The Length of Mass

Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts
October 14, 2013 — By the end of yesterday’s road trip, I had decided not to write about it. There wasn’t anything wrong with the trip. It was a fine one. Maybe it was too close to the shadow of Saturday’s trip, but it was still a fine one regardless. Perhaps it was because the centerpiece of the trip had nothing to do with the season or maybe because for some reason we didn’t stop for as many random Autumn pictures as we usually do on these things. But then I realized that if this blog is an account of my season, this day needed to be accounted for. Because we did see some cool stuff.

We left the house at 7:30 am, and drove two hours, the length of Massachusetts, directly to the town of Pittsfield in the Berkshires. Well, directly is not the best adverb there. We chose a lot of random roads to avoid making this a pure, bland interstate trek.

The reason why we didn’t schedule any official stops en route is because we wanted to get to Arrowhead early. Arrowhead is the home of Herman Melville and our main stop. It was there, 130 miles away from the nearest ocean, that he wrote Moby Dick.

Arrowhead is a subject for another day, but suffice it to say it was a great place, and gave me a newfound respect for the author of one of America’s greatest stories. It also had straw people on its grounds. Why not.

From there, we made a mistake. Arrowhead is close to October Mountain State Forest (named, interestingly enough, by Herman Melville himself). That name was sign enough that it was meant for our October road trip. I grabbed some GPS points of its center, and headed in that direction.

Turns out, most of what I chose weren’t really roads, at least not in the modern sense of the term.

So we ended up turning from beautiful pavement onto a rutted dirt path called, I believe, Ashley Lake Road. No signs told us this was a bad call, but it didn’t take long for nature to educate us on the mis-decision.

That above picture is the beginning of Ashley Lake Road. I admit that it doesn’t look too bad. We took the photo while we were still giddy with the adventure of the road and pretty confident it was meant for a Camry with three people and a crockpot. I’m not sure why the latter was in the backseat.

Later, that stretch of rutted, rocky path would turn into what was basically a dry stream bed, with deep potholes, eroded banks, and large rocks, all dangerously camouflaged beneath piles of fallen leaves like natural land mines. At that point, there was no way my white-knuckled fingers could be pried off the steering wheel (or my wife’s off my forearm) to wrap them around a camera. Kid was having a blast, though. Crockpot too, I assume.

We thought about turning around, but the GPS told us we were only on the road for two miles. We eventually had to turn around anyway because a tree had fallen across the road. It wasn’t the tree’s fault that it mistook what the map said was a road for mere forest floor.

Eventually, after making a 70-point turn on the narrow road (we couldn’t just go in reverse because we had to dodge all the holes and rocks and carcasses of previous travelers) and beating our muffler into a brand new geometry, we eventually made it back to paved road.

As we left, I checked my rearview mirror to see if we were leaking fluids on the asphalt. As I did so, I noticed a sign that was across the road from Ashley Lake that had been facing the other way on our approach.

It turned out we had been driving Appalachian Trail and were headed in the direction of Georgia.

The GPS recalculated our route, making us take the next turn. This was a gravel road and while it didn’t get as dicey as the last road, it was still not the leisurely drive through a Fall-tinted forest that we had hoped it would be. The only sign of life we passed was a freshly detailed Bentley coming from the opposite direction.

Goddamn I want to know their story.

Once the scenic route through October Mountain State Forest was done, we started heading back east, stopping first at the nearby town of Middlefield to see the grave of IT.

Yup, IT.

I don’t think anybody knows the story of this grave. It’s in a tiny historical graveyard behind a small school. We had to cross a basketball court to see it, all alone and mysterious in the back of the cemetery.

Maybe by the time I get around to writing a proper entry on this grave, someone will have emailed me the whole story.

From there, I wanted to swing through Worcester to see a couple of minor sites before heading home. The first was a century-old lewd statue of a boy and a sea turtle right on the city common. Here it is. I’ve never seen horror so eloquently sculpted as on the beak of that turtle.

Oh, and it’s right in front of a church.

It’s kind of crazy that the statue looks like that, but it takes more than easily imagined lewdness to pique my interest. On Sundays, at least. Turns out, the artist who sculpted that thing committed suicide before finishing it…and possibly as a result of it. It’s a strange story that involves head voices and is worth some attention at another time.

Finally, we ended our road trip at a monument in Salisbury Park. It looks like a castle, but is mostly just an arch made by a rich guy to honor a distinguished friend of his father. It’s like Brewster’s Millions. Rich people have to make up ways to spend money. That’s basically the whole story, but it is undeniably a real pretty site.

All right. That’s it. Now that I’ve written about it, the road trip officially happened.