A Transcendental Day

Yesterday, Hobgoblin, She Knits, Suitcase of Courage, and I had a most wonderful day: we went on a literary pilgrimage up to Walden Pond and Concord to see the place where so many great American writers lived. It’s a trip Hobgoblin and I had wanted to go on for a while, but we often talk about things for a long, long time before we actually get out and do them. I’m very grateful to our friends who provided some impetus to get us out the door and on our way up to Massachusetts.

The fun of the day began even before we got out of Connecticut, though. Since SOC and She Knits live fairly far from us, we decided to meet at a restaurant along the way for breakfast, and there just so happens to be a place called The Traveler Restaurant that is a restaurant and bookshop rolled into one. And — get this — it offers you three free books when you eat there. You can choose your free books from their selection upstairs in the dining room, and then you can head downstairs where there is a regular used bookshop. I was skeptical that I would find anything I wanted in the free book section, but I did come across some things I wanted, including a book by Nella Larson, a Virago I had never heard of before, and a novel by Georges Simenon.

But soon we were on our way for the final leg of the journey up to Concord. Walden Pond was the first stop. I had heard people say not to be surprised to find that Walden Pond is not exactly in the middle of nowhere and wouldn’t have been even in Thoreau’s time — it’s right next to a fairly busy road and only 1 1/2 miles or so from Concord. So I knew not to expect wildness. What I found was an absolutely gorgeous New England lake where people fish and swim and follow the hiking trails that lead around it. It’s not wild, but it’s quintessentially New England in the sense that you can be fairly close to civilization and yet feel yourself surrounded and engulfed by nature. Many of the leaves have fallen off the trees, but enough remain to create some beautiful oranges and browns:

Concord Trip 019

As you can see, we had a gorgeous day for our trip. It was raining when we left home, but on the way, the rain ended and the clouds blew away. The skies were beautiful, and the water was surprisingly clear.

Concord Trip 027

They have built a replica of Thoreau’s cabin where he lived while writing Walden, although it’s not on the original cabin site:

Concord Trip 007

At the site itself, which wasn’t discovered until 1945, the boundary of the cabin is marked with stones, and right next to it is a rock pile where people add their own rock to commemorate their visit.Concord Trip 033

Standing on the very ground Thoreau walked on was an eerie experience — the first of a series of eerie experiences that day. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that such great things happened in the very spot I was standing on.

After visiting the cabin site, we walked the rest of the way around the pond, admiring the view the entire time. Then it was time for lunch, followed by a cemetery. Thoreau, Hawthorne, Emerson, and Louisa May Alcott are all buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in a section called “Author’s Ridge.” Sleepy Hollow cemetery is a wonderful place; it’s gorgeous, with sloping hills and quiet paths. I was surprised to find that Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Alcott are buried all within just a few feet of each other. Emerson is nearby, but it seems he didn’t want to join the crowd. He’s buried under the big rock in the picture below:

Concord Trip 066

Thoreau’s grave is marked with a simple “Henry” and Hawthorne’s grave just says “Hawthorne.”

After the cemetery, it was time to visit the Old Manse, a house built by Emerson’s grandfather where Emerson and Hawthorne both lived at different times, and where they both did some of their most important writing. Concord Trip 081

The tour of the house was amazing. We got to see the room where Hawthorne wrote most of the stories from Mosses from an Old Manse, and where Emerson wrote some of his essays, including the essay “Nature.” The tour guide told us that Emerson got inspiration from looking out the window at the fields and farms surrounding the house and the river that ran behind it, but Hawthorne found the view too distracting, so he built a desk into the wall looking away from the windows in order to concentrate. The desk is still there.

Among the wonderful things in the house are the words various members of the Hawthorne family scratched into the windows, which you can still read. Hawthorne’s wife Sophia did a lot of the scratching with the diamond from her wedding ring, and it was lovely to be able to read a series of messages Nathaniel and Sophia wrote to each other.

