New chapter for iconic Pickity Place tree

  • Keith and Kim Grimes of Pickity Place in Mason plan to carve their iconic tree into a little library. Ben Conant photos / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Keith and Kim Grimes of Pickity Place in Mason plan to carve their iconic tree into a little library after the white ash tree broke apart in a recent storm. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Keith and Kim Grimes of Pickity Place in Mason plan to carve their iconic tree into a little library after the white ash tree broke apart in a recent storm.

  • Keith and Kim Grimes of Pickity Place in Mason plan to carve their iconic tree into a little library after the white ash tree broke apart in a recent storm. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 2/4/2021 11:54:40 AM

Mason landmark Pickity Place is, quite literally, a storybook setting, as its cozy cottage and iconic gnarled white ash tree were once immortalized as illustrations in the Little Golden Book version of “Little Red Riding Hood.” That  made it all the more devastating for owner Keith Grimes in December, when the ancient white ash finally gave up the ghost amidst a blizzard, tearing asunder as nearly half of the gnarled tree went down.

“It was a miracle it missed the cottage,” Pickity Place owner and chef Keith Grimes said in an interview with the Ledger-Transcript. “I’ve been thinking about this tree coming down for years.”

Grimes said he’s known the tree was failing for a long time – at least 10 years – but has been trying to keep it alive, mainly because it is such an ingrained part of the landscape for many people, including himself. It was even part of the business’s logo for many years. It’s such an integral part of the business, in fact, that in his will, Grimes has directed his ashes to be spread under the tree.

“I didn’t want to give up on it. I was hoping it would last,” Grimes said.

The Pickity Place cottage and white ash have become nationally recognizable through that version of “Little Red Riding Hood,” written and illustrated by long-time Mason resident Elizabeth Orton Jones – more commonly known in town by her nickname “Twig” – a prominent children’s author and illustrator.

Jones wrote or illustrated more than 20 books – including putting together the history of Mason for the town’s bicentennial – but is best known for her children’s books, including her illustrations for “Prayer for a Child,” which won the 1945 Caldecott Medal for outstanding children’s literature.

In Jones’ version of “Little Red Riding Hood,” published in 1948, the wolf can be seen knocking on the door of a familiar red cottage with green shutters, with a twisted white ash, complete with tree hollow, next to the path to the door. It’s a familiar scene to anyone that has visited the restaurant.

On Dec. 5, Grimes said he knew a storm was coming in, and was worried for the tree.

“As I was leaving, I even said, ‘Hang in, there, buddy.’ I just had this feeling. It was very strange,” Grimes said. “I knew it was ready to go. I did look at it like I was looking for the last time.”

And, unfortunately, that premonition was all too accurate. A part of the tree split, landing on the restaurant’s greenhouse, and forcing the business to shut down for a week for clean up, repairs and the final decision – could they really cut down the white ash tree, broken as it was?

Grimes said he knew the tree was too important to too many people, himself included, to simply remove altogether; instead, a fitting, literary solution presented itself. The gnarled tree, which lived on so long in the pages of “Little Red Riding Hood,” would now return the favor and become a home for books.

When the tree was cut, Grimes left the majority of the trunk, and plans to hollow the inside to create a Little Free Library – a public book exchange where people can leave and pick up books.

Grimes has already commissioned a picturesque cottage “roof” for the trunk, designed to look a bit like the Pickity Place roof, and hopes to have the project finished in the spring.

Grimes said he knows at least one book that’s going to find its new home in the Little Free Library.

“The book that the tree is in, is going to be in the tree. I can’t make this stuff up. It seems a fitting circle,” Grimes said.




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