Exploring Berkshire Byways
New Englanders are blessed with a great variety of vacation spots not too far away. No need to choose between a stay-cation (I prefer to call those day trips) and the hassle of either flying or driving long distances. Our own state has the Berkshires in the west and the Cape in the east, among other beauty spots. The Berkshires lacks the ocean, true, but then again sharks are not a problem.
On an August trip to the Berkshires and western Massachusetts, it was just our luck that when we got to the top of Mt. Greylock, the view was hazy though still beautiful, what we could see of it. It’s an easy drive to the top of the almost 3,500 foot mountain, the tallest point in the state. The air was fresh and cool there on top of Massachusetts. The Berkshires are not mountains the way the Rockies are mountains, but if you live somewhere as flat as Rehoboth, they are a welcome change of scenery.
On a jaunt across the state line to New York, we attempted to walk across the Hudson River but just went part of the way. There is a newly opened pedestrian bridge in Hudson, New York that spans the river. To be precise, the pedestrian access is the outermost lane of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, which despite its picturesque name, is a regular highway bridge with cars and trucks zooming by. Rip Van Winkle could not have slept through that racket.
The railings between the regular bridge and the pedestrian lane were very tall and very sturdy, though the bridge shook whenever a truck went by. The bridge is about a mile wide with some parking on either side, so it’s a two mile walk back and forth. As you head out, you’re looking down on the treetops far below, which is nerve-wracking unless you’re a bird. Still, it’s a panoramic view of the landscape below, though it is not recommended for the acrophobic.
You can get wonderful views of the Hudson Valley from Olana, the 19th century estate of Frederick Church. He prospered as an artist of the Hudson River School, those sweeping and breathtaking paintings of nature that put American landscape painting on the map back in that era. The house is a sort of mock-Moorish palace with all sorts of Middle Eastern features, though Church collected artifacts wherever he went. The display of Mexican sombreros looks a little out of place, as does the antique Chinese bed. You can see how Church would be inspired to paint just looking out at the view from one of his many windows.
Back at the state line, we stopped at Bash Bish Falls State Park, which I have wanted to see. We took the trail in from the parking lot on the New York side because it is a gradual incline, though the walk through the woods to the falls is almost a mile. The parking lot on the Massachusetts side offers access through steep steps down (and of course, back up). This scenic waterfall is popular in the tri-state area (it’s close to Connecticut too) but it’s also very popular with bugs in the summer humidity. It must be nice in the spring and fall.
This trip to the Berkshires did not include a visit to Tanglewood, though we missed a chance to see Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax perform again. We have seen them in concert twice before at Tanglewood, both times with lawn tickets and both times it rained. One of those times that we sat in the rain was during a summer of drought. I’d like to think that we helped bring needed rain to the area with our presence, but I’ve been leery of lawn tickets ever since.
Also in Lenox is The Mount, the one-time home of American writer Edith Wharton. The wealthy Mrs. Wharton wanted a change from the over-the-top architecture and overwrought furnishings of her Gilded Age contemporaries in Newport. You can see her good taste in this lovely mansion and grounds, which look like they belong in the French countryside. Like many historic houses, The Mount now offers, in addition to regular tours, an evening ghost tour, presumably because that’s where the money is. One wonders what the very sophisticated Mrs. Wharton would have made of this.
And of course you can’t stay in the Berkshires without a visit to the beloved Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, where we met a cousin from western Massachusetts for lunch and a very pleasant visit sitting on the inn’s wide front porch on a beautiful Sunday afternoon -- summer in New England at its best.