Sense of Place: The Fells, Newbury

  • The Main House and its connected cottages were built in 1891 and 1897 in the Colonial Revival style.

  • MICHAEL PEZONE / Monitor staffJohn Milton Hay established The Fells in 1891, naming it after the Scottish word for “rocky upland pastures.”

  • MICHAEL PEZONE / Monitor staffThe Fairy Village features a fountain, benches and areas for children to run wild with their imagination.

  • One of several vernal pools on the property, often used by frogs and salamanders as breeding sites during spring and summer.

  • A view of Minute Island from the half-mile Lake Loop along the shore of Lake Sunapee. MICHAEL PEZONE photos / Monitor staff

  • One of several fountains on the 83-acre Newbury property. This one located just off the Main House.

  • MICHAEL PEZONE / Monitor staffThe half-mile Lake Loop begins in begins in front of the main house and offers views of Lake Sunapee.

  • MICHAEL PEZONE / Monitor staffA small sign along Route 103A in Newbury denotes the entrance to The Fells. The Main House is located a brief walk through the woods from the visitor parking lot.

Monitor staff
Published: 6/29/2019 9:09:39 PM

Decline is not only the preeminent adversary in middle and late life but the preordained victor. The ending is the same for everybody. We know there is no physical path to an alternative conclusion for the body, yet some of us seek one anyway on legs powered by kale chips and three-day juice cleanses, astride exercise bikes and rowing machines. On the best days, these habits of maintenance and preservation approach zest. But even then, even then, the hair whitens and the wrinkles carve.

On the worst days, the descent is all there is.

Release your youth, slowly if you can, because you must. But hold on to the poetry, always. Without it, the slide is just that.

* * *

There’s a place in Newbury called The Fells, just up the hill on Route 103A. It’s difficult to tell what it is exactly from the road if you’re an out-of-towner passing through. There’s a sign and a small parking lot, a gatehouse with administrative offices and a little kiosk with pamphlets and a box to pay your admission fee. Ten dollars when the “Main House” is open, eight when it’s not. The brochures hint at what you’ll find if you continue, but the sales pitch is almost passive. You can place your fee in the box and head into the woods, or you can go back to the car. That’s your call.

A Monday in June. Sun and clouds, a breeze. A more astute weather observer would have sensed the rain coming. Not that it mattered. Take the trail or don’t. Your call.

* * *

“Did I actually reach out my arms toward it, toward paradise falling, like the fading of the dearest, wildest hope . . .”

* * *

The New Hampshire landscape, cultivated or raw, seems to revel in its ability to delight unexpectedly. Poets are challenged here in every season not to find inspiration but to discover new combinations of words to describe that which cannot be described. The beauty of The Fells, parts cultivated and parts raw, makes the soul ache. There is poetry everywhere – some of it installed by the Newbury Public Library for a 16-poem “Poetry Walk.” Mary Oliver is there, and so is Whitman, Frost, Yeats. And the gardens, the stunning gardens – they climb skyward from the fields, verses unwritten.

* * *

“. . . toward paradise falling, like the fading of the dearest, wildest hope – the dark heart of the story that is all the reason for its telling?”

* * *

John Milton Hay served as private secretary to Abraham Lincoln and later as secretary of state under William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt. He established The Fells, a Scottish word denoting “rocky upland pastures,” in 1891 and a decade later reflected on the choice: “The manner in which I came to establish my summer home at Newbury was simple. I was greatly pleased with the air, the water, and the scenery. I have nowhere found a more beautiful spot.” The home itself consists of joined cottages built in 1891 and 1897 in the Colonial Revival style. There are manicured lawns, meadows, vernal pools, sculptures. A 1.5-mile ecology trail loops lazily toward the Lake Sunapee shoreline.

A timeline in one of the brochures races toward the present, as timelines do. Hay dies in 1905, leaving The Fells to his son Clarence. Gardens are constructed, the house is renovated, the gatehouse is built. Deaths, deeds and transactions follow, all leading to what The Fells is now, today. The most beautiful spot John Milton Hay had ever seen.

* * *

“Toward paradise falling,” wrote Mary Oliver in “The Chance to Love Everything,” No. 5 of 16 on the Poetry Walk. Toward paradise falling. Mary left the world in January; the poetry remains.

* * *

On the worst days, the descent is all there is. You can feel the body becoming less than it was, and the world seems to be sliding, too. Amid violence, hatred, tragedy and hopelessness, the poetry fades.

And then you find yourself in Newbury, walking past a gatehouse toward a plain, rugged kiosk near the woodline. “Welcome to The Fells,” a sign says, and you take a look at a few of the brochures. They tell you about the Main House, trails and gardens, about John Milton Hay, about Clarence and his wife, Alice. Take the path or don’t. Your call.

Toward paradise falling you go, and the poetry rises. An hour passes, and then another. A storm moves out over the lake, only hinting at fury, and then just like that it’s over. The sun returns, high and strong, but the time here is at its end.

Back on 103A, The Fells falls away. The knee throbs from exertion and the words to describe this place come too slowly, disconnected and unsubstantial. What can you say to help them see it? What will send them down the path to find it?

So much poetry, waiting.

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