The Best Day: The Poet and a Pencil

This road trip to Amherst, Massachusetts was a long time coming. A friend and I had been wanting to visit the Emily Dickinson Museum and Homestead since early 2020. We made a vow that winter to hit the road in the spring of 2020, but the world had other plans. Covid hit and we were all stopped in our tracks. “Well, we’ll go in the summer,” we naively thought.

A White Oak, reportedly planted by Emily’s grandfather, still stands on the property.

The pandemic dragged on, the Homestead remained closed, and our plans for that road trip gathered more dust. Our hopes soared when restrictions eased (“Hope is the thing with feathers…”), but then an extensive renovation project on the home began in February 2021 and lasted for about 18 months. A worthy endeavor, to be sure, but yet another lesson in patience.

The museum reopened in August 2022 and on October 22nd, we finally hit the road for Amherst, MA. What an absolutely gorgeous fall day it was—surprisingly warm and sunny and ablaze in autumnal colors. A real stunner of a day.

We arrived well before our 12 pm tour reservation so we took the opportunity to walk the grounds, guided by a self-paced audio tour. This selection from the audio tour talks about the well-worn path between the Homestead and The Evergreens, the home of Emily’s brother, Austin, and his wife and Emily’s dear friend, Sue Gilbert Dickinson:

The path between the Homestead and The Evergreens was a physical connection for the family. Emily once described it as “just wide enough for two who love.” It was flanked by trim lawn and carefully placed trees for shade and floral interest. 

To see her brother and “Sister Sue,” as she called her sister-in-law, Emily didn’t need to go out onto the street. Her niece remembered her grandfather walking over with a lantern to guide Aunt Emily home after dark. When Emily arrived back at the Homestead, she set a light in her west bedroom window that was answered by one from Sue’s on the east side of the Evergreens.

Over this path, too, went poems. Emily shared many of her poems with the family next door, especially Susan. 

Then—Noon! The tour! At last!!

A few glimpses…

Emily’s conservatory
In the study
Prop books and documents from “Dickinson,” the Apple TV+ series

Finally, finally, finally, we stepped into the room I’ve been wanting to see for almost three years—Emily’s bedroom.

Replicas of Emily dress and diminutive desk
The actual bed in which Emily slept and died

I don’t really recall details of the tour guide’s spiel. I just stood there and absorbed the energy of the space—imagining the days when both the fireplace and Emily’s brain were ablaze. A perfectly ordinary yet very sacred space—I could feel that in my heart.

A short walk from the Homestead is The West Cemetery, where Emily, her sister Lavinia, and parents lie.

“Called back” at 56.

Before we left the graveyard, I placed the stub of my Musgrave 600 News pencil (a very simple pencil that’s become a favorite) on top of Emily’s gravestone.

A pencil left in gratitude—for the poems that remain a mystery and the ones I’ve grown to love.

Nature assigns the Sun —

That — is Astronomy

Nature cannot enact a Friend

That — is Astrology

This was the best day. Time away with a friend. Plenty of iced coffee and conversation. Problems temporarily forgotten. A pilgrimage. A poet.

At last.

“A Route of Evanescence”

The hummingbirds have returned, but I’ve only been able to catch two fleeting glimpses of them at our feeders before they vanished into the woods, which is why Emily Dickinson’s poem about them rings so true.

I haven’t been able to get her description out of my head ever since I googled “Emily Dickinson” and “hummingbird.” Evanescence, Emerald, Cochineal (which I had to look up to find that it’s an insect from which carmine-colored dye is extracted) perfectly describe these brilliantly-colored birds that seem to evaporate as soon as you lay eyes on them. I would expect nothing less from our brilliant Emily.

Then it dawned on me how her words are also a spot-on description of one of my favorite inks—J. Herbin’s Emerald of Chivor. Emerald, cochineal, with an evanescent shimmer. So hard to capture in photos—both the tiny birds and the ink’s best characteristics. Look one moment and it’s there. Another moment and it’s gone. Fleeting. Dazzling. Always a surprise.

That’s what makes them both so special—the iridescent bird and the sheening/shimmering ink. That Route of Evanescence.

Thank you, Emily. Yet again.

Pen used in this post: Diplomat Aero, bold nib with an Architect grind by The Nibsmith.

“You cannot put a Fire out”

Fire wove its way throughout a recent weekend.

Friday night

A horrible multi-family house fire in our small community. Multiple fire departments. Blocked streets. Low water pressure at the hydrants. Prayers for the occupants and first responders.


Opening day of artist Richard Friedberg’s “Terrible Beauty” exhibit at our downtown art museum. Fire as sculpture. Mesmerizing. Stunning in subject, scale, and execution.

Fire Storm, 2017 [above and below]
Oil Fire [below]


The Season 2 finale of “Dickinson.” Amherst’s beloved church goes up in flames, while two hearts find their way back to each other. Spark. Smolder. Flare. Blaze.

The episode’s poem copied into my Hobonichi with a pen that looks like lava and an ink called Fireopal.

So. Much. Heat.