Idyllyic Trail, the Berkshires: Hopkins Forest, Williamstown, Massachusetts

This is part of a collection of posts on our recent Williamstown, Massachusetts, hiking excursion.  Two dear friends joined me for almost a week in mountains, early in May.

Clark Trail Tiffany Effect

Clark Trail Tiffany Effect Before Hurricane Sandy, October Scene

That idyllic college town is surrounded by impressive mountains, –changing shape, color and majesty every few hours.  Rumor has it that Melville was inspired to write Moby Dick by gazing at the hulk of Mt. Greylock from his Berkshire hideaway.

Mt. Greylock from below, Williamstown, Mass.

Mt. Greylock from below, Williamstown, Mass.

As NJWILDBEAUTY readers already knows, alluring trails are everywhere — even on the grounds of the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute of Art, and ditto re the Bennington (VT) Museum.

"Nothin' but Blue Skies, From Now On..."

Mountains Everywhere, en route to Bennington VT – 9 miles from Williamstown

We’d spend four hours in woods alongside streams, earning ever-changing views with every few steps — then lunch, and do art museums all afternoon.  My idea of heaven!  Our attention on the Hopkins were delicate and often rare [spring flowers]  ephemerals tiptoeing into light on every side.

Clearing after Storm, Apple Barn, Bennington VT

Clearing after Autumn Storm, Apple Barn, Bennington VT

Words are not the point for this post.  Let the pictures carry you with Jeanette Hooban. Carolyn Yoder and me, on Hopkins Forest trails, my Berkshire favorite — as spring awakened in those sacred mountains.

Hopkins Parking Sign -- We are not in Kansas (i.e., New Jersey) Any More

Hopkins Parking Sign — We are not in Kansas (i.e., New Jersey) Any More

Jeanette Forging into Hopkins Forest

Jeanette Forging into Hopkins Forest

Berries of Spring in Hopkins Forest

Berries of Spring in Hopkins Forest

First Foam Flowers, Hopkins Forest

First Foam Flowers, Hopkins Forest

Still Life With Granite, Hopkins

Still Life With Granite, Hopkins

Rare Princess Pine and Canada Mayflower, May in Hopkins Forest, Williamstown

Rare Princess Pine and Canada Mayflower, May in Hopkins Forest, Williamstown

True Solomon's Seal, Hopkins Trail

True Solomon’s Seal, Hopkins Trail

Fungus Doing the Work of the Woods, Hopkins Trail

Fungus Doing the Work of the Woods, Hopkins Trail

Newborn Beech in the Beechwood, Hopkins Trail

Newborn Beech in the Beechwood, Hopkins Trail

Unfurling Fiddlehead - Spring Genesis, Hopkins Trail

Unfurling Fiddlehead – Spring Genesis, Hopkins Trail

Off They Go, Into the Hopkins Forest

Off They Go, Into the Hopkins Forest

Shy Trout Lily Peeks Out among Tree Roots, far from its usual favorite streamside habitat

Shy Trout Lily Peeks Out among Tree Roots, far from its usual favorite streamside habitat\

Hopkins Forest Signs

Hopkins Forest Signs

The Happy Wanderers, Hopkins Forest Trail, Williamstown, Mass.

The Happy Wanderers, Hopkins Forest Trail, Williamstown, Mass.

The Untold Story — Triggered by Memorial Day

Memorial Day — remembering….

Sometimes, it’s just too much.  I am expected to keep on working, hiking, writing poems and blogs, taking pictures, that this should be antidote enough.

It is not.

Part of me warns, do not send this post.

Another part knows that there are others for whom Holidays are ordeals.  Shared Holidays.  Holidays never to be shared again.

Even something so simple as a picnics, let alone a chance encounter with one of my daughters’ friends, brings up memories not to be borne, memories never to be re-lived, let alone expanded.

Loss of the highest magnitude is my fate, since the 1980’s.

