Life & literature

Kerouac's On the Road scroll manuscript

What better way to unwind on a Friday afternoon than by viewing Jack Kerouac’s typescript scroll of On the Road at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts?

On the way to On the Road

Although his father’s French-Canadian forebears lived in Nashua, New Hampshire, Jack Kerouac himself was born in Lowell, Massachusetts: a fittingly working-class, immigrant community that served as “home” for one of America’s most renowned wanderers. Much of downtown Lowell’s traditional mill district is now a National Historical Park that preserves and interprets its industrial heritage. It thus seems perfectly appropriate to see the unrolled, fabric-like text of one of Lowell’s most celebrated native sons in a building once devoted to manufacturing textiles.

A small sign on the side of the climate-controlled glass case housing Kerouac’s tracing-paper scroll forbids photography, so I surreptitiously snapped only one image inside the Boott Mill Gallery: a quick, snapshot sense of how long Kerouac’s rambling, single-spaced, single-paragraph narrative is. As a novel, Kerouac’s exuberant, punctuation-eschewing rhapsody to the wandering life was revolutionary; as an artifact, Kerouac’s unrolled typescript is singularly impressive. Kerouac wrote the first draft of On the Road in a twenty-day caffeine-fueled writing session in April, 1951, typing on 12-foot strips of semi-translucent tracing paper he’d taped and pasted into an ongoing ribbon. The result is a manuscript measuring 119 feet, 8 inches long by 9 inches wide: the entire narrative of On the Road minus the conclusion, which was eaten by Lucien Carr’s dog, Potchky.

Jack Kerouac's typewriter & camping gear

Writers who have never composed on a typewriter might wonder why Kerouac employed such an unusual format for On the Road. When you type on a word-processor, words automatically wrap at the end of lines, and you don’t have to stop to insert new pages; when you type on a word-processor, your prose automatically scrolls from beginning to end. When Kerouac sat at his typewriter to compose his first draft of On the Road, however, he didn’t want to be interrupted by page breaks, so typing on an ongoing scroll allowed him to compose a breathless, nonstop ecstatic improvisation. The result was the first example of Kerouac’s now-famous prosaic “riffing” that, like the exuberance of the be-bop jazz solos he so admired, flirts and frolics with a seemingly random sequence of interconnected motifs.

The scroll exhibit inside the Boott Cotton Mill Museum features a vintage typewriter like the one Kerouac used; in the Mill Girls and Immigrants exhibit in the nearby Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center, you can see Kerouac’s actual typewriter, backpack, and camping gear behind glass: a shrine containing the relics of an author who famously rambled in both his life and his prose. Inside the Boott Cotton Mill Museum gallery, you can use the displayed typewriter to compose your own spontaneous prose, adding your ecstatic emanations to those written by other museum-goers. Tellingly, the Boott Cotton Mill Museum provides visitors with paper scraps to type upon rather than scrolls: if you want to complete your own 20-day writing marathon, you’ll presumably have to do it at home or elsewhere.

Boott Cotton Mills Museum

Seeing Kerouac’s prose unwound provides the same kind of insight into On the Road as seeing Walt Whitman’s notebook provides into Leaves of Grass. Reading polished, published words in a book gives no real indication of how a particular writer got from blank page to published product. Besides a typewriter, tracing paper, and a twenty-day supply of coffee, what did it take for Kerouac to write a narrative which redefined our notion of “novel” while encouraging countless disaffected individuals to reject 1950s mainstream materialism in favor of Beatnik nonconformity? Given the enormity of the literal and metaphoric movement inspired by On the Road, could Kerouac have ever contained it within single typing-paper sheets?

On the Road on the rocks

At the Kerouac Commemorative at the corner of Bridge and French Streets in downtown Lowell, you can read the opening lines of On the Road on the rocks, the polished granite slabs of Ben Woitena’s sculpture memorializing the revised, published version of Kerouac’s narrative. (Click here to see a National Park video explaining the symbolic significance of Woitena’s commemorative.) Here in stone, you’ll see the paragraph breaks Kerouac and his editors added to the original typescript; here in stone, you’ll see the book that galvanized a generation.

