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Harriton House

Kelsey's picture

Walking to Harriton House, I was reminded of the few times I've walked around the neighborhood of Old Field back on Long Island- mansions stategically placed amongst the trees permitted to keep growing, obvious evidence of wealth with every step.  I know that Bryn Mawr (and the Main Line as a whole) is one of the wealthiest communities in the country- along with Old Field, which is only a few miles from where I grew up- but there's nothing quite like taking a stroll through the neighborhood surrounding the college to remind me of that fact.  Harriton House itself also exudes wealth, in the colonial way of times long past that many of the other houses in Bryn Mawr also do, but its wealth is different- it feels older, run down in a way that the still-inhabited houses of the Main Line are not.  Nothing is falling apart or even starting to decay, it's all carefully preserved, but the people who run Harriton House are obviously trying to cultivate a colonial image in a way that's very effective.  Stepping on to the property, if I hadn't heard the constant humming of leaf blowers and other motors I could have been convinced that I had travelled back in time.

My experience at Harriton House was mostly defined by feeling at peace.  Walking around the property, snapping photos and watching the bees buzz from flower to flower, I experienced a sense of tranquility, of escape from my daily life and routine.  Harriton House isn't a space that feels "natural" in the oft-used sense of the word, in the sense of national parks and undeveloped forests- the space is dominated by buildings, by roads, by mowed lawns and domesticated animals munching on hay behind wooden fences.  So often tranquility is associated with nature, the assumption being that going to the natural world is a relaxing escape from our lives.  As if we are somehow separate from nature, as if being in nature is the exception.  I wonder, is there something inherent in nature that makes us feel more at peace and connected to the world around us, or are we just projecting our ideas about what nature should be and how it should make us feel?  And does that question even mean anything, or is the distinction between what nature "actually" is and how we "perceive" it meaningless in a world we can only understand through our perceptions of it?  Since Harriton House isn't a space that many would perceive as natural, was my experience of tranquility there responding to whatever bit of nature I could interact with, or the feeling of stepping back in time and escaping my day-to-day life, or something else entirely?  Perhaps I was just finding the peace and escape I needed wherever I could.  I think it's interesting how we interact with the spaces around us, how we project on to them what we need and romanticize those that seem "natural" or "historical", untouched by present-day life and concerns.  

I spent a decent amount of time at Harriton House taking photos, which is of course very modern and technological, perhaps putting distance between myself and the world, but also a mode of connection for me, of observing the world more closely and figuring out how I want to document it.  So to close, here are some photos I took.  (Serendip isn't letting me upload most of them, so I will try again later!)



jo's picture

sunshine and self-care

I, too, felt very peaceful on our trip to Harriton. Though at first I was resistant, tempted to stay back on campus and try to make a dent in my mountain of school work, I soon became grateful for the chance to just be outside with nothing in particular I needed to accomplish. At first I was working to film footage that I might add to my creative project, but I became increasingly frustrated with the ability of my camera to capture what my eyes saw so clearly, so I put it away and began to write. There is something so calming for me about sitting outdoors and writing, and, like Kelsey I am trying to figure out what it is about "nature" or even a semi-natural environment that has this effect on me.

Even as I sat basking in the sun, I wondered why I have never come here of my own accord, and why I don't always take advantage of the 'nature' that is on campus or nearby (even the woods in my own backyard, behind Batten House). That made me question what was so special about this, why this was so different and more pleasant than writing in my room, the library, a cafe, or the campus center. Do I romanticize nature and being outside in the sun or is it actually healthier for my emotional, mental and physical health than being inside? Is nurturing my connection to 'nature' equally as important as nurturing my many relationships (or more so)?

Sometimes in springtime (and even in the fall) as it gets warmer, I get even more distracted from school than usual by the prospect of lounging outdoors. Sometimes I am able to get some reading done while lying on Merion Green, but it's pretty hard to use a computer outside, and my productivity is further limited by the strong desire to just exist in the beauty of the experience. This is just one other example of the endless battle between my academic learning and my personal health/self-care. Does one really always have to win over the other?