It is said that the worst loss is the death of one’s children.  There is something worse. – when they are taken from you.  When, still alive, you do not exist to your children.

There isn’t a hike or a kayak or a trip anywhere on the planet that counters agony of this magnitude.

One of my daughter’s Princeton classmates brought about this tragedy.  He, evidently, has recovered from it, and is restored to his family.  Mine have heroically tried many routes to healing, and I honor them for it.  But the brainwashing that severed them from the entire family remains indelible.

It happened because my girls cared about community service from the time they were very young.  I worked at what was then called “The Old Folks Home.”  Nobody calls it that any longer.  I went there one day a week, to serve their patients.

My daughters’ two sets of grandparents were not with them in summertime — two settled into their native Switzerland, seeking various cures at baths that went back to the Romans.  The others lived far away The girls wanted grandparents.  So I took them with me every Wednesday.  We didn’t have the concept of ‘virtual’, then.  But this is what they sought.

Grown-up volunteers wore ghastly uniforms, a hideous hue, meaning nothing to wearer nor viewer.  My girls wore bright dresses I had sewed.  Both girls had that long Swiss luminous hair.

Barely anyone touched the patients.  Board members would come and go, ducking right down to the Board Room, without going near a resident.

My girls skipped down the hall carrying the welcome mail, scurrying eagerly into each room, knowing everyone’s name.  They went right up to each person, engaging no matter how gruff some of them could be.

The old people loved to see and touch the vivid dresses, stroke the blonde hair.  I see now, the girls were life, were the future, grandchildren whom these people could not see, let alone touch.

We’d been warned not to try to talk to certain ones, let alone try get them to complete their menus (lunch and dinner). The eager girls could get through, even to the deaf, the stubborn and the blind.  Each did know exactly what to eat, and the girls merrily marked it down, skipping triumphantly back to the front desk, bearing their trophies.

Relationships were built and they strengthened weekly.  Everyone was crushed if I came without the girls that particular Wednesday.

We’d bring our guitars sometimes, and play simple, old-fashioned songs for them in the different sunrooms.  They could sing right along.  Some had forgotten almost everything, but not the words to those songs. They also liked “Puff the Magic Dragon”, and “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” though those had not been part of their own young memories.

At Christmastime, we would bring the girls’ friends along, because those friends had witnessed the girls’ enthusiasm for this service.  I think it was two different weekends, each year.  One to decorate the trees with all the people sitting around in each sunroom.  And one to sit by the lit trees and sing carols.  One of those other children told me years later, “Mrs. Edelmann, of all the things we did with your family, doing the trees and singing the songs are my favorite memories.”

One woman patient was from Germany, so she sounded like the girls’ Swiss grandmother,  A very strong connection was made with her, and with her o, so faithful, very proper and dignified husband, Dr. X.

One day the girls came scurrying back to me, for they made rounds alone by this time — those patients belonged to them.  “Mommy, Mommy, something’s wrong with Mrs. X!,” they cried.  “Come with us!”  I asked, as we hurried back to the room, “How do you know?”  “She keeps saying ‘schmerzen, schmerzen” they chorused.     I murmured, “O, Honeys, that means pain.”

We could see that she was suffering, so much that all English had fled.  We had his phone number, I don’t remember why.  We called and told Dr. X and he came right over.  Whatever that crisis was, passed.  However, Mrs. X was not with us much longer.  A few months after her death, we had a dear hand-written note from her husband, thanking us for caring so much about his wife, inviting us to a formal tea in his lovely, almost archaic, Princeton home.

Service always mattered to my girls, though they were so young at this point.  In school, they took on official roles.  In all schools, and sports, they shone.  They cared about the community and its creatures, one, at seven dictating a letter to the editor of the Packet about deer in our town.  The other learned sign language in school, used it to reach autistic children at what was then New Jersey Neuropsychiatric Institute every week.  She later taught French with sign language to a student at a nearby New England college.  Service always mattered.

