January 27 2021 Edition
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By the Way
Color has come all at once this weekend. I was walking with a friend along the Chestnut Trail, and the virginia creeper and sumac are deep red, the black walnut and ash trees golden. And this year the maple trees are turning almost the way I remember them from my childhood. I tried to explain to her the joy and sadness this bright color gives me now, and I fumbled the words. But at home I found them again. I've written about it before ...

The Green River is golden. Driving Route 43 at noon, as the sun breaks through, I lean back agains the seat and feel myself smiling spontaneously. The leaves let the light through, and here for a stretch the woods are rich and sunlit and almost too bright to look at. I can’t ever take it for granted.

Every year now, I start looking anxiously when the first red leaf shows in late August. How much fall — real fall — will we have? John Steinbeck said it for me in Travels with Charley (and inspired a By the Way column too):

“The climate changed quickly to cold, and the trees burst into color, the reds and yellows you can’t believe. It isn’t only color but a glowing, as thought the leaves gobbled the light of the autumn sun and then released it slowly. There’s a quality of fire in these colors.”

The days are sunny and 70s now, and the nights drop to 40, and the woods are a glory. They are muted in places. Some of the leaves turn brown and crumble. But I am holding on to every fall day that feels like fall to me.

Like Steinbeck, I like seasons. I like winter storms and spring thaws. And it seems clear that as the weather changes, our sense of “normal” weather changes with it.

The winter we had a few seasons ago, when the temperature stayed below freezing for two months, used to be every New England winter — and I mean 30 years ago. Hal Borland, writing his nature column here in 1975, recorded a regular temperature swing from sub-zero or single digits at night to 20s and 30s during the day. Now it’s usually 20s to 40s, which should be early spring weather. My grandfather, keeping a log in his Maine cabin by the wood stove, recorded 11 degree days in November in 1973.

And it worries me, and not only because I love snow, and it’s getting rarer. It worries me because more living beings than I can count love the seasons too. Our maple trees need the cold. And they could move north to look for it.

“I like weather rather than climate,” Steinbeck wrote in 1960, when he drove through New England at this time of year. “… I do wonder if a down-Easter, sitting on a nylon-and-aluminum chair out on a changelessly green lawn slapping mosquitoes in the evening of a Florida October — I do wonder if a stab of memory doesn’t strike him high in the stomach just below the ribs where it hurts. … For how can one know color in perpetual green, and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?” — By the Way Berkshires

Early signs of fall

Fall collage
Trees are turning up and down the county from Lenox to Williamstown — and along the Green River, where Berkshire artists are celebrating a new trail between Linear Park on Route 43 and the cemetery on Main Street. (Photos by Kate Abbott)


Jack-o-lanterns glow in the annual pumpkin walk at Naumkeag.

Naumkeag Pumpkin Show

Opens Oct. 1 from 4 to 8 p.m.

The Incredible Naumkeag Pumpkin Show is back with more pumpkins and an expanded run, Thursday to Sunday afternoons and evenings through October.

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Berkshire squashes, gourds and corn show bright colors at a farmers market.

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October 2 to 4 — virtual

The Center for Food Studies at Bard College at Simon's Rock presents the 7th annual ThinkFOOD conference: Eating to Save the Planet.

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Harriet Harris will perform with Barrington Stage in Eleanor.

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October 3 and 4 at 7:30 p.m. virtual

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An entertainer juggles torches at the Berkshire Botanical Garden's fall harvest festival.

Harvest Festival Reimagined

October 3 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Berkshire Botanical Garden's annual Harvest Festival is returning in a new form, as a month-long celebration on weekends in October.

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A book quietly opens its pages in golden light. Creative Commons courtesy image.

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October 7 at 7 p.m. — online

Poetry at Bennington will hold a series of free virtual readings this semester, open to all. Tonight National Book Critics Circle Awardwinning writer Layli Long Soldier will read from her poetry.

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Williamstown, MA 01267