From crops to exhibits, it’s all about spring
BUCKLAND — Atherton Farm enjoys one of those locations all too rare in stony New England: a floodplain of loamy earth. Across Route 112 in Buckland, Clesson Brook, which has deposited this gift over the centuries, rumbles with the glut of recent rain but is not likely to spill over to the farm today. Instead, a carpet of green unfurls across the valley floor to a hillside bristling with bare trees. An uneven rectangle of dark soil interrupts the verdant sweep, as though the grass had been peeled back to display the richness of the dirt.
Sue Atherton, farmer, is at the far end, poking peas into the cold ground. It is another misty day in a slow spring, but she is smiling. “I love this work and feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do it,’’ she says. “I grew up here, but I worked as a bookkeeper for 17 years before coming back to the farm in 2001 — this is my career change.’’
Atherton, strong and silver-haired with sky-blue eyes, is bundled up in two sweatshirts on this raw afternoon leading up to the opening of her farm stand. Sometimes friends stop by to pitch in for a few hours. Soon her brother will have made his seasonal trek here from Florida, and, with occasional help from another brother, the two of them will keep it all going into October — gathering fresh eggs from the chicken coop, raising dozens of kinds of vegetables and flowers to sell at weekly farmers’ markets and their roadside stand.
Atherton also tends her horse and the donkey who keeps him company. Midsummer finds her out on her late father’s tractor, cutting and baling hay, but for the past week she has been using it to haul the manure spreader. After that, she’ll be tilling two other plots with a disc harrow. “I learned how to do all these things when I was young,’’ she says. “Mom and Dad ran a dairy farm here when we were growing up. I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything.’’
Save for the peas and a few other cold-weather vegetables sown directly into the soil, Atherton starts the bulk of her crops in the shelter of a hoop-house. Seedlings sprout in dozens of planting trays, most atop broad tables, with shade-loving plants tucked underneath. Pots of fuchsia, geraniums, and other bright flowers dangle overhead. “I’m just doing what all the other farmers are doing,’’ she says. And then she laughs, as if we should all be so lucky.
Indoors, view the landscape through the eyes of M.C. Escher. His most mind-bending works hang in “Seeing the Unseen,’’ a world-premiere exhibition at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, through May 22. Oenophiles will be grateful not to be eyeing Escher when the museum hosts its “Wine Jewels of the World’’ auction, a biennial fund-raiser for the museum’s education programs, on May 28. Festivities include tastings throughout the galleries and a dinner onstage at the Colonial Theatre (reservations required for all events).
Museum hoppers will also want to feast their eyes on “Romantic Nature: British and French Landscapes,’’ works by John Constable, J.M.W. Turner, and Thomas Gainsborough, at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, through Sept. 20. In Lenox, the Mount and its glorious gardens open this weekend.
Spring is all about lodging bargains. Jiminy Peak resort in Hancock is running a $99 (plus tax) special for its Country Inn Suite, through May 26. In the Connecticut Valley, the Deerfield Inn is rewarding fuel-conscious guests with a “tank you’’ discount package (until Aug. 31).
Park your vehicle and tour Historic Deerfield — now open for the season — on foot. Two of the immaculately preserved 18th-century museum houses are open all day, as is the Flynt Center of Early New England Life. After May 15, free maps for an African-American walking tour of the village will be available at Memorial Hall Museum.
All this walking and paddling, or quaffing and ogling makes a body hungry, and the taste of the season out here is asparagus. Not for nothing was Hadley, in the heart of the Connecticut Valley, once known as the Asparagus Capital of the World. If you are a fan of the grassy-tasting vegetable, check in at Flayvors of Cook Farm to see if they have started making their asparagus ice cream yet. They only make it when asparagus is in season, so call ahead if this is a must.
Otherwise, pick another homemade flavor, check out the calves in their hutches, and watch the farmers planting corn. Mud season should be well over by then.
Jane Roy Brown can be reached at email@example.com.