Smithsonian Magazine has released its annual list of the best small towns in America with a local town grabbing top billing.
The magazine named Great Barrington its top choice thanks to "big-city smart" meeting New England natural. Brattleboro, Vt. (11) and Brunswick, Maine (13) were the other two towns to make the list.
In part, writer Susan Spano had this to say about the Berkshire town:
At the forefront of the big-chain-grocery-store-defying, eat-local movement, Great Barrington is devoted to its family farms, farmers markets and co-op. Berkshire Grown, an organization that promotes the production and marketing of locally grown food, spreads the word with lectures by writers like Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma and most recently Food Rules).
Great Barrington's latest unconventional endeavor is to mint its own currency, an experiment launched in 2006 aimed at getting people to buy everything?not just food? local. Almost 400 businesses in the area trade BerkShares bills; the 5 BerkShares note features W.E.B. Du Bois, the great African-American author and educator whose boyhood home just west of town is a National Historic Landmark.
Incorporated in 1761, around the same time as Stockbridge and Lenox, Great Barrington, too, attracted rich summer people who built Gilded Age mansions like Searles Castle, now a boarding school. But Great Barrington grew up as a mill and railroad center, its blue-collar ring never excised. About 125 miles from New York City, it attracts a hip crowd from the Big Apple, along with New Englanders and recent immigrants from Asia and Mexico.
You can see the entire list at the Smithsonian Magazine web site.
The Great American Road Trip has been a part of our national psyche at least since the days when Huck Finn decided to ''light out for the territory'' to stay one step ahead of Aunt Sally's efforts to ''sivilize'' him. Samuel Clemens, Huck's creator, knew a thing or two about hitting the road.
The stewards of Clemens' memory, the Mark Twain House & Museum, have wed the road trip with Aunt Sally's civilizing influence in a delightful Literary Pilgrimage through the Northeast. It takes about six days and touches bases with Washington Irving, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Wallace Stevens, Noah Webster, Edith Wharton, Herman Melville, William Cullen Bryant, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Explore the hills and towns of Western Massachusetts on a bicycle. The four-day Mass BikePike Tour runs Aug. 11-14, and takes bikers from novice to experienced through Northampton, Stockbridge, Great Barrington, Williamstown, Lenox, Lee, North Adams, and Pittsfield. Ride 25 to 70 miles a day, stopping at local art galleries or to sample at ice cream shops along the way. Camp at night (included) or book a stay at a nearby motel or bed-and-breakfast. The tour, which begins and ends in Northampton, includes hearty breakfasts and dinners, luggage transport, support vehicles, and a tour T-shirt. Pay an extra $70 for transport to and from Northampton from Boston. Rate: $375 per person; maximum 125 riders.
Photo: Mass BikePike Tour
Painter beside the Housatonic River in Great Barrington. Photo by Patricia Harris for the Boston Globe.
If you're looking ahead for a reason to get outdoors and enjoy the fall weather, the Upper Housatonic Valley Natural Heritage Area has more than 40 to offer. Designated by Congress in 2006, the Heritage Area organizes an annual series of Heritage Hikes to highlight the historical, cultural, and natural resources along the 60-mile stretch of the Housatonic River from Kent, Conn., to Lanesboro, Mass. This year's walks (along with a couple of train rides and canoe trips) are scheduled for the weekends of September 18-19 and October 2-3. Walks range from 1/4 to 3.5 miles. They explore the history of former mill towns, follow the paths of old stone walls, or retrace Native American hiking trails. You can also visit a historic apple orchard, watch for migrating birds in a wildlife sanctuary, or visit some of the area's noted estates and gardens. Most events are free, but some require advance registration.
Check www.heritage-hikes.org or call 413-394-9773 for information and a schedule.
Almost as soon as the list of 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts was announced at the State House on July 12, the second-guessing began. Even the Globe editorial pages weighed in on the choices. But we are here to say that Jack’s Hot Dog Stand -- one of 10 honorees in North Adams -- is the real deal. In business since 1917, Jack’s occupies a hole in the wall on Eagle Street practically around the corner from the North Adams Public Library (another honoree). A counter runs the length of the narrow space, with 12 stools for diners (though many more customers order take-out) and a hot dog bun warmer built into one end. The same company that manufactures the Fenway Frank also makes a hot dog exclusively for Jack’s from a recipe developed by an earlier generation of owners.
