Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Berkshires...from Bill

It had been about six years since I’d seen my friends Van and Peggy Shields and we were excited about the opportunity to visit them in the Berkshires. The last time we saw them was at John and Laura Nestico’s wedding in North Carolina when Van was living in South Carolina. Last year, Van moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts for his new job as Director of the Berkshire museum and Peggy had recently joined him after renting out their home in South Carolina. Van invited us to stay in his driveway and assured us there would be room. Debby and I had our doubts, but it turned out to be a perfect fit.

Getting to the house turned out to be more of an adventure than we had bargained for.  After planning carefully to avoid the Parkways in New York, and another ticket, we had a relatively uneventful drive until we got close to the house. We were allowing the GPS to guide us in, but didn’t count on there being low bridges. After turning onto one small road that would have taken us very close to the house, we came upon a bridge with a clearance about a foot lower than our rig, so we had to stop, turn down a dead end street and unhook the car. There’s no backing up with the toad attached. We only blocked the road for a few minutes as we got unhooked and turned around. From there, Debby was leading me in the car while getting directions from Van on the phone and following the GPS, when we found ourselves blocked by another low bridge. We hadn’t turned down the road yet when we saw the sign so we were able to go around the block to get out of there, but just barely. I had to take the left lane to avoid a low hanging branch on a tree over the road. Eventually we found a way to avoid the bridges and made it safely to the house, but the rest of my driving in New England has been filled with worries about low bridges.

Pittsfield is situated in the Berkshire Mountains in northwestern Massachusetts. The Berkshires are relatively low hills with lush vegetation and they’re an excellent place to hike. One day, Debby and I joined Van and Peggy’s son, Elliot, on a walk in the nearby state park with the dogs, Juno and Dakota. Juno is a rescue dog that is very skittish around strangers. We seemed to get along all right when I was sitting, but even after several hours of hiking with her on leash, she still wouldn’t warm up to me. Elliot and Dakota, the old dog, turned back early and Debby and I took Juno on what turned out to be an 8-mile hike in the woods with no idea really where we were. Debby had forgotten her phone and my battery was dying, so we used the GPS sparingly and somehow managed to find our way home. Along the way we stopped once to get our bearings, and Debby spotted a tiny fawn in the bushes next to the trail. It was totally frozen so as not to be seen by us. It couldn’t have been more than a few days old. We must have been there for a good five or ten minutes and Juno never spotted the fawn.

One of the better things that happened to me in the Berkshires was getting laid off from my job at AECOM. Work had become less than fun and mostly just a source of stress without much compensation, so when they “let me go” due to the company’s continuing financial problems, that stress was gone, I was eligible for unemployment, and I could fill out my claim forms online. So I am now effectively retired, although technically still looking for work, just not too hard.

Afternoons in the Berkshires usually involved cocktails and appies with our hosts on the backyard deck while we watched the beavers swimming around, working on their dams and a multitude of birds feeding at the birdfeeder. Peggy’s mom, Chris, came to visit a few days after we had arrived and she added a new and delightful dimension to our happy hours. Peggy fixed us several delicious meals, which we enjoyed on the deck and Elliot recommended some great movies to round out our evenings.

We paid a visit to Van’s museum and got to see all the displays that he’d been telling us about. The exhibits were excellent and we learned a lot about birds, Audubon, and the Audubon society and a whole lot of other stuff. The highlight however was watching a pair of turtles mating, or turtle wrestling, in the aquarium. Reminded me of taking my daughter’s girl scout troop to the zoo and having a baboon start…..well let’s just say it was awkward.  
We also got to watch a movie documentary about a local artist, Gregory Crewdson at the Berkshire International Film Festival ( Gregory creates some incredible images and the film documents 10 years of his work on one of his projects - pretty amazing stuff. 

To round off our cultural experience, we drove to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Mass MoCA, where we saw an interesting exhibit of art from Canada, some very large pieces that reminded us a bit of Burning Man, and some incredible wall art by Solomon LeWitt—another fantastic experience.

These signs are in windows all over town.
Van and Peggy have both gotten into yoga in a big way, which was great for Debby. She went with them several mornings and convinced me to join them for an easy session, which I loved. On the way home, we stopped at a new bakery in town that specialized in rye bread. Debby and I love Trader Joe’s corn rye bread and stocked up with as much as we could store before leaving California, but we ran out a few months ago and have not been able to find any since. This place had just what we were looking for and we bought enough to keep us supplied for a couple of months. The owner of the bakery was chatting it up with the customers and when he heard we were from California and excited about finding the corn rye bread, he grabbed a loaf of something he thought we’d like and gave it to us. What a treat, it was delicious. 

The low point of our visit was probably when I decided to wash the RV. It had been months and many layers of road grime since it was last washed, and now that I am retired, I was out of excuses. I started the job while Debby was out running errands and nobody else was at home. Everything was going swimmingly until I decided to wash the awning over the rear slideout. The ground on that side of the RV wasn’t very level and after I climbed the ladder (it’s the kind that leans against something) with the hose to rinse off the awning, over it went. I’d been through this scenario in my mind many times as I climbed that ladder and as I felt the ladder start to fall, I executed plan A, jump off and do a PLF (parachute landing fall). This was when I learned one of the basic laws of physics—you can’t jump off a falling object. I was lucky to get away with a few scrapes and bruises, but now I know—if you’re ever in that situation where you’re in a falling elevator and you think about jumping up just before it hits the bottom, forgetaboutit! 
good friends for the last 40+ years


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  2. Glad to see you two are enjoying the Berkshires! I grew up in Lenox and definitely miss the green summers there! I've been the Museum many times though it's been a long time since my last visit. While there make sure you try BBC (Berkshire Brewing Company). It's one of my favorite brewers. I have yet to find a beer I don't like. Steal Rail EPA, Lost Sailor IPA, and Cabin Fever are a few of my favorites. Maibock and Octoberfest are also amazing.

    Enjoy your time in the Berkshires! I am already looking forward to my trip home in September. If you find yourselves lost in October Mountain state forest be sure to stop in and say hi to my parents!

    Maybe I'll get to see you in MA or NH when I am out there in Sept.

  3. Forgot to mention taking in a concert at Tanglewood and visiting the Normal Rockwell museum.

    1. Thanks! Heard about Tanglewood - got to get there next time!