Thom Smith knows the hidden places in the hills

Water drops are shining on the petals, and I’m kneeling on the boardwalk to look under the ferns — Thom Smith, if you’re reading this, do you remember the day you first brought me here? Ten years ago, in July, you invited me along with friends to look for rose pogonia orchids in Hawley bog.

I’ve been trying to find them again for years. You knew when to come — and you would know the songbirds calling. And I think you’ll understand why I’m walking here in the rain.

I didn’t plan to — the clouds opened just as I got to the trailhead, and I waited through the first shower and set out when the storm let up. The rain came back as I got to the boardwalk, warm and unrestrained, sluicing down in a real summer downpour, and the mountain laurel were in full bloom, higher than my head.

You’ll know why I’ve kept on walking … how it feels to be soaked and happy, peering close at the filaments on a pagonia petal … because you know these hills, the way someone can only know them by walking them in all seasons and all weather, and paying attention.

I would never have known to how to find a sphagnum bog, never have known we have one here to find, and I’d never have seen and heard this place, vividly alive just up the ridge from where I live. The sun is filtering through now, thunder in the distance, and the bog iris are fully open.

This week, the Eagle tells me you’re retiring. And I’ve been remembering all the days we’ve worked together. When you wrote for me, when I was running Berkshires Week and summer was a breakneck sprint, when I was pulling all-nighters on weekly deadlines, reading stories late at night by the window in the old brick mill, your columns would remind me of a world wider than my desk.

Sundew opens sticky vivid orange pods to catch insects in Hawley Bog.
Photo by Kate Abbott

Sundew opens sticky vivid orange pods to catch insects in Hawley Bog.

You were calm and generous, as you have been in all my years as a freelance writer. In high summer, you would tell me about tree frogs and swallowtail butterflies. And sometimes you’d show me.

That day at the bog, on the way home, you lent me a kayak, and we floated around bog pond in Savoy, close enough to touch the wild cranberry, bladderwart, waterlilies, the tiny vivid-orange bursts of sundew. I remember. Floating, quiet, the scent of the water — life, variety, color so close by. Thank you Thom.

Outdoor events coming up …

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

A glass of white wine shimmers against dark green trees. Creative Commons courtesy photo
Oct 10 2023 @ 7:00 pm
Naumkeag's horticulturist will lead a after-hours tour of the gardens while sipping on a glass of wine. Each month will offer a different topic for the garden.
The Hoosic River runs through Hopkins Forest in Williamstown. Photo by Kate Abbott
Oct 19 2023 @ 5:30 pm
Justin Adkins and Arianna Alexsandra Collins of HooRWA will lead a walk along the Hoosic River, identifying wild edible and medicinal plants and fungi.

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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