“Too many of us go through life without really looking, blind to the world around us.” — Hal Borland
Where We Went: Bartholomew’s Cobble, Sheffield, MA
When We Went: March 2021
Difficulty (Boots 1 – 10): 1.5 Boots (Ledges Trail & Hal Borland Trail)
Trail Length: Ledges Trail: 0.5-mile loop, Hal Borland Trail: less than 0.5-mile
How Long it Took Us: 2 hours
Overview: Bartholomew’s Cobble is a Trustees of Reservations property that covers 329 acres in Sheffield just north of the Connecticut border. It is named for its two rocky knolls—or “cobbles”—rising above the Housatonic River. Hurlburt’s Hill, the property’s highest point, rises 1,000 feet to a 20-acre upland field that offers panoramic views of the Housatonic River Valley. It earned a National Natural Landmark designation in 1971, in part because of its enormously diverse varieties of woodland flowers and fern species. You can explore 5 miles of trails through open fields, forests, freshwater marshes, small caves, and more. Walk or paddle along the Housatonic River, view the historic Ashley House, and take in the wildflowers during spring bloom.
What We Dug: If you’ve hung around this blog for any period of time, you know that my love of nature writing runs deep. You may also feel like maybe I’m borderline obsessed with two particular writers, Hal Borland and Morgan Bulkeley, Sr. (and you’d be right). But you see, there’s good reason for this fixation. Whenever I read Hal or Morgan, I find myself looking up from the book and dreamily staring out the window, feeling a deep connection with this “place.” The reason their writing resonates so deeply is not just because I love nature, moreover, it is the relation to this immediate and specific world in which I dwell — our Berkshire bioregion. It’s grounded in experiences I can go out and put to the test, and describes characteristics that tether me to the place I live.
Borland and Bulkeley are deeply rooted in the dirt of Bart’s Cobble. Bulkeley, noted naturalist and Berkshire historian, headed the Cobble Committee for close to 15 years and helped the area achieve its designation as a national landmark. The Cobbles visitor’s center is named in his honor. A NYT columnist and devoted naturalist in his own right, Borland wrote his musings while living on his farm that bordered the Cobble. As we walked the trail that carries his namesake, I imagined Hal, Barbara, and Pat the dog sauntering along beside us, pointing out a bud, or a bird, renewing our acquaintance with a place too easily visited “without really looking.” When I read Borland and Bulkeley, they’re a constant reminder that it’s not enough to just appreciate our natural world, but that the real gift lies in getting to know it intimately.
Hal Borland, writing about spring in the 1960’s, said:
“This is the season when one can listen only so long to any recital of the worlds shortcomings. Then we have to get outdoors and see the world itself. There we know that though a thousand things may be wrong, a million things are right.”
Today marks the Vernal Equinox. And as I finish up this review on the first day of Spring in 2021, it feels like the world’s shortcomings have reached a fever pitch, a dreadful din all too difficult to block out. So today, if you need me, you’ll find me outdoors, eyes wide open, diligently counting to a million.
What We Could Do Without: It was too early in the year for spring wildflowers, so we’ll return as the weather warms. Keep your eye out for the Seven Spring Sisters Hike & Seek that honors Morgan Bulkeley, coming soon!
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: If you visit Bartholomew’s Cobble and don’t see anything, I’ll know you walked around with your eyes closed. Look for 40+ species of fern, 740 plant varieties, 235 species of bird, 500 million year old limestone ledges, one of the largest Cottonwood trees in MA, and so. much. more.
Must Know Before You Go’s: Visitors’ Center and facilities are open seasonally (COVID has affected this). Two picnic tables are available for use outside the Visitors’ Center. No dogs. No hunting or fishing.
Directions: 105 Weatogue Road, Sheffield, MA 01257
From Mass Turnpike (I-90), Exit 10 for Rt. 20 East. Follow 4.6 mi., then take 1st right onto Rt. 102 West/Pleasant St. Go 6.6 mi. Turn left onto Rt. 7 South. After 8.5 mi., turn right onto Rt. 7A and follow for 0.5 mi. Turn right onto Rannapo Rd. and follow for 1.5 mi. Turn right onto Weatogue Rd. to entrance and parking (30 cars) on left.
Resources: “Berkshire Stories” by Morgan Bulkeley, Sr., “This Hill, This Valley” by Hal Borland, Ledges Interpretive Trail Guide by Howard Bain, The Berkshire Eagle October 16 1972