There are certain delights that you plan and others that seem almost to waylay you.
The drive north along the Connecticut River this past Saturday morning was matching turn for turn the route prepared by Google maps. The last time I had headed to the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, NH, I was approaching south from a summer workshop at Dartmouth College. The online itinerary was instrumental this past weekend in helping me find once again the beautiful nineteenth-century home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens with its surrounding gardens and studios.
A friend had recently viewed a PBS documentary about the American sculptor and the Cornish Art Colony that had sprung up around him after he settled in this corner of New Hampshire. Familiar with other sites maintained by the National Park Service, I was prepared to be delighted by the visit. I was not disappointed. In fact, I ended up taking pleasure even in the antique smell of the rooms of the eighteenth-century inn that Saint-Gaudens had transformed into his home. How many visitors leave a home like this with a similar longing to return and smell again one day that deep presence of the years?
There’s another moment to record, though, from the day. Most travelers driving north would have been completely focused on the property that the online itinerary suggested was only four minutes away. Nothing should have distracted a driver intent on locating the signs for the turn-off on Route 12A that would lead to his destination.
But there was a white clapboard church. And an old cemetery. A bend in the state road should have swept travelers past both of them. But within seconds the car was parked, the camera retrieved, the roadway leading to the reconstructed Trinity Church followed in the sunny morning stillness.
At another time in my life I would not have stopped here, would not have delayed an arrival that had been the focus of a morning’s efforts, would not have believed that anyone else could have entered the mood of that sudden roadside apparition. With each step, though, I knew that this was right. I might have planned another venture, but this one was waiting for me, for my history, for my heart. This one said, “Yes, someone knew you were coming. Welcome.”
My eyes stayed alert, intent on taking it all in. I was being given a gift, and I would not miss any of it. Looking up, looking in, walking along, walking behind – I felt a space was opening up around me that felt fine with my being there.
Stepping among the old gravestones in the churchyard, I read inscriptions, one after another. The activity was familiar, comforting, quieting. Absorbed, I did not expect what I would see when I turned around at one point, but suddenly there was Mount Ascutney. A deep, long vista leading to the Vermont mountain and the clouds behind it seemed to open up. Lifting my camera, I hoped the steadiness of my aim would do justice to the moment.
I could have stayed there a long time. Aware of the attentiveness to beauty that had made this sudden, unplanned stop, I was ready to let it lay claim to my life.
I learned something afresh about my heart that morning.