For a weird moment when returning from the Guest House building at Welcome Hill to the Studio House, a few hundred yards away, I thought I heard a flurry of women’s laughter.
The sound emitted was enthralling but unnerving. Unnerving, because, to my knowledge, I was the only person on the land that day. My first instinct was a curiosity rather than fear regarding the source of the otherworldly sounds on a gray, damp, afternoon at the frays of western New Hampshire. I mean, I saw Get Out, Jordan Peele’s satirical, social thriller movie that explores the mysterious “vanquishing” of black folks in the backdrop of a similar pastoral setting. But I was unprepared to fight off any real or psychological threat armed with little more than my laptop, my cell phone, and a rake!
Ann Stokes, (1931-2016) poet, writer, painter, activist, philanthropist, owned the gorgeous property on which the unknown flurry of sounds had conspired. Celebrated for her “artful laughter” and substantial life, she would appreciate my analogy in jest. Ann was also known for her unfailing support of social justice, LGBT, and feminist causes spurred by the 1970s Women’s Movement. Drawn from an evolving commitment to provide studio spaces for artists that were “a handsome light-filled place to live and work in,” the studios were conceived and built by women for women that allowed “solitude in nature.”
Most introductions to Ann over the years and subsequent stays at Welcome Hill, were generated by word-of-mouth through artist friends. I was introduced to her about a year or two after arriving to teach at Goddard College (in 2009, I think) by Michelle Baxter, a student who became a cherished friend. Along with her partner, Michelle Gabo, (a/k/a “the Michelles”) their enduring relationship with Ann spanned nearly thirty years of visits and retreats, meals filled with gorgeous sunsets, and intense political discussions.
A lifelong Quaker, Ann’s memorial service was held at the Putney Friends Meeting, Putney, VT, on Sat. May 20th 2017. Everyone who shared personal testimonials spoke to her urgent “spiritual depth,” and scintillating wit and wisdom grounded in her abiding love and respect for nature, flora, fauna, birds especially, as forces more powerful than herself. Her most defining expressions of these core values shaped her civil and human rights advocacy and generosity. Later that evening, many of Ann’s longtime friends, artists, several of the Hill’s founding builders, former lovers and muses—many who’d known her since Welcome Hill’s inception and others like myself, who’d been gifted to know her in later years, gathered at the Studio House that I first mentioned. There, we poured libations and testified on behalf of the emotional and creative offerings and generative friendship we’d each experienced.
I owe the very foundational underpinning of my novel manuscript, Fierce Remains, to Ann Stokes’ kindness. When I visited the Hill in the spring of 2013, I was wedged between continuing a Ph.D. program that no longer felt like my truth and the calling of a book project that promised to undo the fear of discovering an essential truth that was critical to my health and well-being. In other words, I was on the brink of a breakdown that I’d managed to hide from my closest friends, colleagues, and partner. I knew that if I could only remove myself from the “noise” that consumed me, and find my way to that magical, verdant land, then a deeper understanding of when and where “I entered,” would emerge. If I surrendered to re-visioning how I must continue to live in the world, then my sanity and healing would already be in motion.
When I called Ann she said, “Come, stay as long as you want.”
Each of our visits was drawn to her compassion and the restorative power of Welcome Hill, a sanctuary that offers breathtaking views of neighboring Vermont’s lush mountains, enigmatic laughter, vespers delivered in the crosswinds of pliable trees, and in the whistles and squawks of distinct bird species including wild turkeys that dash about the land in startling mobs.
Thank you, Ann, for your natural phenomena. You were loved. You will be missed.
See you at the Summer Solstice!
Stay green. Stay square. Pamela
For more information, contact Welcome Hill Studios.