New England Re-visited

“Anything the same?” a friend asked when I returned from New England, only my second visit there in fifty-three years. Yes, some things are the same. Plymouth Rock, for example. Rocks stubbornly resist change. Walden Pond, for another example. Lakes don’t change much either. I stood again by its quiet, wooded waters where Henry Thoreau lived for two years in simplicity and solitude.

Rivers, also, don’t usually lose their identity. The Concord River is still flowing under the old North Bridge. Here, the Minutemen fired what Ralph Waldo Emerson called “the shot heard round the world.” A Minuteman still proudly stands by the bridge.

Pilgrims on the Plymouth Plantation look and talk about the same as they did fifty-three years ago. They comment on their long Mayflower voyage across the Atlantic and on their day-to-day life. Over coals, Barbara Standish stirred a pot of milk that would soon be curds and whey. We were happily surprised when “Barbara” brought a note to our motel. She wrote that when she learned in her little thatched-roof house that we were from SNU, she could hardly continue with her Pilgrim role. She is a Nazarene, attended Eastern Nazarene College years ago, and invited us to Sunday services at her Nazarene church in Boston.

From the Jon Adams’ and John Quincy Adams’ estate to Walden Pond; from the Louisa Mae Alcott home to Plymouth Plantation; from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Old Manse to Concord Bridge; from the Saratoga Battlefield to James Fenimore Cooper’s hometown; from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mansion to Emily Dickinson’s home; from Harvard University to the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, where our guide quoted the poet’s poetry in every room – this was the sequence of our well-organized tour. A Boston Harbor cruise, a Boston Pops concert, a Red Sox game, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, lovely lilacs everywhere, were bonuses.

My first tour of New England was with a college classmate, who was then an English professor at Seattle Pacific College. We drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachians, as far north as Bar Harbor, Maine, into Canada, and returned to the United States by way of Niagara Falls. My tour in May was with SNU students, who were completing courses in Literary Field Studies and history, and with people from the community. We ranged in age from a high school freshman to a senior citizen of 92. (No, that wasn’t I).

In 1950 I thrilled over the opportunity of experiencing first-hand what I had read about in geography, literature, and history books. In 2003 I thrilled over renewed acquaintance with favorite places and with the realization that the past is indeed, a rich and indispensable prologue to the present.