Do you remember being in high school and reading Shakepeare’s play Julius Caesar? Remember the beggar saying to Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March”? Well the ides are the middle of the month, usually the 15th. It being just about the Ides of July got me thinking about Miss Edith Chase and her leaving Waterbury to spend from April to November in the Topsmead countryside. And then, July being about the middle month of her stay and the 15th being about the middle day of July, she would have been about the middle of her stay. I wonder if she was able to savor mid-summer or if she began thinking about her time there starting downhill towards its end. I like to think that she was so busy making memories in the July beauty and fragrances of Topsmead that she didn’t give the end of November a thought.
Poodle Gloria and I decided to go roaming around in Topsmead’s July beauty on one of those cooler, less humid days after Tropical Storm Fay had barreled through Connecticut and left dragging her humid skirts behind her. As we were walking up the gravel drive from the parking area to the cottage, I noticed three figures up by the dovecote. They were dressed unusually for a summer afternoon: one in a deep red gown, one in a royal blue gown, and one in a dapper suit with a bow tie. The two gowned figures were twirling around with their skirts billowing out. As we got closer, I could see that they were setting up an iphone on the stone water fountain to take a picture of the three of them together. Gratefully, they accepted my offer to be their photographer, and the young man handed me the iphone. When I pressed the button to take the photo, I was surprised to see numbers start counting down in the view of the iphone: 9 – 8 – 7- 6 and so on. “Oh, sorry,” laughed the young man. “I had set a timer.” I took several photos of them with different framings: one with landscape, one full length gowns and all, and one a bit more of a close up. When I handed the iphone back to the young man, he said, “Thank you and we like your dog.”
Gloria and I continued on around the corner of the dovecote and into the walled garden a-color with July blossoms and splendidly variegated coleus leaves. After a charming conversation with one of the gardeners about the diversity of shapes and colors in typical English gardens, we carried on to walk the cool woods of the Bernard H. Stairs trail. As we came out of the woods and into the bright sun of the path mowed through the hayfield to the butterfly... garden, I saw those same three figures coming towards us along the path—the same red gown and same blue gown, but the bow tie was now carrying his suit jacket over his arm and I could see his snappy-looking red suspenders. Approaching, I asked them, “Are you dressed up for an event or just for fun?” Turns out that they were high school seniors who had just graduated, and because of the coronavirus pandemic, they had missed their senior prom. So I guess you could say that they were dressed up for an event and for fun, but also for a different kind of high school prom memory.
Thank you Topsmead and thank you Miss Edith for providing the perfect setting for these three young people to make a prom memory to cherish after all.
I invite you to share in the comment section below how Topsmead has allowed you make a positive memory to cherish during this pandemic....
Topsmead is truly no longer waiting for summer. Summer has arrived on the property...even though summer solstice is not quite here yet. The hay fields have leapt up from their brown winter stubble and are now three-feet high, gently waving carpets of green. Walking along the path mowed through and along the perimeter of the fields, I have arrived at a place of celebration and escape.
I never cease to be amazed by the regenerative powers of Mother Nature, and Topsmead’s cottage gardens and the pollinator garden are once again validating my amazement: the absolutely barren winter dirt is now buried in bursts of color and a variety of shapes—purples, pinks, yellows, oranges, fringy greens, streamlined fronds. I look forward to the luxury of spending soft days in June en plein air with my sketchbook trying to capture the expansiveness of Topsmead’s vistas as well as the intimacy of its gardens.
While we are on the subject of the gardens, do go on a walkabout to the pollinator garden and see how happily it is attracting pollinator critters. These critters, including birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, small mammals, and most importantly, bees are responsible for assisting over 80% of the world’s plants to reproduce. Without them, humans and wildlife wouldn’t have much to eat or look at! So in their honor, set a spell on the garden’s stone bench sometime during the week of June 22-28 and help celebrate National Pollinator Week.
And speaking of special places at Topsmead, the other day, as I was walking around the cottage with a friend, she shared memories of coming to Topsmead with her daughter. One of her daughter’s favorite places to explore was underneath amongst the sheltering boughs of the juniper bushes next to the side garden of the cottage. She would imagine that she was in her own private earthy, shady, if a bit spikey, world. Under the junipers was magical, indeed.
Topsmead does that to you—invokes magic. When I first toured the cottage with docent Gerri Geci in his DEEP Ranger khaki shorts and shirt (I won’t say how many years ago), I felt the magic of the cottage. It was so easy to relax and imagine myself to be Miss Edith Morton Chase escaping the city of Waterbury to spend her spring-summer-fall seasons at the top of the meadow, reading a book in a sunny corner of the living room, potting plants on the metal drain board of the kitchen, consulting on the farm operations, or savoring sunset with a signature Topsmead cocktail on the west-facing porch.
For me, the gift of Topsmead during these seasons is the opportunity to transport myself, however briefly, out of my personal life, away from today’s current problems and challenges, and into the magical world of Miss Edith. Even though there won’t be any cottage tours this year because of coronavirus restrictions, each time I visit Topsmead, I quietly thank Miss Edith for leaving her estate so generously to the people of the state Connecticut and for requesting in her will that the grounds “be kept in a state of natural beauty.”
Please feel free to share one of your Topsmead memories or magical places in the comment section below.