Posts Tagged With: literary pilgrimage

Pilgrimage Preparations

IMG17Buying tickets. Ordering clothes. Creating itineraries. It’s easy to get consumed in preparing for travel, wanting everything to be just right. As far as reading, travel guides are the way to go to provide a pathway to a perfect vacation.

But there is another way. A way of story.

In writing these words, I realize that I have not taken time to reflect on the stories that are calling me to return to England this summer. Ironically I’m currently rewriting the section of a book on literary pilgrimage that delves into the idea of sacred travel, pilgrimage, a journey to a story. After following in the steps of St. Francis in Assisi a decade ago I understood the places and stories in a way that connected with me deeply. Seeing the journey as a pilgrimage made a difference in how I interacted with the places and people along the way – and how I returned home transformed. Since then I have tried to look at most of my journeys as pilgrimages.

However, for an upcoming trip to the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute at Oxbridge, I have wandered from this way of thinking. Maybe I really haven’t strayed too far, but I have sought to control the travel and set up a well organized, but relatively safe journey. I’ve been trying to create a time that will whisk me away to an eden for a while, instead of seeing the time as opportunity to engage with stories and be transformed.

So, how am I going to move into seeing this time as pilgrimage? Since the Institute is a conference, it has a different flavor than other journeys. But there remains a story to follow. A large part of the story I’m following is that of C. S. Lewis being surprised in finding God in the midst of his search for joy and his living discipleship to Christ in response to that surprise. But I’m also drawn to romantic idea of spending time in Oxford and Cambridge, taking in the sights, lectures, and experiences. And tea, Lots of tea and scones.

IMG_1759But, primarily, I’m seeking to walk in the story of a God who calls us to follow him.

With these stories (both the serious and the fun) now in front of me, it’s time to read and reflect on them. It’s also time to pray, not only for my journey, but also for the people I will meet along the way. To pray that I’ll be open to the temporary community that will form. That I will walk over thresholds into new places. That I would see the sacred center of my time through the incarnated life of Jesus – and through the new life with which he covers his people.

As I walked through the streets of Assisi I recalled the words of the psalmist to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). A visceral, physical experience of God in the midst of life. Reflecting on that time, I am now preparing for this journey to England as a pilgrimage, being ready to experience the places and meeting people through the God who is good – though not always safe. Just as Mr. Beaver speaks of Aslan in the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.”

What stories, if any, draw you to travel this year?

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“And is there honey still for tea?”

IMG_1670Green deck chairs and small tables covered the outdoor area of The Orchard tea house in Grantchester, England, just outside of Cambridge.  Small groups clustered under the shade of the many apple trees on this hot summer day.  Our group pulled together fourteen chairs and several tables in a spot of shade.  We were gathered for a mid-day break before driving back to Oxford from Cambridge.

The ground was uneven so the deck chairs wobbled.  I didn’t know if I dare sit down.  In line for cakes, scones, and tea I had the feeling of being in a cafeteria – pick up a tray, select the jams and clotted cream, reach for the scone, order the tea.  Next.  I made it back to the chairs and carefully sat down after first putting my tray on the table.  Many in this group from the United States were wondering why in the world we would have hot tea on a day like this with the temperature in the high eighties.

Yet, once we all settled, a sense of peace also settled on the group.  Aiden MacKay read Rupert Brooke’s poem, “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester,” recalling this small town from the distance of a trip to Berlin in 1912.  Everyone listened, attuned to the connection Brooke had to this town where he lived after graduating from King’s College and before heading off to WWI.  Though the war had not yet started when he penned these lines, they seem to foretell the emptiness that many towns realized when their sons did not return home.

 Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, Rupert Brooke, 1912

IMG_1668To have tea, converse, gather with friends, maybe even change the world, the aptly named Grantchester Group gathered around Brooke and included Virginia Woolf, Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster, and Bertrand Russell. The spirit of The Orchard continues as sign boards show pictures of this group and free booklets tell the story of their lives and the place. Even after Brooke’s death in WWI people continued to come to enjoy tea and be inspired. It is a place in which to rest and remember.

Even though many well-known figures have taken tea at this place, and could have been the topic of a myriad of conversations, our group was talking about a man who is not known to have stopped by – C. S. Lewis.  We had just spent the late morning and early afternoon walking around Cambridge getting a feel for this other campus at which Lewis lectured.  However, our conversation that afternoon was not about his time in Cambridge, but his interactions with people.  His decades-long gathering of writers in the Inklings is rather well known.  In a way like the Grantchester Group.  However, we were not talking about that either.

