Dating My Wardrobe: Blooming Romance at Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion

Dating human beings in the summer: terrible idea. Who really thinks it’s a good plan to be canoodling with some 98.6 degree bag of skin, sopping wet with urea stinking perspiration welling from every pore?? Darlings, listen. Leave your hormones for humans at the front door, and run straight to your closet for romance! I have been dating my wardrobe for years, now, and I don’t regret my decision. Forget smelly mammals with opposable thumbs! Cool cottons and breezy hats make much better summer lovers. On my date to Sonnenberg Gardens, Canandaigua, NY, I chose my most compatible summer companions from my wardrobe: a light-cotton 1960s day-dress, and a 1940s broad-brimmed straw hat. While my last summer date with my wardrobe ended in mild heat stoke, and far-out hallucinations, I was determined that for this date I would be as cool as a cantaloupe in June.

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Sonnenberg Gardens was the perfect location for my date, not just because it’s a great place to impress a vintage hat, but because it boasts nine spectacular themed gardens of the world. Mary Clark Thompson was the living force behind the creation of the gardens, but the death of her husband, Frederick Ferris Thompson, served as the impetus behind the horticultural masterpiece.  A few years after Frederick’s death in 1899, Mary set about creating a literal living memorial to her husband using one of the greatest creative mediums of the Victorian and Edwardian era: gardening. You want to tell a deceased someone that you love them, forget marble mausoleums like the Taj Mahal. Spell your Victorian mourning out in the bold language of flowers, water features and puddingstone lined pathways.

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The germ of cynicism which lives under the brim of my 1940s straw hat leads me to believe that the incredible gardens of Sonnenberg resulted primarily because Mary Clark Thompson found herself with more time on her hands, now, that Freddie was dead, and had access to large sums of money. Sonnenberg, after wall, was merely the summer home of the Thompsons. Frederick was a prominent New York City banker, and Mary was the daughter of a New York governor. These people were not strapped for cash. Yes, I do not doubt that Mary was very sad that her husband had died, but I’m imagining that time and money were greater building blocks than grief.

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Now, that I’m through with being critical of romantic tales of memorials, let me get back to the history of the gardens. So, Frederick dies in 1899, and soon after Mary begins her tour of famous gardens of the world. Among others, she surveyed classic Japanese gardens, tidy English landscape gardens, and formal Italian gardens. When she returned to her home at Sonneneberg, she was armed with research and inspiration. Between the years of 1902 and 1919, Mary created her nine representations of classic gardening, boasting such thematic features as Roman baths, a Japanese tea house, and a devotional Greek temple for the goddess Diana. With an entire globe of gardening history represented in her backyard, I don’t believe that Mary had the time to mourn for old Freddie. She was too busy managing pansies and heliotropes.

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One hundred years later, I can enjoy all of Mary’s efforts as an overeducated poor person, with a taste for romancing inanimate clothing objects. As I idly stroll through some of the most beautiful gardens in the world, with my purple dress swaying in the breeze, I have to appreciate that someone had enough money and means to create such a romantic landscape to roam.  I also must appreciate the turn of events which made these historical gardens open to the public. Here’s a brief overview: Sonnenberg– which translates into “sunny hill”– was purchased as a 300 acre farmstead in 1863. In 1887, the farm house was replaced by a Queen Ann-style mansion. Frederick Thompson dies in 1899. Mary Clark Thompson developes the gardens between 1902 and 1919. In 1923 Mary dies, and, having no children of her own, the property goes to her eldest nephew, Emory Clark. He sells the property to the Federal Government in 1931, and the house and property were turned into a VA complex.

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Over the course of 40 years, the property is vandalized, and generally just trashed. Realizing the historical significance of the property, a local citizen’s movement begins to purchase and restore a 50-acre portion of the estate and gardens in 1966. A formal bill transferring ownership of the property from the VA to Sonnenberg Gardens (a not-for-profit organization) was passed and signed into law in 1972. A year later, restoration work began, and involved mapping-out and uncovering buried gardens, and taking-down the partitioned and boarded-up mansion rooms. Between 1973 and 2003, Sonnenberg Gardens struggled to maintain the property, burdened by huge debts. Then, finally, in 2006 the Sonneneberg Gardens and Mansion was purchased by New York State. By the time we arrive in 2018, I can purchase a ticket to meander about 50 Acres of jaw-dropping beauty for $14. Considering the fact that I just spent $17 to stuff a bagel with cream cheese, and small latte down my gullet, I regard $14 for four hours of world-class culture and beauty a real deal.

