In the sixth grade, when my peers were preoccupied with dating, dances, and first kisses, I was busy modifying the cardboard pencil box stowed in my desk to create a rabbit warren. This was, you must understand, the next obvious step after having made the rabbits — they would need a place to live, after all. I had made the rabbits by twisting the pink, cylindrical erasers off the tops of two pencils. Their fronts bore little smiling ink faces; their backs tiny tails; and I had cut small, precise ellipses of paper and taped these in place to serve as ears. Naturally, their names were Peter and Benjamin. They had very full lives, complete with rabbit-centric adventures, which led to their ultimate discovery. My teacher eventually noticed my distraction, my hands animatedly occupied within the shadowed, rectangular recess of my desk. I was a good student and generally quiet, so I merely received a raised eyebrow as reprimand. (This was enough.)
Rabbits often figured into my solitary play. I spent many hours during the Summer as a rabbit. As such, I made my home beneath the arching branches of a Spiraea in my family’s back yard. The soft, green oval leaves of bush honeysuckles provided the mainstay of my make-believe rabbit diet, supplemented by both the roots and flowers of Queen Ann’s Lace, and the ‘bird berries’ (also from the bush honeysuckle) which my parents had warned against ingesting, having explained their poisonous nature. While scampering through Summer in this guise, I called myself Cottontail.
Certainly, you’ve noticed the common thread between these two activities, and you’d be right to conclude that the works of Beatrix Potter greatly influenced the imaginative diversions of my youth. Beatrix Potter was a remarkable woman well ahead of her time — author, illustrator, patent-holder, natural scientist, and conservationist. Naturally, during our recent travels through England, my husband and I included Ms. Potter’s home in Near Sawrey, Lancashire, on our itinerary of Literary Figures’ Homes to See.
Visiting Hill Top Farm was like walking through the pages of Beatrix Potter’s many little books — along the winding slate path that would, as Spring advanced, soften with wildflower beds and hum with bees and butterflies. Past ivory ewes and new lambs that lay contentedly beneath a twisting tree in a neatly fenced grassy sward. Pausing at the scrolled, moss-green iron gate to see the garden — filled with rhubarb and geraniums and the weathered tin watering can that must certainly have been the site of Peter Rabbit’s trials. And within her home, the entrance hall with its large kitchen range; the crimson-carpeted stairs and Grandfather clock ticking on the landing; in a small, spare bedroom, the dollhouse of her childhood that served as the home of Two Bad Mice.
Beatrix Potter’s passions and talents echo throughout her home, and her surroundings are reflected in her stories. Experiencing Hill Top first hand, this positive feedback loop between location and artist is beautifully obvious. Equally so was my response — the immediate announcement that I should like to move in. There are places that call to us, places that beckon and sing within our veins like heartbreak when we find them. My heart sang with recognition on Beatrix Potter’s doorstep.