We’re Off to Massachusetts!

In Spring 2008, I took a class at NGU called New England Writers. My roommate/BFF Harvin did, as well, and there we met Ticcoa, who quickly became one of our favorite people. We all took the class in anticipation of discussing great literature with one of our favorite professors (Yay, Dr. Thompson!) and then embarking on a ten-day road trip to visit the Mecca of the literary world, Boston, Massachusetts.

We planned. We researched. We dreamed. We devoured literature from New England. And then the trip was canceled due to a TON of different reasons.

But Ticcoa, Harvin, and I refused to believe that we would never make it to Boston. We kept dreaming and discussing. And we decided we’d go this summer. The trip-planning hasn’t been without it’s nail-biting moments, however. We moved the date back when I was potentially offered the chance to teach a summer school class (which eventually fell through). We’ve saved and searched for the best deals, wondering if it was possible to do this on our limited budgets.

Yesterday, I booked a hotel about 15 miles outside of Boston. We leave four weeks from today. And it finally feels real…my best friends and I will spend ten days on the road, exploring New England, stepping on hallowed ground where such writers as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and Edgar Allan Poe lived and breathed, died and were buried, changed the world! For months, I’ve wanted this more than anything else. I’ve spent hours daydreaming about walking around Walden Pond, wearing my Threadless “Poetic Irony” shirt at Poe’s grave, taking photographs of the houses where some of my favorite writers lived.  For an English major, this will be heaven. And I’m going with two of my best friends. 🙂

What exactly will we be doing?, you may be asking yourself. Or, you know, perhaps not. I’ll tell you anyway.

At some point, on the trip up or back, we’ll be stopping off in Richmond, Virginia, to visit the Poe Museum, and in Baltimore, Maryland, to visit Poe’s grave. POE’S GRAVE!!!!! One of my very favorite writers and a cemetery? Good grief, it will be spectacular!

On the way back, we’re also swinging through Hartford, Connecticut, to visit the Mark Twain House and the first school for the deaf (Coa’s passionate about the deaf community and American Sign Language).

During the six days we’ll actually be in Massachusetts, we have plans to visit Boston, Cambridge, Concord, Salem, and Amherst:

Boston is, of course, one of the most historic cities in America. We’ll walk the Freedom Trail and see where many of the event’s of our country’s history played out. The site of the Boston Massacre; Boston Common, America’s oldest public park; the site of the Old Corner Bookstore, where The Scarlet Letter and Walden were first published; Paul Revere’s House; the Old North Church, inspiration for Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.” And maybe I can sneak a glimpse of Fenway Park? (My fellow travelers HATE sports, so this might be difficult.)

Cambridge is home of the Longfellow National Historic Site, and we’ll probably take a walking tour of the town and spot the homes where famous writers (including Eliot!) at some point lived or visited.

Concord is pretty much the birthplace of American literature, and we’ll spend two days exploring that town. Emerson’s house; Orchard House, home of the Alcotts; the Old Manse, where Emerson, Hawthorne, and others lived at different points in time; the Concord Museum; Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Emerson, Thoreau, and the Alcotts are all buried; and, of course, Walden Pond.

Salem is, of course, most famous for the Salem Witch Trials, so we’ll visit the kitschy Salem Witch Museum. We’ll also tour the House of the Seven Gables, which includes the Hawthorne House and some other historical locations. And perhaps we’ll catch a meal at the Witches Brew Cafe? 🙂

Amherst is a few hours from Boston, but how can we go to Massachusetts without visiting the Emily Dickinson Homestead? The answer is, we can’t, so that will be our last day in Massachusetts before we head to Hartford. There’s also an Eric Carle Museum of Picture Books that we may visit if we have enough time.

That’s at least seven author homes, two cemeteries (and probably more), and one grand adventure. It’ll be an incredibly busy, hectic ten days. But I feel like ten days feeding our passion for literature and history will not be a problem at all.

I will, of course, be blogging as much as possible. And if you follow me on Twitter (or we’re friends on Facebook), expect me to be tweeting from every location. It will probably overwhelm your feed. You’re welcome. 🙂 But don’t worry, that’s still a month away.

This trip will be epic in so many ways–my first time leaving the Southeastern United States, my farthest road trip and longest vacation, and a chance to mark a number of items off my List. Boston is technically #45 on the List, but for months, it’s been the unofficial #1. Massachusetts, here we come!

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The green comes from the frozen ground…

Last night, some friends and I went to Easley to see the play Foxfire. This post is not about that. (The play is good, though, and you should see it if you get the chance.)

At some point in the car, this kid Andrew (whom I just met last night) said the word “forever” but, as usually with fans of the film, imitated the kid from the movie The Sandlot, which led us to briefly discussing the movie. I mentioned that I own it because I’d found it for $5 at Wal-Mart, which was one of the best days of my life. (I’m prone to drama and exagerration, in case you are unaware.) Harvin, my beloved roommate and BFF, made some remark along the lines of “You have about 500 ‘best days of your life.'”

