Every reader of the Handbook of Nature Study (the book) knows who Anna Botsford Comstock is….the esteemed author of our nature study guide and lessons. She wrote the words that have touched my personal life in such a profound way, changing how we view the world in our own backyard. She may have touched your life in a similar way through the pages of the Handbook of Nature Study as you worked through the Outdoor Hour Challenges.
When the opportunity was offered to me a few years ago to visit and actually stay at her cottage in New York outside Ithaca, I wasn’t able to make the trip at that time. It was on my mind a lot through the years so when a last minute trip involved traveling in New York came up last month, I immediately contacted the family that now owns the cottage to see if it was available during our visit. It was! We made arrangements to stay for three days in the cottage that Anna and Henry Comstock built on the shore of Lake Cayuga.
” During the fall of 1906, we were making habitable The Hermitage, our summer cottage on Cayuga Lake. We put a large window in the living room which gave us a wide view of the lake. This room was given a hardwood floor and was ceiled, to make it warm. Here we set up the wood stove that had been in my mother’s parlor when I was a child. It had a grate and in the evenings we opened up its front doors; this made it as cheerful as a fireplace.” Anna Botsford Comstock
It was just like I imagined it…set in the woods, right near the water’s edge. The birds, flowers, and trees were those that Anna wrote about in her books. It was warm and cozy and somehow familiar.
We sat on the porch and enjoyed the sounds of the woods. The lake glistened as the sunset on that first day. I climbed into bed and thought how it must have been there over a hundred years ago when the Comstocks first built the cottage.
“Harry and I spent weekends there, and on each trip he would walk the mile and a half from Taughannock Station to The Hermitage, carrying on his back a basket filled with materials for fixing the house.The labor my husband performed in and about this place was remarkable.” Anna Botsford Comstock
The next morning I was up early for a walk in the woods. I ventured out alone for the first hike and as I stepped off the porch I heard birdsong and glimpsed a young deer sneaking across the road into a thicket of bushes. The woods woke up as I hiked up the trail and my eyes were trying hard to take in all the sights.
The green of the new spring leaves, the thin trunks of the trees, the rustlings of birds and the cry of the mourning doves. These were Anna’s woods. This was the place that helped inspire her to share her love of nature with teachers and children, bringing them into a relationship with common everyday things in their world.
There was teasel by the trail…new to me in person but familiar through the pages of the Handbook of Nature Study. Advanced preparation does work…I recognized it right away and remember that she had called it ” a plant in armor”.
“He added paths and built a fine wharf and a double-decked boat house, in the upper part of which we swung our hammocks, and from which we enjoyed the glory of many sunsets. The Hermitage was always a place where work was play; we dumped our cares at the Ithaca station when we left, but they were always waiting to jump at us on our return.” Anna Botsford Comstock
I made my way back to the cottage and by this time the boys were up and ready for the day. My husband and Mr. A took out the canoe onto the morning smooth water of the lake. Exploring a new place by water…leaving their cares behind as they paddled across the surface of the lake in the early morning sunrise.
Mr. B and I decided to take another hike through the woods and this time we noticed the wildflowers. These were the wildflowers of Anna’s books…the ones we don’t have in California.
The whole weekend was filled with the opening of eyes and hearts to a magical place, gently teaching us the way of the New York woods in which we found ourselves. One day it rained and we watched the drops fall from our dry spot on the porch. The fragrance of the wet woods was delightful…different than our Northern California woods. The rain stopped and we grilled dinner on the stone fire pit down by the water. We skipped rocks, sat and watched the fisherman go by on their little boats, and we shed our cares, refreshed.
At the end of the weekend, we had made many entries into our nature journals, took lots of photos, and made some memories of our own at this lakeside cottage.
We will always remember our weekend spent on Lake Cayuga at the Comstock’s beloved Hermitage Cottage. Special thanks to Christiana and Alison who graciously opened up their family cottage to our family, making this trip to New York even more special.
I hope my readers enjoyed glimpsing our weekend….we all need to remember to build in our families a rich heritage of outdoor experiences. Who knows who it will touch in the future?
Next time I will share our day at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology and Sapsucker Woods! More connections were made to the Handbook of Nature Study.