A crisp smack of cold beer hits my palate; a dark, hearty rye. I’m engulfed by laughter and spirited conversation, lost in the dull roar, a wave washing over me. A sudden crash, a peaceful respite as it rolls back, redoubling its efforts at sweeping me away … but not for a little while longer.

It’s 6 p.m. on a Thursday at the High Horse in Amherst. A few tables have filled up in the dining section, but most of the barstools are still bare. Thirsty asylees from the outside world trickle in to catch their breathe. Some sit in quiet contemplation of their beer, while others are still tying up the day’s loose ends. All together, worlds apart.

The pub is a timeless institution. It’s a refuge for the life-weary, a sanctuary for seekers of Hemingway’s proverbial clean, well-lighted place. It provides a chance to clear the mind and realize the pleasure of being alive, even if the respite lasts only to the bottom of the glass.

—Peter Vancini, pvancini@valleyadvocate.com