The Princeton classmate took advantage of their need to make the world a better place.  He ‘fed’ them to his guru.  It has been decades since I, myself, have touched their shining hair, let alone hugged either daughter.

Memorial Day is the least of the family Holidays, in terms of painful memories.  But it’s one more when we’re not together, when I can’t call them up and remember our backyard festivities in the Braeburn years.

Don’t let anyone insist you can get over loss.  No.  It grows.  It leaps.  It sabotages you when least expected.

Their guru taught all his captives that families are diabolic.  What he meant by his lie was, all families who disapproved of the cult.

Bereaved parents have all my sympathy, always:  No matter how or when they lose their dear ones, it’s always too soon.

Can you imagine that I envy other parents the funerals, even the flowers, gravesites where they may make pilgrimage?

When you’ve lost your children, every day is Memorial Day.

You don’t know how you are going to go on.

But you do.

SOURLANDS HIKE – Non-Technology Walk

The Smiling Rock, Sourlands Trail off Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell

The Smiling Rock, Sourlands Trail off Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell

Every once in awhile, I give myself the mandate to walk a trail without technology.

This is an interesting challenge, even though I NEVER use a cell phone on a trail!

Today’s Sourlands Technology-less mandate extends to my other addictions — the camera and my binoculars.  I found it really hard to leave them behind.  As in ‘at home’, so I was not tempted to weaken at the last minute.

The images here were taken, I think in the 20th Century, I include these two scenes to give you the flavor of the Sourlands Preserve experience.  This post relies on words, not photographs.

Intriguing question — am I addicted to my camera and my optics?  I did feel, initially, quite naked without them.  Almost instantly, however, I became aware of heightened senses, as though my entire being were a sounding board, an enormous lens, a fragrance-detector.  Without peering through anything, focusing anything, I had become a force field of antennae.  Everything was grist to my mill.

Anyone who hikes in the Sourland Mountains knows that there are boulders everywhere.  I was 1000 x more aware of these ‘diagnostic’ basalt beings, than through lenses!  Some do have almost human, and some powerful reptilian fissures.  But my reaction today went far beyond resemblances.

The aura of Sourlands rocks speaks, in oracular tones, when one is opened by the absence of technology to the gestalt of the walk.

Dappled light.  Threatening skies.  Instant solitude, silence, refuge indeed!

The beechwood forest has just leafed out.  There is no light to equal that flickering through new beech leaves, as NJWILDBEAUTY readers know from the first Berkshire images from last week.  The forest floor is as awash as it will be in autumn, only with pink-brown-to-pale beech leaves, just relinquished.  This process, which brings acid nourishment to the beeches to ensure the nut harvest, usually occurs in mid-April.  It’s almost the end of May.

Ovenbirds overhead fill the forest with eee-errr, eee-errr, eee-err!  My theory is that they’re high in the trees to draw predator attention far from their forest-floor, oven-shaped nests.

The long long trail is lined at the outset with airy pale magenta wild phlox, flat blossoms on frail stems.  Each burst is harshly tugged by surprisingly strong windbursts for May.

The path is far gentler than I remember.  Softer, and more rarely interlaced with roots or studded with rocks.  This response on my part could just be the difference between walking the Sourland Mountains and hiking last week’s Berkshire and Green mountain trails.

Perhaps the deer management of the Sourlands is beginning to work — a result devoutly desired by all who cherish birds and flowers.  Our deer infestation has removed the forest understory throughout this wild region.  These powerful basalt boulders protected this region from most farming and most developing, but cannot fend off deer.

Only deer management, yes, HUNTING, can do this.  It is essential.  Deer herds devour native plants that evolved with our birds and pollinators.  This gives carte blanche to the invasives, which have no insect holes in them, because they feed no insects.  Therefore, breeding birds and seeking pollinators cannot find the essentials with which they have evolved over centuries.  “NO INSECTS — NO BIRDS” — It’s as simple as that, as Sharyn McGee, President of Washington Crossing Audubon, taught us in Jared Fleshers prize-winning, straight-talking, beautiful and even powerful Sourlands Film.