How do hurriedly typed words and pencil-scribbled edits become carved in stone, the canonical stuff of American literature? Kerouac himself was uncomfortable with the fame that On the Road brought: although critical acclaim and popular sales allowed him to publish other novels (including The Dharma Bums, which he also composed on a scroll), Kerouac like any rock-star bridled against the expectations that fame brought. Once you are perceived as the mouthpiece of a disaffected generation, how can you not carefully consider everything you say? How can a working-class, French-Canadian Catholic boy from Lowell become a legendary icon without facing an attendant identity crisis?

Here's to Jack

In Kerouac’s case, fame and its resultant identity crises were part of a downward spiral into self-condemnation and addiction: Kerouac died at the age of 47 from alcoholic hemorrhaging. On a Friday evening after unwinding with On the Road, my friend and I limited ourselves to one martini a piece: a little glass to raise in Jack’s memory, sipped and savored amidst the streets that he called home.

The scroll typescript of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road will be on display in Lowell, MA through September 14, 2007; after that, it will tour various US and European cities through 2009. If you’re anywhere near one of the scroll’s scheduled appearances, I’d recommend you hit the road to see it.

Molly Stark

It’s been almost a year since I snapped this shot of the Molly Stark monument along Route 9 in Wilmington, Vermont, but Janice Brown‘s recent post on New Hampshire patriots got me thinking. Why is it that the maker of this monument chose to depict Molly with an infant in one arm and a long-arm in the other? Although Molly is rightfully hailed as being one of our Founding Mothers, she’s not remembered for firing a single shot or even lifting a musket (unless to hand it to her husband) during the Revolutionary War. Instead, Molly Stark is remembered for being the wife and mother that General John Stark–author of NH’s beloved “Live free or die” motto–left behind to tend house and children while he went off to fight the Red Coats.

Molly Stark

Although I respect any woman’s right to bear arms if she so chooses, the sight of Molly posed as Madonna with musket makes me wonder. Isn’t single-handedly managing a household with eleven children while your husband is away being a war hero enough to earn you a monument without someone feeling the need to slap a firearm in your hand? With eleven children to tend to, how would Molly have found a spare moment for musketry? As if tending her own household wasn’t enough, Molly Stark is known for nursing her husband’s troops during a smallpox epidemic, turning their already crowded house into a makeshift hospital for ailing soldiers. Wouldn’t a more accurate depiction of Molly’s status as a Revolutionary War heroine show her with an infant in one arm and a load of laundry in the other: Molly Stark, America’s first lady of first aid?

War memorial

New England towns have a fondness for soldier statues: right down the road from Molly Stark stands an armed, unnamed soldier erected “In Memory of Our Country’s Defenders.” Obviously we Americans wouldn’t have an Independence Day to celebrate if it weren’t for the patriots who literally took up arms in our nation’s defense…but aren’t there other ways to defend our country? In her post, Janice suggests our definition of “patriot” is too confined, for it should include anyone “who works toward the prosperity, order, justice, peace and liberty of their country, despite adverse conditions and danger to their personal safety.” According to this definition, Molly Stark didn’t have to shoulder a gun to become a patriot; instead, she served her country by shouldering the burden of tending the home fires during her husband’s absence and by risking her own and her family’s health by wiping the fevered brows of smallpox-infected soldiers. Are we as a country ready, though, to erect patriotic monuments to housewives, daycare workers, and health-care providers? Would a statue of Molly Stark wielding a bedpan look as impressively patriotic as Molly with her gun?

I wonder what Hannah Dustin with her axe and Molly Stark with her gun would say to one another if they met in heaven. Would both women marvel at how they were hailed as heroines only after their lives as ordinary wives and mothers turned violent? Why does it take a bloody kidnapping or wartime threat of widowhood to make a married mother monumental? Are we so enamored with the arms we have the right to bear, we have no respect for those who defend us unarmed?

