I know Twain felt similar respite, as he hurried away from the dismal Hartford heat. Three days of academic panels, plenary lectures, exhibitions, and an assortment of good food and Finger Lakes wine they produce some nice, crisp, dry Rieslings and Chardonnays up in these parts led inevitably to the final evening of the conference proper: Much of it was food Twain would have loved: Guitars, mandolins, and a banjo made appearances, and songs were heard echoing through the woods.
The skies deepened first into a pinkish glow, then blues and purples. Several dozen of us stood in a large set of concentric circles. Cigars were brought out and lighted in the darkness. Soon enough, a few of us began to sing old songs, ones that Mark Twain might have enjoyed listening to, and some of which he even sang himself: Nina died in a dingy motel near Hollywood, having sold much of her birthright to a gambler. It was a very sad way for the living descendents of Mark Twain to pass into the oblivion of history, one that would have broken his heart, if indeed it were possible for that old tired heart to be broken yet again.
The professional society of which we are all members is, in fact, called The Mark Twain Circle. We stood on that hilltop in the dark, puffing our stogies, in loose circles within circles, pledging to one another that we might return here four years hence, to reenact our fondness for this great American icon. Let that circle remain unbroken, we sang.
The eye is the first circle, said Emerson, many years ago. And we pledged to circle up again, come Proud, even, to be reminded of the products of my youthful setting.
Local legend had it that some of the older quarries were hundreds of feet deep, if not bottomless. We would leap off the high boulders into the cool refreshing waters, then climb out and do it again, then lie like snakes on those warmed slabs in the summer sunshine, carefree as Tom and Huck skipping school which we did sometimes as well, though in my own case it was college lectures in organic chemistry, Heidegger, or French New Wave film.
The greatest resemblance, though, is the presence of the beds of rock, which are the firm foundation of the region. Outcroppings are everywhere, as are cascading waters rushing off toward Lake Ontario, and the residual shale and sandstone that break off the gorges and gather at the bottoms. Underneath it all was the stone. Wildlife is all around: Squirrels perform their acrobatics all around me as I walk the woods. They often include me in their inter-family squabbles, as they scream back and forth like irritated neighbors in ethnic neighborhoods.
Chipmunks streak by, always in a hurry.
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- Old Stone Barracks.
- Folklore and Magic of Southern England.
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Deer and even bear are sometimes seen on the grounds of Quarry Farm; I suspect that years ago they were in far greater abundance. At night, the bats come out, zigzagging around for their brunch. And then there are the mosquitoes—they seem to be having an abundant year, one to remember. Life luxuriates at Quarry Farm. Twain told the story of how his daughter Jean once stood enraptured by the cows silently munching in the meadow. Fraulein, Stray Kit, Sourmash, Blatherskite; and finally Satan, the cat whose name perhaps reminded them that even in Paradise one must be watchful.
That is what the family often called this place. Despite all the past and coming storms, we find once more in these reminiscences that special sensibility of transcendent joy, one that Twain was able to capture even then: And yet the passages resound with a feeling of sublime peace and rest, a feeling, I would submit, that he found most regularly and predictably right here at Quarry Farm. I visited Cornell University the other day, and the regal old campus sits atop a mountain much like the most scenic towns of the Italian Renaissance in Tuscany—Siena, San Gimignano, Cortona—the kinds of towns that oversee a landscape for miles around, and which can be seen from miles around; fiefdoms of incomparable local integrity and prestige.
Cornell is a campus not unlike Indiana in Bloomington, also raised from nearby quarries featuring powerful, light-colored stone: The campus is also protected by wide and raging waters tumbling down impressive sylvan gorges on both the north and south ends of the old campus, boundaries that are both moat-like and breathtaking. As I crossed the pedestrian bridges into the oldest section of the Cornell campus, I knew I was entering another sort of space, a different country altogether, in the most special sense of what a campus used to mean in America.
The campus features a very strong architectural motif of rockiness: Perhaps in another five hundred years, should these buildings remain somewhat as they are today, it is plausible that crowds of tourists will come in their tour buses and wonder at the sheer awe and splendor of these grounds, as they do today in Siena. For now, at the beginning of the fall semester, the new students and their parents cling to maps of another sort. These harried, overweight, and well-invested men betray little sense of the historic weight confronting them on every side. As Mark Twain noted about travelers, they often fail to see the landscapes through which they are passing.
These kinds of stony places are foundational to who we are, or at least hope to be, as Americans.
The rocks are from the basement of time, as Norman Maclean puts it at the end of A River Runs Through It , and underneath the rocks are the words. I suppose it is some of my Indiana heritage or snobbery coming out, but I like the primeval quality of this area, founded as it is on miles and miles of solid rock shelving that has been veiled from human sight for these millions of years. We have to dig deep, to uncover the words. This morning the clouds are blanketing East Hill, and I can barely make out the first line of trees down the slope and toward the city.
Beyond the two large sugar maples just off the porch, I can make out the few scattered trees inside the old stone wall, and perhaps another hundred feet downward, I can barely discern the forest edge, blurred and purple, a bruise within a cloud. Smaller swallows dip down to the ground, looking for manna. Corvids caw twice, loudly, back and forth. The crows up here are startlingly huge, and they shout out like crabby longshoremen; they are said to be among our most intelligent birds, but they rarely act like it.
Two woodpeckers pound away at trees, one on the left, just above me in the maple nearest to the porch, the other far off into the woods to my right. Stereo woodpeckers, neither listening to his neighbor. Some jays are cackling on a low branch, down the hill. But suddenly, after going inside for a few minutes and returning, it is even foggier than before.
A false start to a clear morning. I try to sound like an ex-slave. Mary Ann Cord, the black cook employed by the Cranes and at the service of the Clemens, and known to all as Auntie Cord, still rules the kitchen in the form of the small, framed photograph that hovers there to this day. She was born a slave in Virginia, probably in the s, and one evening in the year Mr. This innocent question caught her fancy; evidently Mr.
Ailsa Craig-the ghost island where Olympic curling stones are ‘made’
Clemens had no idea about the troubles she had seen in the old slavery days, and so she proceeded to let him know all about it. The scene took place out on the porch, with Mr. Clemens seated just about where I sit every morning of my stay, and with Auntie Cord just below them on the steps leading down into the yard. Losing a child signified the ultimate sacrifice for any God-fearing Christian woman.
Auntie Cord had, indeed, seen it all before. More importantly, it signaled the changing attitudes of a southerner to the misfortunes and abuses of African Americans. And it all began right here, on this very porch, tiled with local stones. Though it seems an historical shame that back then, it was still wooden.
The proof in the pudding is the restful times I was allowed to enjoy up here myself. G ive E very M onth. Become a GEM member.
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