gooollysandra

Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

Tag Archives: Berkshires

Colorado dreamin’

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Although I live in a big city now, I grew up in a small city and have always had an affinity for the outdoors, nature, and that country feeling. This is what drew me to live in a small town in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, and it’s something I long for now that I’m in the big city.

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I went to Colorado a few weeks ago for a bachelorette party and to visit a friend who moved there from Chicago a year ago. We went on a couple hikes at Garden of Gods in Colorado Springs and Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park. The magnitude of the Rocky Mountains is hard to grasp, and while beautiful and majestic, the rockiness and brown tone makes them feel a bit cold. They don’t, at least for me, elicit a warm welcoming feeling. They’re big and intimidating, and I tend to prefer a greener aesthetic. It makes me realize that what I like about the Berkshires is that because they are smaller they feel cozier, more approachable, and they envelope you with a kind of protective embrace. The distinct change of seasons in the northeast takes the hills on a journey from beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow in the fall, to green in the spring and summer, and snow-covered in the winter. But enough about the Berkshires…I don’t mean to take away from the Rocky Mountains, which are magnificent in their own right.

Garden of Gods was interesting because of the beautiful and bizarre rock formations that are a bright burnt orange/red color. It’s fascinating to think about how these rocks formed over time and what gave them the color they so gracefully wear. Prior to going to Colorado I didn’t know that it had some desert characteristics, and not having been to a desert before I was quite in awe of the colors.

Our hike was about five and a half miles long, and while not difficult, we were all feeling the altitude. Although relieved that we didn’t have to fight off any predators, I was a little bit disappointed that the only wildlife we saw included a lizard and a rabbit.

The hike at Rocky Mountain National Park felt much more intimate than the one at Garden of Gods because there were hardly any people on the trail that we chose, which was both peaceful and a bit scary because my mind wandered to the bears that might be lurking around and the fact that it would probably take a while for anyone to find us. Little did I know, the Rocky Mountains are only home to black bears, not brown bears, although there are mountain lions (which didn’t even cross my mind, thankfully!). This hike was only a couple miles long, and while I had adjusted to the altitude by this point, even though we were quite a bit higher than at Garden of the Gods (11,000 feet!), it was a bit more up and down and the trail was much more wooded and felt more secluded. The trail brought us to a beautiful and unexpected valley with a creek, offering the perfect spot for our picnic lunches. The only wildlife spotted on this hike was some kind of small beaver in the creek and it was cute! But I was constantly scared of seeing a bear! The drive to the trail was spectacular on a one way dirt road. We were committed and there was no going back.

My short time in Colorado doing a couple hikes has definitely given me the hiking bug. It made me sad to think that I hardly did any hiking when I lived in the Berkshires, especially since there were various trails a 10-15 minute drive from my house; whereas the Rocky Mountain National Park was an hour and half drive from Denver. Until the Berkshires and I meet again… 🙂

The virtue of place

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Places can take over the destinies of people who live in them. If you learn to listen, they tell you what they need and how to do it.

Charlotte Horton

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This resonates with me as I think about my grandparents’ house in Massachusetts that I helped renovate when I lived there for a year (full disclosure – I did not do the work…we hired contractors). I was only there a short time, but it felt like home almost instantly. Of course, it was familiar to me since I had visited my grandparents every year growing up, but I didn’t always love it. I actually hated going there when I was younger because it was so isolated and my grandparents didn’t have a TV (I couldn’t understand how anyone could function without a TV!), and I felt like there was nothing to do there. I didn’t appreciate the beauty and tranquility of the surrounding Berkshires. My connection to the house and to the Berkshires weighs heavily on my mind, especially now, as I was just there for a visit and we are seriously considering selling the house. It’s hard to know how we’ll all feel when that day comes, but for me it will probably feel like giving away a part of me since I have such a love for it.

When I moved there the house was outdated for sure, so doing some renovations was a no-brainer. Some, in fact (like the primary bathroom), had to be done out of necessity because the floor boards were rotting and we felt as though the floor would fall from under us any day. So that was the first major project and it was a total gut. Next up was painting almost every room, which hadn’t been done in decades. In the dining it involved removing the dark brown grass wallpaper (which made the room feel so dark and small), and painting it white. We also replaced the linoleum tile floor with a pretty laminate wood floor. We then gutted the small powder bath. In the kitchen we put a new tile floor in, new granite countertops, a new tile backsplash, new stainless steel appliances, a new sink and faucet, and new hardware on the cabinets. The cabinets are not in perfect shape, but I actually love the stain on them, which goes perfectly with the mid-century modern style of the house. Two bedrooms in the walk-out basement got new laminate wood floors, and we put new berber-like carpet in the family room in the basement. On the exterior, a new roof was put on, and some landscaping was done, like taking out trees and bushes in the backyard to improve the view of the mountains.

