“Only Japan has four seasons” say some Japanese proudly. My wife and I worked in Japan many years ago – met and married in Tokyo, in fact – and we heard this odd claim from time to time. Foreigners like us chuckled about it. Didn’t they know that other places saw four seasons too? But now I like to think of it this way. Like many other people, these Japanese thought that their own country was especially blessed, and what greater proof of unique favor could there be than four distinct seasons? Now, I do understand that, toward the end of a Northeastern winter, you may not be full of the joy of seasons right now. But early this month, standing beneath Race Brook Falls, I was. You see, I had visited the upper falls once before. It was April then, and a channel of white water gushed down a green, sun-splashed cliff. Today the same chute was frozen solid, a gray sculpture between snow-covered boulders. The brook moved under the ice, heard but unseen. And I thought how lucky we are that the world about us here changes so spectacularly as the earth orbits the sun. Now go get that shovel.
I was climbing Mount Everett, a summit in the Taconics five miles into Massachusetts from the CT line. I almost didn’t go. At home it was another snow day, but the forecast for farther north pointed to negligible accumulations. So I drove off with snow in the headlights, left the storm behind at Danbury, and parked at the trailhead in just the lightest of flurries. But the trail was icy underfoot even before it began to climb, and I soon sat on a rock to put on boot chains. Then the trail crossed Race Brook and I had to tap the white crust of ice with my poles to find a route that would take my weight. Beyond the falls the trail climbed steeply, and then looped back to the brook above its plunge. The snowflakes grew bigger.
Sometimes on a hike you experience a sudden elation, not a do-a-jig-and-whoop thing, but a perfect comfort with the here and now. It happened today on the trail above the falls. The grade flattened out and the weak daylight strengthened a little, but the elation did not come from these gains. It came simply from being in a silent wood on a wintery mountain; and for a few moments I had no wants or fears. Such a mood can leave quickly too. Race Brook Falls Trail ended at the Appalachian Trail, and there the 0.7-mile slog to the summit began. The woods grew scrubbier. The gray silhouette of Mount Race, a mile south in a snowy haze, loomed. It was a poor substitute for the parade of bright summits I remembered from the April scene. Underfoot, fresh snow hid layers of ice, and my toes slipped back now and then, chains or no chains. There were boulders to clamber up or circumvent. I was losing my oomph as much as my joy.
Any beauty on the summit of Mount Everett today was in the little things: in the tight passageway through dwarf pines to get there; in the snow that collected in the pines’ needle-clusters to make them look like flowers; and in the twisted limbs of a birch struggling to live at 2,602 feet. The sky – uniform gray, motionless and sprinkling an icy snow onto the undersized trees – had mood but not beauty. Then there were the concrete blocks that, according to a sign, supported a fire tower for 87 years after 1915. They weren’t beautiful either, but they made a seat for lunch, and for lingering afterwards until my fingers got cold even in two layers of gloves.
You can go down Mount Everett on its north side, visit the highest natural body of water in Massachusetts (Guilder Pond at 2,042 feet) and then loop back to the trailhead via Berkshire School. The north side is steeper and rockier though, and I didn’t fancy it today. I went back the way I came, and even so my brakes failed. I grabbed at trees like partners in a wild country dance and dug my heels in on the stretches of level to slow my downward momentum. Where there was ice, I went down on my backside – on purpose! – whizzing down like a kid on a slide. By the time I met Race Brook again, the fairground thrills were over. I ate the rest of my lunch at an A.T. campsite – a few tent platforms and a privy. The snow was filling in the footprints I’d made on the way up. Elation again, the joy of four seasons.
|If you go …|
|PARKING||Race Brook Falls Trail, MA Rt 41 3 mi north CT line.|
|DISTANCE||5.4 mi (with 1,800 feet of elevation gain).|
|MAP AND ROUTE||Official AT MA/CT map (Four – Jug End to Cornwall Bridge). Race Brook Falls Trail to Appalachian Trail, then AT north to Everett summit. Return same way.|
|WHAT TO TAKE||In winter conditions; boot chains, trekking poles, abundant layers, warm hats and gloves, food and water.|