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The cultural moment in time which I was sampling on my tour of the home and gardens was the sweet, bountiful cusp between the Victorian middle-class boom, along with all of its Victorian bric-a-brac and manners, and a reactionary Edwardian Age, with its Arts-and-Crafts sensibility, and aesthetic shift to the “orient.” The Garden complex is a reflection of both Victorian and Edwardian garden aesthetics. At its foundation, the group of gardens exhibit the three major styles of Victorian gardens: Picturesque style, Neoclassical style, and Gardenesque style, but include elements of newer style developments which emerged during the Edwardian Era: Arts-And-Crafts and International Style. The Japanese rock garden– designed and built by a Japanese designer in 1906– adopts the conflated principals of the Victorian and Edwardian. The garden reflects characteristics of the Victorian Picturesque style, leaving old growths, rutted paths and textural terrain in the design scheme, additionally embodying some of the design principals of Gardenesque style, showcasing exotic and indigenous plant specimens, using small scale natural vignettes, and island beds as dramatic flourishes. But above all, the Japanese garden exemplifies the Edwardian trend in constructing International Gardens: dreamscapes of far-away places built in one’s own back yard, and the Edwardian Arts-And-Crafts garden, which includes seemingly untouched woodland glades, naturalistic water features, and rustic pathways leading through rock gardens.

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Uniting the tea house, buddha statues, and gateways of the garden is a stream which passes under five bridges, in which case I am fortunate enough to have traipsed over each and every one. My favorite bridge to frolic across was the striking red Japanese-style bridge which afforded my vintage dress and I a fantastic view of the Lilly pads in the stream below. Thus, I began my romantic date under the cool shade of the specimen trees, and by the babbling waters of the Japanese garden. I can tell you that the evergreen laced breezes not only kept my amorous apparel from getting too hot and heavy, but allowed me to enjoy an aroma which was the very exact opposite of the smelly human flesh of summertime.

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From the Japanese garden I walked to the Roman baths which are currently slated for renovation in the coming year. The original pool, styled after ancient Roman baths, was designed by architect Francis Allen. The pool complex boasted a slew of gracious changing rooms and restrooms, heated water, and, at its center, an aqua-blue gem of a pool, lined with turquoise English tile.  So refreshing. So tranquil. Hold onto your hat, I’m ready to dive in!

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Only, not really. I was just pretending to dip my toes into the waters, wearing my Edwardian wool serge bathing suit, swim cap, and lace-up gum shoes. In real life, my purple dress and I had an imaginary swim amid the romantic decay of what appear to be ancient Roman ruins– a romantic fantasy which my 1940s straw hat wanted nothing to do with!

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As my straw hat was too practical for musing over ruined Roman baths, I decided that I needed to find a spot that was more contained and orderly. Following a wooded, winding path, I eventually found myself in the Sub Rosa (below the roses) garden. Everything living in this particular garden is green. Green grass, green boxwood trees, green evergreens, greens waters, and even a handsome green frog! This garden is so cool, crisp and delightful, I could not help but repose (upon my hat’s approval!) by the white marble fountain, which is presided over by statues of Zeus, Artemis and Apollo. While it was an honor to be amongst the gods, I was more interested in having a conversation with the denizen of the fountain– a little green amphibian which I named Miguel Ángel He was absolutely charming, and had the most beautiful glossy green nose. However, my purple dress and hat became pretty jealous of my interest in Miguel Ángel, and I had to move onto the next series of absolutely stunning gardens, including the Italian garden, the rose garden, the old fashioned garden, the pansy garden, the blue and white garden, the moonlight garden, and the old-fashioned garden.

 

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Dear Readers: the nine gardens of Sonnenberg Gardens are so beautiful that I’m not going to bore you with an exhaustive list of adjectives describing each– which include, but are not limited to, words like “beautiful,” “gorgeous,” “dazzling,” “dizzying,” “dramatic,” “beguiling,” “mesmerizing,” and “freaking good.” And I haven’t even gotten to the point in my date where I toured the interior of the Queen Ann-style mansion!

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The modest, little 40 room summer residence of Frederick Ferris Thompson and Mary Clark Thompson was designed by architect Francis Allen, and built between the years of 1885 and 1887. As I entered the home, my fashionable cotton and straw date was bathed in the most delicious lighting, pouring like nectar from the bay windows. If you want to look good on your date with your lover (textile, or otherwise), this is the place to be! The lighting inside of Sonnenberg Mansion was better than the lighting designed for Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds perfume advertisements, first airing in 1991! Take your dear amour to this parlor, and let them see you in this light. They will not let you out of their sight!

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As for me, I found the lighting particularly lovely in Mary Clark Thompson’s bedroom, which is covered wall-to-wall in the most beautiful art nouveau style wallpaper. Talk about the perfect compliment to my wardrobe!

