Only a fellow gardener can imagine my delight when I broke off an overly aggressive pumpkin vine and found the Concord grape vine I had planted this spring and left for dead had sprung up underneath.
It’s a seedless variety, and I had imagined the sweet, rich grape juice I would bottle and the succulent raisins I would dry. I had planted three different varieties, but the Concord was the most desired. Joy!
The Concord grape was developed in 1849 by Ephraim Bull. He wisely chose to name the sweet, full-flavored, early-ripening fruit after his town in Massachusetts. Would you want to buy a bottle of Bull grape juice?
Purple mustaches aside, Concord was a colorful place. Most of us remember it for the shot fired at the Old North Bridge. It started the killing in earnest and tipped the domino in favor of American freedom.
But while the good Mr. Bull was out testing each of the 22,000 grape seedlings for purple perfection, new philosophies were brewing around in the brains of the local thinkers.
Ralph Waldo Emerson had been a local preacher, but when his wife died, he left preaching, left Christianity and started the original hippie movement. He called it Transcendentalism, asserting that nature is god and god is nature. He urged a vegan diet, enslaving no man nor beast, and using no leather nor even wool.
Critics called him — and those who joined him — anarchists, but the rhetoric was so catchy that Emerson soon had a high-dollar lecture circuit.
Living in the same little-burg were the Alcotts. Louisa May, the spinster daughter who wrote “Little Women,” observed her father, Bronson, become involved with Transcendentalism.
He tried to form a Utopian society. The idea was to live off the land and produce a living without help from man nor beast. But the town gossips watching from a little distance observed that when the heavy work of farming was needed, the intellectual founder was found elsewhere.
Louisa May noted that “the band of brothers began spading the garden and field; but a few days of it lessened their ardor amazingly.”
Seven months later, when Alcott’s wife was threatening untold consequences, Bronson Alcott himself wrote, “None of us were prepared to actualize practically the ideal of life of which we dreamed. So, we fell apart.”
Just down the street, Nathaniel Hawthorne penned his novels “The Scarlet Letter” and “The House of Seven Gables.” Both those stories speak of the foibles of human nature. Though some people called Hawthorne “haughty,” others excused his stand-offishness as shyness.
Whichever it was, he was too skeptical of human nature to join the transcendentalists.
That may have been true of Mr. Alcott, but Henry David Thoreau embraced his own version of “living off the land.” He moved onto a piece of real estate owned by the Emersons. It was on the shore of a small lake called Walden Pond. He built himself a cabin, grew a few vegetables, fished, swam, rowed and observed nature.
When he needed anything — money, tools, writing materials — he begged or borrowed from more enterprising friends. The essays in Walden dispense pithy bits of wit and wisdom, and extol the virtues of owning nothing, enthroning personal gratification as the highest ideal.
Thoreau eventually relinquished transcendentalist philosophy except for the best tenet of all: He went to work and became an avid abolitionist. He reportedly operated a safe house on the Underground Railroad.
On a prominent lot on the main street through Concord, a gracious home called “The Wayside” sits nestled in old trees. The wrap-around screen porch looks inviting on a hot summer evening.
Tours are offered because three famous authors lived under that roof in earlier times. First the Alcotts, then Hawthorne and family, and later, Margaret Sidney, a classic children’s author.
Down the road in Lancaster, when you’ve finished Revolutionary War site touring, an ice cream stop called Kimball Farms claims a soft spot in my heart (and physique). Giant servings of premium quality ice-cream concoctions make the drive worth the trouble, no matter which state you live in.
From guns to grapes, hippies to authors, Concord, Massachusetts, is a lovely nest of History.
Only in America, God bless it.