Thoreau’s famous remark, “I have traveled a good deal in Concord,” always impressed me.
To explore your own neighborhood with the same interest and excitement as faraway exotic places, that seems like a worthwhile goal. So yesterday we set out, on a hot bright blue sort of afternoon, to travel a good deal in the Berkshires.
White Pines, where we live, inclines more toward Gosford Park than Walden Pond: manicured grounds, paved roads, nature shaped and civilized. We drive past the high hedges of Tanglewood, then begin to ascend Richmond Mountain Road. (Or Lenox Mountain Road, depending on which way you’re going.) We are going to Richmond.
UP AND OVER AND DOWN AGAIN
The road is narrow, twisting, shoulderless, scampering up between immensely tall trees. Except for the ribbon of road itself, it seems to us like the forest primeval. Hugging the broad shoulder of Lenox Mountain, we climb and turn and curve, run a little downhill, then a little uphill again. It’s incredibly beautiful, almost cathedral-like, because of the tall straight pines; and very very quiet. A long swoosh downhill and we emerge into bucolic Richmond.
It’s another country, with broad fields, wide views, a few widely scattered houses. A swampy pond. Beyond, a lone farmhouse. The paved road quickly becomes a dirt road not quite two cars wide. The few houses we glimpse from the road are large and luxurious, but the effect is still of deep deep countryside. Few neighbors here, and they are far apart. On our right, a line of trees. To our left, more broad fields. Beyond, in the far distance, mountains higher than our familiar ones. The Taconics?
SUDDENLY WE THINK OF APRIL
We’ve been hearing about April, the dreaded “mud time” of the Berkshires. On the manicured roads of White Pines, the warning puzzled us. Now, on the back roads of Richmond, we begin to understand. This road, and all those opening off from it, are unpaved. They will be impassable when April showers pound down upon them.
Eventually East Road enters Swamp Road. More sweeping views, hay bales dotted over fields and meadows, cows scattered on a rocky hillside, and a huge sky overhead. Another turn and we are back on the Richmond Mountain Road headed for Lenox, completing a sweeping irregular oval.
You probably know the phenomenon of how different a road looks depending on which way one is heading on it. On our way up and over the mountain, we drove through the woods, enclosed and sheltered by them. Now, returning, the steep slope lies to our right and suddenly we are transfixed by a blaze of blue between the pines: an overlook. There, far below and ahead of us lies Stockbridge Bowl, cupped by piny mountains.
WHO IS OLIVIA?
We stand on Olivia’s Overlook, trying to orient ourselves. Where is White Pines, to the right or the left of that sailboat, that tiny sandy beach? We can’t tell, but know it’s somewhere there. We actually LIVE in this wonderful landscape, somewhere on the far shore of the lake. Sudden gratitude floods us.
Back in the car and down into Lenox again, to OUR neighborhood, our neat little English village. Home country. We are content. Today we have traveled a good deal in the Berkshires.