A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Room Without a View

One of the nice things about bartending at Smith is having an excuse to wander around the campus which has been my second home since 1965. The entire 125-acre Smith College campus is a registered botanical garden, one of the oldest in the country, and beautiful in any season. But perhaps most beautiful of all just when the students have left for the year. Taking part in reunion activities means being able to be there just at the height of all that beauty.

The campus was designed by the landscape architecture firm of Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1880s. Olmsted also designed Central Park, Boston's Emerald Necklace, and Springfield's own 735-acre Forest Park. Before the redesign (Smith was founded in 1875), the college grounds were a combination of gardens, orchard, hayfields, and pastures.

The Botanical Garden's entire collection consists of over 10,000 plants. This Weeping Beech, Fagus sylvatica ‘Pendula’ is one of the most dramatic specimens. It's next to Hopkins House on Elm Street, the main drag of the campus, a.k.a. route 9. Thousands of people can admire it every day on their way to Florence, Williamsburg, Goshen, Conway, Ashfield, etc., etc. What they may not realize is that the weeping branches form a room in which several people can stand. Or sit. Or lie down. Or do almost any other thing you can think of, totally hidden from the rest of the world.

The age and provenance of this tree are unrecorded. Someone at the College can probably make a very educated stab as to how old it is, but I don't know. I would guess, though, that the tree is older than most of the returning alums. I notice lots of women of varying ages slipping under its branches when they revisit the campus. I wonder what memories the weeping beech is evoking?

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