The name alone is enticing. It evokes a place of solitude and tranquility. Tall ancient trees, shady trails, babbling creeks. It is all this and more.
Two months ago we moved to the Berkshires and already we have visited this place many times. At first I was unable to hike. My broken feet could only travel so far. We parked close to the trailhead so I could slowly make my way across a small bridge where sunlight filtered through the trees and sparkled on the brook below. I stood for awhile beneath a canopy of tall hemlocks and white northern pine listening to the sound of silence.
Summer has finally arrived and today my feet are on the mend. The air is heavy and humid. By late afternoon the temperature reaches ninety two degrees, a number we have not seen since leaving South Florida and arriving in this valley of morning fog, gray days, and cool breezes.
We have learned that in order to truly relax, we need to escape. At the Inn there is always something to do. Towels to fold, mountains of sheets to wash, plants to water, a dishwasher to empty, or my favorite task, arranging flowers.
“If you want to learn about nature, go to the same place again and again.” ~ John Burroughs
The air is cooler here beneath the trees. I am ready to attempt the .75 mile hike along the Tamarack trail. It doesn’t sound like much and I have certainly taken much longer walks and hikes but after seven weeks of wearing an air boot on one foot and a hard soled shoe on the other foot, my ankles are stiff and the sole of my left foot still aches where the tendons were torn from the fifth metatarsal bone.
The path starts out flat and gentle. A thick organic layer of decaying leaves and pine needles covers the forest floor. I am hyper-aware of what might be hiding beneath my feet. I proceed with caution but I am on my way.
Amid all this green spender and quiet, the mind tends to settle. Calmness prevails. My thoughts wander to Emerson and Thoreau. Although I am not sure they ever made it to this particular forest, they hiked places like this. I am thankful to the settlers of this area who had the foresight to set up land trusts and preserve this beautiful corner of America.
During my time in South Florida over the past two years I hiked along hardwood hammocks, elevated islands of tropical trees growing between wetlands and drier ground. The canopy of palmettos, cypress, and foreign plants I had no name for also created a shady canopy but civilization was never far from the trail.
One day we walked a path not far from the beach and in less than a mile we came upon Port Everglades where we watched five massive cruise ships, each one larger than the one before it, sail out to sea for harbors such as Charlotte Amelie or Key West or Santo Domingo.
Here in the Great Mountain Forest I am miles away from the 21st century.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall..” ~ Robert Frost
When Europeans first arrived in New England they began to clear the land for farming and livestock. The soil erosion created by the cleared land, the trampling hoofs of cattle, and the natural cycles of freezing and thawing caused the soil to push the rocks to the surface.
“That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
And spills the upper boulders in the sun.” ~ Robert Frost
The exposed stones were used to build walls and became an iconic feature of the New England landscape. Many of these old walls can be found along country lanes and here along the trails we are hiking, where the forest is reclaiming man’s attempt at controlling nature.
Along the trail we read a marker that states that if every stone wall built in the Northeast were laid end to end, the wall would be more than 250,000 miles long and would travel back and forth from New England to Olde England more than 80 times.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down…” ~ Robert Frost
This place we live in feels like home. The landscape, the people, the literature, the arts, the sense of community, the respect for the land, and the history of a place that was settled by people with big ideas.
When the day to day hustle and bustle of life and the headlines in the newspaper that lands on my front doorstep each morning gets me down I find myself escaping to this beautiful place which changes with the seasons but somehow manages to make time stand still.
Here in the Great Mountain Forest we no longer know “What (we were) walling in or walling out”.