“So how’s it going up there?” After three visits to Pennsylvania in the last two months, I’ve heard this question a lot. By “up there,” people mean the wild and reserved part of the country North of New York City. Since we’re in Massachusetts now, most friends think we live in Boston. A few are pretty sure we live in New Hampshire, because that’s really the same thing as Massachusetts, right?
“Yo, when are yous moving back to Philly?”
So I try to explain Western Massachusetts and how it’s not like Boston at all and how you can drive just a few minutes to get somewhere beautiful, instead of sitting on the Schuylkill or I-95 or the Jersey Turnpike.
2012 was the first full year of living near nature.
Advice we got from area outdoor enthusiasts: there’s no bad weather, only wrong clothes. Icy trails are no problem with these bad boys, and winter hiking is peaceful: few people, no humidity, and no mosquitoes.
One one trek, we got to see some beaver action at Tully Lake:
Even though there wasn’t much snow, Brattleboro, Vermont hosted the annual ski jump competition at Harris Hill.
Cross-country skiing was fairly terrifying, partly because the fake snow was icy and mostly because it’s hard to stop.
Just when you’re tired of winter, the sugaring season starts. We visited a few sugar houses, including the Red Bucket Sugar Shack, down a dirt road in Worthington. Is there anything better than eating pancakes on a weekend morning while the maple syrup is boiling in the room next door?
Spring is slow to arrive here, but the anticipation is fun. Type E’s parents came for an Easter visit, and we took them to Hawley Bog, where spring had most definitely not yet sprung.
Later that weekend, we stopped by the nearby Acadia Wildlife Sanctuary and saw dozens of blue heron nests.
My family chose to visit later in the spring, when things were greener. We took my mom to a sheep shearing festival in the Berkshires. Don’t worry–in the right hands, the sheep enjoy getting a haircut.
The next day, we went on one of Blanche Derby’s wild edibles walks and learned that not only can you make pesto from garlic mustard, but you’re doing everyone a favor by pulling it up, since it’s an invasive species.
My brother and his wife brought their bikes, and we took our first ride of the season, to the end of the Norwottuck Rail Trail and back.
Summer is just as hot and humid in the Pioneer Valley as it is in Philadelphia, but it’s gorgeous nonetheless.
This is ice cream country! There are Creamees, Frostees, Flayvors, and Flavorlands in every town and down every back road. At some places, you can give personal thanks to your dairy providers.
Another way to escape the heat is to find yourself a swimming hole. Just downstream from the Chesterfield Gorge, below, you can splash around in the Westfield River or just plop your chair on a rock and read for a few hours.
And of course it wouldn’t be summer without some camping. We went back to Savoy and drove to the Berkshires to see the Boston Symphony rehearse at Tanglewood. We also took in some mountainside outdoor dancing at Jacob’s Pillow.
There was more camping at Half Moon State Park in Vermont.
Closer to home, we enjoyed the porch, which serves as living room, dining room, and reading nook during warm months. The sounds of kids playing ball on our dead end street and the neighbor playing his guitar waft through the same screen that frames our view of the surrounding trees.
It wouldn’t be summer without enjoying the local food bounty, from our CSA to the honor system produce stands along every road.
Some foods—even the undeserving—get their own festival.
This year, I fulfilled a dream by entering food in a local fair. My black raspberry jam, the cause of tears, frustration, and swearing, got a third-place ribbon a the Cummington Fair. I’ll never forget driving into the sunset on Route 9, jam and cookies in tow, and arriving at the fairgrounds to find what seemed like the entire community setting up for the weekend festivities.
Fall in New England is cliche, but who doesn’t love a good cliche? Mom made a return visit, and we took her out to the Three Sisters Sanctuary in Goshen, a hard place to describe.
We spent the next few weeks chasing the colors. First, a return to the High Ledges, above Shelburne Falls.
Then, a return to the local rail trail:
You can detour from the trail and ride the dirt roads around Hadley’s farmland.
Stunning views are still to be had, even after the leaves are gone.
And if you’re missing the colors, there’s the annual chrysanthemum show at Smith College.
Slowly, the pumpkins and cornucopias disappear, replaced by Christmas lights and barrels of salt that stand at the ready.
And so begins another full year of nature. Happy New Year!