Friday, August 18, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me

For many years now, I have been celebrating my birthday at Shelburne Farms Inn. The estate's 400 plus acres of expansive and wooded grounds are dotted with strange, fanciful buildings created in the 1800s - The Coach Barn, The Farm Barn and the Inn - all of these places are firmly anchored to my childhood memories. We first started going to Shelburne Farms on the 4th of July for the VSO symphony concerts when I was about 7 yrs old.

Around this time, our mom moved us from Manhattan to Vermont to take a gig playing flute in the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. The transition from NYC to VT was a tough one for all of us. We missed the late night movies, exciting subway rides, our Montessori school and the Chinese food around the corner.

Over time, we grew to enjoy running wild in the remote backwoods of Johnson, VT. Firefly chasing, mud pie making, tree climbing, story telling and running free and unsupervised past dark became our new country lifestyle.

We always looked forward to July 4th at Shelburne Farms. It was exciting to drive into the city and follow the long stream of cars down the dirt roads to the main house. Our mom was usually busy warming up with the rest of the orchestra so we would explore the grounds, gardens and inn.

Every inch of Shelburne Farms holds a special memory for me. The fountain of a boy clutching a sea serpent, the wooded stairs leading down to the beach, the low-to-the-ground green velvet couch in the library, the steep stairs on the path to the Farm Barn and even the solitary tree in the yellow field across from the inn, all of these places hold little bits of me captive still.

On hot days, we'd bring our bathing suits and swim around the cliffs near the Coach Barn, skip shale rocks and build little towns out of tree bits. The tree-lined paths kept us entertained for hours, weaving in and out, becoming visible and then disappearing from view. Margot would make up good ghost stories and as night fell, terrify me with her tales of woe.

There is something about Shelburne Farms that lends itself to tales of fairies and goblins. You can almost see these magical creatures out of the corner of your eye if you look closely enough. Hedge wizards keep the grounds tidy and parlor maid witches keep the tea steaming hot. It is sort of how I envision Chrestomanci's Castle in Charmed Life by our favorite author, Diana Wynne Jones. It is magic mixed with the everyday, magic just below the surface, there if you scratch a little bit.

Once the concert started, we'd sit on a blanket next to the hundreds of other blankets littering the main lawn of the inn and listen to the sweet sounds of the VSO while devouring a packed picnic basket full of treats. Then the finale would sneak up on us and the fireworks display lit up the night with its tremendous explosions which seemed perfectly timed to the music. At 7 yrs old, it didn't get much better than that - or at 8 yrs old, 9 yrs old...etc...

Many years later when I was living in California, my sister in Cleveland and my mom in Burlington, we all met up for brunch at Shelburne Farms. It had never occured to us to stay at this glorious inn - it seemed too good for poor deadbeats like us. Inspired by the lucious blue lake views and the delectable cuisine, we asked if they had any rooms free that night.

As luck would have it, there was one room that was not taken, The Lilac Room. All three of us managed to cram into that sweet space with lilac wallpaper and a magnificent view of the lake. We had such a magical time that we couldn't understand why we had never treated ourselves before. Since then, it has become a yearly tradition on my birthday.

We've generally stayed in the cheaper bachelor rooms on the third floor such as The Red Room, The Gable Room and The Cherry Room. Maybe some day we'll pay the big bucks for the $400/night suites like The Overlook and The Rose Room, but in the meantime, we love our little shared bath havens. Their windows overlook the lake and we spent hours perching on their tiny sills and drinking in the landscape.

Margot and I have spent many late nights reading in the library (there is a book in the library that she reads every time we visit - bit by bit she is chipping away at it), reclining on the porches after dark has fallen, wandering through the wooded pathways, lurking around the game room and haunting the lawns with only the fireflies for company. In some ways, it is our home away from home, only, we have to share it with strangers.

This year, Tanner (see his blog for his own account) and I stayed in The Oak Room and had an awesome view of the lake and gardens. We spent most of our time eating on the patio (sea scallops, crepes, eggs benedict, gnocci, Bloody Marys, you name it!), lounging on the grounds with books, smoking and drinking on the back patio, playing chess in the library and pigging out at tea time in the sitting room (ok, ok, I was the pig who ate 6 scones in one sitting - but they were straight out of the oven for God's sake!).

As usual, Shelburne Farms never ceases to impress on these birthday outings. It is hard to get back to the normal everyday life of work, dull food, and a cluttered, not so magical, house with no lake view. But I guess its brevity is part of what makes our time at Shelburne Farms so special.

Imagine living there permanently - would you tire of the expansive lawns, breath taking lake view, gilt furniture, scrumptious delicacies and impressive vistas? Weeeeell, me thinks not. But until I hit the jackpot and buy the place for my own (or perhaps squat in a tent someplace out of the way on the grounds), I suppose I am just thankful to be there now and again.

And maybe one of these days a worm hole will open up and transport me back in time to the 1800s. But with my luck, I'll be stuck as a chambermaid and a life of thankless toil and backbreaking hard work will await me. Then again, at least I would get to live in the house...

A birthday montage is soon to follow, what you didn't think I would leave you high and dry without some moving images set to music, did you?? Sheesh...what do you take me for?

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