Yesterday wasn’t the first time I’d stopped at the Park ‘n’ Ride off Route 93 in Penacook, NH to cross the old railroad trestle onto the island where an all-but-forgotten monument to Hannah Dustin stands. But given that I’d never taken photographs of said monument–and given the fact that I’d driven to nearby Concord, NH to meet with a student who’s doing a senior capstone project on captivity narratives by Asian American descendents of Korean comfort women–it made sense to pay a second visit to old stone Hannah.

Hannah Dustin monument, Penacook, NH

In a previous lifetime, I wrote a paper about American Indian captivity narratives: stories written by white settlers who had been taken hostage during Indian raids, were later redeemed from captivity, and subsequently told their stories of capture and redemption. Hannah Dustin, however, never wrote a captivity narrative, which is a shame since her story is so vivid.

According to historical accounts, Dustin and her neighbor Mary Neff were taken captive by Abenaki Indians during a 1697 raid on Haverill, MA. Dustin had recently given birth, and during the forced march from Haverill, her Abenaki captors killed her infant by smashing its skull against a tree. After her forced removal from Haverill to an island in the Merrimack River near what is now Penacook, NH, Dustin conspired with Neff and Samuel Lennardson, a white teenager who was also being held hostage, to kill their captors. Lennardson nonchalantly asked one of his captors to show him how he would kill and scalp a man, then Dustin applied this knowledge after the Abenaki family they were traveling with had fallen asleep.

Front inscription, Hannah Dustin monument, Penacook, NH

It is here that Dustin’s story gets complicated. Popular versions of Dustin’s story–such as the text on the highway marker on the road to Penacook, NH–simply say that Dustin, a victim of an Indian raid, killed ten Indians before escaping to freedom: a clear act of self-defense. Of the ten Indians that Dustin and her compatriots killed, however, only two were grown men: also killed were two women and six children.

If Dustin and her fellows were acting only in self-defense, why was it necessary to kill children? Presumably, the captives didn’t want survivors to flee and fetch other Abenakis; as chance would have it, one badly injured woman and an Abenaki child did indeed escape to tell the tale. But if Dustin and her fellow captives were motivated purely by self-preservation, why did Dustin stop after they’d begun their escape down the Merrimack River, return to the Abenakis they’d killed, and scalp their dead bodies?

Axe and scalps, Penacook, NH

The larger-than-life statue of Hannah Dustin in Penacook, NH shows her carrying an axe in one hand and a cluster of scalps in the other. Presumably, Dustin returned to scalp her captors as “proof” of her and her co-captives’ story…but why? What did Dustin want to prove, and to whom? Did she think her husband and neighbors in Haverill, MA wouldn’t believe that she, a woman, had escaped from captivity by her own hands? Did she feel a need to prove where she, a woman, had been during the several weeks she’d been away from her family? Or did Hannah Dustin, a woman who had seen her newborn infant murdered at the hands of people she considered “savages,” feel a need to show bloody proof of the horrors of guerilla warfare? Revenge is a dish best served cold and bloody, and Hannah Dustin’s “bouquet” of Indian scalps shows just how brutal an otherwise mild-mannered mother of twelve can be when things turn ugly.

Hannah Dustan with scalps, Penacook, NH

As a woman, I can’t say I blame Hannah Dustin for taking vengeance into her own hands, but as a human being I’m still troubled by those bloody scalps. Yesterday as I walked under partly cloudy skies from the Park ‘n’ Ride to the isolated spot where Dustin’s monument stands, I was mindful of the headline on the newspaper I’d picked up from my porch before leaving Keene: “Woman victim of sex attack.” If it’s no longer safe for women to walk the night-time streets of Small Town, NH without protective male escort, what was I doing walking in an isolated spot along the side of the road to Penacook, NH without a dog, bodyguard, or axe of my own?

