Thursday on my way to other business, I stopped for a short walk at the Minute Man National Historical Park in Lexington, Massachusetts. For all the years we lived in an around Boston and Cambridge, I’d never actually set foot on this protected portion of the “Battle Road” where American militia clashed with British soldiers on April 19, 1775. I didn’t have enough time to walk the five-mile Battle Road Trail, but I did take a quick stroll around Hartwell Tavern, the 18th-century home of Ephraim and Elizabeth Hartwell. The Hartwells’ home and tavern are surrounded by rolling pastureland snaked with stone walls and wide-spreading maples: quintessential New England countryside that makes for good sun-dappled walking.
In high school, I was never interested in history: in fact, I think I slept through most of my American history classes. But walking the dusty road leading to Hartwell Tavern gave me a different perspective on the events that preserved its place in history. This, as I mentioned, is quintessential New England country, just about the prettiest and most peaceful place you’d ever imagine. Walking this road in 2004, you can clearly imagine what it might have been like to drive cattle along this same road in 1775; the pastured sheep I saw as I drove down Route 2A could just as well been grazing there centuries ago. This sun-dappled path with its fringe of trees and rock walls seems to exist outside of time: it’s a place where you’d feel content to live the rest of your days and then ultimately, in the fullness of time, come to lie down beneath a different sort of stone.
Realizing how peaceful and literally pastoral this landscape is, I began to realize what it was that those early militia, the so-called Minute Men, must have been fighting for. The Revolution surely wasn’t about abstractions such as taxes and tea; instead, the Revolution was about this lovely land that those long-dead fighters had come to call their own. Walking down that quiet sun-dappled path, I couldn’t imagine it beaten by the tramp of British soldiers’ boots; for an army to despoil this quiet would have been an abomination. The men who raised their hand from the plow to take up arms were fighting for “country” in its most primitive sense: they were fighting so the tramp of British boots would no longer haunt the dreams of their sleeping babies or startle the cows who lay chewing their mid-summer cud in tree-fringed pastures.
It took great courage, I suspect, for farmers, merchants, and common laborers to take up arms against an organized army of their native countrymen. And yet strolling these paths among towering trees and snaking stone walls, I realize where they found such courage: they found it in these rocks, these trees, and these rolling hills which had stood for so long, even then, in mute testimony to nature’s all-enduring power. Like a mountain that can’t be moved, those Minute Men stood firm, rooted in their adopted country, defending their right to home and hearth with a persistence that could not be denied. Some things (and some places) are worth fighting for: a peaceful home, a humble hearth, and one’s own quiet corner of God’s green earth being among them.