True Solomon’s seal emerges alongside the trail, ‘ringing’ its tiny pale bells.  Later on, in a different configuration of forest, I’ll find false Solomon’s seal, its finial creamy bloom like a puff of smoke.

Big healthy clumps of violet leaves, –like nosegays prepared by My Fair Lady, only lacking the purple blossoms–, hearten me as I climb.

Small ordinary yellow blossoms appear.  Later, in deeper woods, near a stream, I will find rarer ones.  Both are the hue and glossiness of buttercups.  The ordinary one has five round petals and fat leaves like geraniums.  The extraordinary one has six leaves, pointed like daisies.  It’s very tiny, its tall pointy leaves like grass someone forgot to mow.

I pass several stretches of wetlands on the main trail, normally echoing with frog chorus.  If I hear a single frog today, it’s more of a cough than a croak.  The so-called wetlands resemble messy deserts.

High on the left, a phoebe calls out its name with a certain pitifulness, though it IS territorializing, and will be in the same place exactly on my way back.

There should be wood thrushes in forest this deep.  Deer destroying understory removes safe sites for their lives, as well as for ovenbirds.  Ovenbird nests may be a bit safer, because often tucked into strong tree roots.

Dark Christmas ferns are tall and strong in shady stretches; hay-scented fern delicate, airy and much less vivid green, in splashes of sunlight.

Here and there on the path are tulip tree ‘tulip’ flowers, all bright orange (brighter than Princeton) and wild chartreuse.  Indians used these very straight sun-seeking trees to make dug-out canoes, there being a decided dearth of birches hereabouts.  If you need birches, as Frost did, as I do, try Berkshires or Northern Michigan.

Probable rose-breasted grosbeak overhead in this stretch — identified by mellifluousness.

Silent robins on the trail.

Duelling pileated woodpeckers call attention to their ownership of territory on either side of the path.

The mutter or purr of red-bellied woodpecker, suffuses another part of the forest.

This is a place so dense that I am glad of every bit of teaching to bird by ear, by naturalists and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and long-ago tapes..

Sourlands Rocks in Preserve off Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell

Sourlands Rocks in Preserve off Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell

The presence of basalt megaliths increases on both sides.  I’m keeping an eye out on the left for blue blazes, leading to what I call ‘Council Rocks’.  Yellow blazes off to the right lead to a stream-side trail I will take after I reach my goal, ‘Table Rock’.

Now, on the blue trail, silence increases to empty-cathedral level.  The hush is overpowering.  Reverence is mandated.

I am in the domain of ferns as understory and trees on every side:  upright, slanted, crooked, split, and felled.  Sandy-shattered trees are tattooed all over with turkey-tail fungus, paled by severe winter conditions.

The blue trail, however, belongs to the rocks.  If I stood on the shoulders of the tallest man I know (who would NEVER permit such familiarity), we would still not be able to reach the top of these leftovers of volcanic activity.  Spewed eons ago, they are being weathered incessantly into rounded and fissured shapes.

Among these entities, presence, even majesty reigns.  Awe is essential; even worship.

These rock-entities, though so imposing, are generous.  They accept my praise and welcome my ingress.

In my tightly tied sturdiest shoes, with trekking poles used like pendulums for balance, I make my way between deities with broad shoulders. The one I call “Table Rock’ welcomes me.  I sit a long time, studying the Council Rocks where no Indians are visible, but so many are palpable.

Now, I can walk back to the car, the technology that brought me to my non-technology walk site.  For these hours, all my senses have been engaged.  I have been and felt hundreds of miles from civilization, even though Princeton and Philadelphia and New York are all too near.

All along the route, every two or three hundred paces, I have received the gift of a whiff of fox scent.  ‘Eau de renard’... Nothing wilder.  Nothing more precious!

