Where to catch falling leaves in the sun — #Berkshireweekend

My nephew asks me why I don’t live in California. He’s three years old, and I know from where he’s standing he just means he’d like to see me, and I’d like to see him too. But he has me thinking about an inverse question. How can I explain to someone on the sunny West Coast why I live here?

He lives in a beautiful city, where jade plants grow like hedges and lemon trees bloom, where whales migrate up the coast and the world is rich in inventive people. It’s real and vibrant in its own ways. And how would I tell him how it feels to me to live here when the nights are touched by frost?

I remember the scent of pumpkins in the fields when I was his age. My sister and I were walking through the grass, carefully choosing a pumpkin for a jack-o-lantern. Like his sister now, she would have been newly walking then and intent with her new freedom to explore the world. The pumpkin stems curled rough in our hands. Back home my dad carved them for us on the old butcher block table, and we raced for the slide and crackle of leaf piles.

Maples turn golden against the quartzite boulders along the Chestnut Trail in Williamstown.
Photo by Kate Abbott

Maples turn golden against the quartzite boulders along the Chestnut Trail in Williamstown.

And I live here because of old friends gathering, emerging quietly from the pandemic with a play of ideas and generosity. Because of laughter and understanding, a full moon shining in a sukkah, cider and homemade spice cookies. Because … a book I found at the Bear and Bee, Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s To Speak for the Trees, give me the Gaelic word saoirse — ‘the freedom to be and express yourself, the freedom to think … the freedom of spirit and imagination.’

… And because I can walk the trail on the ridge behind my house up to the quartzite bluff and lie on my back listening to the leaves falling. The sugar maples and moose maples and birches hold the light, and the boulders are thick with rock polypody. And I remember my mom showing me those dark green fronds on granite erratics in the woods near home.

Then I come up to see the plays running this week at the Bennington Performing Arts Center. Short scenes weave together into a warm community, and the 15 actors on stage together generate an abundant energy. I feel a power in it — the actors feel as though they know each other. They have had time to create together, and they play off each other fluently. They have me in tears more than once and laughing aloud before the end.

On another fall night I can come into the Bear and Bee to talk about storytelling and remember the warm depths in fiction. Conversations like this take me back to my grad school days, and I remember the way stories can open like tide pools. As you write, you feel your way into a scene, a person, a way of feeling, and find tenacious life, infinitely varied and surprising.

Not long ago, a friend handed me a hermit crab. We were standing on the shore of a tidal river, and he told me they compare shells, not competitively but cooperatively, and if they see a mutual benefit, they’ll swap. The crab walked across my palm on points of feet as light as pine needles, a tiny translucent creature no wider than my fingertip, and I tried to imagine living that way, open to exchange.

Fall mosaics

The maple trees turn golden along the Chestnut Trail and the quartzite boulders on the class of ’98 Trail in Williamstown….

Events coming up …

Find more art and performance, outdoors and food in the BTW events calendar.

Claude Monet, The Geese, 1874, oil on canvas. Clark Art Institute
Jun 14 2024 @ 10:30 am
Works on Paper invites artists of all experience and skill levels to work closely with thematic selections of drawings from the Clark’s collection.
Asparagus and rhubarb glimmer early in the season at the Lenox Farmers Market.
Jun 14 2024 @ 11:00 am
The Lenox Farmers Market returns on Friday afternoons with organic produce, sweets, fresh-baked breads and more.
Robin Frohart, the artist behind The Plastic Bag Store, gives a new meaning to 'walk-in freezer' in her immersive performance. Press photo courtesy of Mass MoCA
Jun 14 2024 @ 11:00 am
Mass MoCA and the Williamstown Theatre Festival present The Plastic Bag Store, an immersive, multimedia experience by Brooklyn-based artist Robin Frohardt.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

If you’d like to see the website grow, you can join me for a few dollars a month, enough for a cup of coffee and a cider doughnut. Members get access to extra stories and multimedia, itineraries a bookmark tool. Let me know what you're looking for, and we’ll explore together.

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