Tag Archives: pilgrimage


Cambridge, Mass.

A sort of pilgrimage to Concord, Massachusetts, today. I met my dad (who still lives in Concord) in the late morning to take a walk. It was hot, so we decided to go to Sleepy Hollow, the cemetery where a number of famous Transcendentalists are buried. We just wanted a cool place to walk on a hot day, but I did make a point of visiting Elizabeth Palmer Peabody’s grave. She was a contemporary of Emerson’s, a Transcendentalist who ran the West Street bookstore where she sold Transcendentalist books, published “The Dial” for a few issues, and hosted some of Margaret Fuller’s “conversations” for women (sort of early consciousness-raising sessions). Elizabeth Peabody never married, always claimed she was too busy, and had an incredible career as a teacher, reformer, and intellectual. She is perhaps best known today for introducing kindergarten to the United States — in her conception, a way to give children of all scoi-economic groups a head start before they started school. An amazing woman, and my favorite of all the Transcendentalists.

Her grave stone is down the hill from “Author’s Ridge,” where Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Lousia May Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne (her brother-in-law) are buried. She’s buried in a beautiful little hollow dappled with sun and shade. And her legacy lives on in some interesting ways. Late in her career, Elizabeth Peabody mentored a young educator named Lucy Wheelock, who later went on to found Wheelock College, where my mother got her bachelor’s degree. Lucy Wheelock was still a presence when my mother was studying there, and my mother went on to teach for a dozen years. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if my mother chose to pursue her career and not get married as Lucy Wheelock and Elizabeth Peabody did. Mom was an excellent teacher, and who knows where her career would have gone? We’ll never know, but it’s fun to speculate.

After I had lunch with dad and my two sisters, I went for another long walk on the Battle Road Trail in Minuteman National Historical Park in Concord. It’s blackberry season, and I ate some really good blackberries. It must be a good year for blackberries, because they were large and plump and tasty, and worth every scratch I got picking them.


Andy Skurka hiked 7,700 miles across the country, finishing last Sunday.

I’ve been following his trip logs since February, when he was at the halfway point of his trip. I find it a tremendously exciting story — that someone could hike close to eight thousand miles across North America in just under a year, crossing the midwest in the middle of winter. It’s just an amazing thing to do — reads like a real pilgrimage — somehow very life-affirming.

Going to Saint-Terre

One of the more life-affirming Web sites that I visit these days is:

Andy Skurka is taking a year-long, 7,700 mile walk across the North American continent. Right now, he is somewhere west of Frazee, Minnesota, having walked close to 5,000 miles already. His sister posts trail logs just about every week, giving the latest news from his trek.

What is this but a contemporary pilgrimage — a pilgrimage, not to some dusty bones and pieces of a holy person long dead, but a pilgrimage to find who knows what? It strikes me as a good kind of pilgrimage for my kind of religion. Henry Thoreau offers a theological justification for this kind of pilgrimage in his essay “Walking”:

I have met but one or two persons in the course of my life who understand the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks — who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, whihc word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a saunterer, a Holy Lander.

And where is that Holy Land, that Sainte Terre, of which Thoreau speaks? Why, right in front of your feet. Andy Skurka is finding that Holy Land with each step he takes, and he has captured my imagination. I’m already thinking about what pilgrimage, to which holy land, I’m going to make.

Update: Andy Skurka completed his cross-continental hike ahead of schedule.