CHARLEMONT -- Under a low ceiling of moon-soaked clouds, the forest shifts restlessly. The wind sweeps up from the valley, carrying the yips and squeals of coyotes, and then, suddenly, silence.
From the front porch of the log cabin at Blue Heron Farm, the night feels electric. I could sit out here until dawn, wrapped in a blanket, sniffing the wind, peering into the shadows, absorbing the invisible drama of the forest. But the next thing I know, I am in bed, waking to the early morning whinnying of horses outside my window.
Blue Heron Farm is a 140-acre organic paradise owned by Norma and Bill Coli. Tucked into the mountains of northwestern Massachusetts, this working farm is theperfect spot to hole up, soak in the rich colors of fall, and inhale the slow, easy peace of the place.
Birds usher in the day with full operatic accompaniment as we tiptoe out for a prebreakfast nuzzle with the creamy, sweet-natured Norwegian Fjord horses. They don't seem to mind that we're still in our pajamas.
By midmorning we have toured the barn, sweet-talked the horses, and hiked through acres of sugarbush, where gnarled old maples yield enough sap to make about 700 gallons of organic syrup each spring.
We finally tear ourselves away and head toward North Adams. The road winds ever upward, and views become more and more epic, culminating at the western summit, where suddenly there is vastly more sky than land. We pull over and gape at a visual buffet. To the left, we have Mount Greylock's lumpy, 3,491-foot ascent to the sky, where we will have dinner tonight at the summit lodge.
In the center is the town of North Adams, resting in the seam of the valley along the Hoosic River. To the right are Bald Mountain and views that reach into Vermont.
Shortly after we ease around the famous hairpin curve, we take a right onto Route 8, following signs to Natural Bridge State Park.
This defunct marble quarry is home to some of the most contorted and spectacular results of the eternal assault by water on stone. In this case, we have white marble versus the North Branch of the Hoosic River. Water gets points for persistence; it has worn a chasm 60 feet deep and 475 feet long through solid stone. Marble gets style points; it has taken on smooth, serpentine shapes from eons of onslaught. The white marble and the colorful foliage stand out brilliantly against the water, which runs dark and clear.
Just after backtracking on Route 8, we fall prey to a sign advertising the Dark Ride. We enter a cavelike corridor and take a seat in what looks like a dentist's chair in Darth Vader's office.
A helmet clanks noisily into place, and we are off on a 15-minute tour through a surreal world of textures, shapes, colors, depths, and suggestions, all visible for a half-moment at a time, and only through a narrow window in the helmet.
The chair and I roam on a track through what seems like a large room filled with . . . magnified orange rinds? Dinosaur bones? Fish? Planets? Orgiastic figures?
The 15 minutes go by in what seems like five, and my synapses have gotten a stimulating workout. I don't understand much of what I have seen, but that seems to be the point.
We continue into North Adams, where fresh businesses and the sprawling Mass MoCA visual and performing arts center are carving new niches in an increasingly artful town amid historical buildings and businesses that speak eloquently of other eras.
Shadows lengthen as we head for Mount Greylock. The road is long, winding, and steep, with views to gasp at. From the top of the summit tower, the panorama stretches into New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts.
At dinnertime, we gather at a long table in Bascom Lodge, swapping stories with hikers from the Appalachian Trail, which crosses over the summit.
In the waning rays of the sun, we wind back down the mountain to our quiet cabin on the farm.
"You want waffles?" the attendant asks the next morning at the gas station down the road from the farm. "Right over there at the Charlemont Inn. They make 'em this thick and this big around."
Swimming in maple syrup, the waffles from this unpretentious 216-year-old inn will fuel us well into lunchtime.
The Deerfield River slides along beside us as we head east, making this a mecca for paddlers of all levels. Roaring, bucking Class 3 and 4 rapids turn leaf-peeping into an adrenaline sport. Paddling on calmer sections this time of year is like floating on a river of color.
Tregellys Fiber Farm in nearby Hawley provides a glorious detour into a world of angora goats, Bactrian camels, Tibetan yaks, Icelandic sheep, Galloway cattle, llamas, and other exotics.
Shearings from the animals provide two weaving studios and a natural dye studio with the raw material to produce rugs, shawls, and scarves. The yarns come in a rich variety of textures and are dyed right on the farm.
At Keldaby Farm in Colrain, you can walk the fields and schmooze with the flock of gentle, soft angora goats, which provide the fiber for light, mohair items such as shawls and scarves. Farm staff dye the yarn there, in varied colors inspired by the countryside (including the shimmering greens of the Spanish moon moth).
Back down in Shelburne Falls, there's enough to do to fill a weekend. At Mother's Cafe we tuck into some of the finest French onion soup we have ever tasted, despite the fact that it's vegetarian.
With a crispy Mother's doughnut in hand, we stroll across the well-known Bridge of Flowers, which, even after most of the flowers are gone, is impeccably maintained and still stunning.
It's hard to maintain a proper air of aimlessness with so much to do and so much poking around left undone. That's the beauty of this region: The more you explore, the more you find there is left to discover.
Clare Innes is a freelance writer who lives in Belmont.