Jack’s dogs are best eaten topped with cheese and a mildly spicy all-meat chili. But it’s probably wise to stick with plain dogs if you want to try to beat the current record of 25 consumed in one hour. If you succeed, the hot dogs are on the house. Failure isn’t costly -- a plain dog is only 95 cents.
Jack’s Hot Dog Stand, 12 Eagle St., North Adams; 413-664-9006, www.jackshotdogstand.com. Closed Sunday.
Posted by Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Photos by David Lyon for the Boston Globe.
We had been wanting to see the Sol LeWitt wall drawing retrospective at Mass MoCA in North Adams since it opened in late 2008. The museum occupies a group of 19th century industrial buildings and we've always admired the way the architects and designers left layers of old paint on the brick walls to recall the history of the site. It seemed a brilliant move to pair that accidental artistry with LeWitt's much more conceptual approach to marking a space. About 65 artists, interns, and apprentices spent the spring and summer of 2008 turning 105 of the artist's written concepts into actual works that are displayed in galleries on three floors of the massive museum. But since the retrospective is going to remain on display until the year 2033, we didn't feel a real sense of urgency about it. In fact, it became one of those things that we kept putting off until "later" -- like visiting the USS Constitution or hiking the Emerald Necklace.
What we didn't realize was that no photos -- nor even Sebastian Smee's fine review of the show -- could have the same impact as inhabiting the art. Nor did we realize how beautiful it would make the peeling bricks around it. The monumentality and surprising humanity of LeWitt's vision really come to life in the heroic setting.
Which is another way of saying to all travelers, don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, 87 Marshall Street, North Adams; 413-662-2111; www.massmoca.org.
Posted by Patricia Harris & David Lyon
Photos by Patricia Harris for the Boston Globe
Get out your bicycle and sign up for the 2010 Mass BikePike Tour, a recreational ride that loops around Central and Western Massachusetts on Aug. 5-8. This fully supported ride begins and ends in Amherst, and meanders through the Connecticut River Valley, the Quabbin watershed area, the Berkshires, and Worcester County. Ride 30 to 65 miles a day (for a total of 128 to 249 miles), and then sleep each night in a tent, a school gym (bring an air mattress), a college dorm, or a comfy inn. The $375 registration fee includes road support, camping accommodations, six meals, baggage transport, maps, route descriptions, lists of local attractions en route, and a T-shirt. Register by July 19. 617-710-1832, www.massbikepike.org
Photo of riders on the Mass BikePike Tour: Mass Bike-Pike Tour
Posted by Kari Bodnarchuk, Globe correspondent
Thirty-six of them, to be exact. As a kind of birthday celebration to mark its own centenary, Historic New England is opening all of its properties free to the public on June 5. Hours run 1-5 p.m., with tours on the hour (last tours at 4 p.m.). The houses really do run the gamut (to borrow Tom Wolfe phrase) from our house to Bauhaus. The oldest is Portsmouth's Jackson House (1664), the newest the Gropius House (1938) in Lincoln, home of the former Bauhaus director Walter Gropius. The first house acquired by Historic New England (then the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) was Swett-Ilsley House in Newbury (above), normally only on the first Saturdays of the month.
The nifty thing about Historic New England is that the organization does not merely preserve houses--it interprets them. While real estate brokers running an open house want you to imagine yourself living there, Historic New England conjures up the lives of the houses' past owners, building an understanding of how we have inhabited New England over the last four centuries. For example, the building of Cogwell's Grant in Essex (below) dates from 1728, but the house is shown filled with the amazing folk art collections of 20th century owners Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little. Additional special programs will take place at Beauport (1907) in Gloucester, where a staff member will discuss preservation projects at that site, and at the Codman Estate (c. 1740) in Lincoln, Mass., where a staff member will discuss work on the extensive gardens and landscape.
Posted by David Lyon
Photos courtesy of Historic New England
On Earth Day, April 22, Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Mass., teams up with the Boston Museum of Science to teach kids how they can assist scientists in understanding why fireflies are disappearing.
