Western Massachusetts

Green, Green Grass of Home

Uh, not that grass. I’m writing about the stuff that grows in lawns, a phenomenon that wasn’t part of my life for 11 years in New Mexico, except for parks and the odd patch of greenery in somebody’s yard. But here in Western Massachusetts, people take grass seriously.

Before I elaborate, I vowed when we moved to Taos never to mow again. My motto was “No mow, no más.” After all, I used to maintain a very large lawn with a motorized but not self-propelled push mower. No chemicals, of course. But it involved a decent workout since a hill was involved.

In New Mexico, the lands around our home were covered by sagebrush and in spots, obnoxious plants like tumbleweed. Long ago, the landscape was covered by prairie grass. Unfortunately, over-grazing by sheep destroyed the grass and allowed the sagebrush to take over. I would have preferred the prairie grass, but my attempts to grow it were hampered by wild rabbits that also preferred it. Still, the sage-filled mesa was lovely, and if I squinted without my glasses, it looked like the ocean.

Well, all that’s behind me. The landscape here in Western Mass. includes: large farms with fields of corn and other vegetables; grassy fields for hay; forests; rivers; and, yes, lawns. Since arriving in late July, I’ve watched people mow those lawns on a weekly basis. Even the humblest home, and there are certainly many here, has its grass cut low. Yes, they get the trimmers out as well.

I am amused by their diligence.

The place we’re renting comes with a lawn, actually a huge field that extends to a patch of trees near the Deerfield River, but mowing is not our responsibility, thankfully. Monday I watched as the handyman used a large sit-down mower to cut the grass. Even so, the chore took him hours.

Eventually, we will buy a home, with a yard and maybe a bit of land. I am wondering how long my “No mow, no más” pledge will last. Until then, I’ll let others do the work.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: I saw this sign outside a bar in Millers Falls. I asked Hank to stop, so I could snap a photo. I am a sucker for funny signs. No, we didn’t find out if the beer was as cold as that. It was a bit early in the day.

Western Massachusetts

Winter Is Coming

Ha, we kept hearing that on Game of Thrones. But there are no White Walkers in Western Massachusetts, thankfully, just a lot of people thinking and planning ahead for the inevitable.

Yes, I have experienced New England winters most of my life. I did have a short hiatus in Seattle and a much longer one recently, eleven years, in New Mexico. (Northern New Mexico at 7,000 or so feet elevation does have a winter, but it’s shorter and sunnier.)

The worst was when I had to commute in them, from the hilltowns to Northampton, where I worked as a newspaper editor. I left at exactly 6:10 a.m. because I knew a plow truck would hit our road ten minutes earlier, and then made my way through four towns. I kept three compound buckets of sand in the rear of the Subaru for ballast. I left for home when it was still daylight. Yes, there were storms, including treacherous ice storms.

That’s not a worry for me now. I no longer commute to a job.

But as we drive around getting to know the northern hilltowns of Western Mass., I watch highway crews clearing vegetation along the roadsides with heavy equipment. Road construction needs to get finished before the first snows hit. There is also a time limit on any outside carpentry projects.

Naturally, I see stacks of firewood in yards.

The roadside farm stands now offer pumpkins, winter squashes, and apples.

Even the leaves of the maples and other hardwoods are fading.

And people keep warning me about winter. I remarked to Alice at our favorite coffee shop in Shelburne Falls how friendly people have been. She joked, “Wait until winter.”

As for Hank and I, this will be the first time in many years we won’t have a woodstove. The apartment we’re renting doesn’t have one. So, there won’t be the ritualistic stacking of wood or the glow of a fire. I won’t have a garden to put to bed nor will I be planting garlic for next year’s harvest. (I am hopeful all of that will change next year.)

He and I have already gone over our inventory of winter clothing, including long johns, and feel we have enough.

But our serious winter preparation came yesterday when we bought an AWD Subaru, used but with relatively low miles. We got a good deal after trips to several dealerships, not my favorite pastime, but they were enlightening experiences. The Subaru will come in handy when we need to drive somewhere and the roads are iffy.

After all, winter is coming.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Sunflowers on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls.

ONE MORE THING: I have been remiss in not posting info about my books for sale on Amazon, including my most recent, The Sweet Spot, set in Western Mass. Check them out:


Western Massachusetts

Free for the Taking

The things you notice when you move to a new locale. Here in Western Massachusetts, it’s the preponderance of stuff left in front yards with the sign: FREE. The owners don’t want it and they’re hoping somebody will.

I pass a number of these free-for-alls on my walk to the post office or general store in Charlemont. Certainly, being on a main route helps because typically the junk is gone in a day or two although that’s not the case for our next-door neighbors. They pulled down two really funky garages — or maybe they were sheds or long shacks — and the pile of free metal and whatever has sat there for over a week with only a few takers. I wonder when they will give up and haul it to the dump.

Other people have had better offerings. One house in the village has been setting out decent lamps, small furniture, even bedding on a steady basis. I’ve seen garden hoses, kids furniture, and wooden shelving at others.

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, perhaps. Well, maybe not a treasure, but a still useful object.


Swap shop at the Charlemont transfer station

Actually, there is a swap shop at Charlemont’s transfer station, where people can leave what they no longer want — no clothing however — although you have to show it to the attendant first. We dropped off some camping chairs that had served us long enough. They were gone the next time we showed up to bring our recyclables and trash. And no, I haven’t seen anything worth bringing home although I was amused to see animal skins.

