After spending a great weekend with Julie, I left Boston on Monday morning and drove a short ways to Lexington, a leafy suburb filled with
beautiful houses, many dating back to the 1800s and even 1700s. Not surprisingly, one of my favorite TV shows, the PBS series "This
Old House," got its start in this area.
Lexington was also where the American Revolution got its start. It was here on April 19, 1775, that the first shot was fired – the
so-called "Shot heard around the world" – between the British Army and American patriot minutemen, sparking what would become a bloody
six-year war. That first skirmish happened here in Lexington while the British Army was marching to nearby Concord in search of weapons the
patriots had stockpiled there. Personally, though, I think the British were looking for Krispy Kreme donuts.
Above left: Two of my oldest and best friends: Julie and my Toyota truck. They both still run great. .
Above center: After saying goodbye to Julie, I headed out to Lexington where the first skirmish
of the American Revolution was fought here on Lexington Green. To this day, no one knows which side fired first.
Above right: Friendly costumed interpreters at a Minuteman National Park site near Lexington.
Beware of Lonely Rangers
I spent an hour in Lexington getting a personal tour of the Lexington Green, where the skirmish was fought, from a pretty tour guide,
then I hopped in my truck and continued driving west along "Battle Road." If you ever visit this area, be sure to stop at the Minuteman
National Park Visitor Center outside of Lexington, where they present a terrific 20-minute film depicting the battles of Lexington and
Concord. I don't often get goose bumps while watching a movie (other than the last scene in "Titanic") but I did after watching
this presentation. Judging from the silence at the end of the film, I think everyone else in the theatre did, too.
Above: Concord, Massachusetts during the 1800s was a literary haven for Nathaniel Hawthorne,
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott and others. This is "The Wayside," owned by the Alcotts.
Later, it became the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne and today it's a National Park Historic Site – though a lonely one.
Concord, Massachusetts, a few miles west of Lexington, was the cradle of the Revolutionary War in the 1700s and the cradle of American literature in the
1800s. Today, it's a cradle of gawking tourists. And of course, it's also the birthplace of the famous Concord Jam.
Before getting to Concord, as you fight your way through the Concord (traffic) jam, you pass two interesting old houses on the north side of the two-lane
highway. One was owned by the author Nathaniel Hawthorne in the 1800s and the other, a short distance away, was owned by Louisa May Alcott's family.
Louisa, of course, was the author of "Little Women."
The Alcott house, though privately-owned, is open to tours. The Hawthorne house is also open to tours but is owned by my favorite federal agency, the
National Park Service. The NPS has turned the Hawthorne house into a National Historic Site and has converted Nathaniel's old barn into a nice,
air-conditioned Visitor Center.
Above: Next door is "Orchard House." The Alcott family moved here after
selling "The Wayside" to Hawthorne. Louisa May Alcott wrote "Little Women" in her room on the second floor,
center. She based the book, however, on her childhood experiences in The Wayside.
I had visited Concord once before briefly, back in June 1995 during one of my drives around America. I made the mistake during that visit of walking
into the Hawthorne house Visitor Center, where I was immediately pounced on by three very lonely National Park rangers. This was before the main
tourist season and I could tell these rangers were desperate to tell someone, anyone, all about Nathaniel Hawthorne.
One of the park rangers asked me if I'd like a tour of the house and, since she was kind of cute and because I felt sorry for her, I reluctantly said yes.
She took me into the 100-seat amphitheatre and proceeded to give me a very well-rehearsed speech on the entire life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. She had obviously
written and prepared the speech for a large audience (silly her), so I felt a little foolish sitting alone in the front row of the auditorium with this ranger
standing only three feet from me waving her arms, talking glowingly of Nathaniel, and making eye contact with the numerous rows of empty benches behind me.
I've watched several movie versions of "Little Women" but my favorite was from 1994.
This is the theme song of that film, called Orchard House.
After her exuberant presentation in the Visitor Center, we got up to walk over to the house when another ranger peered out the window of the Visitor Center and
excitedly announced, "Here come two more visitors!" All I could think of was: "Suckers." The three of us spent the next hour
politely strolling through Nathaniel's house with the cute ranger, learning more about Hawthorne than any of us ever cared to. Sure, I thought Hawthorne
was a talented writer, but I didn't want to spend two hours inspecting his bathroom.
Anyway, I briefly stopped at the Hawthorne house on this trip, six years later, and walked into the Visitor Center. I noticed that the large amphitheatre
was no longer there, which didn't surprise me. But with memories of that 1995 visit dancing in my head, I politely declined a ranger-led tour of the house.
Above left: Here are a couple of Little Women. On the left, that's Louisa May Alcott, who I thought bore a striking
resemblance to Monica Lewinsky. That's Louisa's sister, Anna, on the right.