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At this point, my woven sartorial lovers were thoroughly impressed with the date I had arranged at Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion. We whispered sweet nothings to one another in the privacy of the pansy garden, mused over our future together, playing-out domestic fantasies as we toured each room in the Sonnenberg mansion, and vowed our eternal love for one another near the ruins of the temple to Diana. How could this date get any better?! I’ll tell you how. World-renown glass houses. Glass houses. Many, many glass houses.

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I have always been a lover of the glass house. To begin, I have invariably adhered to and respected the proverbial wisdom given to people who live in glass houses. I may walk around looking super cool, and in the company of an amazing wardrobe, but I am, in fact, just a fragile human who fears someone reminding me of my many flaws. Therefore, I will not be bandying about proverbial stones. Furthermore, glass houses are simply stunning. They shine like jewels in the sun, sparkling with promise in the distance. Once inside the glass house, you are not disappointed. The interior is filled with verdant greens, delicate flowers, or prickly cacti. Second only to my wardrobe, plants are the best company to keep.

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Sonnenberg Gardens boasts what is considered to be one of the United States’ most important residential greenhouse complexes, which were manufactured by Lord and Burnham. If you please, you can walk through several of the refurbished glass houses, including a remarkable domed conservatory, and peer into the romantic decay of the glass houses yet to be repaired.

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The Sonnenberg greenhouse complex was born out of the hey-day for glass house construction. There are several reasons that the Victorian and Edwardian era became the cultural incubator for glass house popularity in England and America. To begin with, there was a middle-class boom in England and America, an extension of Colonial reach, and the expansion of the world market. Importantly, the glass tax was repealed in England in 1845, and the window tax in 1851, reducing the cost of a structure made almost entirely of glass and windows.

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Additionally, exotic plants became more readily available on the English and American market, and plant cultivation and collection became increasingly sophisticated, eventually developing into an all-out plant craze. Victorians were ga-ga for greenery! Finally, technical and material innovations of the Industrial Age spilled-over into glass house manufacture. The mechanization of paint and brick manufacture, increased production of wrought and cast iron, cheaper manufacture of glass, and lighter construction materials (combination of composite wood, and cast and wrought iron) made glass house construction easier, cheaper and more available to the masses. Combine all of these factors into one cultural crucible, and the end result is an increase in glass house popularity. The glass houses of Sonnenberg Gardens are exceptional examples of this popular movement.

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And this is where I ended the date with my vintage duds– within the exceptional confines of the glittering glass structures of Sonnenberg Gardens. As I stood in the center of a glass house filled with cacti, I finally felt a bit flush. My vintage dress and hat and I had traversed a summertime landscape of remarkable beauty together, never breaking a sweat. Now, suddenly, I felt a warmth wash over my body, and radiate from my darling purple dress. While I could blame this moment of heat on solar radiation, and containment (AKA the greenhouse effect), or the way in which my purple dress was hugging me so dear, I like to think that I was warmed by a love which radiated from the cockles of my little heart. If I have learned anything about glass houses and their relation to people, those who live in glass houses will radiate with warmth. And that is– after all– not a bad thing!

 

Appendix

The Following Images can be found on the New York Heritage Digital Collection Site,

from Mary Clark Thompson’s personal photo album, 1907

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Temple of Diana (1907)

“Erected in 1905 at the western edge of the pergola. The classical structure contained Diana, the Goddess of the hunt. Pillars are made of marble, and a reinforced cast mortar temple dome represents early use of this material. Unfortunately, the structure suffered extensive deterioration over the years. It was dismantled in 1999 for safety reasons, and the statue (of Diana) moved to the Blue and White Garden.”

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Fountain of Neptune, Italian Garden (1907)

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Japanese Garden (1907)

 

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Orchid House (1907)

 

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Italian Garden and Pergola (1907)

 

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Old Time Garden and House (1907)

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Dating My Wardrobe: Space Poetics of Innisfree

I have to admit, I am a space snob. I break-out into a cold sweat if I so much as glance at spotty window panes, with dusty Red Rose tea figurines lining the windowsills (watching me with glazed eyes!), or a muted room with popcorn ceilings, and diabolical fluorescent lights clinging to its pocked surface, shedding an ill-light. I have freaked-out on outings with perfectly lovely friends who are more hardy, and genetically made to withstand harsh lines, and sallow lighting. In the middle of a friendly conversation about suggested books, I will tell you now that I am not listening. If I’m in a disorderly place, my mind will wander, fixed on a point of particular ugliness, and focus on that ugliness until I blurt out,” I’m sorry, what were you saying? I think I have to leave….immediately.”

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marsh mallows, and rock walls of Innisfree

And this is why I visit beautiful places, and choose to be romantically involved with my clothes. Sentient beings just don’t understand me the way that my darling wardrobe does. Maybe it’s because they just don’t have any brains, but I believe it’s because my clothing is the most accommodating companion that I know.

