Monday, January 14, 2013

...Edith Wharton's Forest Holds Treasures.

When merrily strolling through the woods on the grounds of The Mount with my boyfriend on Friday, I came across a few strange things that I think are worthy of a mention.  I discovered three oddities and although I'd like to write a poem, a short story, and novel on each of them, I'll have to settle for just a few paragraphs each for now.

The mysterious woodpile in the woods.

Oddity #1: The Woodpile

I  suppose there isn't anything too weird about a woodpile in the middle of the woods, considering the wood came from trees and trees aren't hard to find in forests.  And logs may be needed to put in fireplaces to create nice, cozy fires and yet...this woodpile is nowhere near any buildings.

Matt and I had turned off the little road that leads to the mansion and walked into the more dense area of the forest to see where it might lead.  It didn't really lead anywhere; it was a dead end that stopped at the noisy main road.  But that is where our woodpile is residing at this very moment.

Now, let's assume that this woodpile is a log stash for The Mount.  An employee would have to walk down the side path into the woods and then transport wood to either the stables or the mansion, both which are a small distance away (unless they were driving, but it's simply no fun to assume that).  It appears more likely that the woodpile would be placed right outside those buildings, where it could be accessed easily and immediately!

Matt suggested that perhaps someone had cut down a tree and left the wood stash there.  I think this is entirely plausible, but when I look at the above picture, I see a neatly stacked pile of logs, covered in a blanket of snow, and I can't help but think that they have a purpose.

The snake branch.
Oddity #2: The Abnormal Branch

Matt gets the credit for finding this one!  This tree with the strange branch was just a few feet away from the Mysterious Woodpile.  The tree itself isn't particularly extraordinary, but the the green, mossy branch that twists around it sure is!  The branch starts off towards the bottom of the trunk, and winds it's way up to almost the very top.

What makes this branch so much fun is that it doesn't even seem like it belongs to the tree and it isn't firmly attached; it is suspended out in the air.  It stands out in stark contrast, doing it's own thing, as if it were only visiting for a short while instead of being a permanent fixture.

And where did it come from?  It wasn't put there; it had to have grown there! 

Oddity #3: The Tree With The Face

This was located on the edge of the deeper forest instead of in it, but it stood out to me instantly!  When I first looked at this tree, I saw a gaping mouth (the dark, oval hole at the bottom) and an eye (the knotted elbow of the branch sticking somewhat up on the right).  It also resembles a wailing ghoul to me and this is very appropriate, considering that The Mount is allegedly haunted.

I guess this isn't that odd, since it only looks like a face and isn't actually one.  But it still makes me wonder about the life of this tree.  Was it once a handsome, tall, straight tree with lots of green brances?  How did it become the way it is now, all gnarled and misshapen and sad?  Only Elder Tree, as I named it, and the trees around it know.

I guess this would also be the time to mention that whenever I looked into the trees in this part of the forest, I could have sworn I saw a house in the distance.  It wasn't the mansion, since we weren't facing in the direction of it's location and the structure I thought I saw was a deep, brick red, not white.  However, Matt did not see this, so I could have been hallucinating.  Just another oddity to add to the experience!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

...About Adventure One: The Mount.

The Mount is, without a doubt, one of my favorite places in the whole world.  It has numerous beautiful and mysterious qualities, which I will list below:

-It's a mansion.  Mansions are my favorite.
-It was built and occupied by a writer, Edith Wharton.
-It was built in 1902 and is therefore old, historic, and important.

A fork in the road on the forest path that leads to the mansion.
-It is supposedly haunted and this intrigues me to no end.
-It is buried somewhere in the woods in Lenox, MA  (you cannot see this wonderful, wonderful house from the road).
-On the second floor at the back of the house is one of the most beautiful libraries I have ever seen.

And so, all of the above qualities = Nicole's imagination on fire.

Although the mansion, stables, and bookstore are closed to the public right now, The Mount still welcomes visitors to tour the grounds.  Matt and I have been to The Mount three times, three Octobers in a row for the nighttime Halloween ghost tours, but we have never been there during the day.  This was the first time.

A view of the stables from the forest.
As I already mentioned above, the Mount was built by author Edith Wharton in 1902 and she lived there with her husband, Teddy Wharton, until 1911.  I suppose part of my fascination of The Mount stems from harmless envy - I, too, would love to be an author who lives in a mansion with a magnificent library (in fact, when I one day own a house, I want an exact replica of Edith Wharton's library, which was based on her own father's library).  And I love to imagine what life would have been like for her all those years, living in such a beautiful, slightly isolated place, surrounded by nothing but trees.  Seriously, it must have been the best place to concentrate and write!

Matt and I arrived during the last hour of the morning and parked down near the mansion.  We got out and immediately began our walk around the grounds.  Although I was slightly anxious, not dressed warm enough, and paranoid about falling down, I enjoyed myself immensely.  To map out our entire walk in a very quick fashion: we walked down a random path into the woods to greet a dead end, strolled up to the stables and snapped some photos of the front and back, and made our way back down to the mansion.  An employee drove by us as we walked and although I was too busy trying to look busy and not suspicious, Matt informed me that he waved.

As we continued down the road, the mansion became visible through the trees (as you can see in the picture to the left).  We had walked this road many a time before at night with a group and somewhere to the left, there is a pet cemetery, where Edith Wharton's dogs are buried.  I wanted to try to find it but there was no path leading to it and the gravestones were most likely buried in snow.

