Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My Pilgrimage to Concord, Massachusetts

Me with Thoreau statue (left); the Alcott's Orchard
House (above right); Emerson's home (lower right)
I don't remember when I first learned about Transcendentalism. I know we studied it in high school, and possibly before that. I had already been made aware of the concepts and way of viewing religion and God by my father, who may not have been, strictly speaking, a Transcendentalist, but certainly had taken many of their beliefs to heart. I know he admired Emerson and Thoreau and had many - possibly all - of their books on his shelves, which I often pulled down and glanced through. (Perusing my father's personal library was one of my favorite childhood past-times.) My father had a great reverence for nature that I readily absorbed from him. 

Inside the recreation of
Thoreau's cabin.
For many years, I have counted Henry David Thoreau as one of my top personal heroes. He wasn't a man to be bothered by what people thought of him, admired nature, and did much as he pleased. Much like my father, and much like me. I've often figured that how people feel is up to themselves and not up to me, and I am not one to curry favors. If I like people, I do my best for them, but I can't grant wishes, and if people don't impress me, I don't really bother about them, and I certainly don't take their mean feelings to heart. People are always going to judge you, and they aren't always going to agree, so it's best to just be yourself.

Thus I was unspeakably excited about traveling to Concord, Massachusetts to walk in Thoreau's footsteps. Emerson, Alcott, and Hawthorne aren't to be sneezed at either, and all of them lived in this beautiful little town. (Hawthorne also lived in Salem, and I visited the house he grew up in, as well.)

the Old Manse as viewed from the river
Our first stop was the Concord Museum, which was equally devoted to the American Revolution as to the Transcendentalists - perhaps more so - since Concord is where "the shot heard round the world" was made. This skirmish, in fact, took place practically on Ralph Waldo Emerson's grandfather's back porch. This house is now known as the Old Manse, a title given by Hawthorne, who lived there for a time after marrying his wife, Sophia. Thoreau planned the garden for them as a present, and you can see that, too. (And thus I've  immediately related critical American history to writing. History shmistory, I'm all about the literature.) We also saw at the museum the lantern that was alleged to have been the actual lantern that spurred Paul Revere's ride, made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's terribly catchy poem Paul Revere's Ride. (Oh, look, I did it again.)

Emerson's study at the
Concord Museum
Across the street from the museum is Emerson's old house, which wasn't open for the season yet, so I could not get inside. The museum had recreated his personal study, though, so I did get to glorify in that, even if I wasn't actually allowed inside to roll around on the carpet and rub my cheeks against those books. Err... What was I saying?

I had wanted to see inside Orchard House, one Louisa May Alcott's homes and where Little Women basically took place (I was reading it at the time), but the entry fee was a bit much after having just paid at the museum, so we decided not to go in and move on to the grandpappy of all literary sites in the area (for me, at least): Walden Pond.
Walden Pond
Winter still had a firm grip on Massachusetts, though it was loosening in places. As the Pond was revealed through the trees to me, my breath caught in my throat at the beauty of the ice that still floated on the water and piled itself against the shore. I instantly fell in love, and I took many, many pictures. At some point in the past, some group of people decided to make one edge of the pond into a beach, and there was a building for what I am not sure since, as I've said repeatedly in my posts about this trip, it was the off-season and it was closed. I'm glad I was there when it was so peaceful, though. I could have lain down and spent hours in meditation. It was so beautiful! I have been to Rome, the Vatican, and countless beautiful old cathedrals across Europe and North America, yet none come even close to achieving the sense of the sacred that I felt at Walden Pond. Someday, I would like a pond of my own with a little writing house that I think I could build myself.

Ephraim Wales Bull,
giver of the Concord grape
After this, we went to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to pay our respects at the authors' graves. We also stumbled upon the grave of Ephraim Wales Bull, the man who gave us the Concord Grape. Greg and I thought it funny that nowhere else had we seen anything about this man and his contribution to American food culture. I grew up on peanut butter and Concord grape jelly sandwiches! Anyway. The authors.

Most of our Transcendentalist friends are buried right around each other at a place now called Authors Ridge, which is easy to find as there are signs pointing the way. There is a large stone for the Thoreau family and only a little marker with "Henry" for my hero. Very appropriate, I thought. He stayed simple into death. People had left twigs, bits of branches, and stones. Hawthorne's grave says equally simply "Hawthorne." Emerson's is quite unique and has an epitaph that he wrote himself. The Alcott family's graves are arranged much the same as the Thoreau's. At Louisa May's, someone had spelled out "Little Women" in stones on the grass. There had also been left offerings of pencils. I wish I had thought of that! 
Authors Ridge, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, MA
Interesting bit I learned about Louisa May Alcott recently: she wondered if she had been a man put into a woman's body. She admitted that she had never loved a man romantically, though she had loved a great many beautiful young women. I think I need to read more about this lady. I love her character Jo for straddling the gender divide and finding love despite this (very unlike the female character Stephen in Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, which has an ending just as depressing as the title implies). I wish I had been able to finish Little Women before this trip.

I would love to return to Concord in warmer months, but alas, I don't have the foggiest notion of when such a trip could occur. Maybe, when I can afford it, I can find an inexpensive abode and rent it for a writing retreat. Concord is really such a sweet little town. I fell in love with it, too! I bet it's so pretty in the Fall. Sigh...

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