It’s been a good time to discover America, and there is practically no end to the variety of fascinating places to explore within those borders. But of all of them, there is one place that can be said to have given birth to the United States of America, where it all started. That is New England.
For that reason I recommend it for a prominent place on anyone’s bucket list. And that’s not only for Americans. The ideas underlying America’s constitutional democratic republic have spread around the world and have been the model for the formation of many governments since.
In 1776, America was the world’s first modern democratic republic. But in the 250 years since, most kingdoms and monarchies have been replaced by some form of republic that implicitly pays homage to the American republic as the original model. Even autocratic countries today call themselves republics. It was an idea that spread around the world.
So the idea of America is in some ways even more important to the world than the place itself. And because of that I think everyone ought to avail themselves of the experience of New England, where it all started. It’s the Mecca of Democracy.
Happy Independence Day!
We just celebrated July 4, which has unfortunately become known more by the calendar date than for what it commemorates. It’s Independence Day! It stands for something of such profound importance that it’s hard to hold the thought in our minds. So we call it July 4 and shoot off some fireworks, and maybe remember that we are celebrating our country. But the events represented by that holiday are almost too momentous to fully comprehend.
New England was where the ruckus first broke out that led to the formation of a new nation. The chain of events started specifically in Boston, where the revolutionary fervor built to the point at which it first spilled over into active resistance. And from the events that were sparked there, what was previously unthinkable became actuality.
By the late 1700s, New England had already been established as a region for 150 years. That’s a long time. Think how much the country has changed during the last 150 years. Boston was, by the time of the Revolution, not just some ragtag colony in the wilderness. It had become a thriving city.
New England was the first part of America that was defined as a region. It was the most developed part of the country, the most self-sufficient, and therefore most likely to rebel against the excessive taxes King George levied on the colonies to pay for his war with France.
Massachusetts was where the famous Boston Tea Party took place, the first active resistance to the Crown. Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, were the sites of the skirmishes that first pushed the conflict over the line into a shooting war. The history took place throughout the region and left many footprints and paths to follow.
When you’re there, with a little coaching of the imagination, you can still feel Early America in buildings that are up to 400 years old. In Europe that would not be so old. But in America it’s quite striking.
New England’s Place in History
Massachusetts was actually the second British colony, not the first. Jamestown, Virginia, was established in 1607. Plymouth, Massachusetts, was founded in 1620, 400 years ago last year. But Virginia remained agrarian while New England launched into the Industrial Revolution, adopting innovative concepts imported from Britain and Holland. New England became one of the world centers of industrialization.
The division that led to the Civil War was already reflected in those first two colonies. New England became the center of the anti-slavery movement. And in 1861 Virginia joined the pro-slavery South.
All of the colonies played important roles in the Revolution. Of particular importance is Philadelphia, the site of the creation of the Constitution, and the home of Benjamin Franklin after he left Boston. Philadelphia should be on the bucket list as well. But the revolution began in New England.
When I first visited New England, it was the history and culture that drew me. That included the history of the revolution, and the literature of the Transcendentalists, Emerson, Thoreau and Hawthorne.
But when I actually traveled to New England, the natural features stole the show. It’s a region of tremendous natural beauty and a great variety of gorgeous landscapes. It’s only a three-hour drive from the mountains, rivers and lakes of Vermont to the rocky seacoast of Maine, but it’s a major change in the landscape.
I grew up in a part of the country where you can drive all day and still be in the same state. But in New England, everything is concentrated. When I drive from New Jersey to Maine, I pass through six states in six hours.
Fate drew me from the Midwest of my origins to New England, where I now find myself spending more and more of my time. Since I’ve not yet figured out how to be in more than one place at a time, New England is a good choice.
The mountains, forests, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, ocean, great skies, sunsets, wildlife – I find myself taken aback by the beauty on a daily basis, even in places where I have been many times. The changes of season are dramatic and the beauty is rampant any time of year.
Sitting Here Now
As I sit here reflecting on New England, I am surrounded by the thick, voluptuous growth of new leaves and the perfume of blossoms of Vermont in early summer. It was a cold, rainy spring. We had record-setting cold temperatures in May. But under the cover of clouds, billions of new baby leaves burst out at the same moment, and transformed the muddy gray-brown winter landscape with a vibrant green cloak.
Now suddenly, as the storm clouds dissipate, the mountainsides are unveiled and bathed in sunshine. As I gaze at the rich green color of the thick vegetation it seems to shimmer and vibrate.
The fall foliage of New England is legendary, and draws thousands of people every autumn to witness the transformation of the mountainsides into flaming bright reds, yellows and oranges. I am right there with them on that. I love it, anticipate it eagerly, and can never get enough.
But to me, the spring display is every bit as dramatic. In some ways the spring is even more thrilling because you are experiencing the high-pitch of new life bursting into the world.
I sit now at the edge of the Rock River in Vermont, enveloped in its roar, punctuated by the morning serenades of the birds with their symphony of chirps, whistles and guttural caws. The New England spring always brings to mind Thoreau, whose book about Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, enlarged my capacity for the appreciation of nature.
And now, still in the glow of Independence Day, New England is a good place to be. I hope you had a happy celebration of America.
Your humble reporter,