Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Transcending the Day

Concord, MA is one of my favorite destinations. It is a beautiful town that "reflects and respects its past," a past that towers over that of other towns in the area, even though they, too, have a past worth bragging about. I love it for its architectural beauty, its natural beauty, its philosophical and literary beauty, its historical beauty. Each time I go there, I am inspired. Today, I woke up hungry and decided to make my way to Concord. Five hours later, I arrived back home entirely satiated.

My first stop was at the Concord Museum for an exhibit celebrating the 375th anniversary of Concord's founding.
Housed behind its walls, you can see one of the lanterns that hung as a signal (One if by land, two if by sea) from Paul Revere that let his compatriot know how the British were coming; an extensive collection of artifacts that once belonged to Henry David Thoreau, including the flute that both he and his father played; and the study of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The brochure describes Concord this way: "From the 'shot heard round the world' to the writers of the American literary renaissance, things have happened here, words have been spoken here and books have been written here which changed the face of a nation. Over time, Concord has become a symbol of liberty and intellectual freedom."

From there, I made my way to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, originally a woodsy area meant as a place for peaceful walks and talks (a Transcendental thing). Ralph Waldo Emerson described it as a place where the muses could be found and where whispers were to be heard in the breezes. He felt that it should be a place where people could go for contemplation and leisure. That part hasn't changed any. Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott (left), Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Sidney (who wrote "The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew"), Emerson and their families are all buried here on "Author's Ridge." Daniel Chester French, the great sculptor who created the Lincoln Memorial and the Minuteman statue, is also buried here. And I did, in fact, meet several people who were there listening to the whispers on the breezes =)

Then it was on to the Buttrick Mansion, a lovely old colonial home built on a bluff that overlooks the Concord River and the Old North Bridge. While I was there, two youngsters completed their requirements to be Junior Rangers and were applauded and introduced to the visiters who happened to be nearby. I'm not sure all they had to do to accomplish this, but it appeared to be a big deal, both to them and the ranger who signed the completion certificate.

Next up was Orchard House, home to the Alcott family for 20 years (they had moved 22 times in the previous 20 years!). I've been to this house many times before, but I always see and learn new things. That's one of its appeals for me. This time they had Anna's (Meg in Little Women) wedding dress on display. I soooo wanted to get a picture of it, but of course no pictures were allowed inside. It's quite beautiful...and exactly the way Louisa describes it in Little Women--a lovely grey silk. I'm always charmed as well as inspired to spend time in this house. Today it was especially meaningful to me, having recently read the delightful The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott and currently reading the 2008 Pulitzer Prize winning double biography Eden's Outcasts. In talking with the excellent docent, I learned that this summer's "Conversational Series" will feature a lecture by the author of this book. You can be sure that I signed up to be there to hear him! BTW, LMA's 1/2 moon desk where she wrote her famous book is situated between these two windows in her bedroom. That's Queen Anne's Lace dried, preserved, and hung in the panes--something I still want to try for myself.

As always, I had to pick up a few things from the gift shop. Today's treasure: a card with a 1845 LMA quote on it: "I had an early run in the woods before the dew was off the grass. The moss was like velvet, and as I ran under the arches of yellow and red leaves I sang for joy, my heart was so bright and the world so beautiful. I stopped at the end of the walk and saw the sunshine out over the wide "Virginia meadows." It seemed like going through a dark life or grave into heaven beyond. A very strange and solemn feeling came over me as I stood there, with no sound but the rustle of the pines, no one near me, and the sun so glorious, as for me alone. It seemed as if I felt God as I never did before, and I prayed in my heart that I might keep that happy sense of nearness all my life."

It was, indeed, a collection of revelations that transcended my expectations for the day. Coming on the heals of a lengthy job interview, this was the perfect antidote for the stress of trying to decide what to do next. As the day progressed, I felt more and more that I could, in the words of Thoreau, "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined."

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