I love traveling alone but the other day I discovered that I don’t need to fly across the Atlantic or be away for a couple of weeks in order to do so. Solo travel can happen for a few hours right in your home town, or the one next door, as it did for me. It was a classic, fall New England day; I packed a sandwich, and drove the ten miles to visit the vibrant, mid-19th century Concord of Alcott, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau.
Emerson was the magnet that attracted writers, philosophers and abolitionists to Concord. His doors were always open to the intelligentsia of the time, with some guests staying for long periods: Elizabeth Stanton was a frequent visitor; Nathanial Hawthorne and his wife rented The Manse from Emerson; Alcott came and went and two of his daughters, Louisa, a writer, and May, an artist, were encouraged by Emerson.
BUT, Henry Thoreau, with his longing for solitude, was the magnet that attracted me to take this solitary fieldtrip--even though there are no Thoreau sites to visit in Concord. I had been to his cabin site at Walden Pond the week before, which was enough for me. Henry, who spent most of his life in his native Concord, was present wherever I went: he had often offered his handyman skills at The Manse where Nathanial and Sophia Hawthorne lived as newlyweds; he must have visited Bronson Alcott and his family at Orchard House; and he had lived off and on at Emerson’s home during his adult life.
My first stop was a detour from my original plan to stick to the mid-19th century transcendental Concord. Tucked away in the corner of the Old North Bridge parking lot is the Robbins House, a two story farmhouse originally occupied by the first generation of free blacks in Concord.
My next destination was Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where the Alcott, Emerson, Hawthorn, and Thoreau families are buried. At the Emerson family burial plot I ate half my sandwich, and wished I had an area map and more time to find Thoreau’s site (I only had time for a three hour fieldtrip).
Next stop on my itinerary was Orchard House, the home of the Alcott family. I sat on a bench outside the house, enjoying the other half of my sandwich and recalling the guided tour I had taken years ago. (Note to self: fieldtrips are not one-time events; take the tour this winter.)
Final stop was The Ralph Waldo Emerson House * (in Emerson’s day called “Bush”). Everyone was there: Emerson writing in this library; his wife, Lidian, atending to their four children; men and women discussing in the parlor; Thoreau writing, as well as popping popcorn for the Emerson children, and fixing things around the property; and Emerson encouraging the Alcott girls, Louisa as a writer, May as an artist. The creative energy was palpable.
As I headed to my car I noticed Emerson’s hat and walking stick by the side door (taking photographs not permitted), waiting for him to pick them up as he did every afternoon. Maybe this day he would take the trail behind his barn and walk the two miles to Walden to see Thoreau. Maybe on my next field trip to Concord, I will take the walk with him—to visit Thoreau, of course.