For many years now, a friend and colleague of mine have had the same discussion over and over again regarding the idea of traveling to a place made immortal by great literature and/or great writers. She doesn't understand why anyone would find such places important or inspiring. "It's just a place," she reminds me when I once told her how much I enjoyed seeing where Charles Dickens lived. She delves into literary criticism that espouses the virtues of literature transcending the place where it was created. "There's nothing left there except an opportunity for people to make money off tourists."
Except I wholeheartedly disagree.
I love seeing where great authors lived and created their literary masterpieces. For me, it makes literature so much more meaningful when I can see the environment in which it was created. Certainly, modern life has transformed what early novelists saw as they wrote out pages and pages of prose or poetry, but I can't help but believe there still remains a sliver of something. The way the light comes in through the window. The sound of the birds in the trees. The vista out the north window. Reading about Walden's Pond is one thing; seeing it is quite another.
Unfortunately, on our trip I didn't get to see Walden's Pond even though I was. this. close. We saw the sign as we made a u-turn to get back on the right road, and I thought for a brief moment we might get to see it, but I knew it wouldn't have done much good to make the trip just for the two of us who would have appreciated it. Eighth graders, for all their many...um...virtues, have no interest in Walden Pond. Although they would have dutifully taken pictures of it if we had told them to.
Nevertheless, for the brief hour that we spent in Concord (Massachusetts), we got to catch a small glimpse of where great novelists once lived. First of all, I must say that this trip was made exponentially better by the fact that my dear friend Inkling traveled along as a chaperone. She and I shirked our chaperonely duties more than a couple times I suppose, but the students fared just fine. Just by watching how Inkling studied and photographed old stone churches made me appreciate old stone church even more. If you're going to be away from your children for a week, and your husband is going to mostly preoccupied with leadership duties, I highly recommend having a friend along who will make the trip so much more fabulous.
Home of Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Talk about heavy expectations for the English department at the local high school.
I could have spent all day there, but had to be content with 60 minutes. The main focus for being in Concord at all was because of its relevance to Lexington and the Revolutionary War. I'm all for war history and battle fields, but it took a great deal of my energy to take this picture...
...a monument dedicated to the Revolutionary War...knowing that I was just a few feet away from touring the Old Manse, where Nathaniel Hawthorne once lived. Fortunately, not far from the monument was also this:
an old tree down by the boat house that surely Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne must have visited. Maybe they leaned against that tree, waxed poetically about that tree, considered cutting it down for timber. Whatever its role in early American history, the tree survived. And I touched it. I'm counting on that tree to stir within me the Great American Novel.
What do you think, Mr. Early American? Does the tree have special literary powers?
"Ah, of course," he says, and points at yonder feature:
No, no, I protest, not special chipmunk powers! But Mr. Early American has already wandered off for his next photo op. I guess we'll never know what the tree holds.
Eventually our 60 minutes we up, and we start on our way out of town. Fortunately, our dear bus driver agreed to drive past Louisa May Alcott's house, although only a few of us got off the bus to take pictures, and none of us got to tour it. This is one that I would have enjoyed touring knowing that the house is described in Little Women.
Nevertheless, it was amazing being in Concord--even if just for a short while--and I can't wait until I can go back and spend more time there. What I really want to do is lead a literary tour of New England, one where we can read Robert Frost's poem "Fences" while sitting on old stone walls, and hang out at the docks where Herman Melville once lingered. Any takers? No? Well, we shall be content to imagine the larks that Alcott and her sisters had in the attic of her house.
I suppose location doesn't matter to some folks, but to me, seeing that window...well, it just means something to me. Whatever it is, whatever I feel, I for one will always be a tourist willing to pay to see the places of the great writers. I'm a sucker for stuff like that, I guess.
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