After an hour of firefly-related crafts, kids can take Firefly Watch Citizen Science Training. Then from May to August they can chart the occurrence of fireflies in their own backyards.
For information, see the museum's website.
So you're looking ahead to MLK Day and wondering what you're going to do with the kids.
Well, Old Sturbridge Village is offering free admission for children, who are accompanied by adults, through the end of the month -- a savings of $7 per child. And on King Day, the Sturbridge living-history center will offer a special program, "Life After Slavery: The Clo Pratt story," presented by storyteller Tammy Denease Richardson.
"Life after Slavery'' tells the true story of Clo Pratt, a slave who is freed in 1774 after her the death of her owner. In character as the former slave, Richardson recounts the trial and tribulations of an African-American woman who must figure out how to earn a living and make a place for herself in Colonial New England.
Besides the special program, kids can also ice skate (bring your own skates), sledding on OSV's 1830s-style sleds, and take sleigh rides (snow permitting). Afterwards, head inside to warm up and take part in hands-on crafts and activities.
Photo of Tammy Denease Richardson courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village
Having revealed our inner cheapskates in a recent Globe Travel piece not only got us a slew of hate mail (sample eloquence: “PIGS! PIGS! PIGS!”). It also garnered a lot of thank-yous and some suggestions for additional cost-cutting. One reader called our attention to the relatively new website BerkshireCoupon.com http://berkshirecoupon.com. While it’s primarily aimed at cost-conscious residents of Berkshire County, some of the online coupons are very useful for leaf-peepers and other travelers, especially the discounts on hotels, motels, and restaurants. Who knows? That $20 off motorcycle service could also come in handy.
Posted by Patricia Harris and David Lyon, Globe Correspondents
This is the perfect weekend for early foliage viewing, especially up at the top of the Toll Road above Equinox Mountain outside Manchester, Vt. This is the highest peak in southern Vermont and the view is unlimited, stretching from New York to Quebec, from Massachusetts to New Hampshire. By Columbus Day Weekend the brilliant foliage here is often gone. All this talk about foliage is just to get you to the 17th Annual Hildene Fall Arts Festival, in Manchester, this weekend. The festival features 200 booths showcasing art, crafts and specialty foods at scenic Hildene’s Meadow. Visitors can enjoy fresh food, live entertainment, and a unique Vermont beer, cheese and sausage tent. For more information, visit online.
Photo courtesy Lee Krohn
If you missed “Frogs – A Chorus of Colors” at Boston's Museum of Science, you can catch them at the Berkshire Museum through Nov. 1.
You'll learn about electric blue frogs, frogs that tip the scales at seven pounds, and others that are only a half inch long. Tree frogs, bullfrogs, horned frogs, giant toads, and dart poison frogs are all part of the exhibit. You'll hear recorded frog calls, see frog videos, even get a chance to perform a virtual frog dissection.
“It’s an ideal opportunity for children and families to explore the astounding world of frogs in galleries transformed into an oasis of peaceful waterfalls and a symphony of song. Everyone will be able to get to know some of the earth’s most fascinating creatures in an up-close and personal way,” executive director Stuart A. Chase said in an e-mail.
There is an additional fee for the exhibit. Admission for adults is $11, $6 children ages 3-18, and $1 for museum members.
Mother’s Day is only one day (May 10), but the Mother-Daughter Spa Getaway at Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club in Lenox is going for two months, May 1-June 30. Costing $410 per person, this new package includes two nights in a superior room, one 50-minute spa service per person, one 22-minute treatment per person, a Spa Cafe lunch for two, a dinner for two at the on-site Sloane’s Tavern, unlimited fitness classes, and full use of spa facilities.
Visit www.cranwell.com or call 800-272-6935.
