Salem, Massachusetts, makes a nice day trip from Boston and if you’re there, a stop at the House of Seven Gables is a natural for lit lovers or anyone who likes the occasional glimpse of really old colonial homes. Author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cousin, Susanna Ingersoll (and other ancestors who played a part in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692), lived in the house and he visited there frequently. He stated that his book, The House of Seven Gables, was a complete work of fiction, based on no particular house. Nonetheless, as you tour the tiny, dark rooms typical of the era in which it was built (the late 1600s), it’s easy to see how such a house could set the author’s imagination rolling. The site also offers a chance to tour the house in which Hawthorne was born (which was moved to this site) along with several other buildings of that period.
If you haven’t read The House of Seven Gables, the novel follows a New England family and explores themes of guilt, retribution, and atonement, with overtones of the supernatural and witchcraft. For me, the book doesn’t compare to Hawthorne’s classic, The Scarlet Letter. However, it was an inspiration for the horror fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft who called it “New England’s greatest contribution to weird literature.” That seems a backhanded complement to me.
While you’re in Salem, I also recommend stopping at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, a short walk from the House of Seven Gables. The National Park Service operates it and you can wander through old wharf buildings, the Custom House where Hawthorne worked when he wasn’t penning famous novels, and other buildings of the colonial era.
Salem was, of course, the home of the famous Salem Witch Trials which were the focus of Arthur Miller’s classic play, The Crucible. The National Park Service Visitor Center (2 Liberty Street) is a great place to get quality background on that incident. It’s ironic that Salem has made a cottage industry out of the witch trials when our puritan ancestors were so thoroughly opposed to witches. Unless you’re a fan of super-tacky witch paraphernalia and occult museums, stick with the Park Service displays on the subject and skip the other witchy tourist traps.
Sea breezes wafting over my bare skin, the smell of salt air, warm sun, gentle waves lapping on the shore….
In complete contrast to my last post on the Lake Superior ice caves, I’m presently traveling to a warm weather spot, at least in my mind. I’m pondering plans for summer travel and looking fondly at my pix from last summer on Cape Ann, north of Boston, Mass.
Minnesota is beautiful in summer, but there’s just something captivating about New England that time of year and Cape Ann, known as Massachusetts’s “other cape” is a great place to experience it– in Gloucester, which is still a fishing town, and just to the north, the village of Rockport which has, for the most part, shifted from fishing to tourism. Rockport is so darned adorable that on visits there my husband requires a periodic dose of ESPN to counteract the charm overload.
Everything in this part of the country is really old, like 1600s old, hence the charm, and the ocean has been the focus of life here for hundreds of years. So before you go, you’ll want to break out a couple of classics of seafaring literature to enhance your appreciation of the area’s maritime traditon. They include Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous, a story of cod fishermen who work between Gloucester and Newfoundland; Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Stormabout the ill-fated Gloucester fishermen of the Andrea Gail; and Mark Kurlansky’s The Last Fish Tale: The Fate of the Atlantic and Survival in Gloucester, America’s Oldest Fishing Port and Most Original Town. For more area literature, see my post about nearby Dogtown.
But put down your book. There’s plenty to do on the water such as kayaking, stand-up paddling, and whale watching. And, if you’re a seafood lover, stroll down Bearskin Neck in Rockport to Roy Moore’s lobster shack. Eat it on the deck in back or take it out for a beach picnic. Last year, there was a lobster surplus so we felt it our duty to help alleviate that problem. Also, the Red Skiff gets my vote for the world’s best fish chowder.
Like any resort community, Rockport has its share of art galleries. Some of the best are on Main Street where you’ll also find Toad Hall bookstore and another gem, The Shalin Liu Performance Center, where a giant window with a view of the harbor serves as a backdrop for the music. As you can imagine, the area abounds with charming inns, B&Bs and homes for rental.
Cape Ann is one of the destinations in my book, Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways where you’ll find many other ideas for getaways year-round.
If you’re a traveler, fall, not Christmas, is the “most wonderful time of the year.” Same sites but fewer crowds, cooler temps, and often, lower prices. It’s the perfect time to go so many places, you may find it hard to choose a destination. The answer lies on your bookshelf. Whether they’re classics or “beach reads,” your favorite books can offer guidance and inspiration for a “lit trip” to see the sites of the stories, absorb the environment that inspired the authors, and even walk the paths of fictional characters. Literary travel allows you to extend the experience of a great book and expand your understanding of your destination. Reading and travel enhance each other, and one taste will leave you yearning to go back for more. Best of all, you don’t need to head for Hemingway’s favorite Paris haunts or Jane Austen’s English countryside to take a lit trip. Opportunities for book-based travel abound in the U.S., too, and many are at their best in fall.
California Wine Country – Vintage Reading
Harvest time in California’s wine regions, typically from mid-August through October, overflows with vibrant golden yellow and crimson colors and the trucks rumbling by overflow with grapes ready for the crush. M.F.K. Fisher captured the delights of Napa and Sonoma where she lived and wrote her classic essays on food, wine, and life. Jack London also loved the Sonoma area where he lived and wrote in his later years. And, for fans of another type of grape, The Grapes of Wrath (which has absolutely nothing to do with wine), the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, is a short jaunt from wine country, making literature and wine the perfect blend for fall travel.
