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The View From Here

By the time you read this, the ice will be melting on Walden Pond, which is about 4 miles from my house in Lincoln. When it's warm enough, I swim in Walden; sometimes I start before it's warm enough. In the deep middle of the pond, I imagine Thoreau in a canoe with his friends Bronson Alcott and Waldo Emerson, or his students the Alcott girls. Louisa May first made me love this part of the world.

Those Transcendentalists thought nothing of walking the 15 miles to Boston and back. This gentle landscape, its glacial terrain, its drumlins and ponds, and its slow river had a hold on them, as it does on me. For much of her adult life, however, Louisa May Alcott lived not out here but in Boston. Although she wrote Little Women while living at home, its success enabled her to move out.

Sometimes I wish I lived in Boston, too, or at least Cambridge. I would like to walk to a meeting or to see friends—but I lack Emersonian stamina. For that matter, I'd like to be able to buy a cappuccino or a pair of pliers without having to drive several miles. Often there are times when I would trade peace for raw bustle, beauty for the abrasions of the city.

Lincoln in many ways is a good compromise: as long as it's not rush hour, it's 20 minutes to Cambridge, half an hour to Boston. It feels less like a suburb than a country town, and it has made a commitment to maintain that rural character. More than half of the land is in conservation, accessible by a large network of trails.

Into the 20th century, Lincoln was a summer retreat for wealthy Bostonians; in 1937, one of them, Helen Storrow, gave Walter Gropius 4 acres for a house. As a result, the town's architecture is divided between farmhouses and Bauhouses. Historic New England, the architectural preservation society, owns two properties here: Codman House, an 18th-century manor decorated by Ogden Codman, Jr., Edith Wharton's partner in design, and the Gropius House. Despite a recent, and often contested, outbreak of McMansions, open land here still counts more than square footage.

We have an OK supermarket; a lovely gift shop; a bank; a notable art gallery; and a disproportionate share of culture, history, and vegetables from three organic farms. It took many years of agitating before the town permitted the sale of liquor, but finally a terrific restaurant opened in town.

You depend on a car, unless, like some of my friends, you do errands on a bike. There is a train, but it can double the time it takes to commute. When the power goes out, which it does often, it stays out for days. The rumble of generators could be the town anthem.

Lincoln is also mostly white and populated by nuclear families. My daughter reminds me that when she was 6 or so and got tired on our walks, I would leave her to play with the dog beside a brook while I made a longer loop in the woods. "I could have gotten so kidnapped," she laughs. But the woods were benign. When she turned 10, we sent her to school in Boston; we didn't want her to grow up a coddled country mouse.

A red-tail hawk patrols the field below our house and munches its voles in an oak tree. Fishers, woodchucks, coyotes, deer: their tracks crisscross the snow. I live with winter's barrenness and spring's rush of blooms, near the site of this country's literary flowering. But working can get lonely, listening to the birds all day. The city beckons. We think about it.

The other night, I came back from dinner in Cambridge and took the dog out. To the east, the city paled the stars. In the northern sky, aurora borealis flickered: faint, but there. I turned out all the house lights and went back outside to the freezing, shimmering night. ■