As our plane circled London, waiting for its turn to come down, I peered out the window at houses, houses, houses. Big houses with landscaped gardens, little houses all alike with squares of green, farms, estates, castles, cottages. I thought of a little old house built 177 years ago we had looked through recently. Its four rooms were on three floors connected by solid stone stairways. How many generations had walked up and down those stairs? How many toddlers had learned to climb them? How many elderly people had helped themselves up the steps with a cane or come carefully down clutching the iron railings? How many births and deaths had taken place within these walls?

There is a charm about ivy-covered stone walls, about the richness of old glass, that cannot be copied in mass production, but it isn’t just the workmanship that gives old houses an atmosphere; it is the thought that as we walk about for a short time, or actually settle in to live within the old walls, we are a part of a long stream of people who have done the same. How many more generations will sleep sheltered by these walls, will eat at this same solid oak table, will swing this door open on its iron hinges, will sit under this same tree, when I am no longer here? Wood, brick, stone, iron, and even growing trees are more “lasting” than our bodies. Although I can master these walls—can paint them or cut a doorway through them or even tear them down—still my substance is more frail than theirs.

We were given a wonderful book of pictures and text showing some of the great variety of authentic old Swiss chalets. The giver translated for us a German inscription on one of the chalets, “Wohnhaus,” in St. Peter, Graubunden. In this area the old builders carved or ...

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