You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2011.

In September of 2001, I was living in a cabin on a mountaintop along the Mohawk Trail. I was the caretaker/naturalist for a large wildlife sanctuary, and I was the only human around for several miles. The cabin was primitive but comfortable: two fireplaces for heat; water came from a spring a quarter-mile from the cabin. Every few days I had to pump water up to a storage tank in the attic. There was no electricity, so I relied on a battery-operated radio for news and entertainment. I had a cellphone, but to get a signal I had to hike around to the other side of the mountain.

I would be at the cabin from Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day. Weekends were the busiest, with groups of families and boisterous hikers coming by to ooh and aah at the spectacular view. Weekdays were quiet, especially after Labor Day. Days would go by without seeing another person. That suited me perfectly.

I was up early, as usual, on Sept. 11 that year. I did some reading while I had my morning coffee. Looking out the big picture window I could see the vapor trails of jets heading west out of Logan and Manchester. One of them caught my eye. It had made an abrupt turn to the south, nearly at a right angle. Unusual, I thought, but I didn’t think any more of it, and headed out to do some trail work.

It wasn’t until I came back some hours later that I put on the radio and heard the news. I kept listening as more and more awful news came in. My former brother-in-law worked in one of the towers. I decided to call my son to find out if he had heard anything from his Uncle Rob. I hiked around to the other side to make the call. My son told me he and his mother hadn’t heard anything yet. They were worried.

When I checked back again a few hours later, my son had left a message that Rob was out of town on a business trip, and so hadn’t been at his office that morning. He was safe, but except for a few others who had also been out of the office, everyone else he worked with had been killed. What must that be like?

Then something remarkable happened. It started late in the afternoon, and continued until dark.

People came up to the cabin, perching themselves on the ledges looking out over the Berkshire Hills. People sat alone, or in small clusters. Most were silent, just staring out. Some prayed. A few cried. If anyone spoke, it was in a whisper. By sunset there were more than a hundred people in a place that never had more than a dozen at a time. Many stayed until well after dark.

They had all come to seek out a refuge, some place quiet to be away from it all.

This was a place meant to be a sanctuary for wildlife. At that time in my life, it was a sanctuary for me, too, one I needed, and now all these people had come here for the peace it offered.

Much later, as the news reports began to go back and document the sequence of events that day, I learned that one of the planes from Boston had been hijacked in the sky over Pittsfield. The hijackers had ordered the pilot to change course, turn due south, and head for New York City, and I remembered the strange vapor trail I’d seen that morning.


Dead Horse Pond

Lately I’ve been exploring a conservation area on the far side of the hill from me. A map identifies it as the Laurel Bank
conservation area.

As kids, we called it Dead Horse Pond, for a small pond on the property, and it was strictly off-limits. That didn’t stop us, of course.

Back then – we’re talking 50 years ago – there was a wooden gate at the entrance of a long dirt road. There were signs – no trespassing, private property, etc. We never went down that road, but we did cut through the woods, convincing ourselves that the signs didn’t apply there.

The property is at the foot of the hill, and in those days we could stand on the hill above it and see the peak of a roof poking up over the treetops. The story – among us kids, anyway – was that a crazy old man lived there. He had a shotgun loaded with rock salt ready to use on anyone who came on his property. Supposedly he also had vicious dogs. The story of the pond was that a horse had fallen through the ice there and drowned, and if the winter was cold enough and the ice was clear enough you could still see its bones.

Sneaking through the woods to the pond was the stuff of boyhood dares, a rite of passage in the neighborhood.

For the record, I went down to the pond a few times, never saw the bones, never heard so much as a bark, and never got chased by a crazy old man with a shotgun, though others told hair-raising stories of barely escaping being sprayed with rock salt or mauled by dogs. It was good for scaring the little kids.

At some point while I wasn’t living in the area, the old man died, the house burned down or was torn down, and I vaguely remember hearing that the property was given to the town. I may be wrong.

In any case, today it’s public land. There’s quite a network of old wagon roads winding around the property, and it makes for a pleasant place to walk or snowshoe in season, with plenty to explore. But more on that some other time.

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RSS The Ecocryptic

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RSS Martin Laine – Digital Journal

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