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Zipping Through The Berkshires


Shannon, disguised behind sunglasses and an attractive orange helmet, rocking the zip-line

Flying through a tree-top canopy at 35 miles per hour while suspended 50 feet in the air by a harness and a cable is one great way to experience the beauty of the Berkshires, or really anywhere for that matter.  Zip-lining is something we wanted to try ever since we first saw it on the Amazing Race several years ago.  Now it was our turn.

The Deerfield Valley Canopy Tour starts with a brief tutorial covering such trivial things as how to break and how to perform a “self rescue”, blah, blah, blah.  After practicing the techniques on the zip-lining equivalent of a bunny slope, we head up the mountain for the real deal.  Our group piles in to a 4 x 4 vehicle that speeds up a half-mile of twisting, rutted, dirt roads as it makes the 500 foot vertical ascent to the beginning of the course.  This beats the crap out of a ski lift as far as getting up a mountain goes.  If the entire trip is as much fun as this, we’re in for a great day.

Rappelling is the only way to get down

The 4 x 4 stops a little shy of our final destination, but after a short hike and a quick ladder climb to a tree stand, we’re finally in position for our first real zip.  Meghan, one of our guides, goes first and gets in position so she can signal us noobs when to start braking.  If you slow down too soon you’ll stop before reaching the other tree stand.  Slow down too late, and, well, there is a tree to meet you on the downhill side of the cable.  No biggie.

Our other guide, conveniently also named Meghan, hooks my harness to the zip cable and gives me the green light to go.  I thought I’d have some trepidation about stepping off a completely solid tree stand into the nothingness below, but it is different than I expected.  Most of my weight is already supported by the harness so picking my feet up feels more like sitting on a swing than stepping off a ledge.  There is no moment of free fall.  Instead of plunging downward, I start moving forward.  Gaining speed, the tree-top canopy becomes a tunnel of green blur all around me.  Too soon, I see the platform ahead with Meghan signaling for me to break.  “This is Awesome!” I yell to those still waiting on the other side.  “It gets better” encourages Meghan. Somehow, she always knows exactly what to say.

Sky bridges connect adjacent platforms

And she isn’t lying.  The zips get progressively longer, and faster, with the longest cable stretching the length of one and a half football fields.  This is crazy fun.

After a couple of zips we’re all feeling pretty confident.  But at this tree stand I don’t see our next zip cable.  I see a rope hanging from a pulley.  We have to rappel down the tree to our next platform.  Sweet!  Meghan gives us some basic instructions and before long I’m leaning back over a 15 foot drop trusting that a complete stranger will lower me to safety.  She did.

After about three hours we complete the entire course, including eleven zips, three rappels, two “sky bridges,” and a 4 x 4 ride.  Feeling exhilarated and a little exhausted I head back to my car determined to do this again someday soon.

Money Brook Falls

Money Brook Falls is a 70-foot, cascading waterfall found on the Northern slope of Mount Greylock.  While not as spectacular as Kaaterskill Falls in New York (possibly because we missed Money Brook’s peak runoff, which occurs in late spring), it is still well worth the effort.  And it is somewhat of an effort.  The hike is categorized as “strenuous” by the Massachusetts DCR because of its 200-foot altitude gain over it’s three-quarter-mile length.  But the trail is only seven-tenths of a mile so tough guys like us can still hack it.

If ever we wonder why we’re doing what we’re doing, it’s because of days like these when we have the opportunity to go on great hikes in the afternoon, and then attend the symphony at night.

Campfire Songs

The beauty of the R.V. lifestyle is that it can be virtually anything you want it to be.  For some people that means gathering around campfires and roasting marshmallows.  But it doesn’t have to be.  After three months of fulltime RVing, Shannon and I haven’t lit a single fire.  We really have no desire to.  Maybe that is because we don’t view our campgrounds as destinations but rather as basic places to stay.  They’re like hotel accommodations for our house.  The real draw for us is always activities available outside the campground.

This past Friday night, we took advantage of our proximity to Tanglewood, in Lenox, MA, and saw the Boston Symphony Orchestra perform Mozart’s Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio).  Now those are what we call campfire songs.

Tanglewood Tip: In the event of rain, there are a surprisingly large number of bench-spaces under the pavilion that are available for “lawn ticket” holders.  Arrive early and grab a spot to save the extra cash charged for an indoor seat. Tanglewood’s “Shed” isn’t that large so there is no advantage to buying the premium priced seats.

Picture of the Day

Pontoosuc Lake, Pittsfield, MA

Norman Rockwell’s America

The Problem's We All Share, Norman Rockwell

“Perhaps there never was a country like the one on the cover of the  Post, that I was stubbornly painting the best vision of us.”

– Norman Rockwell

When you imagine Norman Rockwell’s America you don’t usually think of it as a segregated one, but it was.  And when you remember Norman Rockwell, you don’t typically recall an influential civil rights artist, but he was.  Or so I discovered at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.

While the rather small museum displays only a tiny fraction of Rockwell’s reported 4,000 works, many of which were lost to fire, it contains some of his most famous.  Within its walls, visitors will find the hopeful and entertaining paintings like Runaway, Going and Coming, and Freedom From Want, that are most associated with Rockwell’s 47 year career as a Saturday Evening Post illustrator.  But they’ll also find the more serious, and powerful work of Rockwell’s later life when, after leaving the Post, he turned to topics of civil rights and poverty.  It was these images I found most intriguing and surprising.  I’d always known that Norman Rockwell was a good illustrator.  At the museum I discovered he was a good man as well.

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