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Rambling Through the Berkshires II
Rambling Through the Berkshires II
It was not too long until we read in the local newspapers (1960's) of the possibility of building a super-highway, with artificial gardens here and there, over the top of historic Mount Greylock. We decided immediately to visit the summit while it remained at least semi-wild with more modest roads, a gift store, a war memorial, and a tv relay station. This time we climbed by car via an old gravel road that winds its way up first through open fields and then through a dense spruce-fir forest populated with chipmunks and various thrushes somewhat reminiscent of the Canadian Laurentians (Les Laurentides Canadiens).
After several "switch backs" and some fairly steep grades, we arrived at the top of the Berkshires where vistas into five states spread before us. The temperature here was some twenty degrees cooler than in the valleys below. Late July had rushed into early September up on top.. If Mount Greylock were another thousand feet higher, it would have a tree line; the spruces stood as mere windblown shrubs fighting against some three hundred nights per year of frost close to 4,000 feet. We could not begin to imagine how artificial gardens might enhance old Greylock!
Another afternoon thunderstorm developed, and we could actually see clouds being born north of the summit looking much like coastal Alaska near Juneau. They blew up so quickly that in a matter of minutes we stood there in a dense fog that suddenly changed into a torrential downpour with claps of thunder crackling through the chilly air. Perhaps Henry David Thoreau had experienced this phenomenon when he wrote of Mount Greylock in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849): "It would be no small advantage if every college were thus located [as is Will8iams College] at the base of a mountain, as good at least as one well-endowed professorship. Some will remember, no doubt, not only that they went to college, but that they went to the mountain. Every visit would, as it were, generalize the particular information gained below and subject it to more catholic tests."
The road back down was at first muddy, but as the sun gradually came out in full strength, it dried out completely. When we reached the lower elevations, we could not resist pulling the car over to the side to get out and roam through the soaked fields at the base of the mountain. The gray ridges under blue skies rolled before us as we bounced through spongy, mossy ground. To our surprise, after a half mile or so, we noticed numerous bushes of grape-sized blueberries, while at our feet grew ground blueberries as black as coal. We feasted and managed to bring back two hatfuls for some blueberry pies.
About eight weeks later, the Berkshires burst forth in a brilliance of autumn colors, yellow with birch, scarlet with maple, golden-brown with oak and bright orange with elm. After I taught numerous weeks of French classes t the loccal state college, we were drawn by the view out our living-room window of the 2,748 foot Dome just across the Vermont line. Some of the densest forests in the East, I believe, are found there on The Dome. Every little breeze that rustled the dense leaves provided a kaleidoscope of color. As we walked along the trail one weekend, the white bark of the birches gleamed in the sun like a Clude Monet painting.
As our trail gradually climbed toward the summit, through marshy areas coated with ferns and club moss, the countryside slowly spread before us. Suddenly the trail transformed itself from a gentle thirty-degree angle to an abrupt seventy degrees. The dark, rocky path led straight up into Canadian-like forests with glacial boulders on top a a thin ridge that skirted through a scrub conifer forest. We felt like mountain tribesmen on top of a wild planet--no farms or towns in sight, just miles on end of forested slopes. Finally we saw just why this mountain got its name "the Dome."Before us lay a bubble-shaped outcrop of white quartzite not unlike the dome of Monadnock. When we scampered up to the top, we could see not only the Berkshires, but in the far distance the Adirondacks to the northwest and the Helderbergs west of Albany, New York. Before us lay thousands of acres of rich forest, rocky streams, open meadows and countless eanges of New England's hills and mountains.
Soon after our climb, light snows began covering the highest of ridges above the still-green valleys. But soon enough even the valleys lost their leaves and ripples of snow came flowing in. We delighted in woods walks through the snow on snowshoes where branches of trees had become weighed down with heavy snow. In these woods we experienced a silence no other season knows. Only occasional chickadees, who brave the New England winters, pleasantly disrupted the silence. Even the perpetual presence of gurgling brooks became hushed by thick layers of ice in myriad designs. The soft, warm birches of summer and fall grew bleak under winter skies.
The snow is all melted now and occasional buds are appearing on branches. The smell of the earth permeates the very air we breathe. We both look forward to another season called spring, le printemps, when we will continue our rambles through the Berkshires.
Visitors can drive to the Berkshires in one hour from Albany, New York and two and a half to three hours from Boston, Massachusetts via the Mass Turnpike from Boston or via the eastern extension of the New York Thruway to the Mass Pike from Albany..
After visiting the Berkshires twenty years later they seemed rather small and confined compared to the Colorado Rockies. But of course they were as beautiful as ever.
Would you like to climb Mount Greylock?
© 2010 Richard Francis Fleck