Ruth Bass: Adorable baby animals retain charm year after year at Hancock Shaker Village

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RICHMOND — It's good to go to baby animals with a veteran — not a war veteran, but a veteran of the baby animals event at Hancock Shaker Village. The 12-year-old, who's been to several of these events, can make a beeline to the right entrances and the most important things to see.

Every year, the pigs take the cake. My granddaughter likes them the best, and while I don't want any at my house, they're my favorite. Piglets are funny, shoving each other out of the way when the sow lies down to let them eat and making the idiom "pig pile" come true when they are playing.

They were especially appealing this year because they were only four days old when we saw them, a litter of eight in a rainbow of colors. Some were black and white like their sizable mother, others were brown and just one was storybook pink. We had been tipped off that no pigs had been born in time for opening day but were expected by Wednesday. So, we delayed our visit until what turned out to be the best weather day of the week, and there they were, tumbling all over each other, never still.

We remembered the year the sow shook off her nursing piglets, heaved herself up and settled in a corner with her back to them. "No more," she was saying, although one piglet made an earnest attempt to climb the formidable mound that was mother — and couldn't manage it. She ignored his pestering, insisting on moments to herself, something human mothers could certainly appreciate.

It's fun to watch fearless preschoolers and others climb right in with lambs and their large, fuzzy mothers, or the goats, or calves. The famous Round Barn is perfect for not only making it easy to see the animals but also for pelting around the circle. And even when a field is added to accommodate all the cars, the barn's shape gives a crowd a lot of space. Pigs and cows are in the longer barn in inaccessible pens, but everyone can scratch the heads of the young bovines.

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It's great to be there in sunshine, as we were. Saturday's rain would have made it much less fun to get from the visitors' center across the lawn to the barns. But boardwalks go almost all the way, which is easy for strollers and nonmuddy for shoes. One tip on the parking: Unless someone is out there telling you where to go, take a chance on the paved lot, even if people are parking in the field. It's worth circling once, and you may spy someone folding a stroller by a car. It worked for us.

Our plan was piglets first, then lunch at the cafe, then back to the pigs. My lunch was beautifully arranged, a feast of little things, from olives to smoked salmon. But even though Shaker brown bread topped the menu, none of the adult offerings reflected the wonderful cooking of the Shakers — just the emphasis on local supplies. With all the dozens of kids running around, the kids' menu seemed inadequate compared to what we see elsewhere — no chicken, no pasta.

We popped in and out of a couple of buildings but didn't encounter any demonstrations of Shaker crafts. The Brick Dwelling, however, with its many furnished rooms depicting Shaker life, inspired a dozen questions from the 12-year-old about the separation of men and women to eat and to sleep, the children living dormitory-style, the odd things in the health care rooms. Some parents may be surprised to find Shaker Village has a sex education aspect as well as a religious history of a sect that was so creative in so many ways.

For instance, why do some chickens lay eggs that turn into chicks and some give us eggs to eat? Are they different kinds? So, the role of the rooster has to be explained. And why did the Shakers disappear? Uh, celibacy. No marriage, no giving birth to children. So where did the children come from? From orphanages, or families that took shelter with the Shakers. And they must have been married because they were families? Yes. And more.

When it comes to historic sites in the Berkshires, visiting Hancock with a 12-year-old definitely inspires a different set of questions from what we'd get by taking her to Naumkeag or The Mount.

Ruth Bass lives in Richmond. Her website is ruthbass.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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