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In a recent New York Times Style Magazine article, Charlotte Horton discusses her experience renovating a dilapidated castle in Tuscany built on Etruscan foundations. While my renovation of my grandparents’ was on a much smaller scale than Hoton’s castle renovation, especially because I made modern updates without really considering the period of the house and I didn’t have to worry about restoring anything within a historical context, I can certainly relate to her desire of going back to her family’s roots and setting up her own roots there. I felt like I set up roots in Massachusetts where my grandparents lived for several years, even though their true original roots were in Europe. For Horton it was more than just restoring the castle though. She wanted to have an impact, and still does, on ecology and food – on the way that people interact with and cultivate the land around them and think about where their food comes from. If people can make judgments about their food, she believes, they will be better equipped to make judgments about all sorts of things in life, which we are in dire need of these days.

“Great Wide Open” – Brennan Kilbane

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I went to Williamstown, MA a couple weeks ago (one of my favorite places on earth). On my way there, during the 14 hour Amtrak train ride, I was flipping through Allure magazine and came across an article by Brennan Kilbane entitled “Great Wide Open” about the great outdoors and how we should be spending more time out in it. How fitting considering I was on my way to the beautiful Berkshires. I love being surrounded by inspiring landscape and I feel happiest when there is space to breathe around me, rather than crowded by a city. There’s definitely something therapeutic about the freedom to listen to the birds, smell the manure (call me crazy, I don’t care!), and look up at the sky and admire the stars.

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Kilbane brings to light the staggering statistic that more than half of us spend less than five hours a week outside. He points out the incongruity between how drawn we are to natural products and the aura of the outdoors, and the effort we make to actually spend time outside, which is very little. Research shows that being outside is good for us in every way, from our skin to our brain and our emotional well-being. I guess this explains why I love the Berkshires so much. So let’s get outside!

“If the Great Outdoors had a LinkedIn account, it would be highly connected (happy to introduce you to the most epic sunsets and hiking trails), it would get ringing endorsements from the world’s top scientists (lifts mood! lowers cortisol!), and its stunning profile would be viewed my millions.” – Brennan Kilbane 

A weekend getaway in the Berkshires

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What is it about getting away for a few days that helps you put things into perspective? Getting out of your bubble, the space you occupy, and the actions you perpetuate on a daily basis to clear your mind and refresh…refresh in the sense of either confirming certain convictions, or taking a different path with a new mindset.

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I went to the Berkshires this past weekend with my mom, as the two of us often do, but this time two of my best friends drove in from Boston for a couple days. I absolutely loved getting to share a place that I hold so dear to my heart with two people that are also close to my heart. It was interesting to hear their reactions to Williamstown because they are city people and their main observation was how quite it is. Too quiet. But I love the quiet. I love the peace and tranquility and the smells. I guess it just feels like home. They definitely also recognized how nice it was to get away from the city though, and how different the pace of life is – like stepping back in time away from the modern world.

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The first thing I did early Saturday morning before my friends arrived was go to my favorite little goat farm that I used to visit when I lived there – Mountain Girl Farm. I’ve had a long-standing love for goats and it’s no secret to those who know me well that I dream of having a goat farm someday. I am completely happy when surrounded by goats. Hence the million repetitive pictures you’ll see below…

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I promise I did more than just frolic with goats while I was in the Berkshires. I got to take my friends to my favorite restaurant in North Adams, MA called Public, which is a tourist attraction and brings some urban flair to the country, both in ambience and food selection. We went for a couple walks in the fields because luckily it was sunny and warm. I took them to my favorite coffee shop in Williamstown, Tunnel City Coffee, where the baristas still remember me even though I haven’t been a regular in 4 years since I lived there. And I took them to the Clark Art Institute, which is a magnificent world-class art museum tucked away in the hills. We also had a meal, more like a feast, at home with a good family friend who happens to be a chef (among other things).

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It was hard for my mom and I to leave this beautiful place we love so much (and I didn’t want to go back to the city), and I think we came away from the weekend with an even greater love for it and sense of connection to it.

 

Gratitude

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I was reading the fall edition of The Magnolia Journal, which is themed “Gratitude” for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, and it came at a very apropos time in my life since I’ve recently received some medical news that has been a bit of a shock and definitely not welcome. When things like this happen it is so easy to fixate our minds on that one facet of our lives and forget about all the things we should actually be grateful for.  So I am mindfully trying to make an effort to appreciate the positives in the face of adversity, with a little help from Joanna Gaines.