I am not in the market for other people’s junk. We just moved 2,404 miles from Taos and had pared down our belongings to what we need or love, and hopefully both.

I did make one exception, however. I spotted a houseplant at the house I mentioned earlier. It was a little wilted, but I brought it home, repotted it with new soil, and now it’s doing great. I guess that’s how it works.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Our neighbors’ pile of free junk.

ONE MORE THING: I have been remiss in not posting info about my books for sale on Amazon, including my most recent, The Sweet Spot, set in Western Mass. They’re not free, but they are for the taking. Check them out:


Western Massachusetts

Sunday at the Internet Laundromat

It’s 9 a.m. on a Sunday, and so far, we’re the only ones at the Wash ’n Wire Laundromat in Shelburne Falls. That’s a really good thing because we scored the two jumbo-thon washers, which means we can wash all the clothes we dirtied this week in two machines.

I haven’t washed clothes in a Laundromat in decades, except perhaps on a camping trip. The place we’re renting does have a washer in the cellar, but I ain’t going down there to use it. We’re on the first floor of a very old house with a very old, musty basement. No, thanks. Besides, there isn’t a dryer, and given the moisture in this river valley in Western Massachusetts, they would never dry properly on a line outside. Besides this is only a temporary situation until we find a permanent home.

Funny, what you get used to doing. Hank and I seemed to wash clothes all the time when we had our own homes, certainly before we moved here three weeks ago fromIMG_4022 Taos. Now, we wear our jeans a bit longer. A sniff will tell if that shirt could be used a second time. I do draw the line at underwear, however, with an absolute one and done.

So the Wash ’n Wire Laundromat it is. While the clothes are in the washers, I use the free wireless to peruse the news online and catch up with friends. Hank takes in whatever reading material that’s been left behind. There’s a TV here, but we don’t turn it on.

Of course, there are signs about rules. I like the ones on the wall featuring Laundromat humor. Here’s one: “LAUNDRY ROOM — Drop your pants here.” Someone framed baby socks, presumably left behind.IMG_4021

Yes, there’s a clean bathroom and when it’s open, a pizza place next door.

About 15 minutes after our arrival, an older gentleman shows up with a basket of clothes to dry. We exchange friendly greetings.

Once the clothes are in the dryers, we walk across the bridge to a coffee shop. We wouldn’t want to hog the jumbo-thon washers while we’re drinking hot beverages. The Wash ’n Wire Laundromat has two long rows of dryers on one wall, and besides there’s hardly anyone else here on a Sunday morning.

bridge of flowers
hilltowns, Western Massachusetts

Here I Am

Yes, I have maintained a mostly silent presence on the Web lately. Then again, a lot has happened since we left Taos, New Mexico, for Charlemont, Western Massachusetts, a few weeks ago. But to get to the heart of it: I am fine and learning my way around.

First: the 2,400-mile trek. As I predicted, Hank drove it in three days, staying in Kansas one night and Ohio, the next. He could have stretched it, but he saw the finish line and just kept pushing.

Besides, we had the cat. Two (we named her that because she reminded us of our two best cats) was one unhappy passenger in her carrier. That lasted until Walsenburg, Colorado, where from thence forward she was on my lap. She perked up nicely in the hotel room — finding a cat-friendly hotel was another challenge — and was attached to me when she wasn’t.

Where did we land? We are renting the bottom floor of an old house on a busy road in a tiny town. The Deerfield River is past the large field below the house and beyond the river are train tracks. Our neighbors upstairs are very likeable, as are our landlords. We are within walking distance to a couple of restaurants, a jam-packed general store, and the post office. It’s a short drive to a swimming hole and a bit longer to Shelburne Falls, where our son, Zack, is opening his brewery.

We somehow managed to fit the contents of a small house into this apartment. Hank and I realized we have much more art and furniture, most of which he built, than when we arrived in Taos 11 years ago. A couple of framed pieces are stowed under the bed. Boxes are stacked in the corner of a bedroom. But the wooden furniture, boxes, and frames Hank built make any place look great.

By the way, my new place to write is the dining room table. I had to relinquish my Shaker-style desk to use for storage in the kitchen. It works.

What about the family? We saw three of our kids at one gathering last weekend. We visited Nate’s new home soon after its closing Tuesday. Later that day, we attended a hearing in Buckland for a pouring permit for our Zack’s brewery — one of the selectmen told us he had skied at TSV — and have stopped by when he’s working there. Hank will be helping both sons on their projects.

What about the other people living here? Gosh, they’ve been so friendly. Hank calls it Pleasantville. I have yet to meet a grouch, but as one woman advised us, “Wait until winter.”

Other amenities? Sweet corn sold everywhere, including along the roadsides. Blueberries. Really fast internet. Moisture. Trees. Greenery. Food co-ops.

One glitch: In order to have that really fast internet, we had to get a landline. Good thing since we don’t have cell-phone service at home yet.

We’ve been driving around looking for a permanent place. Friday, when we visited our former town of Worthington, we stood outside the general store and saw seven people we knew well. We toured one house in Buckland and did drive-bys of others that looked a whole lot better online than in person.

We remind ourselves we’ve only been here a short time — two weeks as I write this. We will eventually find the place that is ours. But, for now, here I am.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: I took this from the Bridge of Flowers. Zack’s Floodwater Brewing will open in the building across the river with the porch.