Instead, the focus that afternoon was the wide variety of people with whom Lewis interacted outside of the campus.  He received and responded to letters from children, clergy, women, family, friends, scholars and wrote more as an equal than an expert. who did not use his position of authority to assert his way.  He took in war orphans during WWII.  He anonymously gave away the majority of his royalties to those in need.   In general he did not see his position as something to use, but as a way to serve – as when he tutored a junior colleague at Cambridge.  In his sermon “The Weight of Glory” he emphasizes this attitude as he writes, “The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.”

As the conversation continued under the trees of the Orchard, I began to understood my time on the C. S. Lewis Summer Seminar in a new light.  It was not about following a man into magnificent places. Instead we were following C. S. Lewis into the mess of his life.  Seeing the places where controversy remains about him and his writing.  Reading his logical arguments for Christianity, yet also realizing where this logic may have broken down.  Walking into places where he gathered with friends, but also learning how these friends weren’t always a cohesive group.

IMG_1674In this place where many have stopped to rest and remember, a new group was gathered around a man, though he was not there. We were humbly realizing that this man we may see as great did not see himself as such.  He was an erring human like each of us, though he sought to see others as holy, images of God.  In this realization I found “honey for tea” at The Orchard, though maybe not as others have tasted it.

 

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Planning a Pilgrimage this Summer

File0682Summer with the extra day-light hours and the more relaxed schedule in campus ministry provides an opportunity to break away from work and try something new.  It’s the time of year to put final touches on adventures, those weeks of magical bliss. It’s a time to create a new world, to try out some dreams, or to take the next step in a story.   It’s a time during which adventure can be a gateway to a new possibilities.

  • A time to leave everyday life.
  • A time to more deeply connect with internal spiritual nudgings.
  • A time to refresh after two semesters of work.
  • A time to journey towards a story.

After several years of ministry and family responsibilities that have kept me close to home, I’ve decided that this year is the time to head out on a more distant literary pilgrimage.  During this time, I want to integrate writing, pilgrimage, rest, community, new experiences, and life transformation.  So, I am working towards creating this perfect summer adventure – both eager and fearful at the same time.  But what does this look like?

Recently I’ve wanted my journeys to be grounded on this book on literary pilgrimage that I’ve been fooling around with forever.  Each time I venture out – whether across town to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s home in Cincinnati, Ohio, or to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home in Mansfield, Missouri – I get a new burst of energy for writing.  These journeys draw me into conversations that others are having about place, literature, story, and faith.  In turn, they pull me out of my writing rut.

Beyond research for a book, I want to explore other connections of literary pilgrimage.  Where might this interest connect with work within study centers, particularly centers associated with authors’ homes?  Where it may fit in with apologetics, in sharing the Christian message as a campus minister? Also, where might literary pilgrimage connect with the teaching of literature – both in formal and non-formal venues?

Within these reasons there is the underlying desire to design such trips for others.  I would like to learn how to develop a pilgrimage that would be welcome at a school like the University of Cincinnati – a journey for that students would be able to join for credit in literature, writing, religious studies – but also be on a personal pilgrimage that offers time to reflect on the larger questions of life and the academy.

One more thing – I look to these journeys to bring the possibility of connecting with other pilgrims. There is no doubt that a trip that includes interacting within a community moving towards a common goal is good discipline for someone who favors time alone and can get lost in being by herself.  I want to experience the wonder of being on pilgrimage, of walking in another’s steps, of meeting myself more deeply – and doing so with the challenge of being with other people – of being with a group, exploring a place, creating new stories even as we explore the richness of old ones.

What have I hit on?  I’m not to the point of getting a hotel yet, but am slowly putting together a journey that includes a week at a C.S. Lewis Seminar in Oxford, England, and some further meanderings around that great island.  Planning questions are still rumbling around my mind, but there is a beginning to this summer pilgrimage.  It won’t be perfect, but the possibilities for opening a new door in my life exist – and for that I can’t wait.

Any other pilgrimage planners out there?

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Literary Pilgrimage – A New Look

Literary pilgrimage.

  • A journey to places of story related to literature and its writing.
  • A  memoir of reading and journey.
  • A narrative of place and story, parable and poetry.

