Around back of Emily Dickinson’s Homestead. Lots of visitors but they are very quiet. All of them are on the phone, just listening. Apparently there’s a number you dial for an official recorded guided tour of this historic property. Or maybe it’s an app. In any case, you need a phone for this. I don’t have one.
It’s an odd experience to be walking around phoneless among such quiet, intently focused people. It’s like being the only unenlightened one at a monastery. I look around at the same stuff they are looking at but I am missing something. I have no sense of what is really going on. I have no interpretation of the world but my own. The unsanctioned mind just wanders.
I stroll next door to the house once owned by Dickinson’s brother, Austin. This place is called “The Evergreens”. I look at the giant dying hemlocks surrounding the house and think, “Woolly adelgid.” These trees will soon be gone. I have spent the last couple years cutting down dead and dying hemlocks on our own property. All across the Northeast, the hemlocks are dying from the ravages of the woolly adelgid. Then I think of Socrates, even though I know that’s a whole nother kind of hemlock and has nothing to do with the tree hemlock except that they’re both plants and, at least for me at this moment, conjure images of death.
I circle back to the Homestead. Three people, each listening intently to a phone, are standing near the back door. Through that door is the visitor reception and gift shop. I walk in, thinking I might take the live tour. I’m not the only one without a phone. An elderly woman is ahead of me, arguing with the docent, nearly as elderly, over the price of admission to the live tour. The visitor wants her senior citizen discount. The docent says she’s getting it. The visitor doesn’t see it that way. She says she entitled to an additional dollar off. The docent says she has already taken the dollar off. This is going to take a while.
So I look around. Built into an old fireplace is a copper kettle. A good old-fashioned sign tells me this is where, back in the day, the family did laundry. They boiled it in this kettle. Since no sign forbids it, I play around with the lid. I flip it up and down. As with most things in the course of my day, I have no idea why I do this. It’s just something to do. When the unwelcome image of Emily Dickinson’s knickers floating in a kettle full of boiling sudsy water rises up in imagination, I decide I’ve had enough. I’ll skip the live tour for now and call back another day.