And that’s not all — you can stand in the room where Emerson and Hawthorne wrote and look out at the fields where the Revolutionary War began. Just outside the Old Manse is the North Bridge where the first shots of the war were fired, and where there stands the Minute Man statue with the poem about the “shot heard round the world.” After our tour, we spent an hour or so walking around the grounds and imagining what the beginning of the war must have looked like. Here’s the bridge, with the statue at the far end of it:

Concord Trip 102

Here’s a more wide-ranging picture that gives you a sense of how open the landscape is:

Concord Trip 107

After our walk through the area, we started to hit the point where all we wanted was to sit down and rest a while, and when an acceptable dinner hour finally arrived, we gratefully found ourselves a warm, cozy inn with a restaurant, where we discussed books and transcendentalism and ate a great meal.

We did a lot while we were there, but there is SO much more left to see. There is Louisa May Alcott’s house, Emerson’s house, another Thoreau house, as well as the Concord Museum. And there are two bookstores there we wanted to visit yesterday, but which were closed. We will definitely be back!

22 Comments

Filed under Books, Life

22 responses to “A Transcendental Day

  1. Dorothy,

    What a wonderful trip! Thanks for sharing… all the history, literary and national… and what beautiful scenery! One of my dream trips is to visit New England in the fall, and since I can’t make that trip anytime soon, your post has transported me there!

  2. Thank you for a highly enjoyable post about a pilgrimage I have long wished to make. It has increased my determination.

  3. Oh heaven. It sounds like a dream day, starting with that breakfast place – could I just move in?

  4. It looks absolutely gorgeous – a writer’s paradise!

  5. Sounds like you all had a great day! I wish I could visit this place one day too

  6. What a great day you had! Thanks for the photos too. I have been longing to visit Concord ever since I read Walden Pond in high school and the desire has heightend even more since I fell in love with Emerson. I am taking note that I should expect to spend two days there exploring!

  7. What a great day. And I just love the idea of that restaurant.

  8. verbivore

    I’m with Lilian about the restaurant. Every town needs a restaurang with free books – imagine all that wonderful reading and sharing! And what lovely photos you’ve posted, it sounds like a wonderful day.

  9. Even though I strongly dislike Thoreau and Emerson, you still manage to make this little pilgrimage sound so appealing that I want to replicate it. :-) It looks like you had such a beautiful day to be in a lovely, historical place.

  10. Oh, I’m very jealous of this day! I want to do this day…it seems so totally lovely.

  11. zhiv

    Nice work! Great photos, great effort, fine and concise description. I’m a big fan of the blogpost literary pilgrimage, and you do it beautifully, and I hope there are many more to come. You’re in a great spot for it–what a great daytrip.

  12. I’ve wondered what Walden Pond looks like, now I know – it is just so beautiful. What a wonderful place to visit. What a wonderful place to live and write! I wish I could go there, so thanks for posting this – it’s the next best thing.

  13. It was a truly amazing day…SOC and I are still absorbing all that we saw and experienced. From other comments here, it makes me appreciate how fortunate we are to live in driving distance of so much literary history, and to try not to take that for granted.

    One day, though, I must go to England and visit the homes of Wordsworth and Tennyson, if that’s possible. Tennyson is kind of my Thoreau.

  14. Thanks for sharing the pictures! This is one place that I’d really love to visit and hope to one of these days. Your photos are so evocative…easy to image the Concord Clan in these settings.

  15. Thanks for sharing your photos–it sounds like you had a lovely day. I’ve read so little of these authors, seeing your photos and reading about what you saw (of course) makes me want to dig out some books. I have never seen photos of Walden Pond and had no idea that Emerson and Hawthorne lived in the same house. Thoreau’s cabin was quite small, wasn’t it. But with such a view, who would need more? And that restaurant with the free books with a meal sounds like fun, too!

