Posts Tagged ‘massachusetts’

One Hour in Aquinnah Near Gayhead Light

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

The Walk to the Beach

I took a walk like this before on another side of the earth, baking under midday sun on an island in the middle of the sea. I walked up a hill to a lighthouse along a narrow, scrubby path where prickly bushes pressed in on each side and salamanders scurried around my feet. I walked and walked, unsure of where I was going, or what I’d find at the end.

This was different but the same, a whole other island in a whole other sea under weepy midday rain in a coat and sandals, the wind taking my umbrella every other minute. Orange slugs and little yellow snails with stripes in their shells like a coil of saltwater taffy clung to the wet sand at my feet. I was careful after I felt the first awful, telltale crunch under my heel.

In Italy, on that island, I walked up and not down, to a cliff. This time, in Massachusetts—a place I’ve explored so little, despite its smallness, despite the fact that I was born there—I walked down and away from the paved street in winding arcs, built as though to dissuade casual beachgoers. On Martha’s Vineyard, to get to the beach below Gayhead Light, to lounge on the sand below the cliffs made out of rainbow clay, you need to want it.

I found out later, of course, that the beach below Gayhead Light is a nude beach in summer, one of the only ones in New England, so it makes sense that bathers would want the privacy of tall grass, of a mile-long path between them and the tourist buses that rumble along the road above.

Despite the wind, the prickling, slantwise rain, I couldn’t help but be happy for whatever lay at the end of this path. In Italy, the reward had been a view of sea and sky and brush, a lighthouse keeper’s cabin half-collapsed, the clouds visible through the holes in the roof. It had been the satisfaction of knowing I’d walked when everyone else stayed on the beach.

At the end of the path, behind all that tall grass and brush, the waves looked dangerous and gray as the sky, frothing at their tips. A few men sat fishing in their big white sweatshirts, the poles held upright in buried pieces of PVC while they lounged, watched the horrible water. The nude bathers, needless to say, had gone home for the season.

From the beach, you can’t see Gayhead Light, but you can see the clay cliffs below it—white one instant, then red again—then yellow.

In Italy, I looked down from the lighthouse, so far from home and so far from the end of my travels, unsure of what was coming next but so happy for that moment on top of the world.

Back at home, in my Massachusetts, on an island I’d never seen but always wanted to, the lighthouse looked down at me.

Go there: Gayhead light is located in the town of Aquinnah on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. You can visit the lighthouse—and climb to the lantern—during high season. The beach below it can be accessed by following the path. Naturally.

Into the Woods: From the Berkshires to New York

Friday, September 11th, 2009

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.

Slumber in the Berkshires: Stevens Glen

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

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.