State of Nature Interview with Raei Bridges – The Rusty Anvil

State of Nature Interview with Raei Bridges – The Rusty Anvil

Raei is the CEO, founder and lead guide at The Rusty Anvil, a local Berkshire organization that connects marginalized communities, People of Color, and LGBTQ+ individuals with the natural world through wilderness trips, wildlife study, and outdoor skills.


Raei is also a certified Mindful Outdoor Guide as well as co-chair on the Environmental Justice Board for the NAACP. He leads youth immersions, mindful wilderness trips, diversity trainings, and teaches place-based skills. He has been chosen by Berkshire Magazine as one of the Berkshire’s 25 most creative, most dedicated and most influential individuals in 2020.

Recently, Raei graciously answered some questions for BFH about his work as an educator, activist, and environmentalist, as well as his personal passions and experiences in the outdoors.


BFH: How important has nature and the outdoors been in your life?

Raei Bridges: Nature has been a guide to reconnecting with my lineage, myself, and my identity. It has been a place that has brought me closer to the community. Reconnecting to nature is crucial to my liberation as a queer person of color. 

What’s your earliest memory in relation to the outdoors?

My earliest memory is spending time in the large pepper tree in my backyard as a child in CA. I used to pretend I was a monkey with my siblings and we would save our baby dolls before they fell from the branches. Also memories of swinging from the Aspen tree in my front yard was a great memory I will never forget.

How important do you think it is for children to get outdoors and why?

Our issue as a species is that we have no idea how to address adolescence yet we force our youth to follow guidelines that we create for them. To have youth that grow up with nature as their main guide in finding themselves is crucial to our freedom and liberation as a species. 

What led you to this particular field?

As a queer person of color my interest in nature connection work came from both my own experiences of finding myself and the gifts of my identity while immersed in the backcountry. As someone who grew up in the city I didn’t really have access to large green spaces growing up. So this experience was truly an awakening. As I got more involved in the work I really began noticing the lack of representation for people of color as outdoor guides and naturalists, so I began working to build spaces for POC folks to reconnect to nature and find healing in their relationship with the land. 

When did you know you wanted to work in nature and the outdoors?

When I had an experience in nature that made me feel shame for not already knowing the names of species or how to do certain things. I didn’t understand how even within a community focused on healing and connection to nature there could be shaming for not already having that connection. It became apparent that there needed to be more spaces for POC and queer folks to come as they are without all the pressure of having to know everything in order to be respected. #Decolonizenatureconnection!

What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had in the last two months?

The realization that even with all the conversation and protests black and brown people are still being killed off like animals. It is a surprise that I still have to deal with this in 2020.

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be and why?

I would be a pine tree. Because they guide us through the seasons, they hold space for other animals and provide so much medicine. Pine holds so much ancestral knowledge that I hope to continue learning from. 

What do you enjoy most about nature and the outdoors?

I enjoy feeling like I am reclaiming something that allows me to enjoy myself without worry. I enjoy connecting with wildlife and feeling like I am embodying the life of my ancestors more closely. 

What keeps you up at night?

The fear that as a black man my life is in danger no matter where I am. 

What’s your favorite sound in nature?

The barred owl or the wood thrush, the leaves whispering in the breeze, the water flowing through the landscape, the sound of silence…

If you had extra funds in your budget, how would you spend it?

I would buy a piece of land where I can hold immersions, grow food, and provide a space of healing for queer POC folks. It would be a space where folks can come to learn, connect, and engage with nature. It would be a space that holds nature camps, workshops, wilderness trips, and community gatherings. It would be called The Rusty Anvil.

What are some things you’re researching right now?

Miyawaki forests and reforestation.

(*Note from BFH* I had no idea what this was & it is so cool! Check out this article for more on this concept!)

How do you continue to learn in order to stay on top of things within your role?

I always try to spend time deepening my relationship to the outdoors. I also like to take immersions for myself so I am never learning from a super analytical perspective and always learning with an embodied knowledge. 

What do you think is the biggest obstacle preventing people from getting outdoors?

