought along short stories, periodicals, or novels. This time, while my thoughts drifted to memories of C. S. Lewis and my studies at Oxford, I remembered learning that he admired The Wind in the Willows, a book I hadn’t read yet. Climbing up through the gallery tier of the Athenaeum’s cavernous 2nd floor, I pulled a first edition of the story. Resisting the temptation to open the book before reaching Stockbridge, I placed it in the gradually-filling bag near my dining table, among pencils, cameras, clothing, batteries, ink jar, and bug repellant.

view from 2nd floor gallery, Boston Athenaeum

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traversal and transition

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The road southwest to the Berkshires begins with an ordinary I-95 drive south on the Maine Turnpike, as any average intercity errand. Taking the offramp that points me toward Worcester indicates that I’m going to do something out of my ordinary. Merging onto the “Mass Pike” is a rare westward commitment, yet I remained amidst plenty of hurried traffic- including the regionally stereotypic tailgaters and nonsignalling, cutoff-passing drivers. Things do change later, as I traversed the Springfield area and I-91. After that, much of the highway is all to myself, as the remainder of exits are among the Berkshires. Continuing northwest of this region are the Adirondacks. The highway grows less bland, curving and rising with the mountains. Anticipating my exit, the look of the terrain had become more interesting to me than the stresses I’d fled from. Finally departing from the toll road, I took up narrower and more eventful lanes. Blustery, chilled, aromatic overcast welcomed me to spring. Just what I like.

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storybook imagery

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After greetings at the Divine Mercy shrine (on Eden Hill), the center of my pilgrimage, and my hostelry at the nearby Red Lion Inn, the day had been fulfilled. The sight of my surroundings was inspiring in itself. After a short walk, I returned to the Inn for dinner, taking the book with me. At last, while tasting roast beef, horseradish, potatoes, salad, and ale, I began reading. The book accompanied my writing, and other reading, out on the Inn’s spacious front porch, becoming a companion through the sojourn. Settling into the pages, the story was unusually suited to where I was, taking place along a river, in countryside. Having the Housatonic River, the Berkshire mountains, winding roads, and forests around me, it was easy to imagine being part of the adventures.

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The characters themselves are small animal sojourners along meandering voyages. Hiking in the woods, along portions of the river, I thought of places that could be hiding such landmarks in the story as Wild Wood, Mole End, or Toad Hall. In fable-like fashion, the characters exemplify personality traits. As examples, the staid and bold Mr. Badger admires the curious and naive Mr. Mole. The weasels and stoats are tribal and militaristic. By contrast, the flamboyant Mr. Toad is magnanimously hospitable, yet completely undisciplined. As a result, Toad’s adventures are the most dramatic and colorful, including an outrageous jail-break. The Water Rat is the fearless and conscientious champion of all the creatures, speaking with a steady voice. I believe he was the model for Lewis’ chivalrous Reepicheep, of the Narnia chronicles. After all, the swordfighting mouse held the honor of Most Noble Order of the Lion. The characters in Wind in the Willows navigate, argue, commiserate, scheme, and dine together.

Stockbridge, Massachusetts

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And then there is the yearning wanderlust of Mole. The story opens as he senses the spring from underground where, as he says, “you know exactly where you are; nothing can happen to you.” Yet still, the season of emergence was “penetrating even his dark and lowly” confines, as “something up above was calling him imperiously,” and he tunneled up into sunlight and meadows. This generates an ambitious energy to venture out, and he finds new kindred spirits, and helps the lives of others- and he is happy to return home, in this new context. Easily, with book open in front of me, I saw some amusing parallels to my own experience. Mole instinctively knew to reach beyond the limits of subterranean Mole End. Later, after his adventures take him far afield, he reflects, “Things go on all the same overhead, and you let ‘em, and don’t bother about ‘em. When you want to, up you go, and there things are, waiting for you.” He could as well have been a basement character with top-floor administrators. Mole befriends Rat, and one of their intriguing dialogues includes this notable line, “You ought to go where you’ll be properly appreciated. You’re simply wasted here, among us fellows.” Inevitably, the book became integral to my time of retreat.

