Where We Went : Field Farm, Williamstown
When We Went : Mid- November
Difficulty (Boots 1 - 10) : 1 Boot
Trail Length : 4 Miles of Trails
How Long it Took Us : 2 Hours
Overview : This former land of the Mohican and Mohawk tribes is tucked away in a valley between the Greylock and Taconic Ranges in southern Williamstown. Subsequently a farm bought by Williams College Librarian Lawrence Bloedel and his wife Eleanor in 1948. Much like the property's beaver cohabitants, the Bloedel's forever altered the landscape at Field Farm. Working with architects Edwin Goodell (Main house - 1949) and Ulrich Franzen (the Folly - 1966) the couple built houses on their new property that reflected their interest in modern American Art, which they collected extensively.
A beavers' reshaping of their environment positively impacts wildlife, increasing habitats for a variety of birds, plants and insects. Again drawing parallels, the Bloedel's influence shaped a variety of artistic and local cultural institutions, providing necessary support needed to sustain them. Upon Lawrence Bloedel’s death in 1976, a significant part of the couple's art collection was donated to Williams College Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC. The property was bequeathed to the Trustees of Reservations upon Eleanor's death in 1984. It is now a 300+ acre time capsule from the 1950s and ‘60s, with the two homes' decor and furniture remaining the same since then.
Thanks to the generosity of the Bloedel's, visitors to Field Farm can enjoy 4-miles of widely varying trails. Broad fields offer stunning views of Mount Greylock. Woodland trails meander through mature oak and hidden caves. Manicured gardens feature 13 modernist sculptures. And the wetland trail is home to an active beaver colony and their own diverse population of wildlife benefactors.
What We Dug : It was cold. There was snow. And inside, it was warm. But it was also Saturday and the kids were a mess - fighting and yelling and bored and hungry and about to watch their 4th (5th?) hour of TV... A terrific opportunity for an unpopular idea...HIKE TIME!
After spending an eternity donning our layers, (and then undressing and redressing because of course you have to use the bathroom NOW) we were off.
I'm always emphasizing the importance of low/no expectations when hiking with your kids (honestly it's probably a good rule of thumb anywhere avec kids, sooo be sure to remind me when you see me yelling at mine in the grocery store...) and this trip was a perfect example of the no expectation jackpot. Things were already the pits before we even left. We resigned ourselves to a bad day and more or less threw ourselves to the mercy of the outdoors. And just like any good mother, nature took over and made it all right.
Beavers guys, the blessed beavers.
As you could guess, these beavers were in fact...busy. Their winter survival depends on this legendary work ethic. We watched this guy make trip after endless trip to their "cache" or underwater winter food supply.
The beavers go afield to fell branches of poplar, willow, alder and sugar maple. They carry the branches to the pond and haul them through the water to the cache spot, nearby their lodge. Diving down deep, they push the end of the branches into the mud at the bottom of the pond and weave additional layers of branches into them.
In order to feed a colony of beavers for the winter, the cache needs to consist of at least 1,500 to 2,500 pounds of edible bark, twigs and leaves! A beaver typically eats 2.2 lbs of food a day in the winter months. During our walk around the pond, the kids had a ball finding evidence of our new friend's handiwork, searching every nook for freshly-chewed stumps and beaver trails.
The diligent beaver soon grew wary of our close observations and communicated his unrest with some powerful tail slaps. Impressed, we surrendered his space, and made our way to the hay field for a winter scavenger hunt. A great way to keep kids focused and engaged during walks and hikes is to make it purposeful, and scavenger hunts are terrific incentivizers. (is that a word? now it is.) We gave our eyes a break and indulged our sense of smell with the spicy perfume of crushed evergreen and tried to point out the direction of crow "caws" with our eyes closed.
Circling back to the parking area by way of the pond, we said farewell to our beaver pal (he was still at it!) and his impressive lodge. An architectural marvel matched closely by the Folly behind it, both designs masterfully manipulate perspectives. Where the Folly gives the illusion of being smaller on the outside than it reveals on the inside, so does the beaver's lodge, boasting multiple entrances and a cozy den. In fact, under a blanket of snow, you could accidentally walk right over the top! Keep and eye out for steam escaping from a snow covered hill, chances are it's occupied.
What We Could Do Without : It's winter in the Berkshires, so yea, it was cold. As tempting as hibernating inside until the thermometer spikes above freezing can be, you really miss out on this totally transformed environment and all it's curiosities. Cover is sparse and critters that are still active in the "off season" can be easier to spot. A lot is going on in preparation for the big Spring reveal, you just have to know where to look for it. Check out the links under Resources for some great ideas. Throw your thermals on and get out there! Just make sure there's a hot cuppa waiting for you on the other side.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: BEAVER, 13 man-made sculptures, white-tail deer, coyote, porcupine, bobcat, turtles, snakes,salamanders, red-winged blackbirds, woodpecker, kingfishers, great blue heron, red-tailed hawks, northern harriers, mature oaks, cherry tree, trillium, narcissus, ferns, limestone, marble, schist, natural caves
Must Know Before You Go’s : The Guest House at Field Farm is a bed & breakfast available for rental, all rooms with mountain views. Tours of the Folly are by appointment only. Grounds are free and open year-round for bird-watching, cross-country skiing, fishing, leashed dog-walking, and picnicking. Mountain bikes and motorized vehicles not allowed. Bathroom facility on-site.
Directions : 554 Sloan Road Williamstown, MA 01267
From Williamstown Center, follow Rt. 7 South towards South Williamstown. At intersection with Rt. 43, take Rt. 43 West and immediately take a right onto Sloan Rd. Proceed 1 mi. to entrance on right. GPS: 42.6646 -73.2617
Resources : Winter Nature Walks
Scroll through for more pictures of our Field Farm adventure!