The introduction to the draft of my forever-in-progress book on literary pilgrimage, Walking the Path of Story, describes what the book is trying to do – build a connection between pilgrimage, literature, and reader.  It even lists the books and questions approached throughout the chapters. Yet, something is missing.  However, it doesn’t really get to the heart of this writing, the why it’s important, a reason to read.  So what is that reason?

This book is not full on literary criticism or religious ritual.  Nor is it a random jaunt to a tourist site.  Literary pilgrimage could be a way of simply following in the practices of earlier pilgrims, the authors and readers who have trod this path before.  But it’s not a path of imitation that underlays pilgrimage.  It’s a path of guidance.  This guidance frees the reader’s own story to come out as she lives in the places along the journey – the novels’, the authors’, the sites’, the pilgrims’.  It opens up new paths into the original story and into the pilgrim’s life.

Sitting in a grove of olive trees across from the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, I could barely keep my eyes open.  Jet lag was pressing in on me even as the breeze of this land drifted across my body and I sat before ancient temples.  My first evening in Europe felt like a dream.  I didn’t know what to expect over the next twelve days on this Mediterranean tour, but I was ready to follow our guides as we heard familiar stories and were surprised by new ones. The growing connection of place and story slowly dissolved the dream and I was soon on an unexpected journey.  Each day one story led to others, drawing me on to the next place – whether the Aeropagus in Athens, the Forum in Rome, or this book on literary pilgrimage.

Many times the guidance on these journeys comes in the language of the book itself.  Readers engage with words penned in a specific time and place by a specific author.  The contemporary interaction of the reader with the authored words brings meaning to life in the practice of reading.  So, what happens when this contemporary interpretation includes places along with words?  How does the reader encounter these places?  Definitely not in the same way as the author.  This contrast is part of the richness of literary pilgrimage.  It puts one face-to-face with the uniqueness of both reader and writer and allows them to be in a multi-layered conversation.

On an overcast day in July I spent several hours on Cadbury Hill – a possible site of the fabled Camelot.  Through the trees I could see a lone piece of land rising out of the earth –  Glastonbury Tor, the Isle of Avalon, home to the Lady of the Lake, the grave of King Arthur.  The grass underneath and branches above grounded me in an actual place, yet there was more.  While sitting in this place numerous stories came together as I read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s novel, Mists of Avalon, and recalled other Arthurian legends.  Lives opened up.  Imaginations roamed.  A fullness welled up as I contemplated being in that place, at that moment.  Men and women had been walking across those fields for centuries.  Stories of kings and knights had been lived and embellished, given new life for others to retell.  In these connections I was drawn to the stories all the more.  Yet, many others had come this way before.  What difference did it make that it was new to me?

Similarly, what difference would it make for others to walk in the paths of stories that drew me on journey?  I had found connections that opened up the novels of Jane Eyre, Little Women, To the Lighthouse and The Girl of the Limberlost, but would others also find these connections inspiring?  Ultimately, these journeys shouldn’t only be about the pilgrim’s experiences.  Through the readings and the places, the writings will get into the heart of the journeys, the wanderings, the way of the initial interactions.  But, the should also provide pathways on which readers can start their own journeys.

On an overcast March day I was wandering through the ruins of Whitby Abbey on the eastern coast of England.  A storm rolling in from the sea made the place seem even more desolate.  Over the next days I also explored Bolton and Fountains Abbeys.  These immense skeletons of stone are all that remain of church buildings that were caught in the midst of a political and religious battle.  Grand architectural monuments now decayed.  Remnants of a religious legacy that people alternately romanticize and critique.  In these places men sensed the power of God; but, also abused human power in God’s name.  Now we only have the vestiges of these buildings calling us to hear their former stories and fill them with new ones.

Though the paths and stories encountered taken in this book are not through stone ruins, they do form a scaffolding that will hold a new story, a new community.  They can provide a path for others to understand these novels through new means.  This path won’t be in a stranglehold of rules and procedures for reading, but in the telling of stories.  It’s a journey into words, outside of the chains of expectations and into the grace of living a story.

What is such a book for?  To help other people engage in pilgrimage – first vicariously, and then on their own.  To relish literature, story, these types of journeys.  To show God’s story in the midst.  It’s not just about these authors, these places, one person’s journey.  It includes the readers.  It’s about their stories and our stories interwoven.  Through the chapters we walk down a pilgrimage path exploring the liminal elements of life – on a journey to stories and at home.