Above right: Just down the road from the Alcott house is the North Bridge in Concord, where the first real battle of the American
Revolution took place. A few hours after the skirmish at Lexington in April 1775, the British advanced over the bridge from the right but they were turned
back by the patriot Minutemen.
Above left: Minuteman statue at the North Bridge.
Above right: After driving the Redcoats out of Concord, the Minutemen hid behind rock fences and fired on the retreating
Redcoats as they fled on "Battle Road" all the way back to Boston. Many Redcoats were killed on this, the first day of the Revolutionary War.
The war would end six years later in Yorktown, Virginia (see News: July 18, 2001 for pictures of my visit to Yorktown).
"Walden, or Life in the Woods"
After making brief visits to the Hawthorne and Alcott houses, I drove into Concord in the early afternoon and visited the North Bridge, which the British Army
had crossed as they advanced into Concord on that first day of the Revolutionary War in search of patriot munitions. I soon beat a retreat, though, just as
the British had done 226 years earlier, because the weather – something similar to that day in April 1775 – was hot and sticky, reaching 98 degrees. Even the
bronze statues here were starting to wilt.
Above: Thoreau was a quiet man who sought solace in nature, emphasized simplicity in life,
and strongly believed in moral principles. Sounds good to me.
Though I'd visited Concord before, I'd never been to Walden Pond so I decided to check it out. Walden Pond, of course, was where Henry David
Thoreau (whose real name, curiously, was David Henry Thoreau) decided to take a break from civilization for a couple of years and write a flowery book
that no one can understand. But seriously, Thoreau was an interesting guy and he moved onto a small, wooded lot here in 1845, built a cabin, and
lived simply and alone amidst nature for two years. Not having Walden's intellect, I can't understand everything in his book, which he called
"Walden, or Life in the Woods," but his life plan sounded pretty appealing to me.
Today, Walden Pond is a park and a very popular one at that. I think Thoreau would have gagged at the $5 entrance fee, but I paid it
and parked in the huge, crowded lot, which was filled with cooler-toting beachgoers. There were, oh, about a gazillion people at the Walden
Pond beach on this muggy afternoon, which I quickly bypassed on my way to Thoreau's cabin site, a mile away on the quiet side of the pond.
I was both surprised and disappointed that hardly anyone else was at the site, but I figured the quiet and solitude that I found there was just as
Thoreau would've wanted it. I enjoyed visiting the cabin site and thinking about Thoreau's experience, but was discouraged, once again,
after I passed the mob scene at the beach on my way back to the parking lot.
Near the parking lot, I spotted a replica of Thoreau's cabin and had a very pleasant and uplifting conversation there with a local Thoreau
enthusiast named Brad Parker. Brad told me, among other things, that Thoreau really wasn't the recluse that some have claimed. For
instance, during Thoreau's two-year stay at Walden Pond, he visited nearby Concord quite often.
After talking to Brad for an hour and learning more about Thoreau, I felt a strong kinship with him – Thoreau, that is, not Brad. I was
so inspired by my discussion with this devoted Thoreau fan that I walked back to the crowded beach and dipped my hand into the water since, as Brad had
told me, "You can't come to Walden Pond without touching the water." He was right – the water here did feel different. But maybe
it was the residue from a thousand unwashed bodies.
After visiting Walden Pond, I decided to camp that night at a state park on the coast near Salisbury, Massachusetts. Unfortunately though, this
being the middle of summer and Salisbury being on a beautiful beach and only an hour from Boston, the huge campground there was filled to the brim, so I
turned my truck around and headed to a place called Harold Parker State Park. I had camped here once before, during my 1995 trip. With its
$12 campsites, I figured this park was probably the only lodging available in the Boston area that night for less than a hundred bucks. I think
Thoreau, with his lifelong devotion to simplicity, would've smiled.
Above left: Walden Pond, near Concord, where Henry David Thoreau
decided to take a two-year sabbatical from life. Hey, that sounds like a great idea. Maybe I'll do that!
Above center: Beach scene at Walden Pond. It's not quite the way that Thoreau remembered it, I'm sure.
Above right: A drawing of Thoreau's cabin, which was located on the "quieter" side of Walden Pond and away from today's beach crowds.
Above left: Thoreau's original cabin no longer stands, but a replica was built near the parking lot.
Above right: The replica cabin is furnished much the same way Thoreau had furnished his, with a simple table, stove, and bed.
Above left: Brad Parker, a local Thoreau enthusiast, spent an hour at the cabin telling me stories about Thoreau. The
more I learned about Thoreau, the more I realized how similar were our personalities. Thoreau died at age 44 of tuberculosis and is buried in
Concord. I greatly enjoyed my visit to Walden Pond, thanks mostly to Brad.
Above center: Surreal image in my rear-view mirror while leaving Walden Pond at rush hour.