The town of Shelburne Falls lies just down the road from Pine Hill, across the Deerfield River, in the valley below Shelburne Mountain. It is a small town containing the Keystone Market, The Arms Library, Lamson & Goodnow, Wandering Moon, Sawyer News Co. (open since 1863), The Baker Pharmacy (open since 1867), Greenfield Savings Bank, Molly Cantor Pottery, Boswell’s Books, West End Pub, Stillwater Porcelain, and other small shops and businesses.

Heather and I drove to town, but it was raining when we got there, so we dashed into McCusker’s Market, a savory-smelling shop that sells health foods, fresh local produce, and delicious soups and breads. We settled into a dark-wood booth, lit by a small lamp, and ordered two cups of hot ginger tea. The rain poured down so steadily that it looked like rippling silver strands, the strings of a harp. We read poetry from Berry’s Art of the Commonplace:

Always, on their generation’s breaking wave,
men think to be immortal in the world,
as though to leap from water and stand
in air were simple for a man. But the farmer
knows no work or act of his can keep him
here. He remains in what he serves
by vanishing in it, becoming what he never was.
He will not be immortal in words.
All his sentences serve an art of the commonplace,
to open the body of a woman or a field
to take him in. His words all turn
to leaves, answer the sun with mute
quick reflections …

In the booth next to us sat a man hunched over his bowl of soup, weathered leather hat pulled low. His curling beard bushed out from his chin. His elbows and shoulders stuck out, lean and angular.

A mother and her young son walked in. The boy was singing a high and wandering melody. Everything, to him, was a delight. He loved the taste of the soup, which he expressed with many exclamations: “Mmmmm!” He couldn’t wait to unwrap the candy his mother had gotten for dessert. He wondered at the booth they sat in. He was so happy.

After the rain, we stepped outside and were drawn to an old red barn across the street. We walked the path beside the barn, shaded by a large tree, lush and glimmering with raindrops. Steam rose from the earth, and the scent of pine needles and loam. The darkened windows of the old barn cracked in ragged patterns, and the boards slanted a little this way or that. Rich green ferns grew all along the border. Then, a woman stepped out of the doorway of the house across the path. She was, perhaps, in her sixties, with bright white hair pinned gracefully on top of her head. She wore a faded floral dress and an apron. She said hello, smiled, and then disappeared into the barn.

Then we continued down the road to the old trolley bridge, now known as “The Bridge of Flowers.” In 1929, when the trolley went out of service, the town decided to make the bridge into a garden walking path connecting one side of Shelburne Falls to the other. We signed the guest book. The two visitors before us were from Portland, Oregon and Germany. The garden thrives on the bridge. Roses nod over the edge, framed by the deep slate blue of the water below. Shops and restaurants line the shore, built so that they hang over the water, painted in quirky blues, rubies, and aqua greens.

As we walked down the street, we heard banjo music coming from a small pottery shop. We walked in to see Molly Cantor at work on her clay, while a young bearded man stood by, strumming and singing. They said they like to work together and inspire each other to creativity.

On the way home, at the end of West Oxbow Road, we came to a small brick structure known as “The Little Red Schoolhouse.” Pulling into the driveway, we got out of the car, ran to the window and stood on a rock to peer in. There is one room. At the top of the room hangs a large blackboard and an American flag. In the back stands a black wood stove. The student’s desks are wooden. Our neighbor Dottie Purinton, who has become like a part of the family over five decades, attended school here.

We walked around the schoolhouse, examining every corner. Behind it spread a large meadow with mountains rising up beyond. Mist rose, ghostlike, from the shadowy hills. The sky darkened to gray. The light on the grass deepened to gold. We inhaled breaths of clean, robust air.

Last night, we went to a movie in the nearby town of Greenfield. Main Street was quiet as we drove down and pulled up in front of the theater. One young man stood behind the counter. No one else was in sight. “You’ll have the whole theater to yourself tonight,” he said. We walked into the dark theater, exhilarated. Beyond a short brass railing, in front of the screen, spread a large stage. We climbed up and danced, our figures casting sharp shadows on the wall from the projector light behind.

After the movie, we let ourselves out, and all was still silent in the streets.

On the way home, we decided to turn onto East Oxbow, which winds around four miles to the West Oxbow, where our house stands. There is no light out there. Only the dim halo of our headlights illuminated a few feet of dirt road before us. The forest seemed to bend in over us, as if it would choke us. We passed a dirty and dented sign that read, “Slow Children,” and, for some reason, it seemed malicious. We passed the dim outline of a house on the side of the road. A dark barn loomed up ahead. Instinctively, I kept pressing the button to lock the doors. The road seemed to grow narrower and narrower. We came to a fork in the road and didn’t know which way to go. So we turned around, hastily, and made our way back through the silent woods, all manner of ghost stories flitting through our imaginations.

Advertisements