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Moi, pre-heat stroke

To celebrate my long-lasting relationship with my wardrobe, I decide to take my dear 1960s gingham skirt, and yellow silk shell on a romantic romp through one of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth– Innisfree Garden in Millbrook, NY; The early twentieth-century country residence of Walter Beck, and wife Marion Burt Beck. This is a romantic poetic space, where my senses are refreshed at every turn.

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cup garden view 

Innisfree Garden is known as a cup garden– a term which Walter Beck coined to describe the intimate garden vignettes which existed within the larger scheme of a more naturalistic garden landscape. During the 1930s, Walter Beck came across scroll paintings of 8th century Chinese artist and garden creator, Wang Wei’s Wangchuan Villa design.

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portion of Wang Wei’s painted scroll of Wanchuan Villa

Utilizing the natural shape of the landscape as the foundation, and creating inward focused and hidden gardens within the overall landscape was a departure from western garden philosophy, which sought to create a uniform and open design scheme. Struck by a concept which encouraged exploration and discovery, and working with the indigenous plants on the property, Beck, along with his gardener wife, Marion, began the fifty some-odd-year development of Innisfree Garden.

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While the theoretical framework, and botanical bones of the garden were in place, it wasn’t until landscape architect Lester Collins came into the picture that the space really began to take shape. The Becks and Collins met in 1938, as Collins was studying English at Harvard University, and traveling with fellow student, John Ormsbee Simonds, to Asia. It was in the balmy breath of spring in 1938 that the fruitful partnership between the Becks and Collins began– a collaborative effort which would produce one of the most profoundly gorgeous spaces on the planet.

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Upon his return from the “Far East,” Lester Collins enrolled in the Master of Landscape Architecture Program of Harvard’s School of Design, receiving his degree in 1942. Here he was met with blossoming ideas of American modernism, which quite naturally complimented “Eastern” design philosophy. However, his career would have to wait, as World War II engulfed whole societies in its growing wake. Collins served in the British Eighth Army from 1942-1945. After which, he returned to America and became a professor of landscape architecture, and later the Dean of Harvard’s School of Design.

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Lester Collin’s quest to expand his breadth of knowledge was a lifelong passion. In 1954, he studied traditional Japanese Garden design and construction methods as a Fulbright Scholar, working with a Japanese scholar to translate the eleventh-century Japanese text Sakuteiki–literally “records of garden making.” This detailed record outlined the styles of gardening in the Heian period, defining gardening as a poetic aesthetic endeavor, in which the designer created from feelings, and responded to the physical characteristics of the site. This ancient methodology was artfully employed by Collins as he worked on the gardens of Innisfree from the 1940s until 1993, responding to the natural character of the terrain with sensitivity and whimsy.

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Innisfree is a space which meets at the intersection between emerging American modernism, ancient Chinese and Japanese aesthetic philosophy, and the Hudson Valley’s inherent natural beauty.  At this point of intersection, I decided to rest a while. The day which I visited in late July boasted 100 degree temperatures, and maximum humidity. The air around me felt like the inside of the moist mouth of a giant dog. Only the cool mist of the modern water fountain, and the shade of a teacup nook could rescue me from this dog-day of summer.

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Despite the air quality, the garden was so beautiful that I wandered from one garden vignette to the next without even noticing that I was massively dehydrated, and overheated. I may be a great lover of my wardrobe, and a fantastic date, but I have never gotten the hang of hydrating. I can drink a cup of coffee or tea, but it never occurs to me to drink water until my cells are shriveling-up, and my tongue feels like an old dried-up piece of hard tack from the Civil War era.

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Heat Stroke, or swooning from passion???

I had to apologize to my dear ’60s ensemble, and sit down in an ivy shrouded nook to rest for a while. I collapsed against the cool stone of an outdoor staircase, my gingham skirt swooning as I reposed. And while I retired like a sweating lump in the most gorgeous garden in the Hudson Valley, I looked out into the verdant landscape, and felt a sense of complete tranquility. Perhaps it was the heat stroke which made me feel as if I was in a lucid dream, but I truly was transported.

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I was a million miles away, in a poetic space, which is never bound by the physical parameters of the land. It is here that I like to dwell, along with my sweetheart wardrobe. This is the space where I stay a while.

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Hot Date With Myself (or Dating My Wardrobe), No 8. Kaaterskill Falls

Well, if you have been reading my posts thus far, you’ll detect a sickening smidgeon of sadness to my narrative. Apparently, it takes about a year for my brain to process and come to terms with the fact that ANYONE would ever want to dump moi! How could they?! Fast forward to one year later, and I don’t give a damn…in the best possible way. I realized that, after a year of what I supposed was dating myself, was really a long romantic engagement with my vintage wardrobe. I hand selected only the luckiest of my dated threads to accompany me on my journey to historic sites, beaches, waterfalls, you name it! My relationship with my vintage wardrobe has proven to be the most durable and faithful of all past relationships– weathering athletic trips over fences and guardrails, occasional mood swings, and loooong car rides, listening to Iggy pop’s “Passenger” on loop.