  16. That Traveler’s Restaurant is so much fun, isn’t it? I just love the way the sign from the highway proclaims “Food and Books.” I drove by Walden every time I went from CT up to my old company, about once a month, but only ever stopped one time, when Bob was with me (just before we moved). I need to go back to Concord myself, because all we did was go to Walden and then have dinner at a lovely inn/tavern in the center of town. We fell in love with it.

  17. Arti — New England in the fall is really wonderful. I hope you make it out here some day! I’m very fortunate to be able to live in a place that has so much history and so many interesting places to explore.

    Anthony — I hope you get to make the pilgrimage some day!

    Charlotte — it really was a dream day. I’m certain to make it back to that restaurant at some point — it’s too good not to return!

    Litlove — really it is. There’s so much amazing energy and creativity there. It’s wonderful.

    Smithereens — I hope you can visit there someday! It’s a bit of a long haul for you at this point, though :)

    Stefanie — I was thinking about you and all your Emerson reading as we were there. It’s definitely the perfect literary vacation for you, and two days are a must. And then there is Salem, and of course Boston, all right there. Really a least a week is in order :)

    Lilian — I know — what could be better than food and books, all in one place?

    Verbivore — it’s great, isn’t it? I wonder how they go about getting and organizing their books. I also wonder how many people who stop by actually take up their offer of free books. We were the only ones there actually browsing the shelves.

    Emily — well, it’s an important place that any bookish person would enjoy, even if they don’t particularly like the writers :) Lots of historical and literary interest happened, and it’s fascinating to think about how much that one place affected our literary history.

    Courtney — oh, you should! And it’s not too terribly far from you!

    Zhiv — thank you! I’m so grateful to my friends for giving us the motivation to get out. I think it won’t be long before the four of us do something similar again. We haven’t been to the Mark Twain and Stowe houses in Hartford, and those are a must.

    Bardiac — agreed! :)

    Booksplease — Walden Pond really was beautiful, and I hope to go there again in a different season to see what it looks like then. Summer would be great too, and then perhaps we could go swimming!

    Debby — I know what you mean; I’m still thinking about the trip too, and I’d love to do some related reading, like what SOC is doing. I really want to see where Wordsworth lived — I so agree with you there! I didn’t know you were a Tennyson fan; that’s great, and I hope you get to see both of their landscapes and literary landmarks.

    Jenclair — I hope you get to make the trip! It really is easy to see how this beautiful landscape could inspire people to write so well.

    Danielle — I wasn’t clear on the fact that Hawthorne and Emerson lived in the same place either. They were there at different times, but it’s great to think of them inhabiting the same space. I’d love to read more of these authors too. Like you, I tend to turn to British writers before American ones, but it would be great to know more of the literary history of the place where I’m living.

    Emily — I know, isn’t that sign great? I think the inn/tavern you mention is the same place we ate. It really was lovely and was just the thing to finish the day with. I hope you make it back to Concord! It’s SO worth a trip.

  18. That looks so nice, how wonderful it must be to have a partner who wants to go on bookish trips as well. You do seem to have the best book days out.

  19. Cam

    Sounds like a wonderful day. I’d love to own a restaurant/bookshop. I think it would be great to serve people food for their bodies and food for their brains.

  20. > you can be fairly close to civilization and yet feel yourself surrounded and engulfed by nature

    That’s a wonderful description and I like the fact that despite the encroachment of the 21st century, you still have the sense of looking out on what Thoreau might have seen.

    I had no idea that so many American greats were buried in the same cemetary.

    Sounds like a memorable day and experience. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and photos.

  21. Jodie — we do have fun! It’s great that Hobgoblin and I enjoy the same things, and that we have friends who do as well.

    Cam — I know, wouldn’t that be fun? I’d prefer to be in charge of the book part, not the restaurant part, though :)

    JaneGS — I don’t know how much building has gone on in the area since Thoreau’s time, but even when he lived there, town wasn’t very far away, so he wasn’t really isolated. And yeah — what a cemetery, right?

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