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Write On, in Springfield

A family discovers a special destination in Western Massachusetts, and rediscovers a passion

“Want me to drive, Ethan?” Sabrina asked as we packed our kids—Marah, 10, and Nathan, 4—in the car. “I can drive, but I might need you to occasionally navigate,” I reply.

Sabrina is a talented writer, but she had pretty much stopped writing for her travel blog after the kids were born. So, as we left our Hastings-on-Hudson, New York home one dewy Saturday morning in late April, I was hoping she would take the time in the car to compose a post about our trip to Western Mass. Even a quick update about our pilgrimage to Dr. Seuss’ (aka Theodor Geisel - our entire family’s favorite author) hometown might reignite that need to share what she’s seen, learned, and experienced—and to continue to explore—in her own special, engaging way. It’s a passion our kids haven’t seen much of yet, and I would love for them to become as curious about the world as Sabrina is.

I saw Sabrina research our trip most of the drive—no writing of posts or notes, yet. Marah and Nathan fall asleep soon after we leave the driveway and they sleep for most of the drive. They wake up just in time for the first stop on our vacation.

First blog post: Forest Park

Forest Park is located in a historic section of Springfield in the midst of a 735-acre urban park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, known as the father of American landscape architecture—Olmsted designed city parks such as New York City’s Central Park. And just like Central Park, Forest Park has a zoo.

I realized how much research Sabrina did on the drive when she explained that Geisel grew up in the Forest Park neighborhood, and that his father was a parks commissioner in charge of the zoo. It turned out that the zoo was a regular playground for the young Geisel, and a place from which he drew much of his inspiration. 

We soon discover The Zoo in Forest Park’s inspirations for ourselves, coming across arctic wZoo in Forest Parkolf hybrids, exotic lemurs and lizards, a Goliath bird eater, and a bearded dragon, to name a few. The kids enjoy every second, running from one exhibit to the next. Sabrina was like a kid herself, keeping right up with them—all three taking turns reading the informative signs. It turned into a race: whoever got there first could read the sign. They all tied for first at the snake exhibit, so I took a picture of them in front of the exhibit and commented, “There’s one for your blog, honey.”

Still energized from the zoo, we decided to roam around Forest Park a bit more. We passed wooded areas, ball fields, a skating rink, a lake with quacking waterfowl—Sabrina snapped photos along the way and made quick notes on her tablet. We eventually found a wooded trail that offered surprisingly expansive views. Every once in a while, we would stop to admire the scene or rest, and I would notice Sabrina tapping quick notes on her phone. I wanted to ask her what she was writing, but decided it was better to leave her to it. I concentrated on corralling the kids and taking as many pictures of them as possible. Later, when I was posting photos on social media, I checked out Sabrina’s blog out of curiosity. And there it was, her first post in almost a year, describing Forest Park.

Oh, the places we’ll go

Theodore Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield in 1904. Following his death in 1991, work began on a sculpture garden dedicated to his literary creations. It turns out that Geisel’s stepdaughter, Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, sculpted the bronze statues of Dr. Seuss and his lovable characters.

Buying our tickets at the welcome center for the Springfield Museums, we realized there was easily a day’s worth of activities here, with the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, the Springfield Science Museum, the Museum of Springfield History and the Museum of Fine Arts all grouped around a central quadrangle. They’ll be even more to explore in the fall of 2016, when the new museum dedicated to Dr. Seuss opens here. But, for right now, Sabrina was laser-focused on visiting the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, which is also located within the quad.

The Lorax first greeted us, standing on a tree stump with his mustache just as bushy in bronze as it is on paper. Horton Dr. Seuss GardenCourt was next, where Marah and Nathan tried to mimic Thing 1 and Thing 2, who were bursting out of a giant storybook with various other Seussian characters. After a few silly pictures, we all moved on to what was mine and Sabrina’s favorite sculpture, Dr. Seuss and the Cat in the Hat, which depicts Geisel at his desk being overseen by his most popular creation. The Cat in the Hat towers over Dr. Seuss, perhaps alluding to the author’s towering imagination. We finished with the sculpture called The Storyteller, encountering a small elementary class publicly reciting the story Oh, the Places You’ll Go in front of the massive bronze book featuring the poem. The Grinch and his dog Max were listening close by, peeking from the side of the larger-than-life story.

I wondered if Sabrina would tell her own story of our experience here.

A candle on the river

The next morning, we traced a path to a butte-like formation by the Connecticut River called Mount Sugarloaf. Sabrina, Marah, Nathan, and I wended our way up a steep narrow road to its southern summit, parked, got out of the car and gasped at the view. Making a slow bend to the left, the Connecticut River stretched seemingly forever before us. We explored the summit area thoroughly then tossed a Frisbee I had brought from the car back and forth. Sabrina found a soft place to sit and in a near-trance began writing in her journal.

After our pleasant break by the river, we headed to nearby Yankee Candle Village, which Sabrina informed us earlier was the world’s largest candle store and the flagship outlet for the Yankee Candle brand after a quick search on her phone during breakfast. Outside the entrance, we found a sign that said “Welcome to Yankee CanYankee Candle Villagedle” in 14 languages. Inside, the store proved equally amazing—there were candles upon candles, including a Candlemaking Museum with scheduled demonstrations. In another part of the store, we dipped our own candles, mixing color wax beads to create funky designs and adding probably too many essential oils (our candles will either smell like a perfume counter or all the scents will cancel each other out). Eventually, we came upon King Candle, a 1,377-pound behemoth of wax and six feet of wick. It could burn for seven-and-a-half years.

As we headed for home, I again saw Sabrina tapping furiously away on her tablet for another blog post. I couldn’t hold back any longer—“What are you writing?” I asked. She finished typing down her thought before saying, “Oh, you know, just some highlights from our trip.”

She tilted her head down and picked her stylus back up, holding it above her screen. And then Marah asked, “Do you think I can write a blog about our trip too?”

“Definitely,” I said. “I think it’s a great idea.”

Sabrina smiled, and then started talking to Marah and Nathan about what she was writing. Sabrina even jotted down some of the kids’ ideas and observations, which made them all the more excited to read her blog once she published the latest post.

“Where are we going next, Mom?” Nathan asked excitedly.

“I think there’s still a lot to see in Western Mass, like the ... ” Sabrina replied and her stylus immediately hit her tablet screen for a new post titled Our Next Western Mass Trip.

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