Berkshire Beauty

Movin’ on… Or as the song goes, and after our failures in Chicago and Niagara Falls we were ready for a win and for a longer stay somewhere. We had booked a campsite with full hookups in a little town called North Adams in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. Our friends, Jeremy and Julia and their adorable son, live in the next town over and we were excited to spend some time with them while in the area.

Historic Valley Campground is a mid-size state run site adjacent to Windsor Lake and in the middle of Historic Valley park, a densely wooded property with hiking trails, a disc golf course, and even a ropes course that we discovered just outside the campground. It was late September when we arrived and the leaves were just beginning to turn, each tree hinting at the brilliance it would later display. The site we were assigned was on an end cap and nestled into a grove of oak and maple trees just off one of the gravel roads separating the sites. We extended the canopy, hung the bistro lights, and for the first time since leaving Oregon, completely set-up camp.  Stepping back to admire our work, we both took a moment to express our gratitude for our cozy, wooded site as well. It is amazing how after so many miles and states and parks and campsites, each little slice of home felt… well, homey.  

That night we made plans to see our friends a few times during the week and then we set about researching the area and settling into our new space. The Northern tip of the Berkshires is an area where small towns are sporadically found in the valleys of the Taconic Mountains.  Each with its own quintessential colonial collection of buildings and unique charm. Our town of North Adams, named for Samuel Adams, was first a mill town and later, when Sprague Electric purchased the large complex of brick warehouses, became a center for manufacturing electrical and weapons systems. When Sprague closed, the city decided to convert its historical buildings into a large scale contemporary art museum, MASS MoCA.  A source of great pride for the town. We took an afternoon to explore the museum and were amazed at the modern, thought provoking installations.  

The week seemed to fly by and our days mostly consisted of venturing into coffee shops and cafes in the surrounding towns to take advantage of their wifi and to get a taste of the local community. One day, Jeremy led us on a 10 mile hike up to the summit of Mount Greylock, the highest point in the range. The day had been misty and occasional showers made for a damp, yet rewarding trek.  By the time we got back to our camp in mid afternoon, we cancelled our plans to work, then made a nest of blankets and pillows on the dinette pull-out couch, and settled in for a cozy afternoon of warm soup and movies.  

During our stay, we also had the awesome opportunity to help out on the farm that is owned and run by Julia’s family, Cricket Creek Dairy Farm. The small operation makes delicious artisan cheeses, bread, and also produces grass-fed beef and pork products.  While the cheese is really the stand-out, there is an onsite bakery where Zach, the baker, puts out incredible sourdough bread and other baked goods. The small bakery back-room is a crowded space with huge commercial baking ovens, tubs of dough in various stages of rising, tools of the trade hung along every wall, and floor to ceiling racks displaying a wide variety of breads, from loaves of light colored milk bread to dark textured multi-grain boules.  Zach was thrilled to have help for the day and immediately ushered us over to a huge bowl of fresh apples, indicating they all need to be peeled, cored, and thinly sliced for his plans of apple galette. We set to work and quickly fell into a rhythm while listening intently to Zach’s knowledge of baking. I was fascinated by his focus on sourdough and I peppered him with questions about his technique.  At some point he directed my attention to a large bucket set off to the side of the space and told me it was the mother sourdough, or what he used as starter for his bread.  He continued lecturing us on the science of keeping a mother, which was a 15 year old live yeast culture full of bacteria that allowed it to thrive and give his breads the slightly sour flavor, while also providing the perfect rise to the dough.  Eventually, when it was clear how fascinated I was, he offered me a small sample of the mother to take with me and I enthusiastically accepted.  I am now the proud mother of a very small sourdough mother who mostly lives in the fridge, coming out only for feedings.

When our task of prepping the apples was complete, Shaun and I took the bucket of peelings, among other questionable trimmings, out to the pig pen.  Several enormous sows and one boar lumbered over to the edge of the pen as we approached, while smaller piglets scurried around them to get a turn at the slop we poured over the side of the fence.  A cacophony of squealing, grunting, and other disconcerting sounds arose from the frantic bunch as they all competed for scraps. After feeding the pigs, we wandered about and peeked into the buildings scattered around the property, eventually finding the calves, who were timidly curled up in the corners of a straw-laded pens. There is just something irresistible about their big brown eyes and soft, awkward bodies and any time we are on a farm, I make it my mission to find any calves that might be onsite. Before we left, Zach gratefully loaded us up with bread loaves and cheese for our trip home.  Upon our departure, we both were feeling a quiet sense of appreciation for farm life.

Here’s a little peak into a day at Cricket Creek:

Before leaving the Berkshires, we took advantage of the warmer weather and the neighboring lake and got the stand-up paddle boards out on the water.  We circled the lake admiring the surrounding hills covered in the colors of fall before realizing that in the short time we had been there, the leaves had dramatically turned and while before there were only occasional splotches of color, there was now a full explosion of bright reds and oranges intermingled with the deep greens of the random pine trees.  A week in this quaint, beautiful place had restored our gratitude for this life and had us excitedly anticipating our continued journey to the place where the sun hits the U.S. first - Acadia National Park in Maine.