An avid observer, Emily Dickinson began showing an interest in botany when she was 9 years old. She loved to help her mother in the family garden, which contained quite an extensive variety of flowers. When she went away to school at Mt. Holyoke, she was encouraged by the principal and founder of the school to create an herbarium. Emily went on to collect, press and classify 424 flowers from the Amherst region. The leather bound album she pressed and posted them in survived and has been digitized by Houghton Library at Harvard University. You can access it here Harvard Mirador Viewer. You can also tour the Homestead gardens at Dickinson’s family home in Amherst, MA. Although I haven’t yet been, it’s definitely on my “post Covid – when we can finally travel safely again” list of places to visit.
Emily often sent flowers with her letters to friends and family and gifted them on birthdays and occasion of deaths and illnesses. A large number of her poems contain references to them. According to Judith Farr, author of The Gardens of Emily Dickinson, one-third of Dickinson’s poems and half of her letters mention flowers, with the rose taking first place for most mentions. Pictured below is a page from Emily’s Herbarium and today’s Carol and Emily poem, which tells of one particular rosebush that she kept as a secret for herself and the bees.
While it’s true that Emily Dickinson is known as a recluse who hardly ever left her parent’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts, she did in fact have several occasions to travel during her lifetime. *At 17, she was enrolled in Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts, spending a year there. Although she professed in letters to love the entire experience, her longing for home was greater. With her father being a Senator in the Whig party, in 1855, when she was 25, she and her sister Lavinia had the opportunity to visit Washington, DC and Philadelphia. Beyond those two trips, it’s believed that Emily never ventured out into the larger world and is said to have been quite content with her life in Amherst, where she never seemed to run out of inspiration.
Fast forward 166 years and that’s pretty close to how long it feels like it’s been since the pandemic brought our travel plans to a halt. Travel is “our thing”. My husband and I love to travel to new places and experience new cultures, foods, and vistas. I retired from teaching in June of 2019 and in the 9 months before the pandemic hit , we were lucky enough to take 3 trips and visit 10 different countries. It literally feels like eons ago, but the memories remain. The sights, smells and sounds live on forever in our minds, like those of our honeymoon 15 years ago in Hawaii, where the air is truly rare. Today’s Carol and Emily project remembers that.