Time to get away from the demand of industrial lifestyles. Access to gear and people they feel comfortable with. 

If you could have a billboard with one message on it, what would it say?

BlackLivesMatter. No one is free until we are all free. 


For more information about Raei’s work and the Rusty Anvil, check out the-rusty-anvil.land and follow @the_rusty_anvil on Instagram.

Click here to make a donation towards the Rusty Anvil’s mission.

20 Family-Friendly Fall Foliage Hikes

20 Family-Friendly Fall Foliage Hikes

When it comes to fall foliage, nothing beats the spectrum of colors on display in the Berkshire hills. Leaf peepers rejoice as the forested landscape erupts into shades of copper, cornelian, cranberry, gold, and every hue in between. From late September to October, this prismatic flash in the pan transforms any regular, old weekend hike into a dream-like ramble. Gazing at these fiery hills from an elevated vantage point makes us feel fixed in suspension, floating between halcyon days and the edges of change.

These hikes are grouped in order of difficulty, beginning with the most accessible for any age. None of the hikes are over 3 miles, yet some may be more suitable for older children because of steeper ascents and proximity to a ledge. Trust your gut, you know best what your family can handle. Be mindful that fall brings hunting season to some places and packing a blaze orange vest is a cheap and effective precaution.

Enjoy the fall, ya’ll!


Three Sisters Sanctuary (Goshen) – Technically located in Hampshire County, this creative gem is well worth a side trip over the Berkshire borders. Touted as a “place where nature and art merge,” one man’s sensational vision is 8-acres of sculpture gardens and art installations. More of a walk than a hike, you could spend hours here trying to take it all in. In the fall, the area gets fully decorated and the surrounding woodlands are also bursting with color. The fire-breathing dragon is incredible to behold against a clear blue sky. If you’re looking for an interactive, beautiful, and accessible fall walk for any age – look no further.

Niles Trail at Mountain Meadow Preserve (Williamstown/Vermont) – At the end of August, we adventured to this Trustees property and couldn’t get enough of the views! We are so excited to go back and take in the view of Greylock and the Hoosac Valley during foliage season. Check out our review here, there were mantids!

Sacred Way Trail at Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary (Pittsfield) – One of six Mass Audubon properties in Berkshire County, Canoe Meadows is wonderful in every season. Take the Sacred Way Trail and enjoy a gentle, flat 1-mile trail winds through the sanctuary’s scenic woods, fields, wetlands, and along the Housatonic River. Open fields offer opportunities to take in fall colors. A great spot to bird watch for migrant species during the changing seasons. Fall is a great season to Go Pishing!

Benedict Pond Loop Trail (Great Barrington) – Located in lush Beartown State Forest, this flat 1.7 mile loop is great for all ages and offers beautiful views of serene Benedict pond. Surrounded by dense woodlands, this backdrop in fall transition, is something to see.

Glen Meadow Loop at Greylock Glen (Adams) – Established in 2017, the newer 1.5 mile Glen Meadow Loop trail takes you around picturesque Greylock Glen. The trail is gravel, making walking a breeze. Have fun hunting for the remnants of an abandoned ski resort. The wide open views of Greylock and surrounding hills are not to be missed. One of our favorites in all seasons, we come back here in the spring, summer, and the winter

Wild Acres (Pittsfield) – Climb to the top of the observation tower and take in the surrounding mountain foliage. Located off of South Mountain Road in Pittsfield, Wild Acres is a 1.2 mile lightly trafficked loop neighboring the Pittsfield Airport. 

 

Stone Hill Trails at the Clark (Williamstown) – Part of the Clark Art Museum Complex and owned by Williams College, this is one of the most popular destinations in Williamstown for hiking and enjoying the panoramic views over Williamstown. Check out the trail map for a variety of trails, many short and easy, but all beautiful. It’s hard to pick just one!

