Last week I had a wonderful experience visiting Avon Old Farms School in Connecticut. I first stepped foot on the campus village in the fall of 1989. I was barely 5 feet tall and weighed less than 100lbs. I remember being the smallest kid in school. The place seemed big to me. Perched on top of a hill overlooking the Farmington River Valley, Old Farms feels like a fortress as one surveys Avon Mountain in the distance. The Cotswold & Tudor architecture creates an environment that is completely unique. There is no other place like it in the world. It is a place where imagination takes flight and growth happens.
“There should be some oases in this country where the love of tradition is fostered. Avon shall be one of the oases: one place where, when Avonians return, they will find at least a semblance of permanence.” – Theodate Pope Riddle (Founder, Avon Old Farms School -1927)
I was a student at Old Farms for four years. In that time, seasons came and went. New friendships took root and my mind was stimulated by some of the most self-sacrificing faculty on the planet. Sitting around a massive oak table in freshman English, I learned to enjoy the psalms of Robert Frost from a teacher who knew the man.
My first history teacher was a wise man from India. He perceived my learning challenges within the first week of class. He adapted his teaching method so I could learn significance of Constantinople in the Ancient World. I learned to play lacrosse and fell in love with swimming. I was fitted with my first responsibilities. I was encouraged to be creative and determined. I learned to explore and seek truth.
I remember my first autumn at Old Farms. The surrounding world was set ablaze with brilliant hues of red and gold leaves. The fragrance of pine filled the air. I remember my first hike through the Black Forrest. There are rows upon rows of 100 foot pines. It is Medieval. Behind the forest, there is a hidden pond with a solitary stone bridge that seems like it has been there since the beginning of time. Perhaps it has.
Nearly 20 years later, I step on to the grounds of my beloved Old Farms. I call it mine because it is home. The earth feels different here. It is firm, dripping with history and nostalgia. A river of memories flows through my mind.
I return often to this place and I have the privilege of serving on the school’s National Council. I see that this ‘indestructible school for boys’ is flourishing with life. Many of these young men remind me of myself (accept 20 year younger). Last week we honored a friend who has been teaching at Old Farms for 40 years. Another friend, a retired Headmaster gave me a book. After all these years, these people continue to teach me and impact my life. Avon Old Farms School is sacred. The air around the village is the rarest on earth. When I return, I find more than a “semblance of permanence”. I find home.
What about you? Where do you find a sense of place?