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Along with these entertaining and introspective characters was the scenery, both in the story and immediately around me, in the Berkshires. The book accompanied me along the river, among the mountains, in the small towns, at meal tables, and even at the shrine. Everything intertwined, and the synthesis was involuntary. For example, one evening after dinner, I was aperch on the front porch of the Red Lion Inn, with books and journal. Turning a page in the story, I saw this: “...he strode along, his head in the air, till he reached a little town, where the sign of ‘The Red Lion’ swinging across the road halfway down the main street...” I looked up from the book and straight at the Red Lion sign as it swayed in the blustery breeze. Story and scenery merge.

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red lion inn

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The Inn itself deserves a few essays’ worth of narrative. Keeping close to how my seven nights’ stay there added to the pilgrimage and my enjoyment of The Wind in the Willows, the word “comfort” is a start. The Red Lion Inn was built in the 18th century, and the broadly spacious, impeccably maintained wooden hostelry stands on Main Street, in the center of Stockbridge. By today’s standards, the crossroads flanking the Inn are narrow and slow, but in centuries past, each direction would (and still can) bring road travellers south to Hartford and New York, west to Albany, north to Vermont, and east to Boston.

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This was surely a logical place to build a large inn with a tavern. Peering daily from the full-width front porch, at passers-by, guests, and motor vehicles, it was easy to imagine stage coaches, horses, the elegant automobiles that followed, and strolling pedestrians. The Inn has a list of dignitaries, presidents, Tanglewood fesitval musicians, and actors that have stayed as guests. Some are among the portraits decorating the many rooms and labyrinthine corridors. The place is furnished with inadvertant antiques. Countless armchairs, sofas, settees, tables, and filled curio cabinets, though spotlessly polished, seem as though they have always been there.

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Closer to my end, I was especially grateful to my generously hospitable hosts for providing a writing table at my request. They thoughtfully placed it at the window in my little room. With the outdoors, as well as the shrine, so compelling- not to mention the front porch- I did not spend a great deal of time indoors. But happily there were plenty of occasions for me to appreciate the grand dining room, which occupies most of the ground level. This was another space which joined the story to my experience, considering Grahame’s highly-detailed depictions of the characters’ savoury meals. I had quite a few of my own, and thought of our heroes and their corned beef, pickled gherkins, watercress, french bread, and ginger beer, among other victuals. Creatures all, with our creature comforts.

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Leo, of the Red Lion

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Within the fascinating collage that is the Red Lion Inn, I found the dining room to be most intriguing. On each occasion, I sat at a different table, to better appreciate the whole space. The wide entrance is connected by the Inn’s front parlor, which has an operating fireplace. This area is a favorite spot for the Inn’s resident cat, Leo. Common spaces allow for visiting occasions with fellow guests. Large, yet intimate, the dining room’s many tables are each decorated with flowers from the gardens immediately outside. The walls are papered with sedate floral patterns, and the lighting is gently diffused. Portions of the dining room are adorned with borders of rippled glass, and along a wide lintel is a collection of teapots perched high above. Breakfast is an especially conducive time for reading and journal writing. With the lenient pace of being on retreat, I could really linger and make note of these beautiful spaces. My neighboring guests were vacationers and fellow pilgrims, also at ease, making it easy to converse. There are no electronic screens to invade and distract the civility of people recognizing one another and appreciating the glory of the present. So many conversations begin with where one hails from; there is surely something ancient about such a way of making acquaintance.

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Despite intervals between chances to read, and my slow-reading habits, I finished the book a few days before my return road trip. The enjoyment of a book is often noticed in its absence. Shortly after finishing the story, I found myself missing those quirky characters, recalling a childhood feeling of being sorry to see the ending of a good book or movie. Just the same, I had to pack my things and part company with the Inn, the Divine Mercy shrine, the Housatonic, and the Berkshires. Another sojourn streaming into the broader voyage. Finding my way to the Mass Pike, I thought of the toll-taker in The Wind in the Willows, a rabbit that cried, "Sixpence for the privilege of passing by the private road!” Not quite what I encountered in Worcester. Along the northeasterly drive across the heart of merrie olde New England, I did think about how the book and the Berkshires are now inextricable to me. Although I did return to the very situations upon which I had forced a pause, at least I do have the benefit of having made such a fine outward-looking inner journey.

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