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Mike Valletta

Storyteller. Photographer. Traveler.

Date

July 12, 2011

Road Trip: A Bucolic Step Back in Time to Hancock Shaker Village

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This past weekend, while searching for new places to explore, I decided after hearing so much about it, that it was time to head on up to the Berkshires of western Massachusetts and explore the infamous Hancock Shaker Village, located right in Pittsfield. It’s a village that is known as the city of peace, and for good reason. If you’re a fan of the Amish in Pennsylvania but don’t want to make the long daunting drive all the way there, then you’re in for a real treat here as you step back in time and explore a world of simplicity. From the moment you step on the grounds of the village, you are welcome to a world cultivated from humble beginnings as the Shakers lived off the land. A giant grid of solar panels greet you at the entrance which powers areas of the village that have electricity, such as the welcome center and cafe located right in the beginning of the village.

This was actually a last resort trip for me as I had originally planned to make my way to Mystic Seaport, but I was glad to have made the short drive here instead since it was also a much more affordable admission price. For a mere $17, you can spend your entire day learning how the Shakers lived their rather humble lives. We started by touring a medicinal garden which was filled with such an array of herbs that it would make your head spin, not to mention nostrils flare up as your breathed in the fresh aromas of basil, parsley, and so much more. In the corner of the medicinal garden was a rather large bush, and when I had asked a guide what exactly the bush was, he had stated that they were hops, which the Shakers also used for medicine, and of course for a little bit of relaxation after a long day out on the farm.

As we continued our way through the village, we stopped at many different buildings learning about so many new things, like how the Shakers made their clothes by spinning their yarns, how they built all of their homes using logs materials right from the nearby forest, and how they taught their children in a one room school house. One of the most fascinating things that I had found out was on a tour inside a brick dwelling. As we sat down as a group in a rather open room with wooden benches, we learned that the Shakers believed in equality as they lived as a community and the room that we were in, like many rooms inside the Shakers buildings, had shown just that as each room was made equally as they paid close attention to detail. In the room that we sat in, each side showed equality by each side having the same exact features, one side for the brothers, and one side for the sisters, and each side had stoves, cabinets, and windows that were all in the same exact spots as the opposite side. Not a detail was missed in making.

Continuing on, we finally made our way to one of the main attractions which was the circular barn made out of stone and wood. As fascinating as it was on the outside, it was even more fascinating on the inside as giant wooden beams seemed to have held it together along with stones that were found from around the property, which is about 7,000 acres. Could you imagine owning that much land today?

After our tour of this majestic masterpiece which sat at the eastern edge of the village, we made our way to SoCo Creamery, which is a new addition to the village, and a perfect way for visitors to cool off on a hot day by enjoying a delicious variety of ice cream that is made right here in the Berkshires. How could one resist! I had no excuse in the world not to visit SoCo as it is one of my favorite ice cream destinations in the region. I had the mint chocolate chip ice cream and boy was it delicious! It hit the spot, especially since we were visiting this place during a rather daunting heat wave. I’m not exactly sure how we spent nearly five hours here, but we did, and it was certainly worth it as we learned a great deal of just how simple life was back in the 1800’s. It’s one of those places that make you stop and think why aren’t we all living that way today, and what take away’s from our past can we incorporate in our lives today. For one, we can certainly incorporate homesteading. The Shakers believed in making everything themselves, even right down to their food, and with economical pressures today, many have turned to urban homesteading as a way to cut costs on grocery bills. If you think about it, the Shakers really had it right. They were incredibly smart and knew ways to cut costs. Is this something everyone could be doing today? Absolutely. If we all learn to live with less, we can certainly learn to live more fulfilling lives, just like the Shakers did so long ago.

Hancock Shaker Village
1843 West Housatonic Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201-7513

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For the Love of Burr: Burr Pond in Torrington is a Valuable Resource to Beat the Heat

The wicked summer heat has brought many into agony as we all look for ways to cool off. Okay, so we’re not exactly looking. It’s more like were trapped in the desert southwest and we’re looking for anything but a mirage to help us cool off. At this point, it’s survival! Luckily for many of us here in Litchfield County, we have valuable resources right at our fingerprints, or should I say footprints? Whatever the case, the lakes and rivers in our region are a quick escape that we can run to and dive right in as a hot, simmering steam comes off our bodies as we make a splash into the water. One of my favorite places to go, which is also quite convenient to my house, is Burr Pond State Park, located in Paugnut State Forest. Rising high above Torrington and practically bordering Highland Lake is this majestic pond that is surrounded by towering hemlocks. It is here where people from all over come to spend the day as they soak up the sun, and a little water as well.

I first discovered Burr Pond a few years ago, back when I was 16 years old and in high school. My father had brought me there after I whined and whined about being inside an air conditioned house. I hate air conditioning. For one, it drives my allergies haywire! Being outdoors, for me, just feels natural, no matter what temperature it is. It could be 120 degrees and I’d still prefer to be by the lake. Though if the devil were to appear and the temperature suddenly became anything over that, I’d seek out a cave hoping there wouldn’t be any bears. I have been told I would make a great midnight snack for one of those things!

When we first discovered Burr Pond, it wasn’t as crowded as it gets today. It was a quiet place to seek a bit of refuge from city life. I can remember fondly running into the water with my Abercrombie swimwear having not a care in the world. Back then, summers also didn’t involve a four letter word called work. It was easy living. Then, the real world thing happened and boom went summer vacations and into the workforce I went. To this day, however, I still enjoy my summer days at Burr Pond. For starters, it’s peaceful and it’s a place that has really brought great joy to my life after a long night of work. I say night simply because I work overnights, and Burr Pond is sometimes where I can be caught sleeping on a sunny summer day as I lay out in the sun with my iPod tuning out the world and occasionally taking a refreshing dip into the water.

Some have wondered how I could afford to be at Burr Pond everyday when the state charges an arm and a leg to park. Well, I’m not one to be much of a fool. Parking down at the boat launch and making the hike through the woods along the waters edge is a much more affordable option since you can park at the launch free of charge, but make no mistake about it. I still support the park system by purchasing food from the lovely folks who run the food stand there by the beach. I can’t resist a golden grilled cheese or a delicious cheeseburger, which goes along with a hot summer day quite well if I might add.

So the next time you’re looking to cool off, head outside and beat the heat naturally. You’ll be surprised of just how much fun you could find out there as you’re enjoying a hot summer day in Litchfield County, Connecticut.

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