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With Anne on Prince Edward Island
September, 2022

Dear Friends,

Did you have a childhood book that you loved so much that its characters seemed like real people? For my husband the book was Robin Hood, and for a lot of children today, it's the Harry Potter series. For me, it was Anne of Green Gables, which I read at least a half dozen times. Anne was just the sort of friend I wanted to have---curious, fun, imaginative, and devoted to those she loved. And she was a budding writer, just like I was, and so we were clearly kindred spirits, a term I learned from her.

I think the books we read as children burrow deep within our psyche for a variety of reasons. One is that our worlds are smaller then, and so the words on the pages loom larger. We also have the time to spend hours on a couch with our nose buried in a book, with no sense of what we should read to advance our careers or educate ourselves. Instead it's just the joy of immersing ourselves in a different world with characters we love.

That's why I was thrilled when I got the chance to visit Prince Edward Island in Canada, the setting for the Anne of Green Gables books. Author Lucy Maud Montgomery used many of the sites from her own childhood as inspiration for her writing. My itinerary included the Green Gables Heritage Place, the Anne of Green Gables Museum, Lucy Maud Montgomery's Birthplace, and Prince Edward Island National Park, which preserves the beautiful beaches, dunes, and red cliffs that serve as a backdrop for her stories. I was in Anne-of-Green-Gables-Nerd Heaven. 

Wandering from one site to the next, I realized how much Anne shaped my fundamental approach to life. Her boundless enthusiasm and rich imagination were infectious. It wasn't just a pond, it was the Lake of Shining Water. A stand of trees became the Haunted Wood, and she herself was the Lady Cordelia in disguise. From Anne I absorbed the idea that a playful spirit makes the world a better place, no matter what your circumstances. As Anne put it: “It's been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”

My trip introduced me as well to the life of Lucy Maud Montgomery, who grew up as a lonely child on Prince Edward Island. Wandering through its beautiful countryside, she at times was overwhelmed by moments of clarity and tranquility when she felt a spiritual power coursing through nature. In 1905 she wrote in her journal, "Amid the commonplaces of life, I was very near to a kingdom of ideal beauty. Between it and me hung only a thin veil. I could never quite draw it aside, but sometimes a wind fluttered it and I seemed to catch a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond—only a glimpse—but those glimpses have always made life worthwhile."

After teaching school and serving as a postmistress on the island, at the age of 37 Maud (as she was known) married a Presbyterian minister and moved to Ontario. But Prince Edward Island remained her spiritual home for the rest of her life, and her trips to the island sustained her throughout a troubled marriage. I found it poignant to learn of the personal unhappiness that she kept well-hidden in her work.

The popularity of the Anne of Green Gables sites on Prince Edward Island are a testimony to the power of stories. Tourists from around the world come here, including a red-haired Irish woman I met on the steps of the L.M. Montgomery Birthplace (when I told her that her hair is just like Anne's, her face lit up). Many of those who tour PEI are on a kind of pilgrimage, I suspect, a journey that pays homage to a story that has shaped and inspired them. 

Maybe there's a literary pilgrimage you'd like to take as well. You could go to Concord, Massachusetts, to see the sites connected to Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. If you're a Jane Austen fan, you can visit Bath, England, while those who love William Faulkner can visit his Mississippi home Rowan Oak. These places live in reality as well as in our imaginations, and visiting them can give you a piece of the puzzle of who you are.

I think the sites connected to books from childhood are especially powerful because they speak to us of a world that is largely lost to us as adults. In the words of Lucy Maud Montgomery: “There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it. And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way. One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life. On that day the gates of Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. Henceforth they must dwell in the common light of common day. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they above mortals. They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles. The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.”

I'm very grateful to have visited at last the Lake of Shining Waters, the Haunted Wood, and all the other Anne sites on Prince Edward Island. Anne and I picked up our friendship just where we'd left it, all those years ago.

All good wishes,


(photo credits: top image courtesy of Tourism PEI/John Sylvester; second image of Lucy Maud Montgomery courtesy of Green Gables Heritage Place)

Recommended Reading:

The Annotated Anne of Green Gables dives deep into the story-behind-the-story. Edited by Wendy Elizabeth Barry, Margaret Anne Doody, and Mary E. Doody Jones, this illustrated book has hundreds of notes describing the real-life characters and settings Anne encounters and the novel's many literary and historical references.

Mary Henley Rubio spent two decades researching and writing Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings, a comprehensive exploration of the life of the Canadian literary icon.

Book lover Terri Peterson Smith gives advice on literary pilgrimages of many sorts in Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways.


News About My Newest Book:

As regular readers of this newsletter know, I'm the author of the new book The Soul of the Family Tree: Ancestors, Stories, and the Spirits We Inherit. See my website for a full list of reviews and media, including my NPR interviews with Rick Steves (part one; part two). 

Interested in doing The Soul of the Family Tree in a book group? You can find discussion questions here

If you've read and enjoyed any of my books, I hope you'll post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or other online sites. Your review will help other readers discover my work.

My Previous Books:

Near the Exit: Travels with the Not-So-Grim Reaper is about places that have helped me come to terms with mortality. 

“This book’s journey to spiritual places near and far is worth taking.” Library Journal (starred review)

Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God is a memoir told through trips to a dozen holy sites around the world.  

“Whether describing mystical visions or the rhythms of everyday life, Erickson turns the spiritual journey into a series of exciting transformations.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)


Upcoming Event:

Along with author Jennifer Ohman-Rodriguez, I'll be speaking at the Iowa City Book Festival on October 10 at 6:30 pm at the Coralville Public Library. Our topic will be The Art, Craft, and Call to be a Spiritual Writer.



Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She's the author of The Soul of the Family Tree, Near the Exit and Holy Rover. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world. 

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