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News from the Writing World

Today Mo Yan, a Chinese writer, won the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature.  Every year I listen for the name – and often quickly forget it.  Attaining such recognition seems so foreign to me that it barely registers in my mind.  It’s just another piece of news and affirmation that literature still matters.

But did you also know that The New The New York Public Library is recreating Charles Dickens’ library of fake books. and Patti Smith visited the Brontë parsonage and Sylvia Plath’s grave.  Now these may not be life changing events, but they do show that writers, and their related items and places, continue to engage people in tangible spaces.  There is a life of reading and writing that goes beyond the covers of a given book.

Both of these news bits came from a website I recently discovered – Writers’ Houses.  As you will see, this site contains archives descriptions of a number of writers homes along with a weekly update on upcoming events or other connections to these houses.  It’s a virtual place to gather with others who continue to find importance in visiting these homes and other literary sites.

This could be dangerous for me.  Reading the list from two weeks ago I’m ready to go to Manorbier House, a Welch haunt of Virginia Woolf’s, that is still used as a writers’ retreat or find a way to live in one of the castles in the UK used for movies and television shows.  Who knows where I will be drawn to go over the next weeks as I return to the site.  Some of the ventures will be doable, others not so much.  But merely reading about the opportunities and getting a glimpse of the actual lives lived by these authors have inspired me to sit at the keyboard once again and get to writing.

In my research on literary pilgrimages to writers houses, I have found that such journeys don’t only or even primarily draw people to follow in the steps of the authors, mimicking their styles and attempting to recreate what had been.  Such visits also encourage people to step into their own life, and possibly writing, journeys on a more engaged level. There’s something about knowing that it’s been done before in a given place, with all its attendant difficulties, that makes writing or even another activity seem possible.

Now I may or may not purchase Mo Yan’s latest writings in which he merges “folk tales, history and the contemporary” with hallucinatory realism.  But I do know that I will return to a writer’s house soon to explore the places and surroundings that inspired them.  But even before that time, I will make my own journey into the practice of literature – both reading and writing in the places that surround me today.

 

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Andalusia

Andalusia – the name alone invites many exotic images.  The site most associated with Flannery O’Connor was a nine hour drive to Milledgeville, Georgia, but well worth it.   Here was a place where a writer lived with her mother as she dealt with the daily reality of lupus and composed stories that reveal a shocking view of grace.  Furthermore, who wouldn’t want to go to a farm where peacocks used to roam?

I saw this journey as one to a fellow writer’s home, not a time for literary criticism. What would I find?  What did she see when she wrote?  What may have inspired her?  The entrance is a non-descript drive off a four lane highway across from a big-box shopping center.  I turned in and started to drive down the one lane path.  Quickly the traffic behind me disappeared and I was enveloped in another space.  Trees and other bushes lined the one-lane, unpaved road as I followed signs to park.  At a turn in the road the view opened and I saw the house – a white farm house with red roof.

Several other buildings were on the property – a barn, sheds, house – all in difference states of re-construction.  There was a lot to explore.  First, I headed to the main house.  The yard in front was filled with towering oaks, providing some shade in the oppressive heat of southern summer.  I walked up the red brick stairs to the screened-in porch that spanned the length of the house.  Opening the door I was greeted with the scent of lives lived.  This was not a pristine tourist stop.  It’s a re-opened home.  Paint is peeling from walls, drapes are fraying.  There was a sense of forlornness about the place.  Yet, at the same time I knew that this is the repository of great stories.

The tour was self-guided, though the director, Craig Amason, was ready to answer any questions.  Looking down the hallway, the dining room was on the right and Flannery’s bedroom on the left – a typewriter still at the ready – though not hers.  The bed was made, but the bookcases were empty.  Through the small gift shop shop at the end of the hall and on the right was the kitchen and then a room where people could watch a short video about the author.  Retracing my steps I returned to the front of the house and walked up the stairs.  The curtains in the upstairs bedroom were yellowed and torn.  I could sense this place had been lived in.  In a way, it needed the grace about which Flannery wrote.  A life in the midst of questions, of imperfection.  The ideal doesn’t need grace.

