Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Author's Ridge


This last week(end), I visited Boston for the first time. My first official time was this last April when I competed in ballroom at MIT. This time though, I got to see more than the walk from the hotel to the competition site! My travelling companions were Sara Rhodes and Robbie Fraleigh. Our first night, we stayed with the lovely Liz Jackson (of Rice University) in Bedford, MA. This lovely town neighbors Lexington and Concord, all with lovely New England farm house-like homes everywhere, lots of trees, and lots of historical markers. I had read in a guide book that the graves of Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Alcott were in Concord but I had no realized until we drove through the town how close we would be. Then Liz said the cemetery was less than a mile down the road from her house. On our way to get ice cream, we stopped and began the search for Author's Ridge.

It was evening and still. Robbie found a picture of Emerson's grave but that was the only direction we had. It took several minutes of searching along the hilly edges until we found his grave marker: a large uncut stone. A few seconds later, we found Thoreau. Then Hawthorne. Then Alcott. The graves were easier to find once we saw how Emerson's had been treated: people had gathered small stones and piled them around the grave, as well as pine needles and cones, bits of flower and leaves, and lots of small hand written notes and pens. Some of the notes were of gratitude. Some were a little silly. One young girl left a note thanking each of the authors for existing and that she was looking forward to being older someday and reading their books.

I felt I should have brought something, but hadn't.

I think it was because I had never conceived of them as real individuals before. I had read their words and they were part of my life in a real way. Because of the intimacy and distance and reading words can cause between writer and reader, I had not imagined them with bodies and breath and life. Writing came from another place than that. But looking at their graves gave them bodies, ones that had long since become indistinguishable from the ground and pine trees that hung over them.

It made me grateful for them in a way I had not felt before. Alcott was a strong influence in my life in late elementary and middle school. The others came by forced acquaintance. Visiting them opened me to appreciate them as American authors whose shoulders I now stand upon as an American English major. If nothing else, they helped to define American writing as separate from British literature in a time when most believed they had to look and sound like the writing movements across the pond. They lived within the towns that I had passed through; had friends and enemies; cooked and ate food; they had actually lived.

We wandered through the rest of the cemetery and remarked on how old most of the headstones were. There were markers with symbols I did not understand. We came down of Author's Ridge and made our way back to the car. The sun was almost set and the place closed. Liz observed that she had never been here before even though she lives down the street. "Funny how one doesn't do things if they are really close. But I'm glad I came." "Yes," I agreed. "I feel like I'm friends with them now."
This last week(end), I visited Boston for the first time. My first official time was this last April when I competed in ballroom at MIT. This time though, I got to see more than the walk from the hotel to the competition site! My travelling companions were Sara Rhodes and Robbie Fraleigh. Our first night, we stayed with the lovely Liz Jackson (of Rice University) in Bedford, MA. This lovely town neighbors Lexington and Concord, all with lovely New England farm house-like homes everywhere, lots of trees, and lots of historical markers. I had read in a guide book that the graves of Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Alcott were in Concord but I had no realized until we drove through the town how close we would be. Then Liz said the cemetery was less than a mile down the road from her house. On our way to get ice cream, we stopped and began the search for Author's Ridge.

It was evening and still. Robbie found a picture of Emerson's grave but that was the only direction we had. It took several minutes of searching along the hilly edges until we found his grave marker: a large uncut stone. A few seconds later, we found Thoreau. Then Hawthorne. Then Alcott. The graves were easier to find once we saw how Emerson's had been treated: people had gathered small stones and piled them around the grave, as well as pine needles and cones, bits of flower and leaves, and lots of small hand written notes and pens. Some of the notes were of gratitude. Some were a little silly. One young girl left a note thanking each of the authors for existing and that she was looking forward to being older someday and reading their books.

I felt I should have brought something, but hadn't.

I think it was because I had never conceived of them as real individuals before. I had read their words and they were part of my life in a real way. Because of the intimacy and distance and reading words can cause between writer and reader, I had not imagined them with bodies and breath and life. Writing came from another place than that. But looking at their graves gave them bodies, ones that had long since become indistinguishable from the ground and pine trees that hung over them.

It made me grateful for them in a way I had not felt before. Alcott was a strong influence in my life in late elementary and middle school. The others came by forced acquaintance. Visiting them opened me to appreciate them as American authors whose shoulders I now stand upon as an American English major. If nothing else, they helped to define American writing as separate from British literature in a time when most believed they had to look and sound like the writing movements across the pond. They lived within the towns that I had passed through; had friends and enemies; cooked and ate food; they had actually lived.

We wandered through the rest of the cemetery and remarked on how old most of the headstones were. There were markers with symbols I did not understand. We came down of Author's Ridge and made our way back to the car. The sun was almost set and the place closed. Liz observed that she had never been here before even though she lives down the street. "Funny how one doesn't do things if they are really close. But I'm glad I came." "Yes," I agreed. "I feel like I'm friends with them now."


1 comment:

Annie said...

Wow. That's amazing! I love the east coast for that reason - there's so much history there. I would love to move to Providence, RI, or DC and just ramble around historical sites in my free time to my heart's content. There's history in MI, where I'm from, but not like there is out east!