Had some savage leapt from the bushes intending to do me harm as I walked under partly cloudy skies yesterday, would you have blamed me for defending myself by any means available? At the same time, having vanquished and even killed my attacker, would you raise an eyebrow had I gone one step further, returning to that attacker to glean trophies as “proof” from his subjugated body?

I don’t know if Hannah Dustin was a “hero” as her historical marker proclaims…but she’s definitely a survivor, and I suppose that deserves its own kind of commemoration. It’s a cold, cruel, and bloody world out there, and sometimes only the ugliest bouquet, clutched to one’s breast like a handbag, can serve as proof to that sad, inevitable fact.

Click here for more photos of New Hampshire’s Hannah Dustin monument.

I’ve been meaning to re-visit May Sarton’s grave in nearby Nelson, NH but haven’t been back since I first photographed it a little over a year ago. As I explained then, I feel a strong sentimental connection with Sarton after having read and deeply resonated with her published journals over the years. As a divorced woman writer living on my own (and blogging bits of my private life) here in New Hampshire, I continue to consider Sarton one of my deepest inspirations: another solitary soul who saw the written word as being the most accurate means of communicating her true self.

I’m a sucker for cemeteries and feel particularly sentimental about the graves of authors I admire. Although I haven’t been back to Willa Cather’s resting place in Jaffrey, NH since I first visited in July, 2004, I feel an inexplicable sense of groundedness knowing that Cather’s remains are nearby…and the mountain she so loved to contemplate during summer stints in New Hampshire still looms over my shoulder, Dame Monadnock being another of my grounding inspirations.

And although humble Henry David Thoreau lies buried a state away from me in Concord, MA, I get a little emotional (forgive me) when I remember that he himself once walked Keene streets, remarking during a stop on his way to Canada in 1850 that our own Main Street “strikes the traveller favorably, it is so wide, level, straight, and long.” Thoreau’s mother was born in Keene, where she lived in a house along the Main Street her son would someday admire and immortalize; is it any wonder that I feel a more-than-merely-literary connection with Thoreau and feel a bit sentimental about his grave, too?

Someday we’ll all find our own resting places whether famous or forgotten. In the meantime, I get a bit emotional knowing that three authors who have inspired my own writing–three authors who are long gone but whose words still resonate in my heart–lie within an easy drive of my humble abode here in Keene. We’re never alone, I think, if we’re surrounded by great ones and the ones who inspire us to greatness. That might sound a bit cheesy…or maybe it’s just me being Sentimental.

Alas, poor Henry

I’ve always wondered about the odd pose the bronze Henry David Thoreau statue strikes outside the replica cabin at Walden Pond. Is Henry eternally frozen while staring at his fingers, or is there something in his seemingly empty palm that he is contemplating? When I was an admittedly odd child, I used to spend countless hours in bed at night contemplating my own hands, marvelling at the way they moved and gesticulated, their movements (even the most subtle) being something I could control without even thinking about it. What sort of divine designer, I wondered, invented something as simple and mundane as the human hand? Did God craft the Universe with similar-looking–albeit divine and supernaturally abled–hands, or is God’s handiwork of an entirely different kind than ours?

Having stared more than a bit at my own hands and fingers, I’ve always smiled at Thoreau’s bronze statue: was Hank a kindred spirit? After sauntering through the slippery, sand-like snow at Walden Pond yesterday, I had to smile–and snap a picture–when I saw the work of unknown, presumably human hands who’d rolled a snowball for Henry’s brazen consideration. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet encounters the barren skull of a deceased old friend and laments his passing while contemplating his skull: “Alas, poor Yorick!” Is Thoreau thinking something similar as he contemplates what looks like snowy skull, marveling at the impermanence that brings snow in February, melt in March, and green leaves in April and May?

Frozen shore, Walden Pond

I’ve lived in New England for about fifteen years now, and during that time I’ve circled Walden Pond countless times, in various weathers, both alone and with companions. Yesterday Leslee, some mutual friends, and I stomped and slipped through the squishy, sometimes ice-crusted snow that circles the pond, occasionally stepping aside to let hikers with snow-shoes, boots, and YakTrax pass us in the opposite direction.

