When Theodate Pope came east from Cleveland to go to Miss Porter’s School here in Farmington, her letters reflect that she felt her new school and indeed, the town that housed it, was her sanctuary.  She didn’t cotton to the life of tea dances and frivolous time-killing that was her lot back home.  At Farmington, she enjoyed the study of languages, art, and classics.  The curriculum at Miss Porter’s was influenced by the intellectual life at Yale, where Sarah Porter’s brother was president.  Young Theodate revelled in the heady atmosphere of the school and the place.

Such was her feeling of asylum she determined to make her permanent home in the small but sophisticated Connecticut town. We know a lot about the building of the house, the architectural details, the pictures chosen, the stone walls built by masons brought from England.  When complete, it was a place of warmth and cheer, where friends and family installed themselves sometimes for months at a stretch.  Theodate built not just a structure, but a true home in every sense.

Every living thing fashions a dwelling. Certain animals have little use for complicated structures and a scrape of earth will suffice. But if real refuge is required, say from cold winters, more ingenuity is required.  Evidence of such is everywhere in the meadows at Hill-Stead once the snow flies.  One way to beat the cold is to huddle.  More than a dozen kinds of mammals who usually prefer solitude team up and share a bedroom for the winter. Temperatures in such shared quarters can be more than twenty degrees warmer than the ambient temperature outside.  Meadow vole nests may reach 50 degrees in the darkest days of winter.  The little “blow holes” where the voles come up for escape and air cover our meadows. Evidence suggests there are a lot of subnivean group snuggles going on at Hill-Stead.  Meadow vole nests have an echo of human homes about them.  There are distinct sections for bedroom, kitchen and latrine.  I had an apartment in New York once with the bathtub in the kitchen, so in that respect meadow voles are way ahead.

There is a more individualized way of doing things, for animals who just can’t stand the youth hostel atmosphere of a squirrel drey in January.  Instead of staying outside,they go inside! The Pope and Riddle families as country people certainly had their share of mice.  But they had cats. Today, the staff at Hill-Stead gamely stores every snack and lunch bag inside the refrigerator, and keep all the styrofoam fruit used to replicate Pope family mealtimes in metal tins.  Apparently even if it only looks like fruit, mice will eat it.

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”. Frost writes “when”, not “if”.  Home is incontrovertible. We inevitably return there, if only in thought. It may be that home is not only a structure, but more like a state of mind.  If home is where the heart is, then Theodate was perhaps wiser than she has been credited.  She fashioned her home after her heart, the framework following the feeling.

See you on trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist


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4 Responses to “Sanctuary!”

  1. Scooter uitlaten Says:

    I liked reading this. I will post this on digg. I am sure you will get some thumbs up 🙂

  2. Patsy Says:

    This was great. Loved reading it. Excellent job.

  3. Bridget Willard Says:

    Well done; great juxtaposition and contrast yet bringing out the parallels of life.

  4. Krista Says:

    Your masterpiece! I see a book in your future…

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