This walk exists because of preservation.  Keep it going, at all costs.  Nothing more vital to our state and its citizens.

My sister, Marilyn Weitzel of Illinois, and my friends Janet Black, then of Kingston and Betty Lies of Montgomery Township, New Jersey, try to find Sourlands birds in dense canopy:

<y sister as Lookout for Birds of the Sourlands

Berkshires Hike – Clark Art Institute Forest, Williamstown

How can a journey among three friends to a region new to two of them turn out to be perfect?

Especially when these three, who do bird together on long excursions, have, nevertheless never gone anywhere overnight together before?

Our fellowship, already splendid, deepened with every new trail or museum, bird and wildflower.

Perfection is always the reality in Williamstown.

The best thing about Williamstown is that it is entirely ringed by mountains.  Out every window of the Clark Art Institute, beauty stuns, in serious competition with Ghirlandaios, Winslow Homers and Renoirs on the walls.

To run an errand is to be surrounded by mountains.

To eat an unexpected and vivid Mexican supper (see earlier post) is to sit across a babbling river from a steep mountainside entirely forested.

To wake to mountains, that shadowy mountains are your last glimpse at bedtime, –there is no greater privilege.

I am still wordless regarding this spectacular journey.  It’s never easy for a poet to admit that a picture is worth 10,000 words, but it’s truer and truer in my experience.

Here is the scrapbook of perfection: some of the trails on the grounds of the Clark.

Teepee of 21st Century, Clark Art Institute Trail

Teepee of 21st Century, Clark Art Institute Trail

One of Few Signs, Clark Art Institute Trail

One of Few Signs, Clark Art Institute Trail

First Sensitive Fern, Clark Art Institute Trail

First Sensitive Fern, Clark Art Institute Trail

First Trillium, Clark Art Institute Trail

First Trillium, Clark Art Institute Trail

Beechwood Glow, Clark Art Institute Trail

Beechwood Glow, Clark Art Institute Trail

Cairn at the Crossroads, Clark Art Institute Trail

Cairn at the Crossroads, Clark Art Institute Trail

Tadao Ando's First Clark Art Institute Building

Tadao Ando’s First Clark Art Institute Building

Normandy Clouds, Boudin and Jongkind Clouds, Clark Art Institute Building by Tadao Ando

Normandy Clouds, Boudin and Jongkind Clouds, Clark Art Institute Building by Tadao Ando

Eternal Sentinels, Clark Art Institute Woods

Eternal Sentinels, Clark Art Institute Woods

Exploring The Berkshires, with The Intrepids

I convey this brief post on the evening we arrived home from our Berkshires week of hiking, arting, feasting, laughing, exploring, wildflowering, birding, treeing…   all to the tune of brooks, streams and rivers, and the leitmotifs of mostly invisible birds.

These lively pictures were taken by Jeanette Hooban, one of the Intrepids, as NJWILDBEAUTY readers well know.

My fellow author of the book on Stuart Country Day School’s fifty years, Carolyn P. Yoder, has become an official Intrepid — our heroic driver who wrote immediately upon return to say, “fabulous, just fabulous,” adding, “everything was so easy, even the driving.”  No one in my experience has deemed the negotiation of the NYSTATE Thruway from Troy to nearly Somerville, ‘easy’.

Both Carolyn and Jeanette are always ready for anything.  They don’t bat an eye, for example, when trail maps, such as those from the Clark Art Institute, turn out to be misleading, wrong and just plain infuriating.  “More time on the trails,” they sang out, as we trundled on.

Our birding was mostly by ear — especially exuberant oven birds of the Hopkins Forest Trail maintained (and well mapped and signed and blazed) by Williams College.  At one point, alongside a wildly twisting stream, we heard the few unmistakable notes of the almost-never-encountered bob-white.

I don’t trust words tonight.  And it’s beyond me to upload my own pictures.  Jeanette’s will serve as appetizer, partly metaphorically, and partly in reality, in the interim.

