Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Since I’m just back from our regency travels with Julie Klassen in the English Countryside– which I will write about when I’ve had time to sort it all out– it reminded me of the joy of travel centered around favorite literature. I wrote about a never-to-be-forgotten trip quite some time ago but it’s a jaunt I would encourage you to take, especially since literary travel offers fresh insight into the milieu of the writer.
Such was the case with our most extensive literary travel. The year was 1995 and my family decided to visit the birthplace of the New England Transcendentalists. Our oldest daughter had just graduated from high school and was already a confirmed bluestocking. Our poor son would have rather been fishing, parasailing or hurling himself down a mountainside but he had learned to put up with us. And our youngest daughter didn’t join our family until she was ten, so she missed this one. But for the four of us who went, we’d all say that it was the trip of a lifetime.
We began our travel by staying in Copley Plaza in Boston where we haunted the museums with side trips to see the famous points of history. Little did I know then that I would write a book, Freedom’s Pen, which took place on those very streets. We even saw the grave of Mary Goose, widely thought to be the famed Mother Goose.
We went from Boston to Concord where we stayed in a bed & breakfast that was said to have been Nathaniel Hawthorne’s springhouse at one time. It was directly across the road from the Alcott’s Orchard House where Louisa May Alcott’s father Bronson used to sit on a bench under a tree and hold court with the literati of Concord, including Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both of them just lived down the road. The philosophy of the New England transcendentalists grew out of these meetings.
We went to Walden Pond on a drizzly morning and were able to walk the whole way around barely seeing another human—a miracle if you know the modern Walden Pond. We walked up to Sleepy Hollow cemetery and visited the gravesites of all these famous writers. I found the grave of Margaret Sidney as well. She wrote The Five Little Peppers—another book from childhood I loved. We went to the Old North Bridge where the “shot heard round the world” was fired. Nearby stood The Old Manse, which had been home to Ralph Waldo Emerson and then the newlywed Nathaniel Hawthornes. The herb garden there at the Old Manse had been planted by Henry David Thoreau as a wedding gift for the Hawthornes.
As we walked the town and began to understand the interwoven lives of these beloved writers I understood in a very tangible way the importance of a writer’s community. I came home more determined than ever to stay connected to my fellow writers—that’s where creativity blossoms.
After we left Concord, we stayed for a time at Williamstown so we could take in the theater and attend a Tanglewood concert (with Yo Yo Ma, no less). We took many a day trip—to the studios of Daniel Chester French and Norman Rockwell. And another literary side trip to the Stockbridge Library where I got to go down into the basement and actually hold Hitty in my hand (from the book, Hitty her First Hundred Years by Rachel Fields). That was before they began thinking of archival protection for the adventurous Hitty. Now I’m sure she is hermetically sealed or something like.
Our last leg of our travel was out to Amherst where we stayed in a guesthouse on campus just a few doors from Emily Dickinson’s house. At twilight that last night we walked over to her house and sat on the porch to watch the sunset.
It was a trip we will never forget and more than anything we came away with the understanding of the interconnectedness of the community of writers/artists. And to think, this was just one geographical location and one era.
So here’s my question for you: What literary setting would top your travel bucket list?