Thursday, October 16, 2014

These Trees are Talking October: A Garden of Autumn Impressions

It's mid-October and we're back to working our way though all the 'walks' in our relatively new trail guide, "Hikes & Walks in the Berkshire Hills," concentrating in particular on the 'walks' as many of the more ambitious 'hikes' are designed for sterner stuff than we can bring to the game. We like the walking, all right, but then we like getting back to the cottage, putting our feet up, sipping warm beverages and thinking about how virtuous we've been.         
After a rainy morning at the start of the Columbus Day weekend we looked for an outing not too far from base camp, the Stockbridge summer (now fall) house that Anne's parents bought many years ago and generations of the family continue to put to good use.

            My son Saul -- (pictured, left, with daughter Sonya) all four of us were attending this Columbus Day reunion -- found a likely candidate in the miniscule, mostly hidden municipality of Richmond, Mass., a town where you never tend to go to unless you've taken the wrong road, probably because you're trying to find your way to the West Stockbridge entrance onto the New York State Throughway. So it made a change to be actually looking for the place.
            "There is no town center in Richmond," our trail guide informs. When you get to the top of the hill, it advises, "avoid the left turn" that's labeled Lenox Branch. We so avoided.
            Taking the other fork, we descend a mountain, eschew another turning at a road we have in the pat reached while coming from an entirely different destination, and continue to East Road. Once there, the directions say, "park somewhere" and "as soon as you can."
            It's all good. East Road in Richmond is the kind of place where you can in fact park just about anywhere and begin walking. Even on a three-day weekend at the peak of the leaf-peeping season there is no traffic on East Road. It's the kind of place where the habitations of man are few and far between, the fields wide and green, the hillsides wooded and multi-colored, and the sky large and very blue.
            The following day, Sunday, was all things bright and beautiful right from the start, so we drove down to the Bartholomew's Cobble conservation property managed by Trustees of Reservations, a site we visit pretty much every Columbus Day weekend. The photos of wooded and grassy paths along the Housatonic River were taken here. We climb Hurlburt's Hill at the end of the outing, a classic prospect -- summits, mountain sides and long vistas in all directions (bottom photo). Other people do this too, but the Cobble property is extensive and absorbs the modest numbers served by its parking lot well.
            On Monday we decided to stay close to home again, and I find a trail guide proposal for a modest, but satisfying walk that falls remarkably close to our East Road outing. We drive up the same mountain pass blacktop, but this time we take that other fork, Lenox Branch, and then go down three-quarters of a mile to find a promised "romantic" vista "tersely labeled," as our guide puts it as "S. Glen" on a wooden sign to indicate the single parking space for the walk through Stevens Glen. Only to find -- ta-da! -- that the Berkshire Natural Resources Council has been at work and provided us with a real sign spelling out the site's full name, a decent parking area, and a new map board showing a loop trail with a "spur."
              Living up to its advertisement, Stevens Glen proves to be a deep-woods beautiful trail of big old trees, with their special silence and soft pine needle powder underfoot. We walk steadily, with occasional photo stops, the day's gray atmosphere serenely filtered by the tall tree tops. We are promised an "outlook" somewhere, so when we reach the 'spur' we eagerly take it, finding ourselves climbing a steeper ascent that leads ultimately to an incredibly atmospheric hidden prospect overlooking a deep, rocky ravine. Is this the romantic heart of the glen? I'm not sure how these words were meant back in the day. But we looked with pleasure down into a rippling stream cut deeply between two rocky cavernous sides (a New England sized 'canyon' perhaps), while enjoying the luxury of an iron-framed observation deck that upheld us securely while we peered over the side.
            And then, of course, silent as a whisper, a great blue heron flew right past us between the rocky enfilades at exactly our elevation. The angel, I thought, of the place. If I were quicker I could have touched a feather.