The Best cure for spring fever IS the great outdoors
The sounds of familiar young voices trickle into my consciousness. They come in subtly at first, then build with an increasing tenacity. Between the end of my dreams and the beginning of my reality, the chatter stirs in me feelings of Christmas morning—excitement, joy, and anticipation at the prospect of sharing a wide-open day with my children.
Then reality sets in, hard and fierce like a winter storm. I am responsible for filling an entire day with activities for twin eight-year-old boys. And it’s mud season, that dreary time of year when the snow has melted just enough to make Alpine skiing and sledding impossible, playing ball or going to the playground improbable, and muddy parking lots and lawns intractable.
But what if I take my plight and shake it up? Soon, a much more acceptable—dare I say enjoyable?—scenario appears out of the gloom. Diminutive feet clad in rain boots embark on a trail nearly free of snow. Melted remains collect along the path, and two pairs of boots cheerily splash their way past mosses clinging to rocks. They, too, are freed of their frozen, white constraint, their tiny green stems poking through the earth, preparing to start the grand show of springtime. Witness as the woods and all the creatures in it are resurrected.
“We have one of the best shows of spring wildflowers,” says Rene Wendell, pointing out three types of trilliums, trout lilies, and hepatica. Wendell, a conservation ranger, leads guided tours through more than eight trails at Bartholomew’s Cobble in Sheffield, helping children and adults discover a world often hidden to the inexperienced eye. He proudly counts off a handful of varieties found on the grounds he cares for. Peek into a clearing and watch a herd of eight deer graze, while three baby eagles in a tree above wait patiently for dinner. Hear birds traveling en masse, creating a moving shadow on land as they migrate north to the Berkshires.
A bit farther down the path, Wendell points out what looks like an orphaned puddle of dirty water sitting to the side of the trail. It is actually a thriving vernal pool, a temporary collection of water rich with new life. It forms from melting snow and is used as a breeding ground for many types of invertebrates and amphibians like wood frogs, salamanders, and fairy shrimp. It dries up for the summer just in time for its inhabitants to walk away and live on dry land.
There are plenty of structured activities planned here, and you don’t need a guide to explore. Jim Caffrey, a superintendent with the Trustees of Reservations—the nonprofit group that oversees “Bart’s” Cobble and other natural preserves across the state—says an independent trek is one of the best ways to experience the property, even when the ground is packed with mud.
Caffrey offers one simple direction: “Just turn your kid loose. In the woods, something is always different. The tree looks different, or something fell over or the sound of the wind. There are all of these things to get involved with and look at. Kids love that stuff. They love to be out. It doesn’t have to be structured.”
Sometimes, that “stuff” still might be covered in snow in March and April, especially at Notchview, another property owned by the Trustees and located farther north in Windsor. Sitting at 2,000-feet elevation, Notchview maintains a cooler temperature than Bart’s Cobble. Snow blankets the trails well into April, welcoming those on snowshoes or cross-country skis, available for rental onsite for a minimal fee.
Caffrey suggests visiting both locations within a few days of each other and observing the stark contrast created by these two entirely different ecospheres. “By mid-April at Bart’s Cobble, there’s likely no snow. It’s likely birds may have established nesting. At Notchview, it’s possible they’re locked up with snow, bitter wind, birds are looking but turning around and going away.”
On what could have been a boring, dreary spring day, by nighttime two pairs of little rain boots return to the doorway. Dirty streaks freshly painted on them are proof that with a sense of adventure—and the right footwear—the muddy beginnings of spring are the perfect foundation for fun in nature’s playground.
Lenox / edithwharton.org
While Edith Warton’s house does not open until early May, you can hiking or snowshoe the grounds from dawn ‘til dusk daily.
Windsor / thetrustees.org
Nordic ski or snowshoe daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until early April.
Ramblewild Aerial Park
Lanesboro / ramblewild.com
Tree-to-tree adventure trails and guided hikes or snowshoe tours. Anyone at least 55 inches tall and seven years old is welcome. Open every Saturday and Sunday.
Stockbridge / bnrc.net
Get outside and participate in a guided bird walk through the woods and around the pond. Tours are offered April 18 from 8-10 a.m. and April 29 from 7-9 a.m. and are appropriate for all ages.
Williamstown / clarkart.edu/visit/campus
Spend an afternoon exploring the beautiful trails that run behind Williamstown’s Clark Art Institute with great views of the town and the surrounding mountains, free of admission.