According to the All Trails app, in 2023 All Trails hikers spent 73 million hours outside, which equals a total of 8,333 years outside; together they shared 13 million photos; and together the All Trails community recorded over 268 million miles, which equals 10,763 times around the Earth. Sounds impressive, right?
Looking back at the year, The Atlantic magazine trumpets the 10 Best Films of 2023, the 15 Best TV Shows of 2023, the 25 Best Podcasts of 2023, the 10 Best Albums of 2023, the 81 Things That Blew Our Minds in 2023, and the 10 Books That Made Us Think in 2023. Numbers and rankings tell the story of 2023, right?
Moving into the new year, the Washington Post offers 10 Workouts to Try, 12 Nutrition Tips for a Healthy New Year, 9 Ways to Improve Your Relationships, and 10 Ways to Support Your Mental Health in 2024. There is hope for 2024, right?
Can we think about Topsmead in the year 2023 in terms of numbers? Can we choose the top 10 Topsmead places to visit: the ecology trail? Stairs Pond, Underhill, the butterfly garden? the house itself? Can we decide on the top 10 achievements of the Friends of Topsmead: Songbird Trail? MemorialTtree program? docent tours? Welcome Center upgrade? Can we put a number on the feeling of walking the Topsmead landscape in all of its 2023 seasons, even in the 2023-ending drizzle and mist and rain and wind?
I think not. It seems to me that there is a deceptive comfort in using numbers to quantify our past experiences and future plans. Landing on a certain number or ranking system to summarize and determine the value of experiences and plans does make them tangible and easier to feel good about, but something is missing….
I think that Miss Edith would agree. She was no stranger to numbers. Her father, Henry Sabin Chase, made sure that she completed a program in business after graduating from The Farmington School. Miss Edith put that numbers training to good work over time as she managed the Topsmead farm records and bought parcels of adjoining acreage to increase her father’s original 17-acre gift to its current 500+ acres.
However, I think Miss Edith understood that numbers are limited in their ability to define and calculate value. She thought beyond numbers and believed value could be found in such things as hand-crafted versus machine-made work, in spending time and working in the world of nature, and in balancing solitude with relationships. In keeping with those beliefs, she built her house at Topsmead to include her friends Mary and Lucy Burrall. She filled the house with pieces from the Arts and Crafts Movement, with antique, hand-crafted furniture from her travels, and with books. She expanded Topsmead to become a self-sustaining farm in a way that honored the dignity of labor.
So, as we move into 2024, let us move away from the quick and easy comfort of using numbers to evaluate and plan our lives. Let us seek to find less tangible, often more challenging, but ultimately more satisfying ways, and as we do so, let us remember that Miss Edith’s invaluable gift of Topsmead to the people of Connecticut offers us one such way.