By the time the Heath Fair is done, the family has departed and the leftover books from the Friends of the Library book sale are taken care of, I am tired. The excitement, family noise and general chaos are all great fun, but last week I was feeling the need for some quiet. Some Serenity.
Fortunately for me, my friend Kate’s parents were renting the Serenity Stone Cottage for the month and they invited me over for tea and a tour of Heath’s most historic house.
We stepped out onto the raised porch off the living room, sat on the wicker settee and whiled away the afternoon talking about Reinhold Niebuhr who summered in this house for a number of years, part of a summer community that for years in the 30s, 40s and 50s included many clerics including the Bishop of Washington D.C., the Dean of St. John the Divine in NYC, Robert McAfee Brown and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter.
Niebuhr has been called one of the most influential theologians of the 20th centuries. He wrote many books, but the general public is probably most familiar with a short prayer he wrote, although they may very well not know that he is the author. During the dark days of World War II, when he concluded one of his regular guest sermon at the Heath Union Church with the petition “Grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change/The courage to change the things that should be changed/And the wisdom to tell the one from the other.”
I like to think of him, and all the other clerics and theologians who summered here, reading, thinking and writing, enjoying the very cool Heath breezes, sending their children off to splash in Dr. William Wolfe’s pond, and dining together, thinking and talking. The world was not so noisy then, no TV, iPods, or computers, although manual typewriters clacked away in the mornings. Still, I think serenity was easier to find here where the hills are so green, the air fresh but gently perfumed with the scent of cow barns, and the night skies are vast and dark, studded with the eternal stars.
I am sure Niebuhr’s study did not look like this in his day, but the bookshelves remain. They do include some of his works, but mystery novels and children’s books as well for those lucky enough to summer here now. This is more a cozy setting for Granny and granddaughter.
If Niebuhr needed to clear his mind or get a new perspective over a dense page, he could step out onto this porch right outside his study.
Or he might have been lured to stroll down to the pond that he created, and sit in the shade, listening to the brook that fed the pond.
This hydrangea, at the edge of the pond and somewhat diminished after last December’s historic ice storm, is old enough that he might very well have planted it himself.
The air is no longer perfumed with eau de dairy barn here in Heath, but we still have cooling breezes and quiet. Forget your cell phone (no service in Heath), although you can get hi-speed Internet at our excellent little library – even outside when the library is closed. There is good Heath water to drink, and good Heath blueberries to eat. With a little luck you can make a connection to get some farm fresh eggs. There is quiet and space to think and reflect. What more does a summer vacation need?
Actually, if more activity is required, Heath is less than an hour from other sorts of intellectual pursuits, the Five Colleges (UMass, Smith, Amherst, Mt Holyoke and Hampshire) as well as Historic Deerfield to the East, Mass MoCA, Williams College and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institue to the West.
If you want to know more about the Serenity Stone Cottage, and how you might rent it for your own serene vacation at any time of the year, log on to the website.