Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Concord: A Transcendental Colonial Style

The Old North Bridge near Concord looking from the Continental side toward the British side.

Note: This is part two of a three part travelogue on our recent vacation to the Boston area.

We got up about 6am the next morning in order to negotiate Boston’s subway system over to the separate commuter rail network and out to Concord by 9am. We caught an egg muffin from Dunkin Donuts, wirelessly checking emails at the central commuter rail station feeding trains in and out of townships many miles outside Boston.

A 6 or 7 block walk from the Concord rail station got us to the North Bridge Inn, our bed and breakfast for the night. We stowed our modest luggage and headed out for Walden Pond. The sky was completely overcast. Along the way we saw something I never thought I’d see in Concord. The remains of a summer cotton field.

At Walden Pond we entered the visitor’s center just to warm our faces a bit. It was cool and breezy outside, without sun. It chilled you while walking the mile or so out to the pond. I mentioned to Jennifer how I was struck by the fact that the pond was not someplace far out in the wilderness. In truth, Henry David Thoreau’s modest, self-built cabin (see pic of replica at Walden Pond on left) is only about a 30 minute hike from downtown Concord. He could have (and probably did) walk home for supper anytime he chose and could then walk in the twilight through the woods back to the cabin. Thoreau, in fact, writes about the stirrings of things in the woods around dust and early evening quite a lot in his Walden.

Here is much of the inspiration of my youth. The fall color was beautiful in places, reflected on the mirror-like stillness of the pond under gray skies. I considered how this place indirectly affected my life, having read Walden and Civil Disobedience in high school and several times since, most recently last winter. The insights and appreciations gained in Thoreau’s year-long experiment of living at Walden Pond are very much my own, living in nature surrounded by farms growing up, transferred to my Being so vividly in through the written word based on an intimacy earned.

My love for nature has always been with me and my exposure to the writings of Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson (a fellow resident of Concord) accentuated this inherent admiration, giving it a voice within me that might have otherwise never been so articulated. The legacy of transcendentalism.

We bought long-sleeved t-shirts sold by the Thoreau Society at the visitor’s center.

The forecast was for rain the next day. So we had to forego a brief walk around one side of the pond to where the cabin was thought to have been. No one knows the exact location where Thoreau built it. I find that interesting because it means that the cabin vanished during a time when people took the structure for granted. It was a mediocre thing rotting in the woods in the years following Thoreau’s death. Otherwise, we’d know exactly where he placed it. The four cornerstones approximating the position of the shrine were placed after the alter had long since vanished.

Originally, Concord was going to be a two-day affair with Walden Pond and
Emerson’s home on the first afternoon. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and the North Bridge were supposed to be the next morning. But, the impending rain meant the next morning’s activities would be wet and cold. Future hikes supplanted the Now in the name of efficiency. We did not linger.

Back in Concord we enjoyed our lunch at the
Walden Grille, a local diner and bar. Another sampling of chowder proved to be excellent, though not as good as that offered by the oyster bar the previous day. Then we settled into our room - a spacious bedroom, living room, bath, and small kitchen (which we didn’t use except for making coffee the next morning). I rested on the bed and almost napped but got myself together enough to get Jennifer and me out the door toward the North Bridge.

The hike was but a half mile or so. A bit further since we crossed the bridge to where
the first Continental militia formed and executed “the shot heard round the world” (see pic of marker at site set in 1836 on right). We admired the wonderful individual trees surrounding the visitor’s center, which we visited. Our attempts to capture the vivid color on the dull afternoon with my old Nikon digital just frustrated us. It was gorgeous out in spite of the sunless day.

On the way to the
North Bridge we took pics of the Old Manse House. A place where Emerson had lived for a time. Magnificent maples turned bright yellow with half their leaves completely covering the green lawn like a sunburst at the base of the trees themselves.

I took a pic of where the first British soldiers were buried in the American Revolution. Three bodies killed by a couple of volleys from the local militia.
The revolt against the King started right here in Concord.

Next we hiked over to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which was very near our bed and breakfast. Using a local cemetery map, a ten minute walk directly through the hilly, colorful wooded section of the huge cemetery took us up to Author’s Ridge.

There we found Emerson,
Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Thoreau all marked and buried. Another photo opp.

Ralph Waldo Emerson's headstone at Sleepy Hollow.

Thoreau's simple marker on Author's Ridge. Visitor's have offered fruit, small stones, and pine cones to the grave.

We did not remain there for long. The day’s breeze was making us colder now. So we headed back to the town. I took a short hike to photograph Emerson’s house while Jennifer did some window shopping. We then visited a cheese shop together and enjoyed organic fruit drinks. My pressed apples were tasty.

The evening meal was simple. Especially by the standards of The Lenox. Two plentiful salads, mine with cranberries and walnuts, and splitting a large chicken pot pie. Jennifer had wine while all I wanted was water and more apple juice. We were too full for key lime pie.

Concord is a special place. I compare it with other places I’ve been where I felt I could happily live. New Market, Virginia. Lake Crescent, Washington. Around Denali, Alaska. The people there appreciate what they have and they possess no desire to allow “progress” to touch it except in terms of creature comforts. Otherwise the space is a sacred pleasant permutation of what it has always been for generations. A bastion of freedom and progressive thought preserved in a distinctly colonial style.