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For date number 8 in June, I decided to wash away the old sad-sap Laura. Cleans myself of any residual remorse, or tendency to feel sorry for myself, and rise like a 1970s disco inferno phoenix from the proverbial ash heap which I had become. I decided that a world renown waterfall, and some brightly hued 1970s garb would be the perfect symbolic materials for my rebirth as a slightly cantankerous, but stylish lady of letters. Nestled somewhere in the Catskill mountains of New York existed my salvation!

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Thomas Cole, oil on canvas, “The Falls of Kaaterskill.” 1826

Why did I choose Kaaterskill Falls to wash away my sappy sins? Because it’s an absolutely stunning place (if you can arrive early enough in the morning to avoid the crowds), and there are two tiers of deliciously cold, tumbling white water which spill from a Crescent-shape shelf of rock, as if it were the rim of heaven! Artists, photographers, and writers were drawn to this area, centuries before I showed-up in a 70’s crop top with a psychedelic peacock print. The Hudson River School of the 19th century was particularly fond of Kaaterskill Falls, with the likes of Thomas Cole capturing the falls in his oil painting, “The Falls of Kaaterskill,” 1826.

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In 1836, poet William Cullen Bryant was inspired by the mists of the falls to write the romantic poem, “Catterskill Falls.” It begins quite accurately,

“Midst greens and shades the Catterskill leaps,
From cliffs where the wood-flower clings;
All summer he moistens his verdant steeps
With the sweet light spray of the mountain springs;
And he shakes the woods on the mountain side,
When they drip with the rains of autumn-tide.”

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Bearing the romantic words of Bryant in mind, I ascended the rocky, root-riddled trails– and eventual staircases– of Kaaterskill Falls, making sure to hike-up the lengths of my 1970s vintage maxi skirt. As a word of advice and caution, always hold-up your maxi skirt when you’re hiking-up a steeply graded mountain. You’ll trip, and slip otherwise! So, proceeding in a romantic mood, and with safety, I finally reached the falls. Because I began my trip early in the morning, there were only a hand-full of tourists at the bottom falls. When I reached the rocky pool of the top-tier waterfall, I realized that I had entered into a prime area of passion: the waterfalls were heavy with rain waters, and I was all alone with my lovely vintage crop top and skirt set. Swoon!

 

 

Aside from taking a few photos of me flirting on the shores of the waterfall, I did eventually go for a swim, thus completing my ritual task of cleansing myself of sad Laura. The Laura who called her fiends-up late at night for consolation, after watching Steel Magnolias in her bed. The old Laura who felt foolishly sentimental every time she saw orange juice in the supermarket, because it reminded her of her ex. The old Laura who was getting really exhausted by the full-time job of feeling sorry for herself. Bye, babe! Gone!

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I emerged from those frosty June waters as a newer, wiser, wetter woman. And while the cotton of my vintage dress clung to my newly born form, I went out into the summer of 2018 with a vengeance!

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William Cullen Bryant’s Complete poem:

“Catterkill Falls”

Midst greens and shades the Catterskill leaps,
From cliffs where the wood-flower clings;
All summer he moistens his verdant steeps
With the sweet light spray of the mountain springs;
And he shakes the woods on the mountain side,
When they drip with the rains of autumn-tide.

But when, in the forest bare and old,
The blast of December calls,
He builds, in the starlight clear and cold,
A palace of ice where his torrent falls,
With turret, and arch, and fretwork fair,
And pillars blue as the summer air.

For whom are those glorious chambers wrought,
In the cold and cloudless night?
Is there neither spirit nor motion of thought
In forms so lovely, and hues so bright?
Hear what the gray-haired woodmen tell
Of this wild stream and its rocky dell.

‘Twas hither a youth of dreamy mood,
A hundred winters ago,
Had wandered over the mighty wood,
When the panther’s track was fresh on the snow,
And keen were the winds that came to stir
The long dark boughs of the hemlock fir.

Too gentle of mien he seemed and fair,
For a child of those rugged steeps;
His home lay low in the valley where
The kingly Hudson rolls to the deeps;
But he wore the hunter’s frock that day,
And a slender gun on his shoulder lay.

And here he paused, and against the trunk
Of a tall gray linden leant,
When the broad clear orb of the sun had sunk
From his path in the frosty firmament,
And over the round dark edge of the hill
A cold green light was quivering still.

And the crescent moon, high over the green,
From a sky of crimson shone,
On that icy palace, whose towers were seen
To sparkle as if with stars of their own;
While the water fell with a hollow sound,
‘Twixt the glistening pillars ranged around.

