Amidst Ancient Air - Bullard Woods



Where We Went : Bullard Woods Lenox/Stockbridge, MA


When We Went : Mid- February


Difficulty (Boots 1 - 10) : 2 Boots


Trail Length : 1.4 miles loop trail


How Long it Took Us : 2 Hours


"Bullard Woods: A sanctuary for wildlife and human spirit"

Overview : Bullard Woods was once part of East India merchant William Storey Bullard's estate, Highwood, now a part of Tanglewood. Bullard's son William Jr., the eldest of five, spent most of his childhood years fishing, picnicking, skating and exploring the wilds of the family's Lenox "backyard." Dr. William Norton Bullard would go on to become an esteemed neurologist, serving as President of the American Neurological Association in 1913.

After inheriting the property from his parents, Dr. William and wife Mary Reynolds continued to enjoy the woods for many years. Mary Reynolds continued to live at the manor house after the death of her husband and in 1954 entrusted the estate's 70 acres to the Stockbridge Bowl Association with the provision it remained untouched.


Perhaps Dr. William Norton Bullard and Mary Reynolds sensed something special about the air as they strolled beneath the ancient pine sentinels along the shore of Lake Mahkeenac.


Bullard Woods is one of the few remaining old-growth forest areas in Massachusetts. "Old-growth forests" describe natural forests that have developed over a long period of time, generally at least 120 years without experiencing any severe, stand-replacing disturbance like fire, windstorm, or logging.

In 2004, Eastern Native Tree Society's co-founder, Robert Leverett assessed the area and concluded that, "Bullard Woods is the only fairly diverse, mature woods site I have seen in Massachusetts where the white oaks stand toe to toe with the red oaks and in the case of Bullard, may slightly eclipse the reds." That year he measured a white pine at 133.3 feet high and 13.4 feet in diameter. A tree that's DBH (diameter at breast height) exceeds 13-feet is aptly called a "thirteener" and part of a rare group. Returning to Bullard in 2010, Leverett saw that the pine thirteener towered no more, "one had fallen and hit the another causing it to lose one of its two trunks and die. It was a rather sad sight. It was one of our true single trunked thirteeners in Massachusetts...The big trees are rapidly falling and so the magic of Bullard Woods will soon be history."


Writing after a walk in Bullard Woods, journalist Bernard Drew wrote, "Old-growth woods are rare even in the Berkshires, which cut off 99.9 percent of its forests for timber, pulpwood and charcoal in the 19th century.The forests have grown back, but the difference is obvious when you walk among the big trees. The air is different. The lichens are different. The feeling is different."

If you're familiar with the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or wood-air bathing, you might have a clearer understanding of what Drew describes. Forest bathing, quickly becoming popular in the western world, is essentially, deep breathing while taking a meditative walk through the forest, and is recommended as a stress-reliever and mood-booster. Take a walk, a few deep breaths, seems like a no-brainer, right?


But there’s much more going on in the forest than just the calming serenity of nature. Inhale under the forest canopy and you're hit with a sweet, rich, earthy smell. Trees release compounds into the forest air, called phytoncides, from little pockets between their leaf cells. Scientists believe that this is one of the ways trees communicate, passing messages through scents in the air. In turn, we breathe in these molecules and they become part of the air that goes into our lungs, and some of the molecules enter your bloodstream. So when you walk through the forest inhaling that fragrant air, the forest becomes a part of your body. In a healthy environment, with every breath we're absorbing this scent of well-being.


But there are two sides to this coin. In areas of unstable and threatened forests, where the trees themselves are fragile or endangered, they respond by sending out alarm signals in the same form of chemical defense. We absorb this as well. So if we feel calm and contented after a walk in an undisturbed forest, it's no stretch to say that we're also soaking in the distress signals after a stroll in a fragile environment. Ancient areas like Bullard Woods, Ice Glen and portions of the Mohawk Trail State Forest are extraordinarily scarce. It is in our power to help preserve the little that is left to us. In The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben writes, "Walkers who visit one the ancient deciduous preserves in the forest I manage always report that their heart feel lighter and they feel right at home. I am convinced that we intuitively register the forest's health. "


William and Mary Bullard may not have realized the full extent of benefits from their time in their woods, but they must have sensed that the air was different underneath those giant old trees. They left to us the greatest gift - a stronghold of timeworn timber and the space to breathe it all in - a sanctuary for wildlife and the human spirit.



What We Dug : The day was hazy but the path was wide, and as we walked the trail leading from the parking area, the towering trees swallowed us in their immense shadows. We took some time identifying a few trees, including a mature shagbark hickory. A massive snow-covered trunk became a perch for two snacking children. Over footbridges of icy streams we made our way to the shoreline. The Bowl was frozen over and we sat awhile watching the a group ice fishing across the way. At the edge of the bank there were hundreds of ramshorn snail shells, abandoned by their former residents. The view across the lake was beautiful, the mountains purple in the winter gloom. We continued our way around the lake, passing young beech trees stalwartly clinging to their leaves. Evidence of an old stone wall ran parallel to the meadow, and remnants of stone foundations deeper in the woods. Crooked branches dangling from snags took the form of screeching dinosaurs and eel-like creatures.

Coming to the meadow the kids raced to the swing suspended from a hulking red oak tree. The cold air brushed our faces as we swung. We stashed some shells at the base of the tree, treasures for another to stumble upon, and headed back towards the forest. The trail concluded shortly after and we reached the car feeling revitalized and joyful.


What We Could Do Without : There is no trail map for Bullard Woods besides the hand drawn illustration at the trailhead. We were unsure where the Tanglewood Connection to Gould Meadows was located. The parking lot is not plowed in the winter and is closed to vehicles. Please be extra cautious parking along the roadside. Many vehicles passed us carelessly and fast while we were getting out and back into our cars. The access road to the parking lot is steep and spring mud may make travel difficult.


Keep Your Eyes Peeled For : Massive Red Oak, Hawthorne's Little Red Farmhouse, Mountain Views, Stockbridge Bowl, Cellar Holes, Stone Remnants, White Pine, White Ash, Hemlock, Tulip Trees, Shagbark Hickory, Black Cherry, Black Birch, Sugar Maple, Beech, Ramshorn Snail, Red Eft, Warbler, Pileated Woodpecker


Must Know Before You Go’s : Parking lot is closed during the winter. Use caution if parking on the shoulder of the road. Note that directions can be confusing because Hawthorne Road intersects with Hawthorne Street. If you continue over a footbridge that fords a stream in the woods, you can continue your walk through the woods, across the Tanglewood connector and on to Gould Meadows, exiting on Route 183, across from Kripalu. No Facilities. No Campfires. No Motorized Vehicles. Leashed Dogs.


Directions : Next to Camp Mah-kee-nac and accessible from Lenox, MA. Located near Tanglewood at the conjunction of Hawthorne Road and Hawthorne Street.


Website : Stockbridge Bowl Association


Resources : Masstrails Bullard Woods

Hawthorne's Lenox: The Tanglewood Circle

Among The Ancients - Joan Maloof

Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing

Forest Bathing Retreat - Hannah Fries

The Hidden Life of Trees - Peter Wohllbenen

Bernard Drew - Bullard Woods: Home of the Big Trees

Native Tree Society: Bullard Woods


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