Posted by Richard P. Carpenter
Ever since I read "My Lead Dog Was a Lesbian: Mushing Across Alaska in the Iditarod -- the World's Most Grueling Race" (the book is better than the title, by the way) I have been fascinated with dog sledding. If you're itching to be pulled along by friendly Siberian huskies from the Arctic Paws dog sled team, learn the art and history of mushing, and take a turn at controlling the team on a short ride, Stone Hill Center in Williamstown is hosting Family Day, an afternoon of dog sledding, snowshoeing, snow sculpting, and sledding on Jan. 25 from 12:30-3:30. There will be a campfire and hot chocolate - and hopefully, snow. (Lack of snow will cancel the event; check online or call 413-458-2303 to confirm.) All the activities and admission to art galleries are free. Stone Hill Center, which opened in June, is part of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. It houses art galleries and the Williamstown Art Conservation Center.
Having wished for some time that this country were in a different shape – that is, its political intelligence, its health insurance system, its educational structure, its leaders, its women, its Congress, its media (reading this with Fox News on in the background, eh?), its infrastructure, its nuclear waste sites, its polar bears and wolves (the four-legged kind, though now we all have to worry about the Wall Street species, too), oh, I could go on – here next to me is a book to inspire the perfect question for our so-called presidential debaters (so-called because in an actual authentic genuine real debate, you are expected to provide an actual authentic genuine real answer to the question) this week: How did the states get their shapes? And when both of them say, uhhh, well, uhhh, gee, that’s not on my playlist, they would be allowed to answer the variation: How have the states gotten into the shapes they are in: suffering from divisions along class lines, unemployment, ill health, mediocre education, alienation from the above-named anointed estates, but thrilled to see the band put the dot on O h i o on any given Saturday.
“How the States Got Their Shapes” by Mark Stein (Collins, 332 pp., illustrated, hardcover, $22.95) might be just the tranquilizer one needs when trying to comprehend US history, be it in the making or made already. Take Ohio. Imagine it before coal mines and marching bands.FULL ENTRY
My pal Sam loves to talk about how much money he's saved by buying a Honda Civic hybrid. So I plan to turn my boy onto Cost2Drive, a new webapp that estimates the fuel cost of any given trip. This is the way it works:
Say, you're planning a drive to P-town this weekend and you live in JP. You go to the site; enter your starting point and destination, the year of your car, along with make and model.
Cost2Drive uses your car's MPG, gleaned from the EPA. They then grab the average price of gas in your area from Oil Price Information Service, and bang it all up against and the distance, which comes via Google map technology, to "galculate" your cost.
After plugging my data into Cost2Drive I learn that getting to P-town in my 1999 Subaru Forester (stop laughing; it's a cool ride) will set me back $15.04; Sam, on the other hand, will only have to pony up $8.60.
Obviously, this calculation isn't high-level math so you could easily do it yourself. But if your car's EPA isn't tattooed to your forearm and if you aren't fully conversant in the current average price of a gallon of petrol in your hood and you want to know whether it makes the most financial sense to drive, take the train or just Fung Wah (or just be green and stay home), this app is worth a try. Besides it's fun.
Thanks to Riverwired for pointing us to this one.
Western Massachusetts is such a hotbed for fine artisans and varied crafters, and this time of year, the region is flooded with new talent, familiar faces, and much excitement. This weekend, July 4-5, is set for Great Barrington's Berkshires Arts Festival where over 175 juried artists gather to show and sell their wares.
The Festival is geared for families too with live demonstrations and workshops for both adults and children, great food, and plenty of live music. The opportunity to meet and speak with so many talented artists and craftspeople is an inspiring experience. The show is held under large outdoor tents, and in Ski Butternut's lodge. Held rain or shine, the festival is worth the drive out to the Berkshires.
Adults pay $10, seniors $9, and students $5. Children under 10 are free and a weekend pass is available for $13 if you plan on seeing all the festival has to offer - and it will take 2 days! Hours are Friday, July 4, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; and Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Want to stay a while? Visit the Berkshire Visitors Bureau for lodging information. And take a peek at last year's show here.
April showers bring May flowers, of course, but up higher, the greenest of leaves. These shades inadequately captured by a point and shoot camera the other day on a drive from Amherst to Athol. The palette was deeper and sharper, crawling up into distant hills, when seen with the naked eye. Looks like a bumper crop coming this fall...
If you haven't been training, then it may be a little late for this weekend's 7 Sisters Trail Race in Amherst. As the race website promises:
"Very scenic overlooks of the Pioneer Valley with views of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, Hampshire College and the Town of Amherst, as well as a beautiful view of the Connecticut River and Northampton to the west."
