Paying A Visit to Emily Dickinson

The HomesteadOn my recent visit to Amherst, MA, I visited Emily Dickinson’s house as well as the house of her brother and his wife. I learned that the Dickinson homes certainly have a unique charm. Although on the same property, and belonging to the same family, The Homestead and The Evergreens have a different beauty that I was excited to see.

The Homestead – the childhood home of Emily Dickinson and the place she lived until she died in 1886. It’s thought by some that she was a recluse, only writing depressing poems. (And there was a time when I thought the same, but she wrote on a variety of different topics and was interested in life.) After visiting her home and learning more about her, I believe she was happy with her life, spending it with the people she cared about most while doing what she loved. (Although, she never published a single poem during her lifetime.)

The house she lived in was simple – canary yellow with dark green shutters. There was aBirdbath in the Garden small flower garden on the side of the house with a birdbath. A few times I watched as a robin flew to the rim of the bath and drank the water before flying away. Also, further down from the house there was a larger garden which also contained flowers, among various vegetables. (Along with a rather friendly cat whose name seemed to be Oscar Wilde.)

While walking through the house I saw various rooms including the library, a large room off from the foyer and Emily’s room. It didn’t really hit me until I was standing in Emily’s room – the profound thought that this is where she not only lived, but wrote all those poems so many years ago. Her small desk with a lamp and a chair faced the window and I wondered if she wrote long into the night or whenever inspiration struck.

As any artist’s house that is turned into a museum, things were pristine and most of the furniture was authentic. Maybe it’s my active imagination, or maybe something else, but I could imagine the people who once lived in the house walking up and down the stair, through the halls, sitting and talking, entertaining. It really was like stepping into the past. But there’s a difference between stepping back in time and feeling as though time itself has stopped.

The Evergreens IIThe Evergreens – the home of Emily’s brother and his wife, a wedding present built by his father across the way from The Homestead. Structurally, this house is very different from the one Emily lived in, but what I found more breathtaking was what was on the inside.

As soon as I stepped into the dimly lit foyer, I could smell the houses age. (Some may call it a musty sent, but it wasn’t musty, it was age and history that floated through the air.) It was written in the family will that the house was to remained untouched. So everything was still in the same place. Every single piece of furniture, down to the rugs and wood floors, were authentic.

The wallpaper in the halls was peeling, the paint was chipping, there were small holes and cracks in the ceiling and long cracks that ran the length of the wall. Some of the rugs were torn after a lifetime of foot-traffic and the wood floors worn in places after years of people walking on them. Even the fireplaces appeared to have ash still in them. (Although, I could’ve imagined this.) Either way, this house felt like the family left long ago, leaving all their belongings, and was waiting for them to return.

That was the beauty of this house. In no way am I calling it unkept or ugly. All of these things add to its character. It shows this house had a life and I could imagine it in its glory days as Emily’s brother and wife entertained or simply took care of their family. I could feel it’s history pouring from the walls and thought of the stories they could tell, if only they could speak.

Both these houses had their own charm and their own personality. I loved them equally, but for different reasons. In The Homestead it was walking the same halls as Emily Dickinson once did (to name one) and in The Evergreens it was the pure authenticity of the house and the history that was ingrained into every floorboard (to name one). In the end, I’m glad I was able to explore these gorgeous houses and that they could be preserved not only for today, but also for future generations.

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A Visit to Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole's HouseVisiting historical places feels like stepping back in time. You might need to use your imagination to see the artist working or the writer writing, but often times the place you’re visiting has a personality all its own.

Recently, I visited Thomas Cole’s house. Thomas Cole was an artist, best known for his paintings, and credited with the founding of the Hudson River School. His paintings transform the landscape and captivates anyone who looks at them (at least in my opinion).

The house is simple – pale yellow with dark green shutters and an elevated porch. It used to sit on a large plot of land, orchards, but now there’s a road that goes through it and a Mountain Viewfew houses on the other side. In no way does this take away from the gorgeous view when standing on the porch. Beyond the bit of present-day construction lays the woods with its tall trees and mountains that appear to touch the sky. It’s a view that I believe must me seen to fully appreciate its beauty.

Of all the rooms in the house, I think the studio was my favorite. It’s one thing to step into the foyer of an old house, to see the different rooms, to imagine the use of each room and admire the authenticity of it all, but it’s another things entirely to enter a room that still feels as if it’s being used.

His studio is separate from the house, part of an old barn. Upon entering there’s a smell that matches that of an old barn, mixed with paint and age. Two easels site in the middle A Painter's Toolsof the room, one with a canvas balanced on it, the other empty and waiting for art to be created. A long desk is pushed against the wall and holds books, papers and some small paints. A separate, smaller desk, is positioned between the two easels where bottles of pigment (which would be transformed into his paints) sat. It was as if Thomas Cole had walked out of his studio and everything was left waiting for his return.

It’s possible the old studio sparked my imagination as the room still seemed to be alive. It felt special. And maybe that’s why these historical places feel like stepping back in time – each one is special in it’s own way.

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Aftershows Are Special

They don’t happen all the time, but it’s not their spontaneity that fully makes them special. It’s not having a rehearsed set. It’s not having all the flashy lights or disco balls or bubbles. It’s not having an electric guitar that sings through the amps and speakers into the crowd. It’s not having a bass or drums vibrate through your body and match the beating of your heart.

Don’t get me wrong, those things are all great, but when a song is played with a simple acoustic guitar it’s like stripping the song down to it’s soul.

Over the last week I’ve had the privilege of seeing two aftershows. The first was in New Hampshire. There was a group of us down on the beach – toes in the cool sand, the sound of the ocean behind us – as the melody of each song floated through the starry night.

The second one was in Boston. This time there was a group of us crowded around a pair of trashcans, a makeshift stage, as the sounds of the city echoed around us and blended with each song.

That’s the thing about aftershows. You never know where you’re going to end up or what’s going to happen. It could be anywhere from a back alley by the bus to the sidewalk to the beach. It’s spontaneous with none of the glamor of a rehearsed show.

There’s something to be said for a song played with nothing but a guitar. It may be simple, but it’s also beautiful.