This was not the first time I’d gone where I wasn’t supposed to in my various literary excursions. I’ve already mentioned the gut-churning experience at Sing Sing Prison (John Cheever-related), but here are a few more that have accelerated my heart rate for various reasons.
June 23, 2005: In Ketchum, Idaho, Joyce and I drove near the home on East Canyon Run where Hemingway spent his final days—where, early in the morning of July 2, 1961, he blew his brains out with a shotgun. (This was the summer after my junior year in high school.) At the entrance to East Canyon Run is a very unambiguous sign:PRIVATE PROPERTY: No Trespassing. We drove right in, Joyce keeping the car running while I swiftly circled the house, taking pictures. No one else was around. We quickly drove out, giddy and high as the nearby mountains.
June 30, 2006: In Lake Forest, Illinois (where we’d lived during the 1978–1979 academic year, both of us teaching at Lake Forest College), Joyce and I found the former home of Ginevra
There have been many other such episodes in our literary adventures, but probably the best involved Willa Cather. In the summer of 2005, the juniors at Western Reserve Academy were all reading Cather’s My Ántonia, a novel that takes place in Cather’s beloved Nebraska (she’d moved there with her family from Back Creek, Virginia, when she was nine). I was spending the summer reading all of Cather’s works—and visiting as many places significant to her as I could, assembling a PowerPoint presentation I was going to use with my classes in the fall.
Anyway, Cather based the character of Ántonia on a young woman she’d known in Red Cloud, Nebraska—a young woman named Annie Sadilek Pavelka. Joyce and I learned on our journey to Red Cloud that summer that the Pavelka farm was still standing—though unoccupied. It was, we learned in town, undergoing renovation. And so we drove some dirt roads to find it.