Read: M.F.K. Fisher, Musings on Wine and Other Libations, (Anne Zimmerman, ed.)
Jack London, Valley of the Moon (another name for Sonoma),
For more contemporary reading, try James Conaway, Nose, and Rex Picket, Sideways.
Explore: the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties, and take a side trip to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas (www.steinbeck.org)
Stay: L’Auberge Du Soleil, Rutherford (www.aubergedusoleil.com)
Eat: pack a picnic and enjoy it on the grounds of your favorite winery or in Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen www.jacklondonpark.com
Events: Fall in wine country means special celebrations of wine and food such as Flavor! Napa Valley in November (flavornapavalley.com), vintner dinners such as those at Grgich winery (grgich.com). Schramsberg winery in Calistoga offers special camps in fall and spring for wine and food lovers (www.schramsberg.com/news/campschramsberg)
Santa Fe – Willa Cather’s Archbishop Comes to Life
Santa Fe is a sensory fiesta year-round but in fall the aroma of roasting chili peppers adds to the mix. New Mexico’s beauty, dramatic history, and architecture have lured for artists and writers for decades. Among them, D.H. Lawrence (to Taos) and Willa Cather, who captured the drama of the New Mexico environment as she wrote a fictional version of the real-life story of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, in Death Comes for the Archbishop. Shoppers and art lovers will find equally dramatic adventures in Santa Fe.
Read: Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
Explore: Bishop’s Lodge which offers a spa, horseback riding, and a chance to see Bishop Lamy’s chapel and home. (www.bishopslodge.com)
Stay: Inn on the Alameda (www.innonthealameda.com)
Eat: The Shed (www.sfshed.com)
Events: Santa Fe Wine and Chili Fiesta (www.santafewineandchile.org)
Newport, RI – America’s “Downton Abbey”
Since the 1800s, America’s wealthiest families have flocked to Newport, Rhode Island, and built summer “cottages” that most of us would call “palaces.” Among them was Edith Wharton, who wrote of her experiences in Gilded Age Newport in books such as The Buccaneers, which is about wealthy heiresses who married into the British aristocracy, much like “Downton Abbey’s” Cora Crawley. You can explore Newport’s Gilded Age mansions as well as its gorgeous seaside sites. The more “off season” you go, the more you can afford live like a Vanderbilt.
Read: Gail McColl and Carol Wallace, To Marry and English Lord
Edith Wharton, The Buccaneers
Explore: Newport Mansions (newportmansions.org)
Stay: Vanderbilt Grace (www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt) Ask about packages that include admission to the Newport Mansions.
Eat: The Mooring (www.mooringrestaurant.com)
Polo matches, sailing regattas, or just a hike along Cliff Walk. In Newport you can sample “upper crust activities” or just enjoy the view. (www.gonewport.com)
Nantucket – A Whale of a Trip
You can’t find a more concentrated dose of New England charm than in Nantucket. And, if you’re a fan of Herman Melville’s whale tale, Moby Dick, you know that Nantucket is the place where Captain Ahab’s ship, the Peaquod, set sail.
Read: Herman Melville, Moby Dick,
Nathaniel Philbrick, Why Read Moby-Dick? and In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
Sena Jeter Nasland, Ahabs Wife
Or for more contemporary tales, read Summerland and other books by Nantucket resident Elin Hilderbrand.
Stay: White Elephant (www.whiteelephanthotel.com)
Eat: Millie’s. Enjoy the sunset and sample a Whale Tale Pale Ale. (www.milliesnantucket.com)
Explore: Nantucket Whaling Museum (www.nha.org)
Events: The Nantucket Maritime Festival. You’ll hear sea shanties sung, see harpoons thrown, and boats raced. (www.nantucketmaritimefestival.org)
Driftless in Wisconsin
Because of its geology, the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin is a place tailor-made for meandering. And the fall colors are reaching their peak in Wisconsin right now. As David Rhodes explains it in his beautiful book Driftless, “The last of the Pleistocene glaciers did not trample through this area, and the glacial deposits of rock, clay, sand, and silt–called drift–are missing. Hence its name, the Driftless Region. Singularly unrefined, it endured in its hilly, primitive form untouched by the shaping hands of those cold giants.” In this area, you’ll meet friendly folks who may remind you of the characters in Rhodes’s book—organic farmers, artists, shopkeepers, and the nice Norwegian lady at the dairy coop. Amish folks sell produce and hand-made wares at roadside stands, making the entire area a giant farmers market through fall. By the end of your trip, you’ll be reluctant to leave. But you can return by reading Rhodes’s newest book, Jewel Weed.
