Tapping into my inner Thoreau; play-acting as Sylvia Yule

It’s vacation time again with more opportunities to visit Concord. The more times I visit, the more I want to see.

A trip down the Sudbury River to Great Meadows

Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

I enjoy kayaking very much and so took a trip down the Sudbury River, launching from the bridge off of Lowell Road, just off of Concord center. My plan was to paddle to the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, a prime place to go birdwatching. I used to go there as a child with my parents to watch birds, and in later years, traveled with the bird group from our parish, led by our parish priest! He was a true birder, visiting Plum Island on the North Shore of Massachusetts in March – great time to see ducks and shore birds, but the weather can be most inhospitable! Only the serious birder goes there. 🙂

Introducing the “Sylvia Yule”

The “Sylvia Yule” begins its trip on the Sudbury River in Concord

I bought my own kayak this summer so that I could get out more and decided to christen it the “Sylvia Yule.” The chapters in Moods that Louisa May Alcott devoted to the boat/camping trip of Sylvia, Adam, Geoffrey and her brother Max (and where Adam and Geoffrey both fell in love with Sylvia) described to perfection what it is like to paddle a boat on a river like the Sudbury. The kayak appeals to me because it places you so close to the water. I feel like I am one with the water.

Practicing Thoreau’s methods

Needless to say, Thoreau too was very much on my mind. His discourse in his “Walking” essay, about becoming one with nature and allowing it to penetrate your inner being certainly was a reality during this trip.

Sites of interest along the way

About to pass under the Old North Bridge, site of the first battle of the American Revolution

As an extra treat, I was able to travel under the Old North Bridge, the place where the first battle of the American Revolution took place. I was also able to dock and take a tour of Minuteman National Park. The Old Manse was conveniently next door and I got to see it too. Nathaniel Hawthorne and his new bride Sophia Peabody lived there for a time and legend has it they proclaimed their love for each other by carving their initials into the glass of a window with her diamond ring.

I hope you enjoy the slide show I’ve assembled of my tour of the Sudbury in beautiful Concord.

p.s. if any of you know flowers, I’d love if you could identify the flowers I photographed at Great Meadows. I’m sure they’re quite common but my knowledge of flowers is pitiful. 🙂

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Little Women – the grand accident

I really loved what Susan Cheever had to say in her chapter on Little Women in Louisa May Alcott A Personal Biography. I had  found myself wondering why Little Women was the standout book from this prolific author, seeing that it was written under such duress, and I think Cheever really hit on it. Here’s what she says, in part (page 200):

“Great writing will always be a mystery. Why now, after everything she had been through, reluctantly tackling a novel for young girls, did Louisa May Alcott get suddenly catapulted into greatness? There are two kinds of artists — those who seek and those who find. The day she sat down to write during that may of 1868, Louisa seem to shift from being an artist pushing towards meaning to being an artist able to relax and discover meaning — the way Michelangelo purportedly said that he discovered his statues embedded in the marble he carved.”

On the next page she goes on to describe how the insights of great work and the insights of great inventions can go hand in hand, often happening ‘by accident.’ Her example is Alexander Graham Bell, discovering the telephone because of an accident spilling battery acid (page 201). He called for help to his assistant Tom Watson (Cheever’s great grandfather) and he heard Bell through the wires in the next room. She then quotes Louis Pasteur, “Chance favors the prepared  mind.”

She then goes on to write:

“If great works and great inventions happen by accident, careful research can also often show that the accident has been prepared for for years. It was Bell’s understanding of sound, partly developed in his years of work with the deaf, that made  him understand the pings he heard through the wire. Man’s accidents are God’s purposes, as Sophia Peabody might remind us. From the perspective of 1868, the writing of Little Women looked like an accident. Because of the accidental coming together of Alcott’s need for a publisher, her concern for her parents, Thomas Nile’s jealousy of other publishers’ successes with children’s books, Bronson Alcott’s unpublished manuscript, and a dozen other things, in May of 1868, Louisa May Alcott, after much stalling finally sat down and started writing Little Women.
Yet the accidents that caused the writing of Little Women, seen in hindsight, look more like destiny . . .”

This fits right in with a philosophy that has been growing stronger by the day in my life – you can’t plan greatness. Instead, you have to be awake and alert to when the wave comes along, and then you jump on board. Sometimes you will have to jump on board out of duty and obligation, and the work may seen dull and burdensome. But if you ride the wave and do the work, then the rewards will come.

I blogged about this earlier today on my spiritual blog. In the Roman Catholic missal, today’s readings focus on the time when the infant Jesus was presented in the temple and the 2 prophets, Simeon and Anna, recognized the infant as the Messiah. I focused on Anna and how her ‘accidental’ meeting of Mary, Joseph and Jesus was actually destiny, something she had prepared herself for all her life. She rode the wave and met whom she believed was the long awaited Messiah! (see post on my spiritual blog).

Hard work is always necessary and inspiration helps. But being awake and alert in the present moment – that, I think, is the missing link, the key to greatness. It was fortunate for the world that Louisa caught that wave and wrote Little Women.