Southern Berkshires

Take a walk in Edith Wharton’s garden

The French lilac are blooming in wide arcs in the gardens at The Mount, at the end of the lime walk. Standing in the circle of bushes, I watched two swallowtail butterflies touch down for a drink. In the woods yellow iris still show in marshy places, and around the grounds artwork has come in…

Three-petalled red trillium blooms on the forest floor.

Thom Smith explores Bartholomew’s Cobble

As the annual wildflower festival and native plant sale heads into its final weekend, Berkshire naturalist Thom Smith recalls a walk through Bartholomew’s Cobble, a Trustees of reservations Property in Sheffield along the Housatonic River. American author Hal Borland (1900 – 1978), best known for his nature musings, wrote, while living on his 100 acre farm on…

Writers in residence in Wharton’s rooms

In the evening, they share a house in Lenox. They sit up late, talking and making pizza. They read each other’s work or watch Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of The Age of Innocence. And each day they write at the Mount, in Edith Wharton’s inner rooms. Vanessa Manko said whatever she was working on, the movement…

Paintings set in Song

Blues and Middle Eastern scales blend into children’s voices holding a line as simple as a Shaker tune, with low notes below. A man and a woman stand by their sleeping son and daughter, holding a newspaper with a headline from the blitz. American music of all kinds embraces well-known images in “Norman Rockwell: Paintings…

BTW explores Woods in the bare season

A week ago, I watched Carrianne Petrik-Huff take the temperature of a skunk cabbage. The thermometer, held inside the curl of the young plant, read 36 degrees — almost 20 degrees warmer than the outside air. Later in the season it will spread broad breen leaves in swampy places, but in March Symplocarpus foetidus emerges…

Pleasant and Main brightens a winter day

My first impression was that you couldn’t get more essentially New England than this. My second was that I didn’t know anyone in New England could make this cup of coffee.

I first came to Pleasant and Main in Housatonic on a winter evening after a snowfall. It was tea-time and dusk, and the café door held a paper sign: Am splitting wood in the garden out back …

Out back holds a cabin just large enough for a stove, bookshelves and a chair. When I called in December, looking for real, thick hot chocolate, the owner, Craig Pero, told me he had just heated a cup on his wood stove while late oak leaves were falling and blowing past. Now I knew where he sat to drink it.

When I came back (coincidentally) on a morning soon after, he recommended a caffe latte. It came in a glass cup with steamed milk as rich as cream, and it tasted like dark chocolate, rich and warm. It reminded me of the South of France on a trip long ago, sitting at an outdoor table in the sun and stirring an oblong sugar cube into a palm-sized cup.

But here I sat at a table by a window, waiting for a friend. Inside, the place is half restaurant and half antique shop — one large, open room with long wooden tables, shelves of old glass behind the bar and a canoe in the rafters. With the coffee I sampled a croissant, soft and buttery and, most memorably, spread with a golden marmalade, lightly sweet and intensely flavored.

When breakfast came, the two of us began to laugh spontaneously at the generosity of it. Eggs Florentine with spinach and a deep yellow cheese sauce. Pancakes with cherries — heated to a deep red, not too sweet, gently thickened — and real maple syrup. Friends of mine have joked about carrying a hip flask to bring maple syrup to restaurants that only serve that flavored table syrup at brunch, and the real thing always warms me.

We tried a sweet crepe with lemon curd, a thick, tangy custard filling, and I asked for a second cup of coffee, something I almost never do. But this morning had become a festival without my noticing. An ordinary meeting over coffee had become sparkling clear, as though the sun had come out.