Hmmm…do I? It’s a comment that I make relatively often, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I have a lot of really good days. So I started thinking about that. If I were to make a list of “best days of my life,” what would that look like?

You probably guessed it. I started the list. And I’ve decided to include it here, in chronological order. Not surprisingly, most of these are relatively recent (the farthest back is almost 5 years), but I’m sure if I thought harder, I would be able to come up with many, many more. Here are my favorites from the list that I spent just a few minutes making this afternoon.

May 4, 2004: My last day of exams of my freshman year of college and the first day of summer break. My then-roommate Adrienne’s birthday. But, most importantly, the day I bought Switchfoot’s The Beautiful Letdown. My life has not been the same since. 🙂

October 14, 2006: I spent the day riding roller coasters for the first time at Carowinds (which we had free tickets for). Epic.

March 18, 2007: That morning, I got my first phone call (2 minutes!) from my brother Berry, who was at basic training at Fort Benning, GA. That night, I went to my first Switchfoot concert. Euphoria all day.

May 23, 2007: Family Day at Fort Benning. I got to spend the entire day with my brother, whom I hadn’t seen in over two months. He’s my favorite person ever.

July 5, 2007: Harvin and I took a road trip to Beaufort and Hunting Island, where I climbed my first lighthouse. Traveling with my BFF is always a best day.

July 20/21, 2007: I spent the afternoon/early evening finishing Rilla of Ingleside, the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series. It was my first time reading through the entire series. Harvin and I went to a late dinner at P.F. Chang’s (delicious!) then went to Barnes & Noble for my first-ever book release party: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We drank copious amounts of caffeinated beverages and hung out in the store until ridiculously late. Then, once we got home around 2 a.m., I read for a few hours, slept a few hours, and then spent the rest of the day reading, finally finishing around 6 p.m. To finish 2 beloved book series in less than 24 hours was epic.

November 3, 2007: Harvin and I spent the morning browsing at a craft fair in Greer. That evening, I went to my second Switchfoot concert at the Bi-Lo Center, after which we hung around and met Jon Foreman. I was speechless for the first time in my life. I cried a little. It was beautiful.

March 4, 2008: I took a road trip by myself to Savannah. I hung out at Fort Pulaski, a national monument where there’s a lighthouse on the grounds. Then I drove a few miles to Tybee Island and saw that lighthouse. Two in one day, on a solitary adventure? It was fantastic.

March 16, 2008: The day after my friend Laura got married (at which she told me she and her husband would be living in TR, and was I sure I wanted to leave Greenville?), I had a discussion with my parents. I decided, in a matter of just a few hours, that I would stay in Greenville, keep working at NGU, and apply to Converse to get my M.A.T. Not once have I regretted that decision.

April 28, 2008: Civil Twilight opened for Switchfoot at the Orange Peel in Asheville. Best concert ever.

May 2, 2008: My first trip to Connemara (Carl Sandburg’s home), the day after Harvin and Nikki graduated. Tina, Becky, and Ticcoa also went. This is probably the day I first realized how much I love living in the mountains.

June 10, 2008: My 23rd birthday. I went to dinner with friends, and then we hung out at the Silver Chair. It was also the day that Jon Foreman’s “Summer” EP was released (and I finally downloaded “Spring”). New music on my birthday? Perfect!

October 4, 2008: Harvin and I joined the Leisters in a trip to Connemara and Chimney Rock. It served as an initiation for my new car. And we had a great time, of course.

December 21, 2008: I stayed awake until 5 a.m. because I was having a really great, important conversation. A very good night.

December 23, 2008: On my way home for Christmas, I took my time and did some exploring. I marked two things off My List of Things to Do Before I Die. Before leaving town, I picked up my Christmas gift from Jessie: a poster-sized photo of Steven McKellar, the lead singer of Civil Twilight. Best present ever. And a beautiful day, all in all.

January 1, 2009: I started the new year off with some best friends and a heavy dose of spontaneity.

February 7, 2009: That’s today! I spent the morning with Harvin, Ticcoa, and Jess, planning our July trip to Boston. While I was there, Barnes & Noble played the entire Fiction Family album. The temperature was in the 60s, with plenty of sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. After I left B&N, I realized that I couldn’t stay inside. So I called Ticcoa, and she, Jess, and I went to Connemara, where we walked around the pond and then sat outside the house. I dug my toes into the grass and listened to Jon Foreman’s “Spring” EP. And the day was absolutely glorious and perfect. I can bear winter if God will ocassionally give me spring days like today in the midst.

Looking at this list (and the rest of them that I haven’t included), I can easily pick out a theme. Best days happens with music, traveling, and best friends.

Life is beautiful.

On Spontaneity

Today was definitely one of the most spectacular days I’ve ever had, and definitely the best New Year’s Day ever. And though I’m tired and cold, and my comfy bed beckons me, I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep until I get these words out.

Harvin, Ticcoa, Jess, and I planned a mini road trip to Stumphouse Tunnel in Walhalla today. Walhalla is not quite an hour’s drive away: close enough for a day trip, and far enough to be an adventure. It turned out to be more of an adventure than any of us imagined.