Is that a being of life, that moves
Where the crystal battlements rise?
A maiden watching the moon she loves,
At the twilight hour, with pensive eyes?
Was that a garment which seemed to gleam
Betwixt the eye and the falling stream?

‘Tis only the torrent tumbling o’er,
In the midst of those glassy walls,
Gushing, and plunging, and beating the floor
Of the rocky basin in which it falls.
‘Tis only the torrent–but why that start?
Why gazes the youth with a throbbing heart?

He thinks no more of his home afar,
Where his sire and sister wait.
He heeds no longer how star after star
Looks forth on the night as the hour grows late.
He heeds not the snow-wreaths, lifted and cast
From a thousand boughs, by the rising blast.

His thoughts are alone of those who dwell
In the halls of frost and snow,
Who pass where the crystal domes upswell
From the alabaster floors below,
Where the frost-trees shoot with leaf and spray,
And frost-gems scatter a silvery day.

“And oh that those glorious haunts were mine!”
He speaks, and throughout the glen
Thin shadows swim in the faint moonshine,
And take a ghastly likeness of men,
As if the slain by the wintry storms
Came forth to the air in their earthly forms.

There pass the chasers of seal and whale,
With their weapons quaint and grim,
And bands of warriors in glittering mail,
And herdsmen and hunters huge of limb.
There are naked arms, with bow and spear,
And furry gauntlets the carbine rear.

There are mothers–and oh how sadly their eyes
On their children’s white brows rest!
There are youthful lovers–the maiden lies,
In a seeming sleep, on the chosen breast;
There are fair wan women with moonstruck air,
The snow stars flecking their long loose hair.

They eye him not as they pass along,
But his hair stands up with dread,
When he feels that he moves with that phantom throng,
Till those icy turrets are over his head,
And the torrent’s roar as they enter seems
Like a drowsy murmur heard in dreams.

The glittering threshold is scarcely passed,
When there gathers and wraps him round
A thick white twilight, sullen and vast,
In which there is neither form nor sound;
The phantoms, the glory, vanish all,
With the dying voice of the waterfall.

Slow passes the darkness of that trance,
And the youth now faintly sees
Huge shadows and gushes of light that dance
On a rugged ceiling of unhewn trees,
And walls where the skins of beasts are hung,
And rifles glitter on antlers strung.

On a couch of shaggy skins he lies;
As he strives to raise his head,
Hard-featured woodmen, with kindly eyes,
Come round him and smooth his furry bed
And bid him rest, for the evening star
Is scarcely set and the day is far.

They had found at eve the dreaming one
By the base of that icy steep,
When over his stiffening limbs begun
The deadly slumber of frost to creep,
And they cherished the pale and breathless form,
Till the stagnant blood ran free and warm.

 

 

 

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My Own Muse: Hot Date With Myself, No. 6, “Lilac Time, Montgomery Place in the Spring”

Being dumped by someone who said that they would love you forever sucks. The occurrence makes you rethink the slippery word “forever,” and also the people who aren’t old fashioned romantics, who relish the idea of growing decrepit and old together. Hey, monogamy isn’t for everyone, but don’t waste my time if you’re not captivated by the notion of being euthanized together on a bed of roses when you’re 88! As an integral part of this “don’t waste my time mentality,” I decided to date myself. Dress like a babe, go to all of my favorite places, and just romance the heck out of myself.

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After a few successful dates, I decided to enjoy the breathy bough of spring in the lilac perfumed gardens of Montgomery Place, Red Hook, NY (sorry if this date is slightly out of sequence). By late April or early May, the lilacs at Montgomery Place are in full bloom, infusing the balmy air with the sticky-sweet aroma of bursting lilac clusters. As I walked through the lilac bushes, buzzing with bee activity, I was lulled into a hazy state of utter relaxation. It was an olfactory heaven, accompanied by the tune of one hundred honey bees flapping their gossamer wings.

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At this point, you can tell that I was really swooning for myself amongst the lilac branches. Imagine that scene from Disney’s Bambi, where the cute forest creatures are being walloped over the head with love in the spring– a phenomenon termed “twitterpated.” Yes, indeed, I was twitterpated, all right! In my state of amorous delirium, I walked over to a small garden, nearest to the Montgomery Place mansion–  the mansion was built as a Federal-style home in 1804 by Janet Livingston Montgomery, and transformed into a Classical Revival mansion between the 1849s and 1869s by Alexander Jackson Davis.
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The small sunken garden paths were lined with early blooming bulbs, giant snowdrops, and unfurling ferns, leading me down to the belly of the garden where a tiny pond exists. A layer of green duck weed skims the surface of the pool, obscuring the black water beneath, and acts as a cloak for the dozens of frogs living there.  As I neared the pond, I was amused by the sight and sound of many fleshy frogs hurling their fat little bodies into the water. Well, with all of these handsome amphibians about, perhaps I’ll find prince charing here!

