Almost thirty-five years ago, a vacation trip to California provided the genesis of a hobby that is now a source of infinite pleasure for me and often for my friends and family as well. Bob, my first husband, was driving as I navigated. As I studied the map, the old-fashioned kind that I still prefer to use, I suddenly recognized the name of a mountain range from a John Steinbeck work. I had been teaching “The Red Pony,” so it may have been a geographical feature in that story, but perhaps it was from another of his many works with which I was familiar. My husband was an avid reader himself, but I’m not quite sure he understood my excitement when I looked up and saw the Gabilan Mountains on the horizon. As we continued our journey, towns like Monterrey became my destinations. What a thrill it was for me to be in “Steinbeck” country for the first time! I would experience his work differently from that day forward.
I enjoyed my second such experience several years later when I made my first trip to England with a fellow English teacher. We visited during a beautiful, relatively rain-free summer of which one of our innkeepers said, “You’re seeing England at its best.” It is impossible to say which location gave me the most pleasure, but surely the Lake District will always be a highlight. After strolling around the picturesque village of Ambleside and placing some beer in Lake Grasmere to cool for an afternoon picnic, Joel and I walked to Dove Cottage, one time home of William Wordsworth.
Stopping by St. Oswald’s Church cemetery in Grasmere, where the poet is buried, was the fitting conclusion to this day. Being in “Wordsworth” country gave us a new perspective for the reading and teaching of the Romantic poetry that he created along with Coleridge and the other Lake Poets as they initiated the English Romantic Age. What a delight it was to experience firsthand the natural beauty that inspired the poet to advise in “The Tables Turned,” “Come forth into the light of things, / Let Nature be your teacher.” We could envision his wandering “lonely as a cloud” (from his poem titled both “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud” and “Daffodils”) as his philosophy of the connection between the natural world and human nature evolved.
In the ensuing decades, planning trips and ferreting out “literary” opportunities have become favorite activities for me. My family members and my fellow England traveler plus another one of our colleagues have made many memories that we fondly recall. Who can say which one was the best? Could it be the detour my son and I made in order to visit various literary and historical sites in Concord, Massachusetts, that occasioned his remark that Authors’ Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is the most beautiful one he’s ever visited? Might it be my trip with Joel and Phyllis to Flannery O’Connor’s Andalusia shortly after the death of one of our spouses? Or possibly the stop my husband and I made at Washington Irving’s Sunnyside when the author gained a new fan in Dennis? Of course, there is no need to pick a favorite. All have been special, and I look forward to many more.
I’d love to know if any of you have made some “literary” visits that have influenced your reading about a particular author or of his or her works. Perhaps I will be lucky enough to find them in the neighborhood of my next trip.