Unsafe ice

The ice at Walden Pond looks solid these days, and yesterday we saw several hardy souls traversing it on skis: a chilly, wind-blown endeavor. And yet, signs urged us to distrust the pond’s seemingly solid, snow-clad surface, as did several thinning spots where dark water seemed ready to breach the skimming surface of pristine white snow. Alas, poor Henry, the lesson of snow, skulls, and dead writers is that impermanence surrounds us: although a brazen figure stands in all weathers outside a replica of Thoreau’s humble house, the snow in his hands is destined to pass, melting in the hot hands of spring’s eventual thaw.

Oscar Wilde

No trip to Dublin is complete without a quick stop to see Oscar Wilde looking fabulous from his languid perch on Merrion Square.

Later this morning, I’m off to the airport for my flight back to Boston. Yes, I’ll be taking my journal with me: to paraphrase Wilde, I never travel without my notebook, for one should always have something sensational to read on the plane.

UPDATE: Thanks to that girl for setting me straight about Oscar Wilde’s location: he’s hanging out in Merrion Square, not St. Stephen Green.

Replica of James Joyce's desk

Today’s Photo Friday theme is Blur, which provides an apt excuse for posting this fuzzy shot of a replica of James Joyce’s lapdesk, which is among the memorabilia and manuscripts on display at the National Library of Ireland’s current exhibit on James Joyce and Ulysses. After getting very little sleep the night before–and even less sleep during–my red-eye flight from Boston, yesterday I found Dublin itself to be a blur, a perpetually unwinding scroll of strange sights, sounds and sensations.

Touring the Joyce exhibit with that girl helped to ground me a bit: looking at Joyce’s heavily edited pen-, pencil-, and crayon-scribbled manuscript pages along with the literal scraps he used to record notes during his composition of Ulysses reminded me that art is a pastiche of ephemera: a sight here, a sound there. Now that I’ve gotten a full night’s sleep after my first day’s blur, I’m hoping today these sensations will start making sense, the jots and tittles of imagery and scribbled impression pulling together to make a semi-coherent whole called Here.

I just began this new collection of old letters from Henry David Thoreau to his friend Harrison Blake, who in 1848 had written Thoreau asking for spiritual guidance. As a long-time Thoreau fan, I’m looking forward to learning more about his spiritual beliefs as revealed in the 50 letters he wrote to Blake over more than a dozen years.


Yesterday my friend A (not her real initial) and I met in Nashua to enjoy a glorious New Hampshire day. Instead of hunting for ghosts like Kathleen and I did back in September, yesterday A and I went shopping for outdoorsy clothing at L.L. Bean and then went apple picking at Lull Farm in Hollis, NH.

How about them apples?

Let me remind you that I am not a native New Englander: I’m a city girl from Columbus, OH. Although I’ve lived in New England for a dozen years, I’d never before yesterday gone apple picking. Yes, I’m sure there are apple orchards in Ohio; in theory, it’s probably possible to go picking apples at one. But in my Columbus neighborhood at least, apple picking was not the annual ritual it is for New England families. In Ohio, apples come from the grocery store, and apple picking is something done (for good or ill) by underpaid migrant farm workers. As a teenager growing up in Ohio, I would have responded to the thought of picking apples for fun the same way I would have responded to the thought of mowing someone else’s lawn for fun. Why spend your free time doing work?

If you are a farmer who relies upon a fruit yield for your livelihood, apple picking is work: serious work. But if you are a suburban, L.L. Bean-wearing New Englander who spends too much time inside eating food that sprouts from wrappers and cans, apple picking is a great excuse to take a walk. Whereas golf is a good walk ruined, apple picking’s just a good walk. When since Adam and Eve got kicked out of Paradise could two friends spend a leisurely hour or two strolling amongst fruit-laden trees, a surreptitiously nibbled apple taking the edge off mid-afternoon hunger?