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You’ll be happy to know that I did happen upon a completely alluring frog, who was not only an attractive shade of green, but very friendly. What a hunk!

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Because I was wearing blue velvet covered shoes with a five-inch heel, I figured I should forget about navigating the wooded trails on the Montgomery Place property– one leading to the Hudson River, the other leading to a waterfall. While I do consider my heels athletic-wear, they were no match for the twisted-root riddled trails. That being said, I hopped, skipped and jumped with my pointed toes to a neighboring garden with darling brick paths and a central sun-dial.

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With lilac in the air, and amphibians in my heart, I strolled into the sunset on a perfect hot date with myself. God, if only those frogs could see me now! So, dear readers, if you ever happen to visit Montgomery Place– which is now a part of the Bard College Arboretum– be sure to visit all of the meandering pathways which afford incredible views and garden delights. And don’t forget to say hello to my beloved froggy friends!

 

 

 

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My Own Muse: Hot Date With Myself, No. 5, “Images of Internment,” Exhibition at the FDR Presidential Library (2017)

If you’re like me, and you have a penchant for attracting liars, cheats, and emotionally hollowed-out husks of men, do yourself a favor and date yourself. Style that hair, strap on your best shoes, and go out into the world, confident that your favorite heels would never let you down. Literally. Personally, after being thrown into an unwanted girlfriend receptacle by my ex, I picked myself up out of the the heap, and looked into a bright future of hot dates with myself!

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For date number 5, I thought that it might be best to pull out all of the stops. Really impress myself. I wanted the museum, the mansion and the garden experience all rolled into one delectable date! Perusing the internet during the summer of 2017, I discovered that the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, NY was having an exhibition titled “Images of Internment: The Incarceration of the Japanese Americans During WWII,” featuring ephemera, documents, and over 200 WPA photographs of the wasteland habitat carved-out for Japanese Americans by the impetus of Executive Order 9066. If anything else, this date would fashion an entire new appreciation for my mobile freedom.

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I began my date by taking a tour of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home, Springwood. It was the place that he was born, rode pretty ponies as a boy, retreated during his Presidency, and, after he died, came to rest in the rose garden– along with his wife and my girl, Eleanor Roosevelt, and faithful dog, Fala. But, we’ll visit the gang in the rose garden a bit later on my date.

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The romance of my date with myself began at the Henry A. Wallace Visitor Center, where  I, along with a jolly band of tour goers, gathered around a pictorial mosaic floor map of FDR’s childhood neighborhood. This set-up allows for moments of intense geographical study, wistful daydreaming, and casual people watching while a knowledgeable U.S. Park Ranger tour guide fills you in on local history.

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After gaining a better grasp on local topography, it was time to walk over to the Springwood home, which was purchased by FDR’s father, James Roosevelt, in 1866. In 1882, Franklin D. Roosevelt made his grand entrance into the world within the walls of Springwood, and would later come to live there with his mum, Sara Roosevelt, and his fantastically wonderful– though genetically too close for my modern comfort– cousin and bride, Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1915, FDR and his mummy dearest, Sara, decided that the home was too small for a growing family, and hired the Hoppin and Koen architectural firm of NYC to add two additional wings to the original house, resulting in a charming Colonial Revival-style structure, with field stone facade, and columned portico. Some rather handsome ivy has taken residence on the outer walls, and spends its time on the portico with 100 year-old potted palms. What fun!

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View from Springwood Home of the Hudson Valley

Stepping across the threshold of Springwood is like entering a time capsule, which was permanently suspended in the year of 1945– the year of FDR’s death. As per his request, the Springwood estate and property was donated to the public, and given to the U.S. Department of the Interior, where it has since then been maintained as a National Historic Site. The home boasts some interesting ship and sailboat paintings (FDR was a great collector of them– among other things), a fun game of Parcheesi from the 1940s (I’m dying to know who won the game!), and all of Sara Roosevelt’s encroaching floral curtains. After FDR’s death, Eleanor Roosevelt remained in her personal home on the estate, Val-Kill, which you can visit.

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After exiting the house, I wandered to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library by way of the garden, and said hello to the bones of FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, and little dog, Fala. (They were enjoying the pleasant sunny weather!). After paying my respects, I finally made my way to the library and museum, where I could enjoy the “Images of Internment: The Incarceration of the Japanese Americans During WWII” exhibition, which was tinged with bitter sweet irony, since it was FDR himself who signed into order the awful Executive Order 9066.