I didn’t feel drawn into the life of this house, though it did intrigue me.  There was a sadness of the life lived here no longer and I couldn’t see myself writing in this space.  When I stepped out onto the porch again, I sat in one of the white rocking chairs and looked out over the land.  This farm, a working farm when Flannery lived here with her mother, provided much to think about- the live oaks shading the summer sun, a land that had seen war between the states, the barn, the milk shed, the water tower, and much more.  Here was a whole world that could infiltrate the imagination of a writer.

This was a place

  • to create stories;
  • to think away from the crowd;
  • to understand a new life.

I walked around the yard – down to a pond and around the outbuildings.  Sat on the benches in the gardens near the house, looked at the peacocks – now safely in a pen and not walking around the yard.  I could detect spurts of life.  Seeds of stories.  Maybe I couldn’t write here, but I shouldn’t.  This was someone else’s world.  But I could look at my world more fully.  Where are the places I would write?  Not an old farm house with peacocks walking in the yard – but a campus ministry house, a small home in the suburbs, a local church.  My own exotic places.

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Quilting a Pilgrimage

For over five years I’ve intended to start a hands-on project – one that doesn’t involve a keyboard.  Too often I’m focused on reading, writing, planning, and thinking – mostly in front of a laptop.  So, even before my dissertation was finished, I started a project to create five small landscape quilts related to each of the pilgrimages included in the research. These would be visual images recreated in fabric that I would choose, feel, cut.  A tangible product that would get me out of my head and away from a screen.  I could picture the final quilts hanging on my wall and as illustrations in a book about these journeys.  I had the story in mind; getting there has been the challenge.

Yes, it’s been five years.  Fabric still waits in a basket on top of a bookcase.  Many things have happened in the intervening time, but not much to engage that mind-hands interaction.  My excuses are many:

  • Unscheduled days don’t appear in the calendar.
  • I’m unsure of what to do.
  • I’ll make a mistake.
  • I’ll never finish.
  • This is a waste of time.

So the basket has remained closed.

Recently I met a woman who creates landscape quilts and thought that she could spur my latent interest.  I reached out and spent over an hour at her house looking at fabric and learning some basic techniques.  After sorting through the fabric scraps she gave me, I added them to the basket, saving it up for that perfect day.  Yet, I remained afraid to step out into the unknown space of working on this quilt.  Would I keep the possibility stored away, or do something about it?

I had the story I was working towards and now at least one other person with me on this journey.  So, I eventually I took the basket down and read some how-to books.  I was in the preparation phase of the pilgrimage, gathering the necessary equipment to bring along – pins, fabric, scissors.  I started by first creating the canvas.  I like that.  I’ll be working on a canvas just like an artist.  The first hours, though, were a bit of a failure.  But I had started.  I’d stepped into a place where I’m moving towards the final destination of completing these quilts. It seems a long way off, but there is hope – and I think I’ll learn much along the way.

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Seeds of a Novel – Uncle Tom’s Cabin

A two-story, white house, the only building left of what had been the Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, is dedicated to telling the story of the seminary president’s daughter – Harriet Beecher Stowe.  It seems out of place now with a gas station across the street and a highway overpass just a stone’s throw away.  Still, it provides a sense of a story that grew to encompass much more than a small corner of this city on the Ohio River.

Four years after moving to Cincinnati, Harriet started her married life.  Eventually she moved back to New England with her husband and children.  However, the experience of living on the edge of the North/South divide remained with her.  Around the seminary and in her home she heard about and likely participated in the growing abolitionist movement.  Down the river in Washington, Kentucky she saw a slave auction and in Ripley, Ohio she heard first-hand accounts of escapes.  She learned from  friends and acquaintances how the Underground Railroad kept running.

However, this city inspired more than her stance against slavery, it provided her a place to practice writing.  During her time here she was part of a literary society – the Semi-Colon Club.  Within this group she and others shared their writing projects and found encouragement.  She honed her skills and early in her marriage published articles and stories to supplement the family’s income.  At some level this group likely planted and helped nurture the seeds that would grow into Uncle Tom’s Cabin – a novel that moved a nation to read and to act.  She wrote this novel after the family returned to New England, but it certainly had some roots in Cincinnati.

Who would have thought that the buildings of the seminary would be torn down, yet one house remains because of a book written by a woman?  Some of its views may appear dated and sentimental 150 years later, but it continues to draw readers into the story of slavery and its effects on the human spirit and larger community. This is the story that the volunteers at the house tell – of a family, a woman, a book – engaged with the world around them as they struggle to live out their deep belief that God created all humans to be free.

