One brilliant day in October, John Mitchell and two friends began a fifteen-mile walk to the tomb of Henry David Thoreau. Starting from an ancient burial site where, according to legend, a Scottish Earl became lost on a quest for the Holy Grail, they bushwhack through the landscape where our literature and history began: the woods favored by the Transcendentalists and the Great Road followed by the minutemen as they marched to the Old North Bridge. On each mile of this quintessentially American pilgrimage the author and his friends explore not only the natural landscape before them but also certain timeless themes: they wonder at the force that drew pilgrims to certain sacred sites, the sense of place that brings artists to Tuscany or Provence, and that deep abiding allegiance to place that binds each of us, if we are lucky, to a particular beloved spot.
Observing that pilgrimage to spiritual centers is not Anglo-Saxon Protestant America's thing, Mitchell (Ceremonial Time) and his companions Kata Grant, a specialist in Native American basketry, and Barkley Mason, a birdwatcher and seeker, set off from their Massachusetts homes on Columbus Day 1994 on what they consider a sacred journey to Concord, ending in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and the Alcotts are buried. Their 15-mile walk to this perceived ``centering place'' took them along the overgrown paths of the Minutemen of 1775; as Mitchell reminds us, the point of a pilgrimage is hardship, endurance, cleansing. The friends exchange tedious talk of Odysseus, the Holy Grail, Native American folklore, Columbus ``the oppressor,'' Ponce de Leon (whose Fountain of Youth the trio sought on an earlier expedition). Although there's a smugness about these folks in their certainty that Buddha and Krishna share their sensibility, Mitchell shows his acuity in his ruminations on ``place,'' which he ultimately discerns is to be found in the exoticism of the familiar. Illustrations. (Nov.)
Mitchell, naturalist and author of Living at the End of Time (LJ 6/1/90), decided to hike to the grave of Thoreau from Concord, Massachusetts, burial site of a member of the party of Sir Henry Sinclair, a 16th-century Scottish explorer, in an attempt to learn more about that famous landscape. Avoiding most roads and accompanied by two eccentric friends on the 15-mile walk, the author investigates a wide variety of related topics, including natural history of the area, mythology, and related literature. One of the most interesting aspects of this pilgrimage is the variety of personal histories related by local residents encountered on the trek. Recommended for local and larger natural history collections.-Tim Markus, Evergreen State Coll. Lib., Olympia, Wash.