Selvin Gootar: Why I love the Berkshires

WOODBRIDGE, N.Y. — When my brother and his family decided to fly from their home in Florida to Boston this summer for a vacation, they asked my wife and I if we wanted to spend a few days with them. I gladly said yes. Boston is a great city. My dad was born there. I always looked forward to our family's car trips from Brooklyn to Boston to visit his relatives.

Boston is a wonderful town, but I really like traveling to the other side of the state. When my brother-in-law and his wife bought a small country house in Cherry Plain, NY, it was always fun spending weekends there. But when they purchased a home and relocated to Berkshire County, my pleasure increased exponentially.

Besides the physical beauty of the county, there's so much to see and to do. I start to smile when we get off the Taconic at Route 23 and head into Hillsdale, N.Y. Passing through this town, I light up when I see the sign, "Welcome to Massachusetts." I've climbed down that rocky hill near South Egremont to Bash Bish Falls, the highest waterfall in the state. When I drive past Catherine's Chocolate Shop in Great Barrington, I try to be strong, but sometimes I'm weak.

Continuing up Route 7, we often turn left at the Red Lion Inn and drive four miles to West Stockbridge. At Charles H. Baldwin & Sons, we get pure vanilla extract from Madagascar, my wife's special ingredient for baking. I browse the aisles of old-fashioned candies like Mary Janes and pick up a pack of Blackjack chewing gum (can't beat that licorice flavor and extremely difficult to find).

The pleasures of the Berkshires are almost too numerous to detail: Jacob's Pillow in Becket (where I saw the great tap dancer, Jimmy Slyde); Chez Nous, the wonderful French bistro in Lee; Mass MoCA in North Adams (how does someone come up with the idea to create something that resembles a tiger skin from thousands of strategically placed cigarettes)?

Tanglewood and the Williamstown Theatre Festival are American cultural treasures, but I really enjoy accompanying my brother-in-law to the Williamstown dump. For some reason, I like climbing the dumpster stairs and tossing in plastic bags of cans and bottles. Maybe it's my mild case of OCD, but I also like neatly positioning paper bags filled with magazines and newspapers in the dumpster.

As an added bonus, there's a bookshed at the dump. Over the years, I've acquired books and donated an equal amount. My best acquisition was a dark blue, gold-leaf hardcover edition of Bulfinch's Mythology. (With illustrations, a dictionary, and an index, it's a hefty 955 pages.)

If one looks for negatives, they're always easy to find. Sure, the winters in the Berkshires are cold, but that's what L.L. Bean is for. One Thanksgiving, we decided to take an alternate route to Williamstown through New Lebanon, N.Y. and were caught in a freak snowstorm. I could not see five feet in front to me, even with the windshield wipers racing at their highest speed. When we finally pulled into our relatives' driveway, I needed two stiff drinks to unclench my hands from the position around the steering wheel.

I'll admit that the weather in the Berkshires can be changeable, especially during the tail end of the year. After Halloween, I'm hesitant about taking that 3 1/2-hour drive from my home in Queens. But if I need to satisfy my urge to be in Western Massachusetts, I can always hop on the bus. With my portable CD player, a book, and a newspaper, the five hours goes fairly quickly. And the bathroom is generally clean.

Selvin Gootar is a freelance writer and a frequent visitor to the Berkshires.


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