Where We Went : Arrowhead Nature Trail, Pittsfield/Lenox MA
When We Went : Mid-April
Difficulty (Boots 1 - 10) : 1.5 Boots
Trail Length : 0.5 Mile
How Long it Took Us : 1 Hour
"Leviathan, white whale - Call me Ishmael.
Sailor, novelist - A failure until posthumous.
Made a home here in the Berks, Hawthorne put up with my quirks.
Hittin' up old Greylock, Catch me out at Balance Rock.
Wrote Billy Budd & Bartelby, Even messed around with poetry.
When I say Moby, you say Dick -
Although Melville wasn't born in the Berkshires, his Uncle Thomas Melvill's Pittsfield estate offered a much needed refuge and retreat from the drudgery that he faced in Albany at 13 years old. Herman's father had died in 1832, leaving his family almost irreparably in debt.
At age 12, Herman found himself employed as a clerk at the New York State Bank, working long hours, six days a week for the next three years.
Excuse me? Can you imagine being 12 years old and suiting up for your job at the bank six days a week?! What...
Reflecting on his childhood in the semi-autobiographical novel Redburn: His First Voyage, Melville wrote:
"I must not think of those delightful days, before my father became bankrupt, and dies, and we removed from the city; for when I think of those days, something rises up in my throat and almost strangles me."
There's no doubt that that first Berkshire summer of 1832 - Melville's first break from the confining and monotonous tedium at the bank - offered him so much more than just a breath of fresh air. We can only imagine the profound impact that those sylvan summer days had on Melville's soul.
So in 1850, when the wealthy Morewood's moved to purchase his Uncle's estate (renaming it Broadhall and the current home of the Pittsfield Country Club) and the surrounding 300 acres for $6500, it seems logical to think that Herman would curse himself for not having the necessary funds to buy it first. It likely stirred a deep-rooted feeling inside, a gnawing desire to break the mold of his destitute father and secure the very thing that impassioned him.
When an adjacent Pittsfield property went up for sale that same year, also priced $6500 (1/2 the acreage), Melville could hardly miss a second opportunity to reclaim his gossamer glimmers of childhood and prove himself as a man. Borrowing heavily from his father-in-law and incurring a mortgage, Herman was able to purchase Arrowhead in a harried fit of nostalgia.
There have been other theories raised to explain Melville's moment of impulsivity. Michael Sheldon, author of "Melville In Love" attempts to convince his reader that Melville carried on a romantic affair with Sarah Morewood, the beguiling mistress at Broadhall, and that he purchased Arrowhead because of its close proximity to his lover's estate. The Arrowhead Nature Trail skirts the neighboring property and illicit trysts in the woods are easily (albeit unlikely) conjured.
Subject to even more scrutiny is Melville's relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne. The two authors initially meeting on an excursion to Monument Mountain in August of 1850.
Some scholars propose that this meeting sparked the impetuous purchase of the Berkshire farm, an attempt by Melville to remain close to his literary guru.
Writings of this odd pair have been scrutinized for decades, Melville the overzealous and infatuated admirer (a 19th-century "Stan" if you will) and Hawthorne the moody, reclusive master.
We can never know the true motives behind anyone's personal choices, past or present, and too often historical conjecture misses the heart of human nature.
When I walked the trail behind Arrowhead I was walking in Herman Melville's footsteps, maybe even Sarah Morewood's and Hawthorne's too. But try as I might to put myself in each of their shoes, my takeaway can only be personal. And there is one thing I know for certain. Whether you grew up in the Berkshires, like me, or you've been a visitor to these rolling hills and dales, you know all too well the mark they leave on you. And for any writer, is there ever a greater muse than the one you're living in?
What We Dug : The Berkshire Historical Society has two publications pertaining to the Arrowhead Nature Trail. One is an extensive and thorough self-guided grounds tour that makes stops from the House, Barn, Meadow, to the Woods and back again. This guide offers literary quotations of Melville's writings, short histories and a full list of the surrounding wildlife.
While this makes an unparalleled accompaniment for the adult explorer, for the shorter set, try out the BHS Stanwix's Scavenger Hunt! With two different versions, kids can feel challenged and engaged during their easy trek through the woods.
We printed off both versions and M & V each did one, then swapped and did eachothers!
The trail itself is easy to follow and equally easy walking. From the parking lot we crossed to the mown meadow path and upwards into the woods. Following the white arrowhead signs serving as trail markers, we searched high and low for the items on Stanwix's Lists and found much more than we bargained for. A cache of wild ramps was hiding just off the path and our resident eagle eye spotted scarlet elf cups under a stand of birches. You can imagine young Malcolm (Melville's eldest son) and little Stanwix running amok through the woods and catch a glimpse of the former Morewood property at the border of the neighboring golf course. Bring binoculars for meadow-side bird watching and don't forget to look for the whale!
What We Could Do Without : Bittersweet strikes again...If you hike often, it's likely you'll see this serpentine strangler. Sometimes we see it just taking hold, while other places we see the devastation that occurs as a result of this merciless invasive. Melville's woods are in the unforgiving grip of Celastrus orbiculatus. It hasn't quite reached the levels that we saw at Longcope Park in Lee, MA this past January, but without a swift hand, these woods are in danger of suffocation. Invasive Japanese Barberry is also present, although it's spring blossoms are a charming sight.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For : Purple Trillium, Trout Lily, Wild Ramps, Crinkleroot, Scarlet Elf Cup, Wood Anemone, Foamflower, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Blue Cohosh, False Solomon’s Seal, Garlic Mustard, Springtails, Wood Thrush, Oven Bird, Gray Catbird, Downy Woodpecker, Goldfinch, Blue Jay, American Redstart, Common Buckthorn, Beech, Black Cherry, Hemlock, Hop Hornbeam, Red Oak, Sugar Maple, White Ash, White Birch, White Pine
Must Know Before You Go’s : Parking is in the rear behind the Red Barn. No Facilities. Arrowhead is currently closed for tours. No Hunting, No Mountain Bikes or Motorized Vehicles, Leashed Dogs OK
Directions : 780 Holmes Road Pittsfield, MA.
From the Massachusetts Turnpike(I-90), take Exit 2 (Lee). Follow Route 20 West for 8.5 miles; it will merge with Route 7 North. Turn right onto Holmes Road at the traffic light. Arrowhead is 1.5 miles ahead on the left.
From points north: Route 20, Route 9, and Route 7 all lead to Pittsfield and intersect with major interstates. Consult your own maps for reaching Route 7 from where you are. Once you are on Route 7 South, follow Route 7 South until you cross the Pittsfield-Lenox town line. Turn left onto Holmes Road at the traffic light. Arrowhead is 1.5 miles ahead on the left.
Website : https://mobydick.org/
Power of Place by Marianna Poutasse
Scroll through for more pictures of our Arrowhead adventure!