Thursday, July 3. Lexington and Concord. We troop up to Lexington to retrace the fateful eighteen-mile march made by the Red Coats to seize hidden munitions in Concord. The bucolic five-mile long historic battle trail lined with granite fieldstones commemorates one memorable April day in American history beautifully. If the biting flies were not so bloodthirsty it would be a perfect place to walk, ride bicycles, or paddle a canoe. But today we opt to drive from site to site, stopping at the Hartwell Tavern for an instructive demonstration in how to fire a minuteman smoothbore musket.
- Half cock your firelock
- Handle your cartridge
- Shut your pan
- Charge with cartridge
- Draw rammer
- Ram down cartridges
- Return rammers
- Shoulder firelock
- Poise firelock
- Cock your lock
The interpreter explains the origin and meaning of the phrases ‘flash in the pan’ and ‘lock, stock, and barrel.’ Later we watch an interpretive film in Concord and hear another ranger talk beside the Old North Bridge where the ‘shot heard ‘round the world’ was fired and the eight-year Revolutionary War begun.
While it is easy enough to re-read the history we were taught so very long ago in grade school, it is remarkable to visit the place for ourselves and to see just how brief our collective American history really is, and what a small new world we still inhabit. Only a century removed from the initial musket fire, Ralph Waldo Emerson moves in right next door with a clear view of the same revolutionary site from his window. Down the street, Louisa May Alcott pens Little Women. And beneath Emerson’s roof, Nathaniel Hawthorne writes a collection of sketches published as Mosses from an Old Manse.
Today the lovely garden rows of beets, carrots, corn, and potatoes are planted just as Emerson’s good friend Thoreau laid them out for his literary lodger, Hawthorne – a wedding gift to his fellow man of letters. I remark upon the big white canvas tent sitting on the lawn behind the garden and learn that it is erected each summer for a continual stream of weekend weddings. Emerson’s trustees happily cater to contemporary couples wishing to weave the records of their personal milestones into history’s unending chain forged in conflict, bathed in light, and tempered by transcendence and finer feeling. And so it goes.
We quit the Manse and its open fields, and head over to Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond only to be met with flocks of Massachusetts beach goers traipsing to the pond’s shore after paying five dollars to park in the state managed parking lot. Ouch. Surely the avowed naturalist and father of the civil disobedience movement in America would have something to say about paying the government for the privilege of jumping in a lake.
After learning that our out-of-state license plate will cost us an additional fee, we turn around and head next door to the bookstore instead. I stage my own small insurrection, making use of the employees-only restroom. Oh joy. The private privy is painted floor to ceiling as a magical fantasy forest in blues, greens and magentas. I have visited the woods and my soul is restored. Smirk. Suddenly balance returns and we are once again in harmony with our unnaturally natural world.
I buy a slim volume of Thoreau’s meditations, hoping to interest my young reader in this deep woods thinker. Then I enlist David’s help in photographing our own mousy woodland muse beside the tiny cabin facsimile where old HD was famed for making the small and insignificant most grand.