Trails at Sheep Hill (Williamstown) – Both the grounds and farmhouse are open year round to the public and a classroom is stocked with binoculars, field guides and other materials to borrow during your visit. There are two trails to choose from – the Rosenburg Ramble which takes you around the perimeter of the property, and the shorter Meadow Walk. Both of these trails offer dramatic views of the valley and surrounding mountains. Rosenburg Ramble is approximately 1- 1.5 miles. The Meadow Walk is a short, easy way to enjoy the views of Sheep Hill, and loops around the pond at the foot of the hillside.

Tyringham Cobble Loop (Tyringham) – Tucked away in tiny Tyringham, this Trustees property includes a 2.1 mile loop trail running through a combination of meadow and forest. Keep an eye out for the aptly named Rabbit Rock! A well-marked trail leads to a spectacular view of the valley at the summit. See if you can spot the quaint Tyringham churchyard from the top!

Warner Hill (Hinsdale/Pittsfield) – Part of the AT, this easy up-and-back hike is 1.4 miles, ideal for families. Head through a dense evergreen forest, crunch through fallen maple and beech leaves along old stone walls, and finally to Warner Hill, where the summit offers a view of Mount Greylock on a clear day.The trailhead is right off a small the parking shoulder on Blotz Road, in Pittsfield.

Rounds Rock Trail (Cheshire) – Part of Mount Greylock State Reservation, Rounds Rock is a great spot to tackle a less strenuous hike at Greylock. This 0.9 mile trail is a moderately trafficked loop and is good for all skill levels. The remains of a 1948 plane crash and its memorial is a point of interest. The hike reaches its peak with two scenic vistas offering gorgeous autumn views.

North Trail at Field Farm (Williamstown) – Nestled in the valley between the Greylock and Taconic ranges, you’ll find another Trustees property. Field Farm boasts a pond, caves, sculpture garden, and two modernist style homes all located onsite. North Trail is a popular hike, a mile long trail that encircles the central pasture and shows off jaw-dropping mountain views in all directions. Another trail, the Caves Loop, will enchant any imagination, no matter the age. We enjoy visiting the beavers during the winter months, too.

York Lake Loop Trail in Sandisfield State Forest (Sandisfield) – This loop trail encircles the lake through dense woods and busy wetlands. The trail is 2.2 miles long and can be wet in places depending on the weather. The open beach area is wonderful place for foliage viewing while enjoying a picnic lunch.

 

Laura’s Tower Trail (Stockbridge) – A 1.5 mile out-and-back hike that begins with a quiet walk through an old pine and hemlock grove. Boulders crop up on the wide trail towards yellowing birch trees. At the top of your climb you will reach a metal observation tower. Take the stairs to take in breathtaking panoramic views of Mt. Greylock, The Catskills, and Vermont’s Green Mountains. 

 

Sunset Rock Trail at Hoosac Range (North Adams) – Part of the Hoosac Range, this short 1.6 mile round-trip hike has a small steep portion, but a big pay off, with views to the west and north, overlooking North Adams. The BNRC parking lot is on the right, immediately after the Wigwam Cabins.

Summit Trail to Pony Mountain at Chapel Brook (Ashfield) – Summit Trail is a steeper 0.5 mile hike that leads around the western side of Pony Mountain to its top, where incredible panoramic views of the foothills of the changing Berkshires can be taken in.

 

Mahanna Cobble (Lenox/Pittsfield) – The northern summit of Yokun Ridge, this BNRC property extends into Bousquet Ski area. Parking is available at Bousquet (except for winter!). Take the far left slope onto the Drifter Ski Trail (make sure to turn around and check out the view!) and climb upwards to the highest chair lift (so many VIEWS!). Continue past the radio tower to a 1/4 mile trek through the woods. The summit opens up to a stone bench and MORE glorious views.

Basin Pond (Lee) – From the trailhead, the 2.5 mile route takes hikers on an easy ramble alongside boulders and stone stairs. The trail splits but converges again at a short spur that leads to the ruins of a twice-flooded dam. Either trail you choose doesn’t require much exertion. A lookout platform offers a terrific spot to view the ruins, the beaver pond, and all the vibrant colors of autumn.

