Thursday, November 12, 2009

I Want To Go To Concord!

I so wanted to get back to Concord last spring. Or this fall. Or anytime. It's not going to happen this year. Knowing that Mitali Perkins has recently been to both Walden Pond and Orchard House only rubs salt in the wound.

Orchard House is wonderful.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Some Alcott Info You Won't See At Just Any Litblog

When I was at Orchard House last month (Orchard House being the Concord home of the Alcotts, of course), my traveling companion noticed the property survey hanging on a wall. Being someone who is in to surveys, site plans, etc., he noticed the surveyor's signature.

Well, now you can see said survey, too. Click on the plan, scroll down to the bottom, and you'll see that the surveyor was Henry D. Thoreau.

The Concord Free Public Library has a whole array of Thoreau's surveys available on-line.

I'd gotten the impression that he didn't do a whole lot. I've just started rereading Walden (because you just can't be reading too many books at once), and in that first essay I feel (as I did when I first read it, according to my notations) that he doesn't hold working folks in much esteem. Seeing that he really did meaningful work--that could come into play in twenty-first century title searches--may have an impact on my reading of his book.

But is that a good thing? Shouldn't the meaning and significance of his work be right there on the page in front of me regardless of what I know about him?

Ah, a question I struggle with frequently.

Nonetheless, surveyors are cool.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

My Transcendent Day

Well, yesterday I finally went walking around Concord, Massachusetts, presumably in the very spots many transcendentalists walked before me. There is so much transcendentalist stuff to do in Concord! We're going to have to go back.

We left the center of town and walked out to the home of Nathanial Hawthorne. We didn't have time to tour that spot, but will hit it another day because not only did Hawthorne (who, I must admit, I'm not wildly enthusiastic about) live there, but the sign out front says Margaret Sidney, who wrote The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew also put in some time there. On top of that, the place looks old and intriguing.

We did stop next door at Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott lived with her family. I had toured the place once before many years ago, but you can't tour Orchard House too many times. Our tour guide was fantastic, too.

We were meeting someone late in the day, so we had to hustle back to the center of town and drive to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery instead of walking. The cemetery contains an area called Authors Ridge where you can find a number of famous dead writers all in one place. It really is an impressive place, because it's both beautiful and modest.

Though I'm a big Alcott fan, the most thought-provoking spot at Authors Ridge yesterday was Ralph Waldo Emerson's grave, not because of the grave itself but because someone had left him a gift--a fresh rose was lying in front of the headstone. We wandered about a while and noticed another couple visiting the Emerson family plot. When we went back to get a picture, we found that in addition to the rose, there was now a small piece of paper with writing held down with a stone on top of the grave.

What an incredible tribute because the guy has been dead for something like a hundred and twenty-five years.

By the way Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson won this year's Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

So Close And Yet So Far Away

Over the years I have shared with my faithful readers my mild obsession with those wacky Transcendentalists, an obsession which is totally understandable given my various connections with Lousia May Alcott who was up to her neck in all things Transcendental. Since reading Mr. Emerson's Wife last fall, I've been fantasizing about taking a walking tour of Concord, Massachusetts and stopping by the homes of various Transcendental types just as they would have stopped by in their heyday--on foot. Now, I was in Concord a couple of decades ago visiting Orchard House. I have a vague recollection of lots of traffic, so I know the walking thing is probably out of the question. Nonetheless, the fantasy remains.

Well, yesterday I got to Concord. However, I was with a couple of family members who couldn't really see spending a perfectly good Saturday touring the homes of boring old dead guys. So we decided to go biking in Minute Man National Park. However, I had only the vaguest idea what Minute Man National Park was. I did not plan my visit. A family member heard there was a four-mile trail there suitable for bikes. We figured we'd do an hour or so of biking and go out to lunch.

When we arrived, however, we realized something was amiss. As it turns out, April 19th was the day the Battle of Concord was fought (And I used to call myself a history geek! I blush.), and when we got to, maybe, the halfway point on the trail, we were trapped because everything shut down for an hour for a re-enactment.

"This is not my favorite historical period," one of my companions said by way of making conversation. (Yes! We are the kind of people who have favorite historical periods!)

When everything was over, and we were finally on our way biking along Battle Road, I wondered if Henry David Thoreau had walked there before me. (I've never heard anything about him having a bicycle.) Surely, he must have. Yeah, I'm positive my bike's tires touched the same road Thoreau's shoes touched. That is so cool.

