Wednesday, October 26, 2011

10/8-10/10 and 10/15-10/17: Visiting the Trees

Every year around the middle of October we go to the cottage in Stockbridge, Massachusetts to fill up on autumn. This year Sonya went with us, so we went two weekends in a row since she was really low on autumns, having not been in this part of the world for a few years.
There are lots of things we like to do in the Berkshires, but when autumn comes most of those things have to do with trees. Our days have a rhythm: hike the woods and mountain trails during the daytime, and make fires at night. Basically, we spend a lot of time with trees.
One year a visitor from Lebanon came with Sonya and accompanied us first to the Berkshires, and then up to northern Vermont. He called home from the car and announced: “I am in a place where there are only trees.”
While a slight exaggeration (there are a few people around), that description has always struck me as getting to the essence of the Berkshires and northern New England. Especially, in October. What are we looking for? What are we looking at? Places with trees. Where do we find them? Basically, everywhere.
Still, there are favorite places. The lake across the street from the Meyersons’ cottage is known as Stockbridge Bowl. We watched the sky pink over the ridge line at twilight one evening and caught the first house lights reflecting on the water. Geese squawked overhead as they circled at dusk, for no apparent purpose but exercise. These not so wild geese are not going anywhere. In the spring they will fill the little sandy beach with poop.
Leaving the beach behind, we hiked along the wooded edge of this lake one late afternoon, arriving finally at the Place of the Favorite Tree, whose trunk extends over the water and can put up with some climbing. The next day we hiked up from Olivia’s Overlook to a view from a high ridge on a day too hot for October. You can tell because people look sweaty in the photos; is this really autumn?
Then we visited another favorite place, the Sacred (or Hidden) Pond in Kennedy Park in Lenox and gazed at gently spinning leaves, at spontaneously forming concentric circles on the surface of the pond that point to the life below the surface; at the high water levels of a heavy-rainfall season in the hills causing the springs to flow hard around us.
It was colder the next weekend, seasonal temps dipping sharply after dark, so this was a true weekend for fires. We have come to look at the trees’ turning foliage, but now it is time to rely on their substance. Experience proves that even with a purchased package of fatwood, we still need kindling to keep a good flame going in the fireplace. The trees complied. Dried branches waited on the forest floor only a matter of feet from the door.
For the limited needs of summer soldiers and sunshine patriots such as ourselves, the spoilage of the elements provides an embarrassment of riches. Storms, winds, insects, age, and competition for space and sun have culled the woodland.
After we layer up the fallen branch and twig kindling, our fires are a thing of a beauty and utility.
Deeper into the woods, older trees, some with thick trunks, have been brought down by the weather, the wet road-swamping hurricane of September, the occasional local near-tornado force micro-bursts, and the ordinary mortality of bugs and disease. Plenty of wood for the taking by those who rely on it for heat.
We catch a rain storm on our first hike on the second weekend. But we dry out and warm up hot cider, mulled wine, and even a hot tottie, after mincing fresh ginger and adding other spices. The next day is sunny and we explore a new path, a stretch of the Appalachian Trail that leads to fresh views of hillsides and high valley wetlands, before circling the rest of Bear Lake on the border of Montgomery and Lenox.
On the final day we pay a return visit to Kennedy Park, then clean and close up the house. Sweeping leaves off the deck and wiping down the outdoor furniture, I pile the chairs up on top of one another in a vain attempt to reach the leafy canopy above. It’s a tribute to the trees.