Together the abolitionist activity and the literary society created just the place Stowe needed to conceive and write this book.  I wonder what writing groups in Cincinnati are even now providing encouragement for the next Harriet.  What areas of town are housing young men and women that are stirred to tell a story?

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Entering Laura’s Story

The Trail

After walking through Laura Ingall’s house, Rocky Ridge Farm, I sat for awhile on a bench just outside, taking in the house and the lives lived there.  Trees still towered over the roof, providing shade and the peaceful rustle of leaves.  The building itself was rather non-descript, except for its occupants.  Here Wilder had  created a home of her own, a three dimensional story that people can still explore and that is linked to her creation of the Little House books.  Her life was one of intentionally living in the places around her – giving her plenty of material with which to later build these still popular books.

When I got up, I went to the bookstore to buy some of the creations that came from this place.  These were some of the first chapter books I remember reading and I always enjoyed picturing myself in the adventures in which Laura and the others found themselves. I walked through the store at least four times pondering what books to buy for myself – focusing on those about travel and place – and what to buy for my nieces and nephew.  I wanted to purchase books that would draw them into these stories so they might catch a flicker of interest in writing, reading, and journeys.  Maybe some day they will find themselves outside of the house of an author, musician, or scientist who inspired them.

Along the Trail

I was ready to leave after taking a quick tour through the Rock House, a house Laura and Almanzo’s daughter, Rose, had built for them on an a distant part of the property.  Then I noticed the trail.  There is a walking path – just over a mile – between the two homes, but it had been closed due to excessive rain over the past weeks.  I had been disappointed that I could not walk the path when the guide at Rocky Ridge had said it was closed.   However, this part of the trail didn’t look too bad and I did not see a sign saying stay out, so I started walking – and kept going through woods and meadows.  I took time to look at wildflowers, watch butterflies flit from plant to plant, and feel the cool of the shade in the woods.  It was a quiet walk.  No one else was around.  I felt a little rebellious venturing into a closed area.  Further and further I ventured, breathing deeply and wondering what was over the next hill.

How fun to just play and have a mini adventure.  I was letting my bonnet carelessly hang down my back as Laura was wont to do in so many of the stories.  Not a bad practice.

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Finding a Little House

Leaving behind the river town of Hannibal on my mini-pilgrimage last summer, I spent an afternoon driving to Mansfield, Missouri to see Rocky Ridge – Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home during her writing life.  On the edge of the town’s square – complete with bandstand and memorials – I stayed at the Weaver Inn Bed and Breakfast.  Here was a sanctuary where I could revitalize before going to the next pilgrimage site.  After eating an authentic Mexican dinner at a small place next door, I took a reconnaissance drive to Rocky Ridge and then returned to take a much needed rest.

Rocky Ridge

The next morning, after a filling breakfast, I was off.  Similar to my time at Mark Twain’s sites, I toured the museum and the house.  However, these places were a little more rustic and not as sleek. The glass display cases contained items from Laura and her family – quilts, photographs, and tableware – labeled with hand-typed cards.  I felt I was peering in into the attic treasures of this family.  At one point, a guide directed some of the other guests to look at Pa’s fiddle, one of the more popular items in the museum.  Pa’s fiddle?  Ah, yes, that emblematic item of the Little House on the Prairie stories and television shows.  What I remember most about Pa’s fiddle are the sarcastic comments my father would make related to the television show and how Pa always managed to save the day.  Somehow I had walked right by it this relic.  Yes, relics.  In many ways this site had the feel of a reliquary, a place to honor the ‘bones’ of a saint, more than a mere museum that preserves the past.

This feeling continued as I entered the small, white house – a full immersion experience.  Unlike other historical houses I’ve visited, the guides did not provide caveats about this house being lived in by the writer, but the items only period pieces that they may have owned.  No, this was the house as Laura left it when she died.  She and her husband, Almanzo, had placed, if not created, everything, including the additions to the original small house.  Beds, books, pots, tables – everything was theirs.  They looked through these windows and decided on that wall paper.  I wanted to browse through the shelves of books that they purchased and read, but that was not part of the tour.

We left through the front door, crossing over a threshold that had seen much life.  Creation emanated from this little house in the forms of Laura’s books and Almanzo’s farming.  It was good to be in this place.

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