Literary Travels Remembered

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

I’m just finishing up my summer vacation. Or I should say, staycation. My daughter and grandson came to visit for two weeks and we decided to stay put and do as many local travels as we could fit in. So after trips to the coast, to Angel Island and Alcatraz, excursions into the Mother Lode, ghost towns and, of course, outlet malls and the local salon for our annual mother/daughter mani/pedi treat, we left for the airport to return Rebecca and Alex to the East Coast at two o’clock this morning. (That’s the time we leave home for a six o’clock flight. 🙁 )

We never embark on a vacation without remembering THE vacation. I cannot believe it was twenty-three years ago. I wrote about it a while ago but I figured today was the perfect day to dredge up that blog to re-share it. I can’t believe how young our children were. Our eldest daughter is now a college instructor and regularly introduces students to the literary world. We only had two children at the time. Our third and youngest child came to us when she was ten years old so she missed this trip.

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.

Mother GooseWe 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.

Orchard HouseLouisa's RoomWe 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.

Walden PondOur travels took us 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.Old Manse

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.

Emily DickinsonOur last leg of our travels 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: Where would you take your dream literary travels?

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  1. What a wonderfully evocative tale, Wendy! Thank you so much for sharing this experience with us.
    * Where would I go? My heart’s first leap would be to the world Nevil Shute described in ‘Round The Bend’, following Constantine Shak Lin and Tom Cutter on the air routes through postwar Asia, seeing Karachi and Singapore and Denpasar and the glittering gold Shwedagon, in Rangoon…
    * Oh, sorry, it’s Yangon, now, and the rest of that world is lost as well. Karachi is Westernized, Denpasar has been overrun by tourists, and Singapore is a haven for hipsters rather than hoodlums. A shame, a waste, a pity, and is there nowhere left for a pirate to meditate in peace?
    * As it happens, there is, for the air hasn’t changed. Granted, there is now GPS, and there are landing fees and one must trade a firstborn (of which one need keep a steady supply) for a tank of aviation fuel, but away from the narrow-tie officials…the sky is the same sky, the lighthouses still beat out the tune set in the Mariners’ Almanac, and the stars have moved but a little since those dear dead days.
    * Pay for the fuel, bribe the customs officers, chocks away, and full throttle into yesteryear!

  2. My father loved history, but his education ended with 8th grade and didn’t include much in good literature. We took a similar path on a childhood vacation, Wendy, but it was all history and no authors.
    * As a parent, I read to our children as we traveled, as much as possible appropriate to the place: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer while we camped beside the Mississippi River and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow as we drove through the Hudson Valley.
    * My literary travel dream? The Holy Land, covering the sites in the Bible.

  3. Renee Garrick says:

    Wendy, your description makes me want to follow the trail you walked, even if I can’t hold Hitty . . . how exciting to find another special location at every turn! Your story makes me realize how small our country once was, with such an incredible group of writers packed into a small space. Your words also help me realize what a blessing it is to have discovered a nearby ACFW chapter. I get to meet with talented writers every month–so encouraging, even for us who aren’t yet published. As for taking a trip? Tehachapi. Definitely.

  4. David Todd says:

    I grew up in Rhode Island, so Boston was a frequent location for school field trips. In 6th grade we went to Lexington and Concord, but for Revolutionary War history. At that age I didn’t know (and didn’t care) that beyond “the rude bridge” were literary sites of immense worth.
    My dream literary travels would all be to the UK. First for a Thomas Carlyle tour: Ecclefechan, Edinburgh, the remote farm Craigenputtock, and Cheney Row in the Chelsea area of Greater London. Then would be Charles Lamb sites, all in the London area. Then would be John Wesley sites, from Bristol to Epworth, including Oxford. And, if time and budget allow, would be C.S. Lewis sites, which stretch from Northern Ireland to Oxford to Cambridge and, of course, the Kilns.
    As always, the dreams exceed the means.

  5. That sounds like a wonderful trip! If I were to take my boys on that journey, I don’t think they would have the same appreciation I would. 🙂 I haven’t been to Boston yet, but I’d love to go one day.
    *If I could go anywhere, I’d love, love to visit Prince Edward Island to see up close and personal those places Lucille Maud Montgomery wrote about in her Anne of Green Gables series.
    *I would also love to see the countryside of England and some of the places English authors lived and wrote about.

  6. What a lovely vacation. I will never forget my experience on Alcatraz when I was about 20 years old. I rode the ferry out with my sister. And I would never view kitchen utensils the same way. That was an amazing time with my sister. And my dream literary travels would take me straight to England. No doubt.

