My trip was to be a runaway for two nights in Williamstown, Mass. Throughout this healing year, mountains have increasingly called me. But could I manage a 250-mile drive? For the last weekend in October, I decided to head for the Berkshires and Vermont's adjacent Green mountains, to hike and have my fill of splendid art.
I took back roads up there, after Hyde Park -- 22 and 43. I was blithe, carefree, feeling that making these mountai roads my own meant I am healed once and for all.
Then, in charming, unlikely cafe near Austerlitz, --a town important to poet Edna St. Vincent Millay--, I began to hear that Hurricane Sandy was expected there -- inland, in mountains. I chuckled with the baker who was so carefully arranging the season's crisp Cortlands along a rich pastry. "They don't have hurricanes in mountains." I carried on, refreshed, en route to the Clark, the Williams, The Bennington, and I thought, Mass Moca's artful reaches.
The best part of being in the Berkshires for me, beyond the beauty, is that art and hiking are married in most places. ""What hurricane!," scoffed I, pulling into the Sterling and Francine Clark in Williamstown, headed for my Winslow Homers, the Ghirlandaio, and an array of Impressionists to rival Barnes.
Unfortunately, perhaps infected by the Barnes Museum's success in daring to move good doctor's art hither and yon, most works I cherish are off somewhere, maybe Toronto, and I think China, and who cares?
Facsimiles, leftovers and i-pads were supposed to make up for egregious absences. Disoriented and disgruntled not to find Mr. Clark's masterpieces of painting and sculpture (Degas dancer!) where they belong, I went back out into the handsome town, barely noticing lowering skies.
OK, if I can't do art at the Clark, I'm going to Bennington. Checked into my little Cozy Corner (am NOT making this up) motel. Yes, given upstairs room with uninterrupted view of mountains and (mostly bare black) trees. And took Route 7 on over to Vermont. Stopped at the Apple Barn for true cheddar from an enormous wheel, and some Cortlands of my own. Maple syrup, to be sure.
There was unsettlement in the air, to the degree that I didn't go on my usual covered bridge quest in Bennington. I checked out Hemming's Motor News, and enjoyed their antique car museum. The Bennington Museum turned out to be rich and full, not only of Grandma Moses, (whom I appreciate more these days - not sure why), but also unusual paintings by my favorite illustrator of childhood, the (usually woodcuts) amazing Rockwell Kent.
As I returned, replete, to my mountain-surrounded car, I noticed, guess what, a marvelous trail. I walked until lowering sun rendered my presence ill-advised, on a manicured forest path named Aiken for a pioneer of native plants. Leaves were thick and loud underfoot, looking like great splotches of spilled paint. I was getting what I needed so that I would be ready to depart the day after the next day.
The next morning, I was back at the Clark, early, in hiking mode. I took their handsome trail early. Fascinatingly, as I leapt out of the car, I was greeted by a very broad, very strong rainbow. The whole time I was in the forest, winds huffed and puffed, --yes, increasing. I still didn't believe in hurricanes in mountains. I was given a great deal of mountain-cradled beauty, however. The rainbow was still there when the gusts became too much.
A superb lunch and fellowship at the Water Street Grill gave me energy. Odd skies of greenish/black light highlighted town buildings and remnants of autumn on old trees. The Williams Museum proffered some of their legendary American art, but most of what I seek there, as well, had been removed so Sol Lewitt's obsessive-compulsive squares and rectangles could suffuse that museum.
I turned at the little yellow house leading over to Hopkins Forest, a favorite of each and every trip. However, by now, what the British call 'a mizzle of rain' had begun. I didn't know I was seeing the last of the sun for a week. Nor that I'd be there a week. Only that rain renders leaves slippery, and I could only photograph that trail, not walk it, not risk this new hip. Even so, it was grand to stand at the gateway to Hopkins, promising return in another season.
Back at the motel, then, I learned of the imminence of the storm, yes, even in Williamstown, yes, in Vermont. Words like "battened down" leapt from headlines in usually simplistic local papers. The big news, among the locals and in the papers was that "TRICK OR TREAT IS CANCELLED."
I took myself to town for storm essentials, candle in metal container (but could never find matches!), book light that worked on battery, -- that sort of thing. And books, of course. No way was I going through a storm without books.
Locals kept telling me Irene-horror-tales. The little brook beside the motel, not even ankle deep when I arrived, was being filled somehow, somewhere. More and more tumultuous. More and more cacophonous. In Irene, it covered the lofty bridge, below which it usually murmurs.
My cell phone just did not work there, and not because of the storm. If it got through to anyone, if it didn't cut out, the brook drowned messages I barely heard, could not return.
And Sandy arrived but didn't arrive, somehow taking a turn west toward my home state of Michigan and my sister's home state of Illinois.
And we in Williamstown did not lose power, though nearby North Adams did. The 'battening down' was not needed.
The dear new Chef's Hat local restaurant (pick-up trucks, mostly -- electricians, woodsmen, electricians, plumbers, policemen and neighbors served by name by waitresses who knew what they always wanted...) fed me as though I belonged to them, in a warm setting where everyone was trading storm stories. The chef makes his own root beer and is famous for turnip muffins. I ate three breakfasts there, and regret not having sampled that rootbeer. Would go back to Williamstown just for their sausage patties and the turnip muffins.
Wherever I went, in that tiny town, I was their Rip Van Winkle, what with no phone and no television. Have to admit, I had gone up there to get away from technology. Be careful what you wish.
Ultimately, Sandy in the mountains meant rain day after day, a smother of sky like the inside of the Electrolux bag, blue-ing for seconds here and there.
Ultimately, the storm meant fellowship, everywhere I went. Even to the new motel owners, who do not know me as Midge did, lowering their prices, as powerlessness and other disasters in Princeton kept me an unexpected refugee for more than a week.
I thought I went up there for art and for hikes.
What was the purpose?-- I'm still sorting that out. It was enough to be with mountains.