Enjoy!

Our Hiking Feet Cool Among River Rocks, at the Clark Art Institute Reflecting Pool

Our Hiking Feet Cool Among River Rocks, at the Clark Art Institute Reflecting Pool

One of the main reasons we go there is the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.

My Favorite Renoir, as well as Sterling Clark's Favorite, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass

My Favorite Renoir, as well as Sterling Clark’s Favorite, Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass

This is my all-time favorite Renoir.  It turns out to have been Sterling Clark’s as well.  Eat your heart out, Barnes Foundation!

Our favorite work there, bar none, is Ghirlandaio’s lady with a red dress.  If Jeanette has an image of that, I’ll add it.  Or find on line.  But not tonight.  This aristocratic Florentine remains vividly gracious, across all those centuries.

Another major reason for the Berkshires is hiking.  You’ll get that post when my pictures are uploaded or downloaded – could someone explain the difference.

In between hikes and arts, we feasted:

Arugula Salad, Coyote Flaco, Williamstown, Mass

Arugula Salad, Coyote Flaco, Williamstown, Mass

Stuffed Pepper Appetizer, Coyote Flaco, Williamstown, Mass

Stuffed Pepper Appetizer, Coyote Flaco, Williamstown, Mass

In more ways than one:

Margaritas Arrive, Coyote Flaco, Williamstown, Mass.

Margaritas Arrive, Coyote Flaco, Williamstown, Mass.

Coyote Flaco was a first for all of us.  It’s on Route 7 north on the left-hand side heading into town.  We were welcomed like royalty, even though it was MOTHERS’ DAY! evening.  We were graciously seated outside, beneath vivid umbrellas, at the edge of a babbling brook (which also ran alongside our motel, a little farther along Route 7.)  A steep hill, completely forested rose directly from the brook, which never stopped singing.

The vivid, most exciting food is Mexican and Spanish, with exquisite sauces, tropical beauty, exciting yet subtle flavors, and lashings of lobster.

The Staff so welcoming, as though we were their long-lost relatives, at last come to town.

Wonderful people, murmuring with delight, filled the indoor rooms.  We could savor vivid delicacies in a timelessness not known by any of the three of us in our complex professional lives in Princeton.  At the end, the Staff GAVE us their three signature desserts.

And THREE ROSES, still velvety and fragrant, as we reluctantly drove south on 7 this morning.

Stay tuned for other Berkshire miracles, and some from Hyde Park, in quest of Eleanor, of course.

FIRST KAYAK IMAGES D AND R CANAL SOUTH OF ALEXANDER

I’ll soon be writing an article on this for the Packet, for Anthony Stoeckert, a delight of an editor, on the first kayaking of Spring.

But I must let NJWILDBEAUTY readers know, I made it out there on our canal last evening, (Sunday, May 3) from five to 6:30.  There may be no lovelier way to end a day!

‘There’ is the Alexander Road station of Princeton Canoe and Kayak, canoenu.com, (also up at Griggstown, where I learned.)  I’ll give you more info later.

Meanwhile, welcome to Tranquility Base!

Kayak Still Life, Princeton Canoe and Kayak at Alexander Road, Princeton

Kayak Still Life, Princeton Canoe and Kayak at Alexander Road, Princeton

Entry from the Turning Basin into the D&R Canal

Entry from the Turning Basin into the D&R Canal

Heading South from Alexander, 5 to 6:30 on a golden Sunday evening

Heading South from Alexander, 5 to 6:30 on a golden Sunday evening

First Great Blue Heron, who did not make his squawk nor fly away - I left before he did

First Great Blue Heron, who did not make his squawk nor fly away – I left before he did

Homeward Bound, heading back toward the Alexander Road Bridge

Homeward Bound, heading back toward the Alexander Road Bridge

It’s kayak time — what are you waiting for?  (609-452-2403)  Ask for Steve and tell him Carolyn sent you!