The day is bright with a heat we rarely feel up here in the mountains, and the brook runs shallow here in the sand with Joe Pye weed on the banks. The flowers are open in purple clusters well over my head. Across the stream, the meadow stretches toward the pond almost as far as I can see.
The goldenrod is growing almost shoulder high … give it another day or two and the whole valley floor will be deep in yellow bloom, all through here. It feels like rich land, with the mountains blue on the horizon. Today it’s called the Thomas and Palmer Brook Preserve, and it stretches out a mile and a half from downtown Great Barrington. And I wonder what else people have called it.
Walking out on the path, I have music in my head, the low, smooth alto of a wooden flute. I’ve been listening to Mark Church play his music (on a recording) at the Mission house in Stockbridge. I can hear him fingering a quick run of notes tumbling like a waterfall and holding a long tone with a sign of breath. Woodwinds have always moved me, and I’ve wanted for years to hear a Mohican musician perform, any kind of music they choose.
Around his music, the Stockbridge-Munsee community of the Mohican nation have curated a new exhibit here, sharing stories of their past and present and future. They are offering perspectives in their photographs and their voices, recipes and herbs in the garden.
Now I’m standing on their homeland — one quiet place in their homeland; they lived in these hills and far past them for centuries. Stephanie Wright and Gwendolyn Van Sant first told me about this trail, and I’m here looking for Theresa (Miller) Beaulieu. She is a writer, and Stephanie and Gwendolyn told me that somewhere out here, she has a poem — a contemporary poem. She writes about how she feels as a Stockbridge-Munsee writer, stepping on land her people love and return to.
‘You are one who walked yesterday
pulled from your place in time,
and now I see
that your feet once stood here
imprinting the earth
where I stand …’
I’m halfway around the meadow before I find it — beside a maple tree and a dun-colored stone the shape of the leaves of sagittaria (a plant I’ve just seen in bloom for the first time, a few days ago). Here is a plaque dated in summer of 1997, set where the path gives a glimpse for a moment of a pond near the edge of the trees.
The Berkshire Natural Resources Council holds this place in trust now, a stretch of land below Threemile Hill ridge, between Monument Mountain, Housatonic Flats and Fountain Pond State Park in the west and Beartown State Forest in the east. They say you can find wood turtles here, and birds in the fields, timberdoodles and blue-winged and chestnut-sided warblers, eastern towhee and purple finch.
On this blazing afternoon, I’m finding wildflowers. The trail makes a half-mile loop around the meadow, and the goldenrod and milkweed stretch away like an inland sea. I don’t know many places like this, not hayfield or pasture or park, but open to the sky. In the natural course, meadows turn to scrub, then to saplings, then to young forest, and so this kind of a broad sunny stretch feels rare to me. Once people would have cleared land with fire in this valley. Now I think someone must mow the field, at least now and then, or the wildflowers would be giving way to blackberry and alder.
How does it feel to stand here now? Sometimes when he plays, Mark Church speaks along with his music. He says today, when his people come together for a meeting or an event, they begin with thanks, and he offers a word, Anushiik. It means we are thankful, and we are saying thank you together. He can’t hear me, but I’m saying it softly out loud.