November 1, 2010

Berkshire Cycling: South Lee Loop 1 (part 1)

24 miles                Paved and Dirt
Towns: South Lee, Tyringham, Monterey, Great Barrington

Parking: Post Office or Park, South Lee

Housatonic River
This is a pretty ride, probably would be at any time of the year, with little traffic. It starts at Meadow Street and Rt. 102, where Meadow Street turns off to the east, crossing the Housatonic River. The bridge was built in 1954 and  offers good views downriver. When my friend Larry visits, he knows that he can announce with confidence virtually every river he sees in our part of the Berkshires, no matter how geographically improbable it seems, as the Housatonic. It doesn’t matter whether the water is flowing north, south, east or west. The river starts at Muddy Pond, in my town of Washington, flows north to Dalton; then west to Pittsfield: then south, and meanders its way to Connecticut. It’s frequently pretty, especially where General Electric and its PCBs haven’t been near.  

Past Oak and Spruce Resort (don’t look left or right, just ride through it) Meadow Street is quiet, sometimes in the woods, sometimes between open fields. At about 1-1/2 miles I turned right onto Fernside. After a bit the surface becomes hard gravel. The oaks in the forest are holding their color, a rich, reddish- or orangish-brown, depending on the variety. Their color, leaf shape and bark announce several varieties. I think they may be red oak, black oak, white oak and perhaps chestnut oak. There are a lot more oaks here than in my home woods, only about 10 miles northeast as the crow flies. Some people say the oaks never flourished there, that the glacier, higher altitudes and subsequent colder temperatures made a dividing line. Other people say that the oaks were all cut for ties when the Boston – Chicago rail line was built through town, and that they never regrew. In any case, I have never seen a mature oak in the woods near home; it is a beech-birch-maple forest with hemlock stands in cold areas.

After the droughty summer, the recent rains have filled the streams coming down the side of the hill to my right, and they are moving quickly now.  On the forest floor the Christmas ferns are evident, growing in healthy stands. Named Christmas fern because their leathery fronds are evergreen, they grow in rocky, shaded, moist, woods and are fun to watch until winter snows bury them. Less happily, there are large stands of coltsfoot at the edge of the road, a plant brought to this country as a medicinal herb by English colonists. It may be a good medicinal, but it drives out native plants, dominating the area where it grows. Soon I cross the Appalachian Trail, which comes from Maine, entering the county in Clarksburg, just east of Williamstown, and continuing south until it exits Massachusetts in Mount Washington, on its way to Georgia.

I pass a wooden trough that offers water to the passing public. There is no sign, but I imagine that it is potable water, something that in our litigious society no one would ever say, must less write. In the photo you can (barely) see the springhouse at the top, and if you look carefully you’ll see the beer can discarded next to the bucket. What kind of person throws away cans, bottles, other garbage? And why is it so frequent in our culture? I could guess: someone in a car, drinking, who knows it’s dangerous and illegal, so gets rid of the evidence. And, why then, do I see Vitamin Water bottles littered on the side of the road? I don’t imagine cyclists or hikers throwing them away; perhaps I am wrong, but even my cynical self hopes not.  And why do I see cigarette packages? And fast food packaging? How stupidly unnecessary is this? Why don’t we as a culture respect and take care of our surroundings? In any case, it’s a sad juxtaposition, the fresh, clear water and the discarded, empty aluminum can.

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