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.

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