Coby Mulliken: Even in a strange summer, thankful to be in the Berkshires

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STOCKBRIDGE — The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted lives in ways no one could have ever expected, as cases continue to rise in most states, and any return to normalcy seems far off in the future.

Among all this chaos, the Berkshires, despite a major fall in tourism, remain a destination for families from Massachusetts and New York aiming to escape the often stressful environment that cities now present. With these families come a horde of teens, whose summer plans are canceled and who are looking for a way to stay entertained.

As for me, I'm a 15 year-old from Brookline, one of the many teens who are now spending their summers in Berkshire County. I had originally planned to spend most of this summer in Morocco, learning Arabic as part of a State Department scholarship. But as school was canceled and lockdowns were imposed, that seemed like less and less of a possibility. Soon after it became clear that the coronavirus was here to stay, my family made the decision to leave Brookline for Stockbridge for the summer.

I'm far from the only city kid who had their plans canceled, and found themselves in the Berkshires for the summer.

Mia Calzolaio, 15 years old, from New York City, also had ambitious plans for the summer, including enrolling at a pre-college summer course at Brown University, and volunteering for a local nonprofit that helps provide housing assistance to those impacted by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

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Instead, since mid-March, she's been in the Berkshires with her family, adjusting to a different reality.

Another New Yorker in a similar situation is Isaac Platt-Zolov, 15, who was supposed to be doing a home stay in China this summer to help improve his Chinese language skills. For him, it has been strange to keep in touch with his friends, most of whom are still in New York, while being unable to see them in person, or participate in the Black Lives Matter protests that continue to occur in his hometown.

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As for Mia, the biggest adjustments have been getting used to living in such a rural environment, where driving is ubiquitous and public transport is nonexistent. From my perspective, one of the greatest social challenges is being away from friends for such a long time.

But despite being rural, the Berkshires still offer a number of benefits to us teens that the city can't during this pandemic.

For one, the sparseness is one of its greatest assets, making the coronavirus less of a risk, and getting outside is a real possibility. Another perk of that sparseness is the wilderness that comes with it, as some of us city dwellers hike, walk and explore more than we ever would've otherwise.

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An unexpected perk for Mia has been having the time to get to know a range of different hiking trails, which she says almost certainly wouldn't have happened without the pandemic. As for Isaac, the freedom to go for walks with his family without too much concern of the coronavirus has been helpful, and is one of the many edges that the Berkshires have over New York City.

And while hiking in the outdoors remains one of the greatest aspects of the Berkshires, I've also found that an even more useful facet for me has been all the skills that I've acquired that I wouldn't have otherwise.

Driving a lawn tractor, planting vegetables, turning over the compost and splitting kindling are just a few of the tasks that an urbanite like myself would rarely if ever encounter in normal times. So, even as much of the future remains uncertain, I'm grateful to at least have a place to stay in this beautiful region.

Coby Mulliken is a rising sophomore at Milton Academy in Milton.


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