Into the Woods: From the Berkshires to New York

Steven's Glen

We leave the hotel in Lenox, Massachusetts in the dark, so early on a Monday morning that it still looks (and feels, to my tired brain) like Tuesday night. I need to get back to Wassaic, to the train, so I can get to Manhattan in time for work. People make this commute every single day—from the public-transportation-free depths of the Berkshire mountains to the city. I have no idea how or why. I try it just this once and feel grateful for my downtown apartment, my commute that takes twenty minutes on foot.

This is the morning on which I learn the difference between the “quickest” and “shortest” settings on the GPS system in our car. Ken chooses “shortest” and knows, in his gut, that it’s telling us to go the wrong way. Or not the wrong way per say, but a way that seems out-of-the-way and foreign, like it will take us away from the main roads.

It does. After ten minutes of leading us away from the main route onto narrower and narrower streets, the kindly female voice emanating from the little gadget on the dash tell us to take a right, and we do. Onto a dirt road. In the dark, the trees close in and moths flicker in front of the headlights. I wonder, out loud and to no one’s amusement, if there are flares in the trunk. Now, having no idea how to get back and desperate to make the train, we continue. The car lurches over the ruts in the road.

The sky brightens and the shapes of cows—their splotchy black and white hides—come clear in the roadside pastures. An enormous doe picks up her head as we rumble past, her eyes winking in the headlights. Later, another one will leap in front of the car, her tail flashing. As the road switches from pavement to dirt and back again, the occasional sign tells us we’re entered Connecticut and the houses make us wonder who would ever live in a place so remote.

Someone with means, clearly, as the houses get bigger and the land clears. The homes are converted old farm houses or just wooded hideaways, none built much later than the turn of the century. They are gingerbread-trimmed and many-gabled. Night lights flicker in kitchens. Bedroom shades are pulled closed. They’re separated from each other by acres and acres of land, and I can almost understand it—the need to hide, to settle in with nothing but the wilderness around you, the stars burning crystal clear overhead. To come out only when spring comes.

Just as dawn breaks, we pass a working farm set into a clearing. The buildings themselves are old, but impeccably preserved in chalky red brick, and as the sun strikes the silos, the whole group of them is set ablaze in gold light. Suddenly, we are not so sad for our GPS mistake.

We enter New York state somewhere on a mountain road, maybe by the twisting river and maybe somewhere near the fog-blanketed valley. The sun has just risen and I’ve already traveled through three states.

I make the train with twenty minutes to spare, hopping from one foot to the other in the morning air.

Grand Central Station is humid and crammed with rushing people. I am exhausted, weighed down with bags. The ceiling—its glorious constellation of painted stars, one of my favorite pieces of art in New York City, vaulting high above the din—is the only green.


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