"The real voyage of Discovery lies not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes"
Marcel Proust

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Transcendentalist Road

On a recent trip to Boston, my family and I decided that the literary town of Concord was just too close to ignore. One rental car later and we were cruising down Interstate 93 towards the hometown of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa May Alcott. (Is there an ordinance that writers from Concord must be addressed by their full name? Maybe I'll start going by LuAnn Michelle Cadden- Nah.)

As a Midwest driver, I always notice when driving on the east coast that you can't really see what is off the exits. Tree-lined highways hide gas stations, Big Macs, and any signs of habitation. In the Midwest you can see the golden arches rise a mile ahead above the cornfields. It makes me feel somewhat unsettled not knowing if we'll ever see people again. Will we really find a gas station or bathroom when we need it?

A few curly exits later we arrived in mid-19th century New England. The homes were old and well-tended. Friendly stone walls surrounded front yards and although the roads were paved, I felt our horse power was kicking up dust behind us.

Our first stop was Orchard House, http://www.louisamayalcott.org/, the home of Louisa May Alcott, author of dozens of novels, but best-known for Little Women. Although I loved Little Women as a young girl and still now as an adult, I also love to think of "Lou" Alcott feverishly writing her more sensational novels in order to be a female writer among a world of male writers. A Long Fatal Love Chase and Pauline's Passion and Punishment are titles that might make little women blush.  

Alcott's father, Amos Bronson Alcott was a Transcendentalist who spent many evenings in the family parlor talking with fellow transcendentalists and friends Emerson and Thoreau. Transcendentalists believed in self-reliance and a spiritual connection with nature. They believed that education should be a communion of emotion and intellect. In Alcott's words each man and woman should have “an original relation to the universe.”

On our way to the Alcott's we drove past Emerson's home-- he was their closest neighbor and one of their closest friends-- just a short walk down the road.

Henry David Thoreau helped the Alcott family survey the land for their home, invited them out to Walden Pond for day excursions, and taught Louisa to be a young Naturalist.

The road to Walden Pond was not too far, either, nor was the road to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where they were all laid to rest on the same hill.

As we drove the roads I imagined the families strolling along the road, throughout the town, around the pond and meeting each other for stimulating conversations.  I saw Louisa perusing the books in Emerson's library. He was her mentor and told her that the library was her own to use. I saw her admiration in him as they talked of good writing and I saw her determination to pen her first book, Flower Fables, for his daughter, with success to make him proud.

I saw Thoreau inspire Louisa to write her first  book as he took her on walks in the woods and stirred her imagination with stories of fairies. One day in the woods she saw only a spider web, but he taught her to see a "fairy's handkerchief."

Alcott's first book was inspired by Thoreau and written for Emerson. What wonderful links!
Alcott's grave

Emerson's grave
After we finished the peaceful trek through the pine trees around the Walden's Pond (which happily surprised my imaginings), we started our journey back to the speedy modern highways. As we pulled into congested downtown Boston I felt we had returned on a time machine. I felt our road trip had taken us from 1840 to 2012 in approximately 40 minutes.
Alcott (closest) and Thoreau (tallest on far right of picture) share eternity on the same hill-- with Emerson just a few more steps away.

Tree roots blanket Thoreau's grave