Sunday, February 04, 2007

Climbing mountains

"Oh, life, so this is what you are!"
-- Michael Blumenthal (one of my favorite poets ever)

Two landmarks I want to acknowledge at the top here: One is my friend Shante has a new CD out, her first. She is an incredibly talented hip-hop artist/phd candidate/actor/etc. I love her to pieces and this is really great stuff.

The second thing I am so proud of is that Katharsis Theater Company, the one I started with Henry Wishcamper in May 2005, has extended its first show, The Polish Play, another week. All the reviews are incredible, including a fabulous front-of-the-book review in The New Yorker. Simply producing a play in less than two years of founding is a mark of distinction. And this show, a combination of Macbeth and Ubu Roi (see the website for more details) is really great theater, funny, current, fantastic acting and production values: Henry's wife, Jenny Mannis, did the costumes and they are extraordinary. The puppets are gorgeous; the set; the lights; the Foley sound is hilarious (you gotta see it). I urge anyone interested in theater to see it.

There's another mountain Dave, Lily, and I conquered recently -- literally. That's Mount Sugarloaf in Deerfield. We were driving back from an open house at the Greenfield Center School last Sunday afternoon, at about 3:30 p.m. We had at least another hour or more of light and as we passed by the Mount Sugarloaf parking lot I said, let's walk up that! We could, Dave said tentatively, and I turned into the lot at the last possible moment.

We had meant to climb this our first week here when our friend George was driving us around, but hadn't had the time. Having spontaneously gone on a hike a couple of weeks ago at about the same time -- Dave and Lily were skiing -- I have had some recent experience with trying out trails at the end of the day. That time I had walked some trails off Pelham Road that lead to the Frost Trail, and gotten good and lost. The sun was sinking fast and I periodically called various out-of-town friends on my cell phone, ostensibly to say hi but always managing to include that I am a bit lost and all alone and the sun's going down but I think I'm okay.

I kept walking onto the back 40 of various farms, and every time I did I would think, oh, the helicopter could land here when they airlift me out. It was a bit ridiculous because I could see Northeast Street a half mile or so across the fields, and I knew that I was less than a mile from Pelham Road, where I had parked. But I was alone, it was getting cold, I kept hearing an owl hooting at me from a nearby pine (they are kinda scary but I felt privileged to hear it) and once I got back into the woods it was really dark. It's times like these that I really feel like a city slicker and I wonder if I will ever feel truly comfortable away from pavement and cars and electricity.

But this time, at the foot of Sugarloaf's southern peak, it was still early, there's a paved road to the summit, and I wasn't alone, so I was a bit more reassured we could make it back alive. We started out on the path alongside the road that gently winds most of its way to the top. Dave and I had hiking boots on but Lily was wearing snow boots. At first she complained and I didn't blame her one bit. But, mirabile dictu, my city child is turning into an outdoorsy one! After awhile she got into the hang of things -- the two people walking three dogs near us helped -- and when the trail rejoined the road near the summit and we said we could go back down now, she was the one who insisted on continuing. "It's the steep part, Mama!" she said. "I like the steep part!"

We wound our way up through the thining trees and came out on one fenced-in vista to protect us from tumbling over the massive rocky cliffs we could see from the road. We were looking out over the Connecticut River and beyond. Directly below were houses and farms, and we counted swimming pools awhile. We knew there were some buildings at the top, though, and we knew we weren't there yet. So we kept on, finally bursting onto a large grassy area with a tower with a couple of viewing platforms.

Climbing the spiral staircase inside made Lily long for our Brooklyn apartment briefly, but the view at the top took everyone's breath and all thoughts of Brooklyn away. Laid out before us, with that golden light of the almost gone sun, was the entire Pioneer Valley stretching off past Sunderland and the Amherst highrises to Hadley and the Holyoke Range beyond. To the west was Deerfield and Whately and the roads leading into the Hilltowns. To the north was more Deerfield, and then Greenfield, and what I assume is Vermont and the foothills of the Green Mountains.

We gazed awhile and then walked back down the road, Lily sucking on massive icicles she'd yanked off the rocks edging the road. What a joy this is! With just an hour or so to kill we pull off the road on the recommendation of a friend and after a brief hike we come out on this extraordinary view, the Pioneer Valley equivalent of the Empire State Building. At this point in my life I'd rather look at mountains and rivers.


  1. Can you take us their when we visit?

  2. of course! we'd really love to take you there. We can even drive, once the road opens up in the spring. But it's a great walk. Come visit!

  3. Hi Sasha,

    I love that Sugarloaf view - the Empire State Building of the Pioneer Valley indeed! It suprises me every time, even as a life-long local, to be handed such a view by such a small mountain. Stunning. If you ever get the inclination, walking up the paved road on a full moon night with a clear sky is also extraordinary.

    Welcome to the Valley from a fellow theater lover! Billie sent me to your blog (and thanks for your praise of mine)- hope to meet you one day soon.


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