The winding road through the trees that leads to the mansion is one of my favorite things about The Mount.  The mansion is almost entirely hidden until you get a first glimpse of it through the trees and it gradually reveals itself as you walk even further.  Although walking along that road and all over the grounds at night in Autumn on Halloween night is unbelievable amounts of fun (for me, at least!), exploring it in the daytime and on our own was a wonderful experience.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed that the mansion was closed, but I came fully expecting not to be stepping anywhere inside and only going as far as the doorstep.  In fact, I stepped upon the door step and stared at the wooden door, trying to envision Edith Wharton doing the same.  I didn't dare lay a hand on the door, although I wanted to, for fear of setting off an alarm.  I then turned and made sure to get a photo of the little doorway in the gate that looked back out into the forest.

On the night tours we had been to, we never got to walk around the back of the mansion where the gardens are (it was simply too dark and dangerous).  Even when walking back to the small parking lot at the end of the night, I always tried to look around the building, to see what the gardens looked like and what Edith Wharton would see when she looked out her back windows, but I only saw pitch black. 

I looked forward to seeing what the "backyard" looked like.  Would there be more paths, more of the winding road?  Would there be dense, thick forests surrounding the house?  Would there just be very beautiful, elaborate gardens?

We only went as far as the side of the mansion.  The back consisted of a large hill with shin-deep snow (and I had made the unfortunate choice of wearing sneakers and the thinnest socks imaginable).  But Matt still helped me through some of the less dramatic drifts of snow and I was able to look out in the back and see something I hadn't expected.  Beyond the gardens were trees, like I had expected, but there was also rolling hills!  And very far into the distance, it looked like there were more large houses.
Although happy to make this discovery, I was still hit with another pang of longing to go into the mansion and look around, but instead I busied myself with memories of walking through three floors of dimly lit halls and rooms on Halloween evenings.

That concluded our adventure for the day.  After an hour of exploring, photo-taking, and re-imagining (as well as searching the dark windows for any signs of ghostly faces!), I came away from the experience very happy indeed.  Matt and I have already planned to take another trip back in April, right before it opens back up to the public in May, so that we can finally journey all the way into the back grounds (that is, if there is not much snow and mud).

Edith Wharton was on my mind almost the entire time.  I thought about how one of the tour guides told us one Halloween how Edith Wharton's bedroom on the third floor looked out upon the pet cemetery, so that she could keep watch over her precious dogs.  On those tours, I would also look out the windows, hoping to see anything - the pet cemetery, ghostly figures, or mountains in the distance.  I would imagine myself spending an evening in her gorgeous library, surrounding by leather-bound volumes and glowing light, and slowly drawing back the long curtains to look out into the dark, letting my imagination soar.
The author emerges from behind a tree!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

...Tolkien Fantasy Is A Sea.

"Drowning, in the sea of love, where everyone would love to drown." - Fleetwood Mac

In the past few weeks, since I first saw The Hobbit in theaters, I have taken a dive headfirst back into the sea of Tolkien fantasy.  This is very exciting for me, because this is a sea I haven't explored in about ten years, since the last Lord of the Rings movie (Return of the King), arrived in movie theaters in 2003.  Perhaps over the years, I've dipped a toe in or even waded in up to my waist, but I've never fully taken the plunge back in, until now.

Although Lord of the Rings has always held a special place in my DVD library, on my bookshelf, and in my soul, I never really bothered to think about what it was that drew me to it like some sort of freakish magnetic force.  I was content enough to love it, to gush to people about it, and to watch it...over and over again.

I saw The Hobbit on a cold, snowy night a few weeks ago and as soon as the end credits began to roll, I felt an enormous weight in my chest (seriously, I might as well been carrying a hobbit on my shoulders, that's how heavy it felt).  I carried it with me to the restroom, out to the parking lot, and into my car it got with me.  It did not go away until I burst into tears and told my boyfriend through ridiculous sobbing fits how happy I was and what a phenomenal movie it had been.

If anything felt like stepping back into a long-forgotten past, it was seeing that movie.  At the risk of sounding corny, clique, and crazy, I must felt like coming home.  The Hobbit brought back for me all those wonderful pre-teenager memories of watching the films continously, anticipating when the next one would come into theaters, and bonding with my friends over it (or being playfully teased by my cousin over it).  Nostalgia is a very powerful emotion and I seem to be the owner of some kind of abnormal nostalgia gene that is extremely fond and grateful for past enjoyments.

Back in 2002, I had been drowning in the sea of Tolkien, completley helpless and entranced by something I found incredibly exciting and beautiful.  And I feel the same way now, absolutely powerless over a love of something from long ago and a little confused as I venture to explore more of this world.

When I was younger, I had read The Hobbit and I may have started to read The Fellowship of the Ring, but that is where I banged into an iceberg somewhere in that Tolkien sea and apparently didn't get back on the literary path.  But this time, I've found that I want to read all the books, watch all the movies (in their extended versions!) all over again, and go a bit further and see what else Tolkien has written about Middle Earth (this is where the confusion comes in, since there is so much material and not a clear place to begin).

I have even come to the realization that if I were two or three feet shorter, lived in a hole in a hill, and actually liked to wear the color yellow, I could be a hobbit.

But as it is, I am 5'5, I live in a hilltown rather than a hill, and the only thing yellow thing you will ever find me wearing is socks (maybe).  But I have books in my library and DVDs on my shelf that detail the adventures of hobbits and that is quite enough for me. 

Drowning in a sea of love is all very romantic and fine, but I'm perfectly content to flail about in a sea of Tolkien's fiction, until I finally learn to navigate my way once again and swim confidently to the conclusion.  And someday, years after I have already once again pulled myself from the Tolkien sea and thoroughly dried off, I'm sure I will eagerly run back to the beginning, and dive in once more.