Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Letters

9 - 2006  Spencer

The mists rise.  The snow mutes most sounds but enhances others.  In the distance an owl calls.  In the distance the monks are singing their early service against the dark.  The mouser Tiger stands poised, waiting the approaching storm. 



Soft light falls through the window onto the open book.  The calf skin covering it has dried and begun to crack, scattering browning at the outer edges of the boards.  The title on the spine is fading – a translation of the letters of the younger Pliny.  A chance purchase at an old shop in Worchester, together with an ancient set of Plutarch’s lives.  The names of the past owners from Boston and London are written in their hands in the front pages – scholars, counsel, and philosophers.  And there is magic in their names. 

A small piece of shot is lodged below the title, buried just below the surface.  The pages are lightly browned, delicate tracery from a long dead worm is in a lower margin avoiding the printed words, which dance on the page, as sharp and distinct as the day the book was printed, so long ago. 

Tiger shimmers in the light.  Low thunder rumbles in the distance and she touches the book. 


She whispers:

Come, travel to my home.  If you do, you will understand why I am infatuated with this place: the old house, the site and the view.  It is only 40 miles to Boston - you can come and stay here after work without interference with your daily schedule.  You can travel here a couple of different ways.  The roads to Ware and New York lead in the same direction.  Both these roads are suitable and the scenery is varied.  The old road to Ware runs to the bottom of my hill and is the more direct route – but because it travels for the most part through towns and villages it can be a slow journey.  The Turn Pike to New York is also quite close, cutting a broad path through wild areas, with woods running down to both sides of the road.  Once there were farms here, but the fields have been retaken by the forests and the buildings are melting into the towns. 

While old, the house meets all my needs.  It is at the top of a steep drive.  The house faces south and has an extravagantly high steepled slate roof – similar to those you see in old medieval Bavarian villages.  The entrance portico is framed between pediments and bay windows.  To enter you must enter an enclosed porch which partly circles and shades the house, decorated on the exterior with gothic finery – bargeboards carved in a fanciful trefoil pattern.  A sufficient refuge from winter winds and snow, it remains warm as it catches the sun on two sides in winter and its windows can be opened to allow warm spring air to circulate.  Interior doors lead to a handsome room for entertaining guests.  I have had shelves placed here to hold my books.  This room opens to an inner dining room furnished with a large dining table and an old grandfather clock.  Warmed by a fire place, the windows of the dining room look out to a small court yard at the back of the house, and looking north one may see the small forest at the back of the house.  Sitting before the fireplace, you may look through the other rooms of the house and portico to the road and forests on the distant hills to the south, east and west.  To the left is a chamber that holds my study, my computers.  To the right are the kitchens, a small bay for eating breakfast and a bathroom. 



Above the ground floor staircases will take you to bedchambers and the main bathroom.  Each of these rooms look out on different views of the distant hills, the main bed chamber catches the first morning light.  From there, up hidden stairs in the spaces under the high roofs, are spacious areas for relaxation, hobbies or storage, where one may rest contemplating the steeples of the distant town or escape to listen to the soft drumming of rain and hail on the surrounding roofs.  From the upper stories you may look through high windows sheltered by openwork rondels and carved truss work down to the courtyards and surrounding gardens.

Soft New England grasses border the gardens, with vines on the east of the house a rockery to the south and ancient trees at the bottom of the hill.  In the trees flit birds of every color and size, the blue jays and the great owls.  In the wilds at the back, beyond the old wood pile, live the wild animals of the region, mainly woodchucks and squirrels, but bobcats, deer and brown bears have been reported in nearby woods.  On a calm day you may hear the cry of the hawk that makes a home on the edge of the forest – or watch his battles with the blackbirds which oppose his domain.  Here one may walk shaded by the trees in spring and summer or in the direct sunlight of winter, along long winding trails to one of the ponds or lakes nearby.  Here you may find the indefinite traces of the old orchard serving the house, but of the rest of the original agricultural purposes have disappeared – except for the basement. 

Below the earth in the cavernous basement under the house, are the old stowage bins for produce - apples and quinces - while next to them are concrete and brick walls for keeping sheep and horses from the cruel winters.  The furnaces that heat the house are situated in the basement, fed by tanks of diesel; the southerly aspect of the house and the aspect of the portico minimize heating during the day.  On a winter’s night, one may feel the sudden rush as the furnaces ignite below to burn away the biting cold of the New England winters. 

Inside, the house remains a fairly constant temperature, regardless of the season.  According to the time of day, I may sit and read on the portico, or resort to my study or even the dining room to research an issue.  For this house was build for contemplation.  Built to last, it has served other writers and dreamers in its time.  And the ghosts of the past still cling to its soul.

The convenience and charm of the house has only some small drawbacks – because of its elevation, water pressure is not great and the sound of travelers on the road at the bottom of the hill can find its way into the house. But apart from these minor problems, these small drawbacks are amply overcome by the situation of the house.  For it is also close to the town of Spencer, which supplies all my ordinary needs and which boasts an excellent library only 15 minutes walk from my door. 

Well have I persuaded you why I choose to tarry here? And why you should leave the confines of Boston and travel westward to this quiet retreat?

Such a summons is not free from risk.  Lightning crackles, light sweeping into the world, illuminating the darkest recesses. 


Peter
Spencer

Massachusetts

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