We left around 10 this morning, getting on Highway 11 to head to Walhalla. We tailed this spectacular, red VW bus for awhile, all of us pondering aloud how awesome a vehicle like that would be on a road trip. We listened to great music (supplied by Jess and me, as we attempt to make Ticcoa more music literate). And somewhere along the way, Ticcoa mentioned Toccoa Falls (she’s not named after it, specifically, although her name does mean “falling water”). And the rest of us convinced Ticcoa to be spontaneous and drive into Georgia for a picnic at Toccoa Falls.

The falls were spectacular. Icy cold, of course (we caught some of the mist as we climbed the rocks, even though we were pretty far away). It honestly made me regret marking “see a waterfall” off my List last week, as this one totally trumps the mini waterfall I hiked into the woods in Clinton to see. Jess, our resident photographer, snapped some awesome shots, which I’m really excited about.

After we left Toccoa Falls College, we drove back through the town of Toccoa. We stopped at this parking lot of a mini strip mall, where an awesome old railway car is parked on the side. I climbed on it, Jess climbed under it, and we posed for yet more photos as residents drove past and shot us strange looks. Then, on my insistence, we took a back road following these brown historical signs to something called “Traveler’s Rest Historic Site.” A TR in Georgia? How could we pass that up?!? I know Coa was anxious that we would get lost, although she kept her worry contained very well. And the historic site ended up being on a road that cut back to the highway we needed to be on anyway.

The TR site was closed, but we wandered around the grounds, peered into some windows, made friends with the resident dogs, and discovered that the heat was on in the unlocked bathrooms on the grounds (what a pleasant surprise when it’s around 40 degrees outside!). We’ll definitely be heading back there sometime in the spring when it opens back up. The place was just freakin’ awesome…an old pioneer-style plantation of sorts dating back to pre-Civil War era. I’m looking forward to it already.

In my opinion, the best part of the day came next. As we left Toccoa heading back to Walhalla, we crossed a bridge over the Tugaloo River, and we glanced downstream at the other bridges in the distance. One of them was this fantastic rusty, abandoned bridge, and the middle section was missing. We pulled off on the side of the road once to get a glimpse, and then decided to get closer. We ended up turning down this side road to a fishing site that took us directly to the bridge. Despite the anxiety about some sketchy cars coming and going on what Jess thought had to be drug deals, we had a fantastic time. The river is much, much narrower than it used to be, and the riverbed is cracked and scaly in some parts and overgrown in others. We climbed down the side of the original riverbank and did some exploring. We took pictures on the old, dead trees on the bank and wandered around while we waited for all the sketchy folks to leave. Then we climbed back up to explore the bridge.

Seriously. I love bridges so much, and this one was one of the best I’ve experienced. Rusty. Abandoned. Like something out of a post-apocolyptic movie scence. Desolate and spectacular. The best part, though? We left our mark…sidewalk chalk first. Then, Jess printed out a small picture-sticker of the four of us on the bridge with this little portable photo printer that she has. Then she and I walked back to the bridge, where I stucked the sticker to one of the posts. Someone will probably take it down, but at least we know we left our mark for a little while.

Finally, we left, as Coa reminded us that we didn’t want to get stuck at Stumphouse Tunnel at dark. All this adventure, and we still hadn’t reached our original destination yet! We finally arrived there a little after 3 in the afternoon. Seriously…yet another awesome place. The tunnel was original part of a railway tunnel being built before the Civil War, but they ran out of funding, and the War happened, and it never got finished. Later, it was used to store bleu cheese (yeah, random). Now, it’s a historic site. The tunnel is fantastically creepy. Cold, wet, pitch-black dark. We carried in a flashlight…and Jess’s light saber, which Harvin had way too much fun with, and all the other visitors found amusing. After we exited the tunnel, we walked out to a lookout at the Iseequeena Falls (two waterfalls in one day!), and of course, took more photos.

When we left the tunnel, we still weren’t finished. On the way to Toccoa, Jess and Coa had started talking about the fish hatchery in Walhalla that they’d visited before. They mentioned that it wasn’t too exciting, but maybe we’d like to see it. The best part, though? I only know one thing about Walhalla: that the fish hatchery there was built by the WPA, and my grandfather worked on that project when he worked for the WPA in the 30s. That, of course, sealed the deal: we had to see it. Unfortunately, we arrived at 4:30, and the fish hatchery closed at 4. Still, we loitered around outside the gate, wandered off down the trail a little ways, and decided we’d definitely come back again. Because, well, my grandfather worked there. And I never knew him, as he died in 1964, but he was there. All the massive trees in the woods were there when he worked there. Those roads, he probably traveled. I love connections to my past.

I also love that I started the new year off on this grand adventure. No, it wasn’t Europe or Route 66 or any of the big items on my list, but Stumphouse Tunnel can now be marked of f (and that makes my 10th completed item!). And we were spontaneous, and we convinced Ticcoa to be spontaneous with us, and Jess took almost 400 photographs to commemorate the occasion. And I had a wonderful day with some of my best friends.

How could 2009 not be remarkable after such a great start?