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After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, fear and rumors stirred together on the west coast of the U.S. to create an ugly cocktail of racist sentiment and xenophobia. In response to the spread of fear, hatred and political pressure, FDR signed Executive order 9066, authorizing the Secretary of War to designate certain areas as military zones, which allowed for the incarceration of over 120,000 people of Japanese descent: 70,000 of which were American born citizens, and none of which were found guilty of espionage or sabotage.

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Entire families were taken from their homes, losing businesses and belongings, and placed behind barbed wire in some of the most desolate and lonely landscapes of the American West. Some of the photos displayed at the exhibition were taken in camps such as Heart Mountain, and Manzanar, where windy, wet winters, and dusty, dry summers chafed at the people who lived in flimsy plywood homes.

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photo: Dorothea Lange (1943)

However, the incarcerated prisoners made the best of the situation, setting up schools, ballet studios, newspapers, and even screen printing shops. As a super tangential side-note, some members of the Internment Camps joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit in 1943, becoming the most highly decorated unit for its size and length of service in U.S. History. Coming from the wastelands of the American West, their motto was appropriately “Go For Broke.”

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Photo: Hikaru Iwasaki (1943)

All of the photos exhibited an interplay of darkness and light: hopeful smiles from children set in a barren dustbowl; unflagging athletes competing in games with a barbed wire backdrop; proud graduates donning a cap and gown, trapped in place of confinement. Of course (because I cry like three times a day for fun), these exquisite photos brought tears to my eyes. I was reminded that even in the depths of sadness and strife, there is hope of happiness if one is strong enough and willing enough to alter their perspective. And just like the little girl, flying through the air on a swing in Hikaru Iwasaki’s photo (1943), I, too, have seen a beautiful place for myself on the horizon.

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My Own Muse: Hot Date with Myself, No. 1, Vanderbilt Mansion Italian Garden

In June of 2017, I had a summer of fun heating-up on the horizon. My boyfriend would return from Florida, I was on summer break from grad school, and I had a killer new collection of crop-tops to show-off my hot rib-cage with! Yowza! However, the ripe promise of June came with a rotten surprise. My boyfriend returned home, only to inform me that he had found a new life in the sink-holes of Florida (Pun intended. He sure found some holes that he liked). After being mercilessly cast aside for a southern gal, and left broken and alone in my Hudson Valley home, I spent the first month of my summer break from school carrying around a box of Kleenex, weeping like a professional mourner from Mark Meily’s Crying Ladies (2003).  In June, I dressed like Queen Victoria. I mourned in black. My rib-cage hidden from the world.

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Then, in July, I got a hold of myself. I realized that it was unfair to my gracious friends to impose my driveling pool of gelatinous emotions upon them for another month. After recounting the fateful day that my ex-boyfriend unceremoniously kicked me to the singles curb about ninety-seven times, I took mercy upon my lovely friends, and decided to create a new narrative. I had to become that better me that I always read about in self-help blogs. I decided, on July first, I would date myself. I would fall deeply, madly, inextricably in love.

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So, I threw-off my somber black attire, and armed my new and improved romantic body with a sky-blue, off-the-shoulder maxi dress. With bounce in my stride, I took my rapturous blue hide over to the Italian Gardens of the Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, NY. Strolling along the symmetrical pathways between the precise flower beds, I felt a semblance of control returning to me. The extravagance of Frederick William Vanderbilt and his Gilded Age home (designed by architectural firm McKim, Mead and White, and inhabited by the Vanderbilt family from 1895-1938) and gardens reminded me that I could indulge in a bit of decadence. In an act of pure hedonistic pleasure, I updated my beloved miniature calendar book, while resting in the shade of the pergola. God, do I know romance!

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As I sensually penned dates into my itinerary for July, I was enamored by the sultry, shady ferns that surrounded me. There must be some significance in an entire garden devoted to the plant. After a bit of cursory research, I discovered a phenomenon known as Pteridomania (Aka. fern fever)! Throughout the Victorian period, there was a craze for collecting, hunting and cultivating ferns in both England and America. Much of this craze was fostered by botanists George Loddiges and Edward Newman. Owner of one of the largest hot-houses in London, Loddiges claimed that collecting ferns “showed intelligence, and improved both virility and mental health,” an assertion which his botanist buddy, Edward Newman, backed-up in his mid-century masterpiece, A History of British Ferns (1840). Frederick William Vanderbilt made sure that he was associated with the noble plant, thus ensuring his image of intelligence and manly virility with his handsome fern garden. Ugh. Where are all of these fern-cultivating men in the twenty-first century!?!?

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So, dear reader. As I concluded the first date with myself in the Vanderbilt Garden, I decided that I was one hell of a gal, and that only a fern loving gent could take me away from me! Swoon! Also, you’ll be relieved to hear that it was time to bare my ribcage to the word, once again.

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