  7. This sounds like a dream-come-true vacation! I will actually be spending a week in Boston with my husband and children in September and we have several of these sites on our agenda. I am focusing more on the early American History theme (to fulfill homeschool credits for my kids!), so we will not take in all the wonderful literary haunts that you enjoyed. We will go to Salem to see The House of the Seven Gables, and to Concord to see Orchard House, Walden Pond, and Sleepy Hollow cemetery. I wish we could see Emily Dickinson’s home, but we’re opting to see Plimoth Plantation, your Fenway Park (and take in a Red Sox game), among other things. We’re really looking forward to spending a day at Sturbridge Village, too. I can’t wait!

  8. Wendy thank you for sharing your family trip. As you listed the places, and people, it was like taking a walk down some of my favorite historical places to see some of my and my mother and father’s favorite authors. How I would love to take a trip like that someday.

    I have thankfully been able to visit two of my favorite places where great writing has occurred. One is Philadelphia with Independence Hall. As I walked the same floors, and climbed the same stairs as the men that wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence, I all but held my breath, thinking of the immensity of that document and what it meant for our nation and the world.

    The other place I visited was the famed Chincoteague Island with its wild ponies, the setting for my favorite book as a child. Misty of Chincoteague, by Marguerite Henry. I was still single at 30 and had been working as a nurse in New Jersey, just across the Ben Franklin Bridge that joins Philadelphia to the burroughs of New Jersey. I lived in Woodlynne, and worked at a Women’s Clinic. I was going to be moving back to the midwest for further education and to be near family, especially my mother as she was aging. Just one month prior to moving, I realized how close I was to my beloved island with the ponies. I ended up getting a room in the same home Marguerite Henry wrote the book! It had been turned into a bed and breakfast. Oh, it was wonderful. I met so many people, newlyweds on their honeymoon, and an old seaman and his son who were sailing the coast. The son had promised his father they could stay a few nights off their sailing rig so he could enjoy a bath and home cooking. There was a navy man on some special assignment who was always busy, and an older couple and myself. Breakfasts were held in a lovely dining area, with home made wonders, pastries, juices and coffee. It filled you up for whatever the day held. Several days I rented a bike and rode over to the beach, and stretched out on my beach towel watching kites of all kinds being flown by people of all ages. The sight was what summers at the beach are made for. I still have my photos from my trek in my car across the beaches and roads to see the wild ponies. I was not disappointed. That trip almost seems like a dream it was so pleasant.

    Always eager to see and experience new things, I could name many places from literature I would love to see. Perhaps, of all those, I would want to go to the places Jesus did, and follow the paths of Paul.

  9. Judy Gann says:

    My dream literary travels would take me to Prince Edward Island, home of Anne of Green Gables.

    • Is that so???? You’re going to need a tour guide, and a driver. And someone who speaks enough French to get you through Moncton on the way to the bridge. Just act casual in Cavendish, I think they still have mug shots up…

      • Judy Gann says:

        I wondered if I might get a response from my dream tour guide. 😊 Working on my Cavendish disguise now. Will keep in touch.

  10. Greece, and England for so many reasons.
    France to see the trenches, and the Somme, where many historians say that Canada became her own nation. And to see where so many brave women and men worked with the Resistance in WW2. Holland, to see Corrie ten Boom’s house, and where Anne Frank and her family hid until their betrayal.

  11. Pat Iacuzzi says:

    The forts of the thirteen colonies…to see where our first vets kept up the good fight, and where the dream of “a shining city upon a hill” became a reality. Happy Independence Day!

  12. First, I am so obsessed with the literary history of Concord and Boston. It informs a lot of my writing 🙂

    I have been lucky enough to do several key literary pilgrimages across North America and Europe. My next will be to Egypt to exercise my love for Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series by sharing in her passion for the magnificent ancient sites there.

  13. Josh Kelley says:

    In October, my family and I are going to take our first vacation in four years, to Southern California. Disneyland of course, but also doing research for my Work in Progress. Google can only tell me so much about Fresno, Lake Elsinore, and San Diego!

  14. Emily Conrad says:

    Sounds like there are a lot of interesting sites to see during a staycation in your area! And your trip to the Boston area sounds inspiring! We traveled there once and enjoyed following the red line around Boston. I particularly enjoyed studying about the American Revolution in high school, so it was fun to visit. I think my dream literary travels would be to the locations where novels and writings were set. To me, being able to look around and think, “This is what they had in mind while they wrote,” would make the novel come alive in a whole new way. Your post did make me wonder, though… What writers’ groups are currently meeting around the country–and the world–that we’ll one day look back on a celebrate as much as the New England Transcendentalists? Only time will tell! Personally, I’m grateful for my local writing friends, even if no one ever makes a trip to “our” Barnes and Noble just to see our meeting place 🙂