Publick House Est. 1770, December 2010
“Now and then, in this workaday world, things do happen in the delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort that is. ”
—Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Early December is by far my favorite time to travel through the Northeast. The Colonial character of New England shines brightest in the early winter.
Winter in New England is a mosaic of luminous pieces. It is a warmth felt about the chest—a radiance. As gifted a wordsmith as I am, I cannot convey a New England winter here in this small space and do it justice. I find, all I can do is conjure the images and memories I have gathered over the thirty winters I have spent here and leave you to assemble the great picture in your mind.
When I think of winter in New England I think of an old fashioned holiday season. I think of the places I have visited: Walking through Mystic Seaport—the dirt paths gritty with crushed clam shells; moving through the rooms of Orchard House; walking down behind the Old Manse to stand on the banks of the Concord River on a cold morning; the inviting garland-strung door of the Concord’s Colonial Inn; the nights of solace taken at the Publick House; the lantern-lit stroll through the grounds of Old Sturbridge Village, and finally the smell of evergreen in my family’s home after we have set up the tree.
Reaching back into my memory smells, sights, tastes, and sounds flood into my mind. I hear music—bass, strings, and bells. I smell the hearths as I walk through downtown Mystic; I smell coffee and hot cider brewing on an open flame in a cast iron kettle and I taste a baked apple hot from the oven soaked in melted butter and molten brown sugar.
If ever there was a substance capable of healing the jaded heart it is that of the first snows to fall over the landscapes of New England.
One of my favorite places to visit just before the holidays is the Publick House—a historic inn located in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Visiting this hidden gem of a place brings me back in time to 1771, the year in which the inn was opened. I imagine a time of home and family—a period of innocence, anticipation, possibility, and wholesome comfort for which we all inwardly yearn. Situated along the old Boston Post Road, the Publick House has been a solace for travelers such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Visiting the inn has become a tradition of mine for three years running. Come autumn, I always make sure to book a room in the historic section of the inn for a weekend just before the holiday season.
Walking past the evergreen wreaths and yards of garland, the candles flickering, and the green, red and gold glass balls reflecting the light from a bright fire, I enter into the embrace of the deep oak-paneled surround. I walk across the wide floorboards to sit fire-side and enjoy a supper of roast duck and dressing in the old tavern.
While I am there for those few days life is as it should be. I give myself over to the period and let my imagination roam through the halls of the old house.
Anyone who has worked with me knows that I never rest while there is work to be done. Yet not many of my colleagues know why I work so hard: The desire to have a house and a small bit of land to call my own. I enjoy the Publick House as much as I do because for a brief time, as I walk through the halls of such old homes, I am able to spend a fleeting moment with the reality of the dreams I work so hard to realize.
During my days at the inn, my evenings are spent by lantern-light, seeping in the warmth of the gentle surround. Sleeping soundly, I wake in the dim hours of the morning and let myself drift for a time in the inlet between dreams and reality. For a fleeting moment I am not in an inn but in my own house. Among all the dreams I hold to in my heart, that of a house—a true period home—a few acres and independence is the one I simply cannot relinquish.
After a while of floating in the ethereal womb of this blissful thought, I sneak downstairs to the bakery and return to my bed with a cup of rich coffee marbled with cream and a piece of pastry in-hand, which incidentally is the only way to begin on a cold morning.
Indeed, some of the fondest memories of my life are centered around the early winters spent in New England. I do not observe Christmas or Hanukkah—my reverence for the season is not religious; rather, I celebrate the season of home and family when, after a long season of planting, learning, growing, and harvesting, the family returns to the home for a season of togetherness. As William Blake said, “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”
—A Journal and Poetry Selection from Fleeting Moments of Fierce Clarity
Image: “A Night at the Inn” 2010 Copyright L.M. Browning
During the dark half of the year
The light that emanates from the home
Must illuminate our gray world.
The sun grows faint
So the hearth must glow bright.
The winter brings no warmth
So we must take refuge in the arms of loved ones.
The earth, in its respite, cannot nourish us
And so we must nourish each other.
Finished attending to summer fields
And autumn’s harvest we return home
To the company of those for whom we work so hard.
Self-sustaining is the warmth and wholeness
Love brings to the hearts of those filled by it.
Journal of a New England Poet
Foreword by Ian Marhsall author Border Crossings and Walden by Haiku
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ISBN 978-1-938846-01-4 | 126 Pgs | 6 x 9 | List Price: $14.95
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*2012 Pushcart Prize Nominations
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