Drury Trail at Drury Preserve (Sheffield) – Approximately a 3-mile walk, up and back, through lowland forests, and a variety of wet and dry communities. There are boardwalks over the wettest areas, and at the end of the trail, take in a striking view across Schenob Brook of Taconic Range’s Mount Race.

Dry Hill (New Marlborough) – Owned by the Trustees, this is a 2-mile out-and-back trail of mostly flat and easy walking.The oak forest that covers the upper ridge is awash with color during the autumn months. The last few minutes to the summit are a bit steep and rocky, but well-worth it for the unmatched fall views.


What adventures are we missing out on?

Do you have favorite foliage hikes or fall spots in the Berkshires?

Share in the comments below!

Tag @berkshirefamilyhikes in your fall foliage pics on Instagram and Facebook! Use the hashtags #berkshirefamilyhikes and #fallinlovewiththeberkshires

Safe Covid-19 Hiking Practices 

  • Visit parks and recreation areas that are close to your home.
  • Don’t visit crowded parks or campgrounds.
  • Carefully consider use of playgrounds, and help children follow guidelines.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from people you don’t live with.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Wash your hands often and don’t share items with people you don’t live with.
10 Books to Celebrate Fall

10 Books to Celebrate Fall

Books are a great way to ring in a new season. In the fall, there’s the added bonus of cuddling up with a blanket and a good book!

Here’s a list of some of our favorite autumn reads. Bring on the cozy!

  1. Look What I Did with a Leaf – Morteza E. Sohi
  2. We’re Going On a Leaf Hunt – Steve Metzger
  3. Leaf Man – Lois Ehlert
  4. Summer Green to Autumn Gold – Mia Posada
  5. Leif and the Fall – Allison Sweet Grant
  6. Seeds and Trees – Brandon Walden
  7. Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn – Kenard Pak
  8. Fall Leaves – Loretta Holland
  9. Hello, Harvest Moon – Ralph Fletcher
  10. Fall Leaves, Colorful & Crunchy – Martha E.H. Rustad

*This post contains affiliate links for your convenience. If you buy something through one of these links, you won’t pay a penny more. We’ll get a small commission, which helps us keep the lights on. Thanks!

DIY Beeswax Autumn Garland

DIY Beeswax Autumn Garland

As seasons go, Fall is definitely my favorite. Crisp, cool air makes for perfect hiking weather and the colors! The changing colors I just can’t seem to get enough of. But if one thing is for certain, Fall goes by fast, and before we know it those vibrant leaves are all in piles on the ground. Here’s a great DIY to preserve those Fall feels a little longer.

We brought a basket along on our morning nature walk one day, and collected leaves of as many colors as we could find!

We pressed our leaves in books for a couple days, but I’ve also heard of people dipping them fresh.

This is a simple, seasonal project that is fun for all ages. Find the materials & instructions below!

Beeswax Leaf Dipping

Supplies:

  • Leaves
  • Silicone mat or parchment paper
  • Beeswax pellets or a good chunk of beeswax
  • A double boiler/crockpot or microwave-proof bowl, wax is not easy to clean so a good suggestion is picking up something cheap to use solely for this purpose (I used an old double boiler I got from Goodwill)
  • Something to hang the leaves while they dry. Truth be told, the 1st time around we just put them back on the silicone and it smeared a bit. We used clothespins and string the second time.

Start by melting the beeswax in a double boiler over medium-low heat. I used about 1/2 cup of pellets to start. Alternately, you could melt the beeswax on low in a crockpot or in a microwave-safe bowl at 30-second increments. Stir until melted but keep an eye on it.

Once completely melted, move the pot somewhere accessible for the kids to dip their leaves. Let them know they need to be mindful of the hot pot!

Dip both sides of the leaf until lightly coated. Then hang or place on parchment paper to dry. Once completely dry, you can string your leaves into a garland (we used a sewing needle and fishing line) or use them for some other fun fall craft! The beeswax leaves the leaves smelling delicious and the color will last all season long.

Did you do this activity? Share with us on Social! Tag @berkshirefamilyhikes on Instagram or Facebook