Rambling Through the Berkshires 1
Rambles in Berkshires
Rambling Through the Berkshires I
As we whisked up the New York Thruway out of the industrial smog, my wife Maura and I looked forward to our new home in the Berkshires that stretch from northern Connecticut into southern Vermont. Our home was situated in the three-corners of Massachusetts, New York and Vermont in Williamstown, Massachusetts. When we pulled into the driveway at sunset, the clouds that covered the sky varied in color from orange-red to deep purple. The air of June remained quite brisk and as clear as ever and as stars twinkled through our windows, already we felt settled. Since my teaching job at a local state college would not begin till August, we had ample time for exploration.
After a few days our first New England ramble rose above us several miles away--the 1,700 foot Pine Cobble perched directly above Williams College campus. As we trekked through the dense birch-maple forest hopping with squeaking red squirrels, we could not help but notice thousands of little white gypsy moths swarming over bracken ferns and thistles. The higher we climbed, the more evident was the almost total devastation of the foliage of trees as well as shrubs. From a distance, in fact, this section of the Pine Cobble looked as though a forest fire had swept through it. As we later discovered, there was some debate as to whether DDT should be used (1963) to kill moths at the risk of doing harm to bird and fish life, or whether nature should be left to take her own course. The equivalent type of debate remains strong now in 2010 with spruce beetles in the American West.
When we had finished crawling up a steep slope with exposed roots for handholds, a broad view of the green rolling valley proved to be our reward. A few more rocky fields and groves of scanty, wind-blown timber, and we reached the summit of the Pine Cobble, coated with blueberries. Only then did we realize the full significance of the verb "to perch." Willams College campus spread below us in the foreground, with an occasional steeple of an English or French-speaking church of Willmstown, and in the distance loomed the Taconic Range of New York, the Green Mountains of Vermont and the rest of the Berkshires of Massachusetts.
The one mountain that dominated all others directly south was Mount Greylock, rising to 3,491 feet, the highest point in the state. We knew then that Grelock would be our next adventure. As occasional whisps of clouds snaked their way down this distant mountain, Hawthorne's deswcription of it in his story "Ethan Brand" came to mind: "Old Graylock was glorified with a golden cloud upon his head. Scattered likewise over the breasts of the surrounding mountains, there were heaps of hoary mist, in fantastic shapes, some towards the summits, and still others, of the same family of mist or cloud, hovering in the gold radiance of the upper atmosphere."
To the east lay the rolling Hoosac Range, looking like a camel caravan. It was not difficult to imagine Mohawk warriors in eagle headdress dancing in preparation for a battle on the side of the British against the American colonists. In various steep, northern exposed slopes of the Hoosac Range, dark patches of spruce and pine mingled in with white birches and red maples. With clouds increasing, we decided to make our retreat before an afternoon thundershower should overtake us. Just before we climbed down to the base of the hill, we came across a dead black birch from which we broke off some straight branches for use as walking sticks for future rambles.
Though proposals have been made to build a tramway up Mount Grelock, they have been blocked by conservationists.
This essay originally appeared in The New England Galaxy, Fall, 1964 The magazine is no longer published.
Have you seen the fall colors of the Berkshires?
© 2010 Richard Francis Fleck