October 24 2020 Edition
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By the Way
The powerwent out. The storm blew in, short and sudden. The maple outside the window was blowing like embers in a stiff wind. And then the light was gone.

So was the internet. I walked out onto the porch for the sunlight and looked out at the rain and added up. Without the steady flow of communication through my laptop, I couldn’t work. No immediate conversation with people 50 miles away down the county. No searches. No tools in virtual space. And in Covid, no way to borrow a connection, not in the Berkshires after 5.

The storm had just given me the evening off. I put on a jacket and walked out into the blowing, damp aftermath. The rain slowed quickly, and the afternoon was warm, and I could charge my phone while I drove. I turned on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer (I’d just borrowed it online from the library) and headed to Lanesborough.

Route 7 was closed. I was listening to the novel, and Hiram Walker was explaining his life as one of the Tasking folk, the enslaved people on a Virginia plantation. He was nine years old and his mother was taken away from him, sold away, forced away down the Natchez Trace to Kentucky or Tennessee. No one told him or talked to him. He knew he was alone. He walked up to the cabin of a woman who has lost all of her children and her husband and asked her silently to let him stay.

The actor reading aloud lifted his voice in a field holler, in a strong and intent tenor call and response, and it was beautiful. I almost didn’t see that the road I was driving was suddenly gone too, cordoned off and inaccessible. I swung right onto Route 2 (directly away from where I was headed) and then left onto the dirt road that will take you eventually up to Oblong and past Cricket Creek Farm. The storm had left traces and in one place wires down.

A shuffle of backroads and I was headed up another ridge — to Square Roots Farm, above Cheshire Lake. When I got there, among people coming and going to pick up their CSA shares, the place felt muddy and electric with the end of the season and the immediacy of the weather. They were passing the word about the state of the roads, and I walked back to my car feeling absurdly lucky, with a six-pound chicken in each hand.

It was full dark by the time I got home. I’d called for a pizza from Hot Tomatoes, and the small shop by the river felt warm. They were lending a neighbor a phone cord and a place to plug it in.

Up here the wind on the hillside sounds vast and gentle when the house is completely silent and the only light comes from two beeswax candles. I sat for awhile playing old contradance tunes from memory.

Hi Walker has a gift for memory and music. He can hear a tune and sing it, recall a voice or an image or a verse, and I think about his agility and the clear tone of his singing and the skill in learning by listening. I think of the pain and strength in his music, the anger, the feel for the earth, the beauty of it.

The melody line I’m feeling my way through is simple, just a way to listen in a quiet room. Minor tunes in a slow beat of three. The Butterfly. Star of the county Down. Innisheer. I first heard that Irish waltz in the fiddle jam at Mass MoCA, and I learned to play it in Maine from a wind player with an Irish flute. He would play a bar or two, and I would play it back, a phrase at a time.

Time was I could play waltzes and reels by ear for hours ... though most of them I would have followed slowly by ear from people who know hundreds of them familiarly without a page of music.

I looked into the candle flame and watched the wax bead and played runs in minor thirds and fifths. Professor Ernest Brown taught me years ago that spirituals will harmonize in fourths too, carrying the sounds of West African sales. I am playing an air called Da Slockit Light, Scots music (where my family came from if you look back far enough), and I feel keenly aware of all I have. Because when the power goes out, I am warm and fed and safe. — By the Way Berkshires

Stories

A memorial honors Sojourner Truth, a powerful nationally recognized advocate for women's rights and the abolition of slavery, who lived for a time in Northampton.

Hubbard Hall lifts past and present voices for women

Women are talking in a public hall, debating passionately. They see the country at a turning point, shaken by an impeachment, an upsurge in violence and disputes over immigration and voting. It's 1894 — and it's today ...

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Trinh Mai looks carefully at a great horned owl, a local bird, as she creates arrows from found feathers for an art installation in her studio in Southern California.

Trinh Mai and fellow artists weave stories of migration

In her studio in southern California, Trinh Mai Thạch turns to show a life-sized portrait of her husband, in a work inspired by prayers of protection. She will bring her work across the country to join MCLA in a yearlong conversation about immigration.

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Joy Harjo, 23rd United States Poet Laureate, will read her work virtually at Bennington College. Press photo courtesy of Bennington College.

Joy Harjo and Layli Long Soldier share loss and strength

Surrounded by the crumbling world, women begin to sing. The world as they’ve known it has ended, and yet there is movement, and growth, and the promise of new life.

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Events

A woman laughs with a hand gently to her mouth in Robert Markey's portrait in Art of the Hills at the Berkshire Museum.

Berkshire Museum: Art of the Hills

Opening in the galleries October 10

Berkshire Museum's new exhibition, Art of the Hills: Narrative, curated by nationally recognized artists Amy Myers and Seung Lee, is now open in the galleries.

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Chesterwood — the the home and studio of Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial — basks in the sun in Stockbridge.

Voices of Poetry at Chesterwood

October 10 at 2 p.m.

Voices of Poetry will present an afternoon of original poetry at Chesterwood outdoors on the lawn with four acclaimed poets — Matt Donovan, Amy Dryansky, Howard Faerstein, Richard Michelson — and one musician.

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Nandi Rose, the Williamstown musician behind Half Waif, will perform at Mass MoCA. Press photo courtesy of the Museum.

Half Waif live performance at Mass MoCA

October 10 at 7 and 9 p.m.

The project of Williamstown native Nandi Rose, Half Waif swirls poignant lyrics, expansive instrumentation and vocals, live and outdoors at Mass MoCA.

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Berkshire musician Crystal Moore sings over loops of her own music, and Briana Nicola with her boyfriend, Dylan Bell, on guitar, at the Foundry in West Stockbridge.

On the patio: West Stockbridge Chamber Players

October 10 at 7 p.m.

The West Stockbridge Chamber Players — clarinetist Catherine Hudgins, clarinetist William R. Hudgins and cellist William Rounds will an evening of music at The Foundry.

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Berkshire and nationally known vocalist Wanda Houston. Press photo courtesy of the artist.

Wanda Houston: Celebrating the Women of Jazz

October 11 at 2 p.m.

Nationally recognized jazz vocalist Wanda Houston will perform live, outdoors under a tent on the Berkshire Theatre Group campus.

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A hand holds out an open book in evening light.

Northshire Live: As the World Burns

October 13 at 5 p.m.

Northshire Live will hold a virtual conversation with award-winning investigative and environmental journalist and author Lee van der Voo, author of As the World Burns, in conversation with Jeff Goodell.

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