Wishing Edith Wharton a happy 151st birthday

Thursday January 24, 2013

The Mount

Last year saw gala festivities for the 150th anniversary of the birth of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton, and that doesn't mean that this year Wharton's 151st birthday should be celebrated with any less enthusiasm.

On Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., visit Wharton's grand Lenox estate for a free birthday open house. The Mount served as Wharton's retreat from the strict social pressures of polite high society. Here she could entertain her famous literary friends, indulge her passion for creating show-stopping gardens and write best-selling novels including "Ethan Frome."

In a mini-Downton Abbey experience, roam the corridors of this Gilded Age turn-of-the-century "Cottage" to see how the rich and famous once lived, with well-appointed formal reception rooms, an impressive library and elaborate boudoir, in contrast to the simpler, old fashioned servants' quarters.

A scavenger hunt will help children explore the house and find friendly details, down to the doggie treats Wharton kept on the dining room table and the little cushion underneath for her beloved dogs to sit on. They can also make a journal to help start them off as budding writers.

No birthday is complete without cake, so be ready to sing happy birthday at 2 p.m.

Even in their winter sleep, the extensive gardens are a treat to enjoy. The formal terraced views and rambling forest walks offer a welcome breath of fresh air from another era, and they are open free throughout the winter.

Throughout the day, knowledgeable guides will lead tours and answer questions while they point out perhaps overlooked details and provide an intriguing glimpse into Wharton's private and public life.

Admission is free, and reservations are not required. A free shuttle is available from the parking area to the main house. Information: www.edithwharton.org (413) 551-5100.

Berkshire Athenaeum

For 75 years the faithful Friends of the Berkshire Athenaeum have supported the work of the Pittsfield Library by sponsoring literally hundreds of events, from book sales to big band concerts and bubble shows. Some of the many presenters who have left a particularly lasting impression on the audience over the years have been invited back for a repeat appearance during this year's three-quarters-of-a-century anniversary celebrations.

Professor Tom Tyning is the first of these, a presenter who, following his popular talk on Berkshire snakes last January, will share some insights into the "Secret Lives of Frogs and Salamanders" at the library at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

A recognized authority on New England natural history, Tyning has served as Associate Professor of Environmental Science at Berkshire Community College for over a dozen years, and he is a widely read nature columnist and author of Stokes' "Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles."

Saturday's presentation will include information gleaned from his long-term field research projects on rare salamanders and vernal pools, those transient bodies of water that appear each spring and give local amphibians such as spade foot toads a safe place to breed away for the appetites of hungry fish.

The program is free and suitable for all ages. Information: www.pittsfieldlibrary.org(413) 499-9480.

Rudolf Steiner School

Little ones can enter an enchanting world of wide-eyed wonder on Saturday when the "Mornings at Matrushka" puppet show series returns with two performances of "The Starry Night" at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. at Matrushka Toys and Gifts store on Main Street in Great Barrington.

Using a simple, soft and embracing handmade mother and child rod puppet, in front of a backdrop of the night sky studded with bright stars, Waldorf Early Childhood teacher and puppeteer Trice Atchison will perform the gentle tale of a wakeful baby and its mother as she lulls the child to sleep with a reminder of the stars and moon watching lovingly from above.

The performances are part of a monthly series of free puppet shows for young children from toddlers to kindergarten age at Matrushka, a natural toy store founded by Steiner School parents, and the school. Information: rudolfsteinerschool.org (413) 528-4015.


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