A Road Trip through Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont

Linda and I have just returned from a two-week sojourn through New England with many memories, photos….and new books which will pose a bookshelf problem at home! Speaking of books and writers, we began our adventure at the Mark Twain house in Hartford, Connecticut.

 IMG_0850Mark Twain’s home in Hartford

Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, “Mark Twain,” built this beautiful home on the then-outskirts of Hartford in 1873 for Olivia, his wife of three years and their future family of three girls. Nothing was spared in its planning and construction thanks to Olivia’s family coal fortune and Twain’s bright prospects as a writer and speaker.

Alas, Mark Twain was as dismal at investing money as he was brilliant writing stories. Because of  terrible business decisions, Twain was forced into bankruptcy in the early 1890’s after writing such successful classics in his Hartford home as “Tom Sawyer,” and “Huckleberry Finn.” He embarked on an arduous, year-long, around-the-world lecture tour in 1895 with his wife and two daughters, Clara and Jean, in order to pay off his former creditors even though legally not responsible to do so after bankruptcy. In 1896, the eldest daughter, Suzy, who had remained home at Hartford, died of meningitis in that beautiful house. Twain and Olivia were devastated on receiving the news overseas. They were never to return to the beautiful house at Hartford after Suzy’s death; there were just too many beautiful memories of happier times, there.


I purchased two books in the gift shop at Hartford, both centered on Mark Twain’s gift for peering into the heart of human nature….and subsequently laying it bare in prose via his pithy quotes and his stories.

The first book discusses his insights into human nature, and the second is a book of resulting quotes – for example:

“Such is the human race. Often it does seem such a pity that Noah didn’t miss the boat.”

“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”

“Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anyone.”

“Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

“The lack of money is the root of all evil.”

“Man was made at the end of the week’s work, when God was tired.”

One must admire a man who has the courage to call it the way he sees it – even though his personal shortcomings may be the well-spring of his insight and wisdom.

That last one is my own little commentary on the marvel which is Mark Twain, a writer and a personality worth knowing. I look forward to reading more!

Norman Rockwell: The Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.

Linda and I had rubbed elbows with the great artist/illustrator, Norman Rockwell, once before in Arlington, Vermont. That took place in 1992 when we visited New England and stayed at the stately farmhouse built in 1799 that was once his home. In fact, the bed-and-breakfast room that we occupied was Rockwell’s bedroom! It was a beautiful interlude for a few nights, compounded by the fact that we were the only guests! That left time for leisurely breakfasts and long conversation with the congenial couple who owned the place – in front of a crackling fire in the fireplace on crisp Vermont mornings.

It was at the small museum in town that we first saw original Rockwell illustrations, many of them famously familiar. It was there, too, that we learned that he painted from “live” models – often the local town-folk. The faces and the personas in the illustrations are unfailingly “dead ringers” for the folks he used – this, based on the photo evidence. From Arlington, Vermont, Rockwell moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in the early 1950’s, and it is there that a beautiful and fitting museum was built to permanently house many of his great works.


Just beyond the museum, sits his gallery which was moved from downtown Stockbridge, where he lived, up the road a bit to its present spacious setting.


I could not resist this original, authentic Saturday Evening Post magazine cover from Nov.8, 1930 which was offered in the gift shop for a reasonable price. It is one of my favorites of the many Post covers he did. It is called “The Voyager.”


Shame on those who pigeon-holed Rockwell as merely an “illustrator” and not an artist! I am not an expert, but I recognize artistic brilliance when I see it. We all can. Has anyone better-captured the soul and spirit of his human subjects while telling their story than Rockwell? If so, I stand ready to listen and learn!

Who is Daniel Chester French?

If you said he sculpted the huge, seated Abraham Lincoln, the focal point of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, you have earned a gold star. If you also gave him credit for the beautiful, inspiring minuteman statue at the Concord, Massachusetts Old North Bridge, you should get three gold stars. We had the opportunity while at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to visit his home and his studio – both situated on beautiful, spacious grounds and referred to as “Chesterwood.”




The actual, reduced-size plaster model of the Lincoln Memorial

The technique used to transition from smaller plaster models to larger-than-life statuary is a fascinating process, and we had a chance to learn something about it at Chesterwood – well worth the visit!

Two Great B and B’s along the way!

The Inn at Mount Pleasant Farm near Litchfield, Connecticut was both relaxing and interesting. The vantage point overlooking an endless meadow and many trees was beautiful and the conversation with super-hosts Bob and Maggie was fun and  interesting. Bob took us through the original 150 year-old dairy barn which he, a retired developer/builder had to save from danger of collapse when they acquired the farm – interesting insights into preservation/restoration.



Yes, we are having fun!

