Thursday, August 21, 2014

Literary Adventures

The main reason Barley, Soth, and I visited Massachusetts is because I have loved Emily Dickinson since I was in high school. I distinctly remember reading her in my 11th grade AP American Literature class and I fell in love at once. Maybe it had something to do with how easy it was for a teenager to relate to "Heart, we will forget him!" or maybe it was the fact that my English teacher, who was known for her toughness and fondness for her red pen, showed vulnerability when she told us that we needed to read "I heard a Fly--buzz when I died--" to prepare for the AP exam, but that she hadn't been able to teach it since her husband died. Whatever the reason, I fell in love with Dickinson that year.

When I got to college, I had already earned all of the English credit I needed through the dual enrollment program at my high school--and I was not planning to be an English major since I wanted to go into sports journalism, but I needed another class and my advisor introduced me to the American literature professor in the office next to hers. We hit it off immediately and I signed up for her Intro to American Lit class my first semester. It turns out that she was a Dickinson scholar and we spent several classes reading Dickinson. I loved my professor, so I ended up taking every class I could with her (a total of 6) and somehow Dickinson found her way into every class, regardless of the topic (and somehow this also happens in my own classes today!).

In the bitter cold months of this past winter, I realized Amherst was only a little over 8 hours away from my house (4+ hours closer than my parents are!). It seemed crazy that I'd been so close and yet never gone to visit Amherst, so I did some research on hiking in the area and some searching on VRBO.com for pet friendly rentals and booked a trip. So even though Barley and Soth came along, this trip was really my pilgrimage to Amherst.

I was so worried that something would go amiss with the visit that I made sure that was the first activity scheduled for our first full day in Massachusetts. The Dickinson Museum website said tickets for tours were sold on a first-come, first-serve basis and couldn't be pre-ordered and I was terrified I wouldn't get there in time for tickets, so I woke up early so I could get a decent walk with Barley in the morning and then be at the museum right after it opened. I guess not everyone loves Dickinson like I do because I was the ONLY one on my tour! It was great! I got to browse all of the artifacts in the house without worrying about blocking someone else's view and the tour guide and I got to chat about things that weren't necessarily part of the official tour. I did the dual tour that also took you through her brother and sister-in-law's house next door.

A selfie under Emily's bedroom window 
The Evergreens, home of Sue and Austin Dickinson
It was like a spiritual experience--standing in her bedroom and seeing where she sat when wrote the poems cherish reminded me of the feeling I had when I visited the Vatican in college. As I walked the path between her house and her brother's house, I could imagine walking with her newfie Carlo. I wandered through her flower beds and saw the types of flowers she wrote about in her poetry. I even visited her grave a few blocks away from her house. Really, this was the trip of a lifetime. It might not have been glamorous like a trip to Paris, but it was the only trip I've ever really wanted to take and I hope to take it many more times in my life. There were so many things that I didn't get to see in Amherst, mostly because I wanted to do as much as possible, which meant picking and choosing the most important things.

Lots of gifts had been left for Emily.

A mural in West Cemetery included Emily and her sister Lavinia (and one of Vinnie's cats!)
One of the other most important literary women in my life has been Louisa May Alcott. I knew she was from Massachusetts and shortly before leaving for the trip I learned her house was a little under 2 hours from our cottage. I vowed that if at all possible I'd visit her house, too. I didn't want to leave Barley alone for two full days, so I decided I wouldn't rush to get on the first tour of her house. Instead, I woke up early and took Barley to two different parks in the morning (you can read the recap here). Since it was rainy and chilly, I didn't feel too guilty about leaving her the rest of the day and I set off for Concord.

Lousia May's house was the complete opposite of visiting Emily's house. I grew up reading Little Women and I was partially named after Beth (even though Jo is my favorite March sister). Visiting Orchard House was magical rather than spiritual. It was like getting to live inside my favorite story for a short time. Seeing the drawings on the walls of May Alcott's (also known as Amy March) room and seeing the desk where Little Women was written and the "stage" where the sisters would put on their shows and the boots that Louisa wore when she played Rodrigo was one of the most fun experiences I've ever had. One of my favorite parts was when our tour guide told us that Emerson attended Anna Alcott's wedding at Orchard House and gave her a congratulatory kiss on the cheek, which made Louisa jealous and she wrote in her journal that it might almost be worth getting married to get a kiss from Mr. Emerson. Louisa also had a mood pillow on the couch and the position of this little pillow let her family know if she was in a good mood or if it was best to avoid her. I might need to invest in one of these when I am visiting with my family! The only way this trip could have been better is if my mom had been with me because she loves Little Women as much (if not more than) as I do. It felt a little wrong visiting without her--but the gift shop helped me get her Christmas present all set way early!


Concord was a literary haven, so there were lots of places to visit. Unfortunately, I had to pick and choose again since I had gotten a later start in the day. I had enough time for one more house tour and had to choose between Emerson's house and Old Manse. Since Emerson and Hawthorne had lived at Old Manse for a while, it won out. I got on the last tour of the day and absolutely loved it. Hawthorne and Emerson are not my favorite writers, but I do enjoy teaching some of their works, so it was interesting to see where they had lived. Hawthorne had rented the house from Emerson's relatives and he and his wife had etched notes into some of the window panes with her diamond ring. That was really cool to see. I also got to see Emerson's portable desk that he moved around the property to get inspiration when he was writing Nature.



