Harvard At Large

Perspectives from the yard
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Lunchtime Musing

Filed under: Uncategorized July 14, 2010 @ 2:29 pm

I spent my lunch hour walking near Harvard Sq and came upon the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow house, now maintained by the National Park Service. The house dates back to colonial times and it has a formal garden in the back, open to the public. As I was strolling through it enjoying spring’s rejuvenating power on it’s heirloom plants, I ran into a gardener who keeps up the area. She was a wealth of knowledge on the plantings and the house which is closed to the public until late spring. In the side yard is a massive linden tree with its branches spreading out to provide shade on hot days. I asked how old it was and was told it was about 220 years old – not old enough to be there when Gen. George Washington used the house as military headquarters during the Revolutionary War, but it probably sprouted or was planted soon after the war’s end (1790 or so). If only the tree could talk, the stories it could tell!!

I was feeling particularly patriotic, today being Patriots Day, when earlier today a rider in colonial attire rode through busy Harvard Square on his horse. It was a reenactment of Richard Dawes (one of the 2 alerters (the other being Paul Revere who actually got captured and couldn’t spread the word) and his early morning ride out to Concord & Lexington to warn of the British movement to capture arms caches and revolutionaries like John Adams. This reenactment has happened every year for at least 100 years. I began to appreciate the continuum that we  are part of… what is history for us today, was history for those 100 years ago in the very spot I was standing, under the spreading branches of the might linden tree.

BTW, the Spreading Chestnut tree immortalized in Longfellow’s poem is long since gone but the colonial house (then a black smith shoppe) that it shaded still exists, as a coffee house, and is just around the corner. I wonder if someday 200 years from now, there’ll be a plaque outside commemorating this coffee house as a gathering spot for intellectual chatter and caffeinated dreams.