Brattleboro, Vermont and 40 Putney Road

Our last stay prior to heading south to Danbury Connecticut, near where we began our trip, was this elegant and delightful B and B run by the fun and efficient, Rhonda. Extra touches were abundant all around, evidence of Rhonda’s successful desire to be the perfect hostess.




 Rhonda’s breakfasts served in the music conservatory were a treat!

 Visiting Tasha Tudor’s Homestead near Marlboro, Vermont


My wife has long followed the life of departed author/illustrator/nature-lover, Tasha Tudor. Ms. Tudor lived by herself with her Corgi dogs in the deep woods of Vermont, choosing “the simple life” except for occasional outreaches to the most “civilized” world of book publishing.


Eschewing all modern conveniences save a water closet and minimal electric lighting, Ms. Tudor lived off the land – going barefoot, chopping wood for her stove and fireplace, weaving on a loom, fashioning garden tools from tree branches, but always painting her story of Corgi Cottage and the simple life, there. Tasha Tudor came from an accomplished and privileged background, yet somewhere along the line – while still quite young – she eschewed that life for the “simpler” one she chose. Don’t look for directions or signposts on how to reach Corgi Cottage, there aren’t any – on purpose.

Tasha Tudor’s personal story is quite fascinating, so Linda made early arrangements for the very infrequent and limited tours of her cottage and natural gardens which are conducted by the immediate family. We had a fascinating look at a different lifestyle as we toured the very rustic premises on a drizzly morning.

Her son, Seth, who was on our tour, and the rest of the family face a daunting challenge in keeping Tasha Tudor’s legacy alive and well while doing the necessary things to fund the ongoing maintenance of the property. Tasha, herself, somehow managed the delicate balance of living an isolated life (except for certain family members) while creating a name and image in the wide-world of book publishing.


 Tasha Tudor’s second book – 1942

 The Friends of Gladys Taber (FOGT) Annual Reunion

Our final stop before heading home was the Friends of Gladys Taber (FOGT) annual reunion held in Danbury, Connecticut. My post last week, A Father’s Day Surprise from Susan Branch, June 22, 2014, stemmed from that reunion which included a visit to Ms.Taber’s beloved Stillmeadow Cottage where she spent many of her happiest years. It was Susan Branch who, through her blog, introduced my wife to Gladys Taber and her wonderful commentaries on life and country living. Mrs. Susan Turnley edits the quarterly FOGT newsletter which every member receives and which features articles on Ms. Taber and current membership news.

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As is quite evident by now, our New England sojourn of two weeks could rightly be termed a “literary pilgrimage” of sorts, one which was inspired primarily by Linda’s interests in Tasha Tudor, Gladys Taber, and the scenic Connecticut route 7 which she had longed to see. Being interested in writers and immersed in writing, myself, I enthusiastically signed-on to the trip somewhat to Linda’s surprise and joy; I am glad I did. We both saw a lot, learned a lot, and will savor fine memories of people and places for a long time to come.

Addicted to Books

For some, alcohol is the indispensable commodity. For others, it is drugs. For a number of us, books prove to be irresistible and foremost among those things in life that we cannot do without. It is fascinating to reflect on why that should be the case for millions of booklovers all over the world. The answers to such musings are many and varied, I suspect. The feelings of attachment can be very strong.

409px-Carl_Spitzweg_021[1] “The Bookworm” by Carl Spitzweg

When she was ill and dying, Jacqueline Kennedy reportedly asked to have some of her favorite books moved into her room. Presumably, she was not embarking on a final reading binge; she apparently wanted them near so she could spend just a bit more time with old and dear friends before the end came. I can completely understand that impulse, for a true bookworm becomes very attached to books.

 The Allure of Books

What is it about books? Where to start? For fiction fans, there is the pure entertainment factor and the escape from life’s hum-drum. The ability of a well-written story to whisk the reader away from today’s here-and-now troubles, even for a little while, is a powerful draw. The literary voyage can transport one anywhere, from the exotic capitals of civilized Europe, to the darkest jungles of Africa – even to the contradiction of Antarctica’s desolate yet serenely beautiful landscape of white. Time is equally capricious; the story can take place hundreds of years in the past, or, just as plausibly,at some time in the far distant future – as in science fiction. And what adventures await the reader/voyager along the way and at the final destination? Anything a creative writer can imagine is possible! Espionage and intrigue, great battles fought long ago, a journey to newly discovered planets – the list is endless.

The most effective fiction books, as with screenplays, are those that weave their spell using superb character development and portrayal. Human nature and societal behavior, as vividly displayed in text, is seemingly among the most inexhaustible of captivating themes. The great novelists all had superb skills in that regard; Charles Dickens always comes to mind for me.

