New England Love Letter, part 1

Cardinal Flower in the Swift River, Petersham
Cardinal Flower in the Swift River, Petersham

This is a love letter to a great North American region; I’m about to get mushy and more than a little verklempt, if you’ll permit me. I’ve been more a little emotional the last few days just thinking how quickly the time has gone by and how soon we must leave Benson House and Harvard Forest: tomorrow morning. I have fallen badly in love, seduced by scenery, sweet little towns with steeples, rivers and lakes, goshawks and fishers, and above all the air and light in the New England forest. The songs of the wood thrush and veery top my hit parade of great musical experiences, along with a magnificent Beethoven’s 7th at Tanglewood, performed in a thunderstorm.

Herewith are things I love about New England, in no particular order, with love and kisses from the Motmot.

1) Cemeteries.

Eternal peace, and all those warblers. Mt. Auburn Cemetary, Boston.
Eternal rest, and all those warblers. Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Boston.

New England keeps its ancestors where you can see them every day. Out west, cemeteries are dull monocultures of gravemarker plaques planted down flat for easy mowing. Here in New England every little town has a real honest graveyard, a good solid tribute to townspeople who lived here short and long, their lives told in a few well chosen words. I’ve spent five months across the road from a small one begun in Revolutionary times; I’m looking at it right now as I sit on the front porch of Benson House.

He's buried on Martha's Vineyard. Would you have expected any less?
Would you have expected any less? Martha's Vineyard.

On Martha’s Vineyard there’s a beautiful graveyard with engraved granite boulders as an option to the usual headstone (see Belushi’s for comparison), and at Mt Auburn in Boston the grounds in spring crawl with birders(me among them) chasing warblers and grosbeaks and a zillion singing migrants in the most glorious flowering landscape I’ve ever seen outside of a botanical garden. When I go, please bury me at Mt. Auburn. I’d like to spend eternity with birders walking over my grave. Especially if they get a rarity from somewhere around my kidney. That would be special.

Snagging a warbler for Longfellow, Mt. Auburn Cemetery.
Snagging a warbler for Henry Wadsworth, Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

2) Mushrooms

The fungus among us. Conic Waxycap, Harvard Forest
The fungus among us. Conic Waxycap, Harvard Forest

This has been a wet, wet summer, and the fungi are going to town and everywhere else. The diversity is astounding. I had to buy a field guide, of course, but if you knew what you were doing you could eat like a king. A king with a royal taster, natch. While I was painting up at The Ledges in Royalston last week, a couple climbed up beside me carrying plastic bags full of something pungent and black which they said would go well in pilaf. I personally will let others enjoy what I dare not eat. The price of bold and hungry ignorance is high in this arena. Bon appetit!

I think this one is deadly poisonous. Just a guess.
I think this one is bad for you. Just a guess.

3) Critters

The world's cutest squirrel.
The world's cutest rodent.
Daddy long-legs in ultramarine.
Daddy long-legs in ultramarine mixed with alizarin madder, a great combination for those ravishing shade tones.

I’ve managed to see a thrilling bunch of animals here, simply by being in their vicinity without making too much racket. In my tenure as Harvard Forest Artist-In-Residence (that’s my official title, in fact) I’ve had close encounters with mink, beaver, fisher, deer, squirrels gray and red, chipmunks and woodchucks. And that’s just the mammals. Sad to say I never got a look at a moose or a bear, but it’s probably just as well. I don’t run fast and I don’t climb trees.

4) Museums

Glass flowers from the Harvard Museum of Natural History
Glass flowers from the Harvard Museum of Natural History

Museums floor me; since April I’ve been to the MFA in Boston three times, the Clark in Williamstown twice, the Bennington Center in VT once (to drop off my paintings for Impressions of New England). In May I went back to CA and spent a great afternoon at the Getty Villa, and in June dined in the Museum of Natural History at Harvard (the glass flowers are awesome and the wine was most excellent). I’ve discovered that the best way to enjoy a museum is with a sketchbook. Use a pencil; the guards frown on pens.

One of the Sargent ceiling murals at the MFA. Comfy leather couches are provided for better viewing.
One of the Sargent ceiling murals at the MFA. Comfy leather couches are provided for easy viewing or closed eye meditation. You could get nightmares from this one.
Degas' Little Dancer.
Sketched at the Clark Museum: Degas' Little Dancer
Psyche by Rodin, marble, MFA Boston.
Psyche by Rodin, marble, MFA Boston.
Fine dining with triceratops. Harvard Museum of Natural History.
My dinner with the immortals. Harvard Museum of Natural History.
Ed Wilson was the delightful dinner speaker at the 100th anniversary of the Harvard ant collection. HMNH.
Ed Wilson was the dinner speaker on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the ant collection at the HMNH.

Tomorrow we will pack up the car and head south; I’m getting a little choked up just thinking about it. But I’ll continue this paen tomorrow from the road if I can. I’m just getting warmed up. There’s so much here to love.

17 thoughts on “New England Love Letter, part 1

  1. Becky says:

    Lovely drawings. I know it must be very hard to leave such a wonderful place. You will greatly missed there I’m sure. Thanks, though, for allowing us to share this amazing experience through your eyes and your pencils and camera. We who live here in the plains will welcome you back with open arms, however, and are so looking forward to seeing your drawings and paintings in person and hearing all about each one. Drive safely, my friend.

  2. Pica says:

    Thanks for this wonderful journey through your months in New England. Mount Auburn is one of my favorite places in the world; glad to see it here…

  3. bioephemera says:

    wow – what a wonderful experience that must have been, and how sad for you to be going! I spent a summer at Harvard years ago, and I can still remember how by the time I left, I had done and seen hardly anything I meant to – I walked through the city at 5am just to watch the sun come up and get one last look. It’s a remarkable place.

  4. 100swallows says:

    I spent long on each of your fine drawings and photos, Debby, and feel I made the trip a little too. What the heck is (was) that monster you had next to you at the Natural History Museum restaurant? Antlers and a tusk!

  5. Pam says:

    I’ve so enjoyed your New England journey through my old stomping grounds. You’ve beautifully captured the magic. Thanks for sharing and bringing me back home through your eyes.

    You must be home now. Prayers to you and yours as you bring your homestead back to life.

  6. 100swallows says:

    I just saw under the picture (in words that appear before the picture comes on) you call him a triceratops. Museums are always looking for ways to make some money and attract visitors. The restaurant idea is a novel one. (“Let’s have lunch at the Prado!”). I hope the food was good.

  7. coolwaterworks says:

    You have a beautiful site here… And I liked that picture of the waxycap very much… 🙂

    I’m adding you to my blogroll…

  8. Clarisse says:

    I was harvesting handfuls of herbs from my garden this morning and remarking to myself that I hope you folks come back again very soon. We had a big storm last night, and this morning, all the critters and plants were back to business as usual. Amazing.

  9. Pam P. says:


    Thanks for sharing your art — you helped me to see a part of New England I’ve never experienced in person. I could feel the forest through your eyes. And a special thanks for being at Barry’s plant workshop and sharing your very special talents.

    Pam P.

  10. Engraved Pens says:

    this reminds me of that poem Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers version – Chordpro

    See, I come from Boston.
    I’m gonna tell you about how I love New England.
    It’s my favorite place.
    I’ve been all around the world, but I love New England best.
    I might be prejudiced.
    But it’s true, I love New England best.

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