Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley, California Office
Weather: Still drippy but a little warmer
Sometimes our literary pilgrimages will offer new insight into the milieu of the writer. Such was the case with our most extensive literary jaunt. The year was 1995 and we 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 trip 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 Hawthorne’s. 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.
Our last leg of the trip 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: If book enthusiasts from the future were to pinpoint a place where literature and artistic community flourished where and when do you think that would be?
And I’m sure you’re read Jane Langton’s novels often set in Concord, kid and adult books alike.
It’s an interesting point, how much a setting can haunt the reader. When my naval officer husband’s submarines took us to Connecticut for six years, I reveled in finally living in New England–so much of it felt completely familiar because I’d been reading about blueberries and Sal, apple trees and Jo, and the frost of winter my entire life. I adored reliving the books’ location in my own life–albeit 150 years later.
I’m sure I’d do just as well along the shores of Silver Lake.
When we were in Paris last spring, several churches–of all things–had DaVinci Code tours. That makes me feel uneasy . . .
Where are literature and artistic communities flourishing now? Cringe–the Internet? Lancaster, PA? The gothic South?
How about, barring a life of literature professors, poets, and essayists–my own little critique group? 🙂
Reading about New England makes me sad! I grew up in RI, but am currently in college down south. . .I’ve always wanted to go to her house, but I never managed to get myself out of state. Maybe next vacation that I fly up there I can check it out. . .
Teri D. Smith
You’re getting me pumped up for a literary excursion to England. I know you didn’t write about England here, but that’s my choice destination. Think of the literary pligramage I could make there…Dickens, Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis. Oh boy.
I long for New England! I went when I was 12 and it made a lasting impression on me. I am going to print this post out and plan my own literary excusion up North!
pat jeanne davis
I’m with you Terri for another literary excursion to England. The Lake District is my destination. I’ve been to the homes of Beatrix Potter, William Wordsworth and John Ruskin, all within a short distance of one another. Then on to Stratford-upon-Avon and to the birthplace of William Shakespeare and to the cottage of Ann Hathaway. Now I’m reliving memories that go back twenty years.
I’ve never gone on literary pilgrimage, but I just wanted to say I went on a Five Little Pepper kick when I was a kid. My mom had several old copies and I loved them, even though the language and the children’s behavior was so outdated. I called my mom Mamsie for years after, and she called me Phronsie. heh heh Good memories.
Julie Surface Johnson
What a fabulous trip that must have been. Why don’t you plan another one, this time as guide? Sign me up!