My first travel discovery was a shift in language; the journey defined not as a trip, or a vacation or even a history tour but as “pilgrimage.” For the 15 of us, this was a time to immerse ourselves in stories; to amble the same path as Henry David Thoreau trod along the shores of Walden pond; to climb the same steep, narrow wooden stairs to the Arlington Street Church bell tower and ring the same bells that would have gathered people to hear William Ellery Channing speak; to saunter through Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and touch the gravestone of Louisa May Alcott.
Some highlights of our days of pilgrimage:
King’s Chapel – touched the last bell cast and hung by Paul Revere
Arlington Street Church – tried my hand at ringing three of the 16 bells
Mount Auburn Cemetery – left memorial bouquets at the graves of William Ellery Channing, Hosea Ballou, John Murray, and Margaret Fuller
Walden Pond – walked the entire pond and left a Winona river rock at the stone cairn close to the site of Thoreau’s cabin where he lived for 2 years, 2 months and 2 days
Old Manse – saw the desks where Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter and Emerson wrote Nature
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery – discovered that as they were neighbors in life, so too they are neighbors today as we visited Authors Row and the family plots of the Alcotts, Thoreaus, Emersons, and Peabodys leaving pencil homages for Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and Elizabeth Peabody.
Our days were filled visiting churches, graveyards and cemeteries (learning these two are different from one another) and touring the homes of literary giants. All the while hearing concise history lessons laced with anecdotes that put flesh and bone to revered names and made them quirkily human. We benefited from bookstore visits, invigorating conversations, time for quiet reflection, and the recitation of poetry.
The road waits.
... when it invites you
to dance at daybreak, say yes.
Each step is the journey; a single note the song.
- Arlene Gay Levine
P.S. And six of us hopped the green line to Fenway for a Red Sox win. The green monster is really monstrously tall!
I have a copy of Michael Holroyd’s definitive biography of Lytton Strachey. A gift from a friend, the two-volume boxed set serves as a bookend anchoring a shelf of history titles. My friend was a Bloomsbury aficionado. He read everything he could about these post-Victorian intellectuals even waiting patiently to purchase The Letters of Virginia Woolf published in six volumes; book-by-book over 10 years. He also gifted me his extra copy of The Loving Friends: A Portrait of Bloomsbury by David Gadd.
When the Pilgrimage to Massachusetts reading list (yes – an actual two-page bibliography of primary and secondary sources) included American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever, I thought this title could be the primer I needed (just as The Loving Friends had been) to better understand our American literary giants. As the subtitle describes, American Bloomsbury focuses on the lives, loves, and work of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau.
These profoundly talented people moved among each other, sometimes living together, sharing books, reading what each other wrote, and relishing in deep philosophical discussions. In the introductory “Note to the Reader” Cheever describes her intent to work chronologically but to do so from each of her primary character’s perspectives thus her timeline moves back and forth as she describes overlapping incidents and conveys the stories of their lives life in Concord and the surrounding environs during the 1830s – 1890s.
Their individual accomplishments – Little Women, The Scarlett Letter, Walden, Or Life in the Woods – create for us a tableau of 19th century life; a young country, a growing divide over slavery; and women’s rights still but a wishful glimmer only in some minds. But, taken as a whole, these hearty New Englanders defined a literary, philosophical, religious, and political movement that we call Transcendentalism with its core belief in the inherent goodness of the individual and nature.
I leave early (4:45 am) tomorrow to see their homes and haunts.