Only problem is, those views come while humping up and down very rocky terrain for 12 miles.
If you need a bit more time to get in shape, there're always the races at the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge, in New Gloucester, Maine.
Those races are bit longer, at 25 kilometers, 50 kilometers, and 50 miles. And as the web site warns: "The trails are wide and non-technical, but very hilly. Although there are no major climbs the rolling terrain is unrelenting."
Passengers flying out of Bradley International Airport will be able to fly directly to Memphis this summer.
Bradley and Northwest Airlines are announcing that daily nonstop seasonal service to Memphis International Airport will begin on June 16.
The chairman of the airport's board of governors says the value of this new service will be further multiplied because passengers can use it to connect to other flights offered by Northwest Airlines at Bradley.
Northwest says the daily flights to Memphis, complement daily service to Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Indianapolis and Amsterdam.
The service will be operated by Northwest Airlink partner Pinnacle Airlines using 50 seat jets. (AP)
A friend of mine once pointed out how vulnerable people seem to be when watching movies in an airplane. Big beefy guys tearing up during romantic comedies. Giddy laughter at suspect jokes. Something about sitting 35,000 feet above the earth, my friend suspects, changes how you see things.
So maybe it's not quite as dramatic to sit in a theater on the other side of the state, or then wander unfamiliar streets afterward, but something about that also makes you consider films differently. Far from home and stripped of the daily distractions of life's routines, you connect more directly to what is being said and shown. You incorporate more - if even only for a few moments - the film's ideas into your own.
That's what I found, anyway, on a recent roadtrip through western New England in search of independent cinemas. You can learn about the adventures of this one-person rolling film festival and the theaters where it played out this weekend in The Boston Globe and online at boston.com's travel site.
But you won't read about what happened on a dark and cold Thursday evening after I sat through a late-afternoon showing of "No Country for Old Men." The film features plenty of violence. Afterward, alone in streets and shops, I had the unsettling sensation of how committing a murder might feel. I wrote in vivid detail about that moment in an early draft of the cinema story. That scene, understandably, ended up on the editing room floor.
Not looking forward to braving long lift lines at some of the busier ski areas in New Hampshire and Vermont? Been there, done that. So head west instead: Hawk Mountain Lodge in Charlemont is offering a ski-and-stay package, with the skiing at nearby Berkshire East Ski Resort. The lodge is a renovated 1800s farmhouse with five rooms, and prices range from $55–$125 per room per night. You get a $5 discount off a daily lift pass and 10 percent off a meal at Stillwaters Restaurant. Family-friendly Berkshire East offers plenty of terrain with more than 45 trails and five lifts. And it recently added a snow tubing park, which opened Dec. 26. Wheee!
You're stuck in Rutland and it's Cold. And Dark. You're thinking about gnawing off your right paw (make that the left; you write with your right one).
The only thing that's getting you through is a dim and distant dream that some day when the sun returns you'll be able to snag a cheap JetBlue flight to see the A's in the East Bay. Well, today your dream has come true, and it didn't involve Publisher's Clearinghouse, dudes with video cameras, or a big fake check with your name misspelled in cursive.
The good folks at the Rutland Herald say that thanks to partnership agreements with Cape Air, folks in Rutland can book flights between there and the 15 domestic JetBlue destinations that connect with Cape Air at Logan.
So oil that glove and sing: "The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades....''
Here’s a little stocking stuffer for kids with a geographic bent: ‘‘Nicholas: A Massachusetts Tale’’ by Peter Arenstam (Mitten Press, $14.95). The chapter book tells the story of a field mouse on a family quest across the Bay State. Along the way, he befriends a chipmunk and other creatures who not only do not eat him but also teach him something about the area he’s exploring (the Berkshires, Quabbin Reservation, Wachusett Mountain, Gloucester, Boston, Plymouth, and Martha’s Vineyard). The illustrations by Karen Busch Holman are elegant and sweet without being overly precious. (As non-precious as a book about a talking mouse can be, anyway.) It’s the first in a 4-part series of ‘‘Nicholas’’ books starring Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. (Sorry Rhode Island and Connecticut!)