I went back to school this fall; in fact, I went back to several.
I toured the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and Bennington in Vermont.
I dropped by the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy, whose Georgian-style buildings and broad lawns grace the Colonial town of Exeter, N.H.
From the outside, such prep schools seem as calm as an English vale. Not a nerve need twitch for the visitor who wants to stroll and dream, to browse in bookstores and buy sweat shirts as souvenirs.
For the students, of course, there is pressure to excel. This intensity is unleashed when a chapel bell rings, and doors swing open, and gangs of preppies in good wool jackets and properly worn tennis shoes dash--with ties flying--to their next appointment with learning. Competition reigns, whether in the classroom or on the soccer field.
I spent part of a moody, rainy day wandering in Deerfield, Mass., down a wide, mile-long avenue called The Street. This historic hamlet is home to Deerfield Academy, and to a village restoration that was begun even before that of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, though it is neither as extensive nor as opulent.
The simplicity of Deerfield is a big part of its charm. There is a genuine feeling of stepping back in time, not just pretending to. It is a quiet country town of weathered fences and large timbered homes, of gambrel roofs and tall brick chimneys. Ornately carved and plastered doorways are a hallmark.
When it was settled, in 1669, Deerfield was at the western frontier of New England. It later became a prosperous farming community. Today, 12 dwellings are open to the public, with collections of early American textiles and silver, paintings and furniture. The academy's shady campus is in the heart of the village.
On my back-to-school sweep I passed Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and continued across the Connecticut River to the grounds of Mount Holyoke, established in 1837, the first college for women in the United States. Highway signs along my route pointed to Amherst and Andover, Concord and Williamstown.
Before leaving Boston I paid my respects to Harvard, in its 350th anniversary year, and to Brandeis and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
It can be nostalgic to go back to school to visit your children, or godchildren, or grandchildren, or for alumni reunions or the Big Game. But touring any campus in any season can be stimulating, to a degree.