I am, of course, a fan of the show, along with the millions of others who have been inspired by the stunning transformations that she, Chip, and their team churn out season after season. And not to mention the effervescent love between Chip and Jo…I mean, will we all be lucky enough to find that kind of love?? One can only hope!

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In her article on gratitude, Joanna outlines some basic everyday activities in which she has found a sense of pleasure, and even comfort, that I can identify with. Cooking for her family is one. While I don’t have a family of my own, I did enjoy cooking for my parents when I lived at home. I also like cooking with/for friends. I even like cooking just for myself, even though it can be hard to sit down and eat by yourself after putting love and energy into crafting a nice meal. There’s something about it that just feels unnatural…a good meal is definitely better when in the company of others. Cooking can feel therapeutic and productive, not to mention its visual and palatal benefits that result from the finished product.

Driving is another thing Joanna mentions as being a source of relaxation for her, and I can absolutely relate to this one. I don’t always love driving around town when I have to deal with traffic and the constant stop and go, but even then it can be nice to just be in my own head space for a while and listen to music. I LOVED driving when I lived in Williamstown, MA in the Berkshires because every view was just so darn beautiful. The Berkshires are not big mountains, in fact I think they may technically be considered hills, but they are majestic nonetheless. I found any excuse to drive to surrounding towns simply for the scenic drive. I remember driving 45 minutes to the nearest Starbucks one fall evening to get my first pumpkin spice latte of the season. When you have just the right tunes going while on a scenic drive, you can be transported to another place. I don’t have a car now that I live in Chicago and I have to say I do miss driving. But I certainly wouldn’t want to drive in Chicago traffic…

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Gardening and laundry, a couple other activities Joanna mentions as bringing her solace, I haven’t quite mastered. I don’t like getting dirty or coming across the unexpected worm, and I find laundry to be quite tedious. BUT, I found her article so helpful in serving as a reminder to look for joy in little things we do every day and to be grateful that we are even able to do them in the first place. Some other things I would add to the list of things to be grateful for (aside from the obvious family & friends), are random encounters we have everyday – like witnessing two strangers on the subway trying to make a genuine connection, or seeing two people on the street laughing together and wondering what’s so funny. These encounters might not directly pertain to us, but they remind us of the connectedness between people and the importance of these connections, because we are all linked in some way. Not only that, these encounters remind us of our place in this web of connections and that our place is so small (which can be both scary and comforting). And that there are far more devastating issues than those we face, which is humbling. I am constantly reminded of this in Chicago where homeless people lining the streets is a sight on practically every corner and L ride; or take the recent weather-related tragedies that have devastated peoples’ lives… We should also be grateful that we were born into privileged circumstances, all things considered. And taking a look back at all that we’ve accomplished and realizing – damn, how did I do all that?? – is a good opportunity to recognize our worth.

We have to try to remind ourselves that somehow everything will be OK even when it’s hard to see any good in a situation. Things have a way of working themselves out that is usually impossible to understand while we’re on the struggle bus. Especially when we’re faced with an impending obstacle, or a potentially life-altering development, we have to try to remember that there are so many things for which to be grateful regardless.

 

Autumn in the Berkshires

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I truly believe that Autumn in the Berkshires is the most beautiful time of the year anywhere in the world. The Berkshires hold a special place in my heart after living there for only one year, which was far too short a time. Pictures definitely don’t capture its beauty, but here are just a few to make your heart melt (or at least they make mine melt)!

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Berkshire seasons

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The Berkshires take on different auras throughout the seasons. Autumn is arguably the most spectacular season and people travel to Berkshires just to see the fall foliage, but all of the seasons are endearing in their own way. These are pictures of the four seasons in all their glory.

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Winter

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Spring

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Summer

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A Berkshire Sunset

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I was absolutely blown away by the sunset last night here in the Berkshires. A beautiful combination of yellows, blues and pinks. Breathtaking.

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The Berkshires in Autumn

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Always looking to east, in search of peace

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I often go to the east coast to visit family, and while I’m out there I try to do a bit of self-searching (whatever that means) and find peace. Although I go there fairly often, I think of each time as a kind of escape from the everyday that I’m used to. Not that there is anything particularly spectacular or peaceful where my family is, a small town in Massachusetts, but it is surrounded by the Berkshires, which are quite nice. They hardly count as mountains, rather small, but there is something about them that’s inspiring. Sometimes, surrounded by the mountains, one can feel very isolated from the rest of the world because it seems like there’s no way out. But, on the other hand, it’s as if you can’t leave until you’ve accomplished some level of self-discovery or reached a bit of peacefulness, for me at least. Sometimes this happens and sometimes it doesn’t. But it is always worth the pursuit.