It is also the closest I got to the Transcendental world yesterday. Traffic was so bad because of the hundreds of people who were trying to get out of town that I didn't even think to suggest that we try for some kind of Transcendental sighting.

Now, though, my walking tour fantasy has been kicked up a notch. Now I want a Transcendental National Park, one where you can leave your car in a lot and walk along trails from Emerson's house to the Alcott's to Thoreau's mom's and on and on. Transcendentalist houses everywhere. Oh, and there would be tearooms in this park, so you could stop to eat. And bookstores. Maybe in the afternoon there would be a gathering in one of the houses where everyone could talk about deep things.

It kind of makes you tear up, doesn't it?


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Prototypical Geek?

On Monday I finished reading Mr. Emerson's Wife, a historical novel about the rumor (or more) that Henry David Thoreau had a little something going on with Lydia Jackson Emerson, Ralph Waldo's wife. (It offends me to define a woman in terms of her relationship with a man, but there you go.)

Monday night was also geek night on TV. Around nine o'clock, I suddenly realized that Thoreau may very well have been the prototype for today's geeks.

He lived with his mom most of the time.
When he did move out, it was to that cabin on Walden Pond, which sounds like a totally guy-geek place.
He was underemployed.
He had limited experience with members of the opposite sex.
He was handy at fixing things. If they'd had computers back then, you just know he would have been keeping all the other Transcendentalists' laptops up and running.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Vacations And Books

Several times over the years I've had these bizarre experiences in which my reading intersected with my traveling.

For instance, not long before I took off for Ottawa last weekend, I finished reading A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies by Ellen Cooney, which I heartily recommend if you are a long-married lady, gentle or otherwise. In this book, a character mentions the Rideau River. Wouldn't you know it, last Monday I went biking on the Rideau Canal.

Then, I finished reading Beige by Cecil Castellucci before I even got out of the country. The main character lives in Montreal and twice mentioned poutine. Yup, I ate poutine three times last week. My goal was to eat it once each day, so I failed miserably.

I didn't knock off as many books this vacation as I have on others. For one reason, I was reading Mr. Emerson's Wife by Amy Belding Brown. Though I do love them Transcendentalists, it's not a book for whipping through in the car. Get this, though--yesterday we were in Saratoga Springs and who did I read was there before me? Say, a hundred fifty or sixty years before me? Mr. Emerson himself.

I also didn't do as much book reading because while I was still in Canada I was spending time reading The National Post's series on Mordecai Richler. I was talking about his children's book series here just last...okay, it was back in March. But I am very fond of Richler. The National Post did the series on him because Canadian TV was running a new production of St. Urbain's Horseman, which I read a hundred years ago.

Okay, then I went to The Canadian Museum of Civilization. It had this new exhibit, Face to Face: The Canadian Personalities Hall, and who do you suppose was there? Yes, Samuel de Champlain, but also, Mordecai Richler!

Come on!

You know, but in all the reading I did about him last week, I'm still not sure how to pronounce his name.

Anyway, I just love when my reading and traveling come together like that.

Though I've just told you that I didn't do as much reading as usual, above you will see me rudely ignoring everyone around me so I can read while waiting for a train.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Talk About A Change Of Pace

I've been reading a great deal of fantasy the last couple of months, particularly kids' fantasy.And though I've enjoyed a lot of it, I've been looking for a diversion. On Monday while I was at the library, I stumbled upon American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever. The book was on that list of things to read that's buried in my mind because I'd read a review. So I snatched it up.

I've been interested in the Transcendentalists since my college days when I took a course on the history of women in the United States and wrote a paper on Louisa May Alcott. That is not to say I've ever actually understood what Transcendentalism is. Or pursued the interest very rigorously. (I have many interests I don't pursue very rigorously.) But I have been to Orchard House and Fruitlands, which is sort of like pursuing a Transcendental interest. But not very.

Anyway, on the second page of the book Cheever claims that our Louisa was in love with Thoreau and Emerson. (But not at the same time.) Cheever also says that Henry James gave one of Louisa's books a bad review but then "appropriated the adorable, defiant character of Jo a model for his headstrong and independent American woman, Isabel Archer, in Portrait of a Lady."

Wow. I couldn't get through Portrait of a Lady, but, still. Wow.

I've never been so excited on page two of a nonfiction book. I really, really love historical gossip.

And I'm hoping I'll understand Transcendentalism by the time I'm finished. Because everyone should understand that, right?

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