Slumber in the Berkshires: Stevens Glen

Stevens Glen

The morning after my lip blew up like a balloon for some mysterious reason of allergy or irritation, my sister drove me to the general store in Stockbridge for some Benadryl and then to the woods for a walk.

I said I wanted to go hiking, and I meant it, and because I had no other discernable symptoms besides the lip (so grotesque at this point that Phantom of the Opera comparisons were not entirely out of line), we got egg sandwiches and the same general store and went.

The swelling went down by the time we got out of the car along the wooded road, but the medicine left me drowsy.

“This is just what you need,” said my sister, slamming the car door. I agreed with her at the moment, despite the fog gathering between my ears.

Stevens Glen is a walking trail in the Berkshire mountains that starts as a tiny parting in the trees—it’s hard to even see from the road—and ends at a gushing waterfall that glides between steep boulders. The area has been known to settlers since the 1700s, when it was place for wagons to circle and horses to drink, but its more romantic history is from the 1920s, when locals erected a pavilion in the woods and hosted Saturday night dances. The pavilion was eventually destroyed by fire, the land donated and set aside as a land preserve, but the walk to the waterfall is still green and pretty at the hight of summer.

As the canopy closed over us, Stefanie told a story of another trip to Stevens Glen where she and a friend came across an enormous pile of animal dung on the trail coming back from the waterfall. It hadn’t been there on the way, and ever since she’d wondered about what, exactly, lived in these woods. Bears, we speculated. Or cats? Really big cats? On our way, though, the scariest thing we encountered was a wide, flawless spider’s web stretching between the trees.

It had rained all weekend, and we slid along the trail and sunk into the mud. I told a story about Hawaii, where I’d walked a similar trail at the nature reserve at Waimea Bay, but the details were all different: flowers hanging around our heads, neon-colored birds swooping around, the plant life shiny and thick-skinned and water guzzling, the vines wrapping around everything. Here, though, in the woods in Massachusetts, there was a damp wooden bridge, the boards made treacherous by fallen leaves; clouds of biting mosquitoes and carpets of moss.

We scrambled up and over a hill of boulders, arranged by nature into an inexact staircase, and arrived at the waterfall. Barely coherent, my eyes heavy-lidded, I never saw the fish. Stefanie saw it tumble from the top of the fall all the way to the bottom, get hung up on a rock, and then right itself with a ripple of its fishy spine, splashing back into the water. I took 20 blurry photos of moss clinging like a slippery green beard to a chestnut tree, just snapping and snapping, unable to focus. I tried again a moment later, desperate to capture a photo of a brown, warty-backed toad cowering inside the knot of a tree. Finally, I handed the camera over to Stefanie.

“You take it.”

That’s when I said I needed to go back. It was somewhere near that slippery bridge, camera in my hand, ready to capture something that I knew I would never remember otherwise, when it slipped through my clumsy fingers. It wasn’t like when I was in Rome at the foot of the Spanish Steps, when it hit the pavement and bounced and I knew everything was fine. The camera fell flat on its shiny back, resolute, with a thud.

I turned it on and the crack in the display lit up like a jagged lightening bolt, the rest of the screen dark and ominous around it. I had just broken my camera in a really bad way.

“I’m sorry,” said Stefanie.

“It’s OK,” I said, feeling woozy.

I wouldn’t see the photos for two weeks—the time it took me to agonize over new cameras, to research—and when I did, I hardly recognized them as ones I’d taken. Was it really that green? Had I really taken so many photos of moss on a tree? It was like seeing a version of Stevens Glen that was not quite the real one, one that existed only while I was half-asleep and squinting into the sun, not that one that I dreamed up, but the one that dreamed me.

Go there:

Stevens Glen is located off Lenox Mountain Road in West Stockbridge, MA. It takes about half an hour to hike to the waterfall. I think.

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