where the writers are
Here at Arrowhead

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Here I am at Arrowhead. I am sitting at a table in Herman Melville’s study, looking out the same window he looked out as he wrote Moby Dick. I am listening to the cars speeding by, a sound he surely was not troubled by when he did his writing. What a busy road is Holmes Road. I’m not sure Herman would approve.

I feel a little strange, my macbook sitting atop the table here in his study, but the curators assure me that were there macbooks available when Herman sat here, he would have used one too.

I have evoked his spirit and thanked him for this opportunity to sit here. I hope I can do him justice.

The mountain is covered with fog today, so I can barely see the outline. No whale, just mist-covered hills through the wavy glass. My own house once had windows of wavy glass. I am sick sometimes with the knowledge of what a carpenter did to those gems.

My house was built in 1810 and those old windows let in the chill air through every crack and crevasse. And I was always cold. As cold as the inhabitants from days gone by. As cold as Herman probably was here in his study on a winter’s day. And so, 1995 replacement windows were installed. In retrospect, I wish I had had the money to reglaze, repaint, reinstall, and add efficient storms over those 19th century beauties. But modern impatience ruled the day, which I now rue, and double-paned insulated windows pushed out the old. The house was warmer, but colder too, with its new charm-lacked view. No distortions, no cracks, no waves or bubbles, no antique charm.

It makes me sad to remember how the carpenter flung the old windows into a waiting receptacle. A dumpster. Smashed and broken they were by the time I got home from work. Not one pane worth saving. I cried, but faulted only myself for not making sure these treasures were saved. Put in the old 1847 shed. Something. And now I am selling my two hundred and two year-old farmhouse and the new owners will never even have the option of putting the original windows back where they belong. They are gone.

But now I am here, looking out Herman Melville’s wavy glass panes. They make me dizzy with distortion and pleasure. It’s almost three o’clock, a time I was told that he would have stopped writing for the day. The sun is moving toward the west and the natural light, the only light that fills this room is waning. But I’m going to stay here as long as I can and enjoy his essence. I get chills when I think about him, sitting here where I am sitting, quill pen in hand, pondering.

There’s a harpoon by the window, leaning up against a bookcase filled with leather bound books. On the table are quill pens and an inkwell, a candle in a silver candlestick and a pair of spectacles.  There are some papers, letters from 1850. May 14th to be exact. My Dear Dana – I thank you very heartily for your friendly letter; and am more pleased now…

It is a struggle to read the writing, but the letter is signed, H Melville.

I wonder who Dana is.

The Hemlock trees are swaying and Mt. Greylock is even less visible than when I started writing.  On the wall is a framed piece of writing by two men, along with a pen and ink drawing of this same window with its view. Here is what it says:

to be in & of the weather

it

not a thing out there

but here emanating

& I a part

partaking of it

the cold, bitter cold of the past few days

the pipes froze, & no water

the heat in the house being only what we made

with our hands, wood, that is

weather being not something out there

but in & of us, I

the house & winter

                           Paul Metcalf 1917-1999

And then…

“I have a sort of sea-feeling here in the country, now that the ground is covered with snow. I look out my window in the morning when I rise as I would out of a port-hole of a ship on the Atlantic. My room seems a ship’s cabin, & at nights when I wake up & hear the wind shrieking, I almost fancy there is too much sail in this house, & I had better go on the roof & rig the chimney.”

Herman Melville 1819-1891                                         Quote from a letter to Evert Duyckinck December 13, 1850  

 

Well, all I can say is, I’m glad I’m starting this residency in the spring. Even then, it’s chilly in here. But I’m warm enough.