BTW in mud time — Saturday morning

We went from a coffee shop on Spring Street in the rain to a tea shop on the Tokaido Road between Kyoto and Edo. And we walked most of the way.

Saturday morning began at Tunnel City with my parents and their old friends. My mother and Joan have known each other since college, and we were sitting over hot coffee in my old college town. (Tunnel City roasts its own, and when I lived in Pittsfield I’ve been known to drive all the way here to get some.)

We were talking about the pictures on the walls of local scenes, a college quad, round bales in a hayfield … and we move on into local farming and CSAs, and the time it takes to build up the soil — do assessors in the Berkshires consider soil quality when they value land?

Joan and Mark tell us about an exhibit they have seen recently at the Folger Shakespeare Library: 500 Years of Treasures from Oxford. And it’s all about conversations. It’s a collection of manuscripts, and all of them show traditions crossing over: Translations of the psalms in Latin and Hebrew; a prayer book from a Sephardic Jew in medieval England who wrote notes on the fly leaves in Arabic.

It fascinates me to see someone thinking like that, learning new interpretations, and still more to see a community of people building on each other’s work.

We gather ourselves to head to Where’d You Get That?!, where Mark will strike up a conversation about board games while we all look through the greeting cards with thoughts from Shakespeare and Hafiz and Eleanor Roosevelt. And then we will make our way through the rain to the Japanese Impressions show at the Clark Art Institute.

And as we head out of the coffee shop, we walk up close to the pictures on the walls. They are not photographs. They are all prints too, even the hay bales. And I see the artist’s signature. John MacDonald.

I know that name. Peter McLaughlin wrote a feature story about him for me, for Berkshires Week, in May of 2009. I know his paintings from local galleries, and the clean, clear New England light in them. I forget still, after all this time, that I know these hills well enough sometimes to know stories behind the notes in the margins.

This is the second of a set of By-the-Way-style posts about a weekend of exploration in the Northern Berkshires. The reflections begin here and continue here. For more, watch the website this week.

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