On Labor Day weekend, a friend who lives up the road and I set off on a Berkshires adventure, fortified with old media – Joseph Bushee Jr.’s Waterfalls of Western Massachusetts guide, and an atlas of the same territory – and newer technology – 2 cell phones and a GPS. We were wandering with a purpose, to find a short- to medium-length hike leading to or past a decent-sized waterfall – but one neither had visited before, and outside our usual stomping grounds.
Normally this isn’t difficult in this part of the universe, but neither of us has the most spectacular sense of direction, and Bushee’s instructions weren’t always easy to follow, particularly in towns that tend to have several meandering country roads with similar or even identical names. A good chunk of our conversation for a couple of hours went along these lines: “This says Mill River Road, but the sign says River Road – well, it’s off Main Road, heading south, so this must be it…”
But getting lost and having to double back wasn’t the most distressing aspect of our meandering. After missing one of the book’s roadside cascades three times, we realized we were fine observers, but there was almost nothing to see: the waterfalls had all but ceased flowing after yet another drought-slammed season. Creeks had turned to a handful of puddles among the stones, pond levels had dropped, waterlilies were stuck in the muck.
I found it disheartening, but recalled all that I’d read this summer about the enormous wildfires raging in Washington, California, and parts of Mexico, and I felt guilty for fretting about a few dried-up brooks. Still, it’s all connected to what our species is doing to the planet, and that is truly, unbearably depressing. So, like typical humans, we hopped back into our car and drove to the closest city of any size to eat dinner and forget what we’d just been unable to see.