Stone formations shapeshift on Tyringham Cobble

The yarrow are in bloom over my head. The sun is high and hot — it’s a rare afternoon in this rainy summer, and the path begins in the open, but I’ll have shade on the hill. I’m walking in the meadow at the foot of Tyringham Cobble.

It’s one of the uncountable paths I’ve heard of for years and haven’t seen before. Even though I walk all around the hills in all weathers, we always have more, and some are excursions that can fill a day and send you home just muddy and sore enough to know you’ve been somewhere — but this one fits gently into a gap in an afternoon.

In July the meadow is shoulder high, and the path is mown through milkweed. This looks like pasture grown back, with an old barn at the foot of the hill. Tyringham is a town of clapboard houses, and the land trust that keeps the hill and fields says that a Shaker community lived here in the 1700s and kept cattle and sheep, and planted orchards.

It feels that way. As the trail ambles up the hill, the lower slope is still open, brush and wild black raspberries. I remember walking in Wales and Scotland years ago (only once) on old pathways grazed for centuries. And the wood is a young wood here with pockets of older trees, as though the hill would have been bare when my grandmother was born.

A few local sources suggest that the land is still open for me to walk because of Olivia Murray Cutting James — she turns out to be the first wife of Henry James, and she lived for much of her life in Tyringham with Martha Lincoln Draper, in a small house among apple trees. In her lifetime, the Orchard House Inn next door formed a nucleus for writing, music and art and diplomacy, and she led a group and a movement to keep this hill green and open. I wish I could thank her for it.

Walking up hill now, I wonder what this place looked like before my European forebears came and changed it. People have lived here for hundreds of years, and this is a memorable fold in the land, a ridge near a brook with wild berries and high meadows — and bedrock formations. (The Appalachian Mountain Club calls them Precambrian gneiss and sandstone on top of Ordovician marble.)

A high meadow gives a wide view over young sumac trees on Tyringham Cobble and the Appalachian Trail.
Photo by Kate Abbott

A high meadow gives a wide view over young sumac trees on Tyringham Cobble and the Appalachian Trail.

Dun-colored stone juts up in the kind of smooth formation that looks smoothed by water, and I didn’t know we had that kind of rock here in marble and quartzite country. From the right angle on the path, the stone does look like a cottontail basking on a warm day. How many names has Rabbit Rock had over the years … how many stories have people spun about a gentle giant sitting here in the shade.

In the direction I chose, the path climbs in a broad switchback, crossing the hillside as much as climbing it, until you come out of the trees in a last scramble into a clearing of sumac saplings. You pick up the Appalachian Trail here for a short way along the summit, and the view opens out.

The climb this far took me maybe half an hour, and if you keep on the loop back, it’s an easy climb down through a hemlock wood. From here the path takes a longer way through the meadow, and you can drop down to the bridge over Hop Brook for a breath of cool air and walk back through Queen Anne’s Lace, and catch the deep orange of a wild lily in bloom.

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.

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