Fiction allows the reader to live vicariously through the main characters – like Walter Mitty. Readers enjoy tagging along with characters who, perhaps unlike themselves, dare to live life to the fullest while dismissing danger, forsaking the conventional, and ignoring social taboos.

There is a large divide between fans of fiction and readers of strictly non-fiction books. Sure, there is often much overlap in interests, but I find that people tend to reside in one camp or the other. Followers of this blog have surely deciphered how I spend most of my reading hours. Although I am aware of missing out on something very good, I do not read much fiction. Why is that? I am in the vexing position of the kid in the candy store when it comes to reading – too many wonderful choices, both fiction and non-fiction. “Too many books, too little time” constitutes the short version of my plight. I have on my shelves, a small selection of excellent fiction; these are books I have obtained mainly because of their universal appeal as great literature and because of the fact that I know I would enjoy them. I really want to read The Great Gatsby, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Last of the Mohicans, etc. It is the fault of those not-yet read non-fiction books on my shelves that I have not gotten very far into my carefully selected fiction shelf. I will read them in due time, God willing.

 Fact Is Stranger than Fiction

At first that may seem a trite expression, but I find its declaration to be quite true. I gravitate toward true stories for two reasons: First, because they are true – they really happened to real people; second, because, often, “you just can’t make this stuff up” as the saying goes. Why read fictionalized history when the real thing is every bit as intriguing and the real-life protagonists are just as remarkable as any character imaginable? Well, that’s just my take!

The name of this blog is Reason and Reflection: Reason as in science, mathematics, and logical thought – knowledge; Reflection as in a fascination with the human side of life – wisdom. The name reflects my eclectic interests in pretty much everything – from science and mathematics to the nature of the human condition.

Books as Repositories of Knowledge and Wisdom:
This, for Me, Is the Ultimate Attraction


This concept, this view of books as precious repositories of mankind’s accumulated knowledge and wisdom, is the glue which forms such strong bonds to many booklovers. The ideas and discoveries which have changed the nature of human existence have virtually all surfaced, or at least survived, on pages nestled between the covers of books – books which silently preside over the years, the decades, the centuries, on library shelves….somewhere. After 1454 and the emergence of Gutenberg’s printing press, the holy-grail of such printed repositories has been the first editions which initially made the breakthroughs of great thinkers readily available to their fellow man. In rare cases, the “earliest available versions” of books are ancient, one-of-a-kind, hand-written texts which have managed to survive. The printed book is clearly the workhorse of this early “information age,” however. And many of the thoughts and discoveries disseminated in books have fundamentally changed man’s view of himself and his place in the cosmos. See my earlier post on Isaac Newton’s Principia (in the archives) from October 27, 2013, The Most Important Scientific Book Ever Published: Conceived in a London Coffee House.

 The Great Books: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience at Stanford University

Several years ago, Stanford University offered a course on “The History of the Book” through its continuing education program. I fortunately heard about it through my younger daughter, another great fan of books and reading. The several-week course convened on campus in the rare book library. Led by one of the university’s rare book librarians, the classes were structured as two hours of lecture and one hour of “show-and-tell.” The lectures were fascinating, and covered all aspects of “the book” from early forms of books and their construction to printing and collation (organization and page-numbering), bindings, and historical importance. Many of history’s greatest books were covered, from science to philosophy.

Principia 3rd 1726_1During the lecture phase, the instructor would produce, from his ever-present cart, a book to illustrate his point. The books he chose were often first editions of the most important books that exist. I cannot accurately recall them all, but a typical lot would reflect authors like Pliny, Copernicus, Vesalius, Galileo, Kepler, Hobbs, Newton, Adam Smith, Darwin, Freud, Einstein, Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, and so-on. After each lecture, the books on the cart were wheeled over to join others open for perusal on the long library tables. The class of approximately twenty adults was invited to roam about and personally examine, even “thumb-through,” some of the greatest books ever written – many of them present in their rare, first editions. The instructor was available to answer any and all questions, and there were many.

Often, when the class was over and we had filtered out of the rare book library and into the dark, pleasant coolness of the spring evening, my head was spinning as I contemplated what I had seen…and touched. We students had the privilege of holding, in our own two hands, the well-springs which revealed much of humanity’s accumulated knowledge and wisdom – centuries-worth, many in their original, first edition formats. The total value of such books on the rare book market, today, is very high; their true value: Priceless.

A Reference Library – Steps Away

I have, over many years, accumulated a reference library on science and the history of science. These are books that, while very affordable, are valuable resources on scientific milestones and biography. Since I enjoy writing on matters scientific, it is handy to have these books nearby.

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Above, you can see what happens when there are too many books and not enough bookshelves!

My wife loves books, too, and she has her own collection. She is a fan of the author/illustrator, Tasha Tudor, and this is one of her favorite items. Long live books!