The Mount: Edith Wharton’s Garden and Message

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

“True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision.” ...
Edith Wharton

The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home, Lennox, Massachusetts

The Mount, the 10-year home of author Edith Wharton, is a lovely expanse of wooded trails, sumptuous gardens, and tranquil forests. Located in Lenox, Massachusetts, the well-preserved 113-acre estate was one of my must-see stops during my October visit with my daughter and her family.

Wharton’s family, making a fortune in real estate, were members of the upper echelons of society. In 1901, eager to escape the social confines of Newport and New York society, Wharton bought land for the Mount and then designed and built a home that would meet her needs as designer, gardener, hostess, and above all, writer. Every aspect of the estate—including its gardens, architecture, and interior design—evokes her spirit.

Edith Wharton

The grounds of the Mount during Covid-19 are open and free to the public. A house tour needed reservations and a fee, so we decided to enjoy the outdoors on a wistful fall day. Although Edith Wharton lived a fascinating life and was a Pulitzer-Prize winning author, I would like to reflect upon walking about the grounds of her estate and Wharton’s message to her visitors.

Wharton designed the grounds to include wild expanses of forests as well as manicured, formal gardens that were popular during the day. The forests were laced with trails that looped through the grounds and ended in surprising places, such as fishing lake home to an array of waterfowl.

One of the trails we took was shrouded by low hanging branches, made even more ominous by an overcast sky. The woods cast a foreboding feeling over me as I watched my three grandchildren scamper about picking up twigs to fight off the menacing “monsters” that they imagined were lurking in the woods. They must have absorbed the ominous atmosphere as well. 

I imagined Edith Wharton strolling along these wooded trails gathering inspiration from the trees and swirling leaves to write her treasured works of fiction. Perhaps the trees were the real author of her books, just channeled through her human soul.

In the formal garden area, I was moved by a passage Wharton wrote in memory of Alice M. Kaplan. As I enter my elder years, it is a reminder that it takes a conscious effort to resist the pull towards disintegration and revel in what life offers, and seek simple meaning in corners that are often hidden from full view. As I watched my grandchildren rejoice in the freedom to run and play free of adult cares and worries, I felt their joy and happiness seep into me, Wharton’s words were coming to life in me.

The afternoon at the Mount was a magical experience. As we trudged back to the car, children tired after a long hike and slaying monsters, I was grateful that I was able to spend this sacred time with my daughter, three grandchildren, and my cousin. It really brought to life Wharton’s timeless advice to Alice Kaplan many years ago:  be happy in small ways. Advice that still resonates today.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Ames’ varied life experiences— teaching, scholarly research, personal reflections, and extensive travels—have contributed to her balanced and thoughtful perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded the educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units, and conducted professional development workshops for the non-profit and its clients.

Dr. Ames is now developing her new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, and Reflection Nexus.  Turn encourages life-long learners to see things with new eyes, learn from the past, and understand the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five colliding worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Divided: Five Colliding Worldviews and How to Navigate Them has just been released!

Divided, Dr. Ames’ latest book, addresses the question on the lips of every American: why can’t we get along? The cultural divide is threatening our democracy and destabilizing our country. Divided looks at the deep cultural divide through the lens of five colliding worldviews—indigenous, traditional, progressive, globalized, and transformative. This approach helps us make sense of our deep divisions and suggests ways of bridging them.

It is urgent that we understand and bridge the cultural divide. Bridging the divide is dependent upon first understanding it. Gaining an understanding of the five worldviews enhances our success of arriving at sensible solutions and increasing civil conversations. If not, rancor and intractability ensue.

Divided is one of nine books written by Dr. Ames and the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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