Late fall is kind to us in Boston, partly cloudy and near 60 degrees. Everything is supposed to be dead, the foliage succumbing to the arriving winter, but life hangs on, the trees still with multi-colored leaves, the green grass, a few blooming roses in the garden. This morning I am running on a course around the Boston Fens, a large park with a community garden, a soccer and softball field, a basketball court, and arching bridges going up and over the small bodies of run-off water from the Charles River. The weather is breathtaking on this, my fourth birthday in New England and the only one on which I have been able to run outside. I was going to write an essay similar to this one last year, but it was far too cold to run outside and running on the treadmill beneath the overhead TVs displaying news about… More…

The Bryant Free Library sits on a now-busy state road in Cummington, Massachusetts, tucked into the trees at the bottom of a hill. Climb the hill and you’ll reach the sprawling boyhood home of the man for whom it’s named, the 19th-century poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant. He was born here in 1794, but he made his career in New York as the crusading editor of the Evening Post, and as a founder of the party that once was Lincoln’s. Bryant, as in Bryant Park. Yet he never forgot these hills, and in 1872, just a few years before his death, the old man came back to Cummington, a hundred miles west of Boston, and gave the town a library.

The Bryant is a cube-shaped mass of brick and rusticated stone that looks defensible, more like a military blockhouse than a seat of learning. Only a sign announces the… More…