One of the funniest stories was about a stuffed owl that (I think) Thoreau gave to Hawthorne who named it Longfellow, even though it was actually a female owl. Hawthorne's wife HATED the owl and would move it and hide it when Hawthorne wasn't looking. When he found it, he'd put it in another place and see how long it took her to find it again!

A short walk from Old Manse is the North Bridge (which I need to learn more about--I got brief information on it from the two tours, so I know it has something to do with the Revolutionary War and possibly Paul Revere) where the Minute Man sculpture by David Chester French is. I was excited to get to see this because on the Orchard House tour, I learned that French had started sculpting with potatoes, but his parents weren't happy that they were losing their dinner, so they sent him to study with May Alcott who gave him his first set of sculpting tools--and later he carved this statue. Even cooler, though, is that he is also the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial and he began the sculpture with the set of tools May had given him as an homage to his first art teacher.



My last brief literary adventure was a drive-by of Melville's home, Arrowhead, in Pittsfield. I really wanted to do a tour of this house, too, but I wanted to make sure Barley had an awesome trip, too, so our final full day was dedicated to hiking (which was a literary adventure of sorts, too, and you can read about it in tomorrow's Fit Dog Friday post) and I just didn't get her back to the cottage in time to make it back there for a tour, so I settled for just driving by on our way home from a hike.

Massachusetts is really an English nerd's dream come true. I barely made a dent in the list of literary adventures to be had here, so I really hope that I can come back again and continue to explore all of these literary treasures. There are still so many places I want to visit: Walden Pond, Emerson's house, Mount Greylock--just to name a few.

This trip was a great balance of doing things for me and doing things for Barley. I feel sort of bad for poor Soth who didn't get to have any real adventures--not even a brief sit on the porch to watch birds--but it was chilly outside (50s in August, really?!) and I didn't want him to catch a cold, so he had to make the most of the floor-to-ceiling windows and I don't think he minded too much.


14 comments:

  1. Hi Y'all!

    What a neat trip. My Human would have loved it.

    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

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    1. It was a great trip! Barley and I both loved it--there's lots to do for those with 2 legs and 4 legs, so we highly recommend it as a vacation spot for anyone!

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  2. Sounds like you had an awesome time! Glad you were able to visit the homes of people that you admire so much!

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    1. It was incredible! There were still so many places I didn't get to see, so I'll definitely be going back some day.

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  3. What an awesome trip! I'm jealous. I still regret not going to the Laura Ingalls Wilder house when I had the chance(ish).

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    1. Oh, I would love to go to the Laura Ingalls Wilder house! I bet that tour is awesome. I hope you have another chance to visit some day!

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  4. What a wonderful trip! I didn't even know Melville's home was in Pittsfield...I definitely want to go there on one of trips down there (right now everything revolves around the young grandchildren...but when they get older...). I majored in English in college but history was more interesting to me...these kinds of places really involve both though, don't they?
    Poor Soth....I know, our New England summer hasn't been much to speak of this year!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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    1. I didn't realize it was there when I was planning the trip, either, and then stumbled upon the website after I was already in MA. Edith Wharton's house isn't too far away, either (and I think I caught a glimpse of it), but I haven't actually read anything of hers (although a few are on the shelf), so it wasn't at the top of my list this trip. English and History are so closely linked! In high school, my US Lit Class and my US History class were taught my the same teacher, back to back, so we could move between them fluidly. Old Manse was especially good at linking both since it was right next to the North Bridge and (great?) Grandpa Emerson went out to intervene in a skirmish with the British in the revolution--it definitely made me want to learn more about the history of the area! (I should have planned this trip at the beginning of the summer when I still had time to read for fun.) There were so many wonderful places in that area that I didn't get to visit (like the Norman Rockwell museum!) that I will have to go back. If you have granddaughters, I highly recommend a road trip to Concord and Lousia May Alcott's house when they are old enough for Little Women! It was magical. And Soth still seemed to enjoy his trip--there were plenty of birds to watch from the windows, so he still got some enjoyment out of it!

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  5. It sounds like you had a wonderful trip. I would love that kind of trip. Old houses and cemeteries...that is where you will usually find me on a vacation. :) Thanks so much for sharing it on the hop.

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    1. I think I surprised my mom when I told her I had planned this trip--when I was a teenager, I used to rebel any time she wanted to stop at a "brown sign" on road trips. One of my least proud moments was when I refused to get out of the car at Lincoln's birth place--so she was surprised that I had planned my entire vacation around historical sights! Orchard House was great for anyone who loves old houses--Louisa May's dad did all of the renovations to the house, so there were all kinds of quirks in the house that I loved!

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  6. What a fabulous trip! I can't believe you were on the Emily D. tour alone! And, yeah, I need one of those mood pillows too!! I love New England, and as a book nerd, I'd love to visit all those places!

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    1. I couldn't believe I was on the tour alone, either! But the Emily Dickinson convention or something like that had just been there the week before--my old professor and I missed each other by 3 days!--so maybe all of the Emily nerds had already visited. I won't complain, though! It was a great tour. They sold the mood pillows in the gift shop, but I figured my basic sewing skills were probably enough for me to pick out a fabric that spoke to me and make my own :) I hope you get to visit their homes one day--it was a dream come true!

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  7. Can't say I blame her for hating the owl :-) So glad you had a good trip!!

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    1. I knew you'd like that part! I hope you got your postcard!

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