Berkshires Archives

June 17, 2009

Berkshires Planning


We'll be spending a week in a big house in the Berksires with my parents, sisters, and future BIL to celebrate my parents' 50th anniversary. The Berkshires haven't been on my vacation radar at all, since we usually beeline to a coastal area like Cape Cod or Maine when we're vacationing close to home. To me, summer means either Europe or Beach. The boys have gone to a camp in the Berkshires for many years, but except for dropping off and picking up; and the occasional concerts at Tanglewood, we're Berkshire virgins.

We've rented this large place in Great Barrington.

I'm looking forward to a week of relaxing, sitting under a tree with a book or my knitting; taking turns cooking; exploring, hiking or gallery-hopping as the mood strikes.

I put together a Google Map, because yes, I am compulsive.

View Berkshires in a larger map

Here's what I've got so far:

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July 3, 2009

Back from the Berkshires

Between no cable modem connection and power outages, no blogging for this little trip. So, a bit of catch-up.

Nine of us, plus puppy, stayed in an enormous rambling old house in between Stockbridge and Great Barrington. It was one of those classic new England farmhouses that had been added to piecemeal over the years, ending up with six bedrooms. The owner is a professor at Colombia, and the many bookcases in the house were filled to bursting. You could get an excellent liberal arts education just by working your way through the carefully arranged bookcases--European History, English Lit, American Lit, Natural History, Art, Philosophy, 20th-century American Studies, Italian politics, WWII, English Cookery...

The weather, frankly, sucked. I think we had one sunny day, and the rest a combination of dreary to monsoon. We kept busy, relaxed, ate well, and enjoyed being with the family.

Some highlights:

Prairie Home Companion at Tanglewood. What a fantastic show. We arrived a bit early so we could spend time with Steve and Marcia, old friends who we haven't seen in too many years. they have a vacation home on a nearby lake. As usual, people had spread elaborate picnics on the lawn, and we had a glass of wine before joining the family at our seats in the Shed. Besides the guests of Martin Sheen and Steve Martin (and his band), Garrison announced the surprise addition of Arlo Guthrie. Tremendous fun, great music, and the singing continued far after the radio broadcast was finished.

Hiking. The Berkshires has huge state forests, parks, and the Appalachian Trail with many offshoots. Although the weather wasn't great, we did manage to hike some lovely places. Bartholomew's Cobble, Natural Bridge State Park, Beartown State Park, Tyringham Cobble, Bash Bish Falls. At the end of the trail at Beartown, I wrestled my terror of heights as I inched across a steel girder spanning a deep ravine, with a torrential stream at the bottom. When Larry and I caught up with the boys and I told them I managed to cross, they responded with "What do you mean you crossed that! Didn't you see the arrow pointing to the other trail that went up the hill?" Oy. Oh, and a pointer about Bash Bish--the trail down is extremely steep and rugged. There's a longer but much easier trail to the falls another mile down the road.


Museums. We went to Mass MoCa in (Massachusetts Museum of Centemporary Art)North Adams, and the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. Vastly different, equally satisfying. MassMoCA changes exhibits frequently, so its a totally new experience each time you go. So much of this art is conceptual, so you really must read the literature or take a gallery tour to fully appreciate the works. The Rockwell museum puts his work firmly into the historical context, and there's an audio guide with discussion both from Rockwell and his son. Several of the docents were child models of Rockwell's, which gives their gallery talks another perspective.


Towns. My memory of the Great Barrington goes back to my high school days, when my temple youth group regularly went to the old Eastman estate for retreats. Back then it was very much a hippie hilltown, with a hardware store and a "gallery" featuring macrame and handmade bongs. Now its an amusing blend of New School hippie (natural foods stores, vegan menu, Indonesian textiles in the galleries) and New York Money (expensive sushi, designer clothing boutiques, well-dressed folk texting as they walk, clutching their nonfat shade-grown lattes). Still a fun town to walk around. Other nice towns to visit are Stockbridge and Lenox for beautiful old houses, performing arts, and nice galleries; the old mill town of North Adams which with MassMoCA has spawned emerging artists, galleries and restaurants; over in the Pioneer Valley are Easthampton and Amherst, college towns great for walking, shopping and gawking. The old mill town of Pittsburgh is gritty and reflects the faded industrial past, but also has a nice natural history museum and Hancock Shaker Village. We didn't even get to Williamstown, which has several art museums and a charming college town atmosphere.

Drives--there are so many great drives. From Great Barrington over to New Marlboro, and then over the unpaved old road to Monterey, past overgrown fields and empty cellar holes where farms once stood. This is real New England, where you can see how the region depopulated in the early 19th century, to the milltowns and paper mills which still dot the landscape. And then the other way, through the ghostly tiny milltown of Housatonic (named for the river which twists everywhere) where some of the mills have been gradually reclaimed as artist spaces, others left to sag into the river; and then up the hill past lavish estates to Tanglewood, the Berkshire Botanic Garden, the Norman Rockwell Museum. Up to North Adams, and then up and up Mount Greylock, and the small towns along the Mohawk trail, once a popular motoring trip of the 1930's.

Food--Great Barrington has wonderful food shopping--Guido's is a fantastic market full of goodies, there's the Food Co-Op in town, two supermarkets, several european delis, and Catherine's chocolates got the seal of approval from my chocolate-maker almost-BIL. We had wonderful meals at John Andrew in Egremont and Bizen Sushi in Great Barrington.

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