Don't climb on the pumpkins

Before yesterday, my sole source of apple-picking knowledge was Robert Frost. Although everyone thinks of Frost as being a quintessential New Englander, he actually was born in San Francisco. Moving to New England as a boy after his father’s death, Frost relocated as an adult to England, where he lived with his wife on a farm in Buckinghamshire and mingled with the likes of Ezra Pound. A literary late-bloomer, Frost didn’t publish much of note until his 40s, and these early works (including North of Boston, the collection in which “After Apple Picking” appears) were written and published in “old” England. Thus the cherished New England landscape of Frost’s poems is actually a landscape of loss, a place associated with the death of his father and which he described from memory from afar.

After Apple Picking” is one of my favorite Frost poems. (Sometime I’ll talk about the oft-overlooked masturbation imagery in the seemingly innocuous “Birches,” but that’s a topic for another day.) Frost’s speaker describes apple picking as work, not leisure, and there’s more than a hint of guilt tinging his words as he describes the apples he’s failed to pick and bushels he’s failed to fill:

    My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
    Toward heaven still,
    And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
    Beside it, and there may be two or three
    Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.

Autumn abundance

Although he still has apples to pick and barrels to fill, Frost’s speaker is weary: he admits he’s “done with apple-picking now.” As autumn ripens more apples than the speaker can pick, autumn’s chill also skims his morning drinking trough with ice, a lens which makes his surroundings look far-off and strange. In the autumn of his life, his sight dimmed with both age and regret, Frost’s speaker finds his dreams filled with unpicked apples. No longer a tasty promise, these fruit are a reminder of work undone and youthful potential unreached: “For I have had too much / Of apple-picking: I am overtired / Of the great harvest I myself desired.” Looking ahead to a long-awaited sleep that comes after his labors, the speaker of the poem isn’t sure whether he is falling into mere physical slumber or the death that such sleep emulates. Either way, he realizes his dreams will be troubled with apples, reminders of the tasks he’s left undone and promises he’s left unfulfilled.

Pumpkins & squash

Who among us can’t relate to such somber sentiments: only the youngest and most optimistic? I know that yesterday I felt saddened to see the fallen apples that lay either whole or crushed under every tree we passed: although like Frost’s speaker I realize that even fallen fruit will end up crushed as cider, it seemed a tragic waste to see so much food cast-off and forgotten underfoot. The Lord, it seems, is a harsh task-master, for from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded. And yet Mother Nature seems much less demanding and even downright careless, encouraging apple mothers to breed by the bushel-full babies that will end up rotting on the ground.

Super squash

So are our bushels half full or half empty: shall we dream of apples picked and cherished or fruit fallen and failed? As I type these words, I’m mindful of the tasks still left undone: emails unanswered, essays unwritten, papers as yet ungraded. My nightstand is stacked with books half-read, my coffee table piled with untouched magazines, my desk scattered with unsorted receipts and bills.

And yet, this spring I finished my dissertation; this summer I found the clarity to take a step I’d long known was necessary but hadn’t previously had the courage to pursue: surely this counts for something, a larger-than-normal apple for the pail? I’d love to think that God himself grades on a curve, that God himself gives points for effort. I’d love to think that God’s scales weigh not only the heft of apples picked but the burden of fruit attempted, those oversized harvests we duly tackled but perhaps left undone.

King of the pumpkin pile

In my heart of hearts I truly believe that God is an smiling-faced giant whose open arms welcome bushels both big and small: whatever fruit you’ve found for fun or profit, now you can come home and rest. What you’ve gathered will be shared and treasured; what you’ve left ungleaned will feed the cider-press, a drink to make merry. Wherever you come from and whatever you wear, you’ll find a well-stocked larder at the end of your toiling, other pickers falling behind you to gather the fruit you’d seen but left as yet unplucked.

Minute Man National Historical Park

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.

Minute Man National Historical Park

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.

Minute Man National Historical Park

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.

Minute Man National Historical Park

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.

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