Read: David Rhodes, Driftless and its sequel, Jewel Weed
Stay: Charming B&Bs abound in the Driftless Area. Check out The Roth House(therothhouse.com) and the sister property The Old Oak Inn (theoldoakinn.net) in Soldier’s Grove or Westby House Inn in Westby (www.westbyhouse.com)
I love the water, but as a Midwesterner, the ocean holds a special fascination because we don’t have one. Granted, the Great Lakes are big enough and fierce enough in bad weather to give the feeling of the ocean and the same waves of motion sickness wash over on me on rough water, salty or fresh. But there’s just something about the ocean that launches my imagination into overdrive.
First there are the tides. We visited friends one summer who live on a Pacific coast inlet. When we arrived we were oceanside. The next morning the water was gone and the boats all sat in the sand awaiting high tide to float them again. This was a freaky, Stephen King-like experience for a “lake person.”
The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald aside, the ocean simply carries a bigger cargo of tales, from Moby Dick to Captains Courageous to The Perfect Storm and about a zillion classic novels in between. Gloucester, Mass., a real fishing town north of Boston, offers one of the best places to hang out and absorb a heavy dose of the maritime atmosphere that makes those stories come to life. You’ll get a double dose if you attend the Gloucester Schooner Festival this weekend.
Finally, few things are more pleasurable than being sea-side, dozing intermittently, lulled by the warmth of the sun, a view of the ocean, the sound of the surf, and the coconutty smell of sunscreen on your skin. I just read a post from a blog I follow, Jenn’s Bookselves, in which she writes about how much the venue in which we read a novel, can affect our
feelings and reading experience. I nominate surfside as one of the best places to read, though it’s important to do so with books that give your brain a chance to relax along with the rest of your body. So raise your pina colada and your copy of anything by Carl Hiassen. Here’s to beach reading.
Bars and counters are my favorite places to sit in restaurants. There’s something about the combination of close proximity and food that fosters great conversations among complete strangers. And, if I see you sitting next to me with a book, you won’t have time to read it because I’ll won’t be able to stop myself from asking what you’re reading, what it’s about, and do you recommend it.
That happened a couple of springs ago when my husband, Scott, and I were in Rockport,
Mass., (on Cape Ann, about an hour north of Boston) while I was researching my book, Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways. There was still a chill in the the air and we were happily slurping down huge bowls of fish chowder at the Red Skiff, a tiny restaurant on Rockport’s aptly named Mt. Pleasant St. (The relaxed pace and the chance to hang out and chat with locals on both sides of the lunch counter without a line if diners behind you, and of course lower prices, are a few of the many charms of off-season travel.) I noticed that two of our lunch counter companions were discussing a book, so I had to barge into their discussion and ask about it, which led to questions about where we were from and what brought us to Rockport. Turned out the two gentlemen were members of the local sheriff’s department enjoying their day off. When one heard about my project, he grabbed the book from his friend’s hands and said, “You’ve got to read this book.” It was Elyssa East’s Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town. He said with an air of mystery that Dogtown has had a very strange history. “Say no more,” I said.
That lunch counter encounter was enough to launch me into reading not only East’s non-
fiction book about a murder in Dogtown, but also Anita Diamant’s fictional work The Last Days of Dogtown (you may have read her best-seller, The Red Tent) and Thomas Dresser’s Dogtown: A Village Lost in Time. After reading those books, I had to go see the place for myself.
Dogtown is a 3,600-acre tract of juniper, bog, and granite with a beautiful reservoir at one end. Early settlers–really early, like the mid-1600s–put down roots in Dogtown, though it couldn’t have been easy among so much rock. A century later as many as 100 families lived in the Dogtown area. But after the Revolutionary War, people figured that fishing might be a better way to make a living than tilling around giant boulders. It’s surprising that it took them that long. By the early 1800s, Dogtown was deserted, but for a few impoverished widows who, like Tammy Younger, the “queen of the witches,” intimidated passersby enough to make them pay her to leave them alone. A few dogs remained, too, which according to some people is the reason for the area’s name.
One thing that’s unnerving about Dogtown is that’s it’s rather hard to find your way around, giving the feeling that at any turn you could become hopelessly lost and eventually end up like Tammy and her warty friends. To explore Dogtown Commons, buy a detailed trail map at Toad Hall Books in Rockport or bookstores in Gloucester and bring along your GPS. You can also take a tour with an expert Seania McCarthy at Walk the Words. With a bit of looking, you can still find the holes that were the cellars of the first Dogtown homes.
But my favorite hike is the Babson Boulder Trail. During the Depression, millionaire
philanthropist Roger Babson, the founder of Babson College, hired unemployed stonecutters to carve 24 inspirational words on Dogtown boulders, many on what is now the Babson Boulder Trail. It’s fun, but a tad eerie, to encounter giant boulders at various points on the trail with inscriptions such as “Industry,” “Kindness,” “Be On Time,” and “Keep Out of Debt.” My favorite: “Help Mother.”
All of this history and mystery made Dogtown a favorite source of inspiration for the painter Marsden Hartley who captured the place in powerful, primal paintings such as “Rock Doxology.” He said, “A sense of eeriness pervades all the place…. [It is] forsaken and majestically lovely, as if nature had at last formed one spot where she can live for herself alone.” Read the books and go see for yourself.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.