I woke up next to my girlfriend, Amy, in our tent on the shoulder of Mount Greylock, ready for a hike I had planned for two years. This was the day I was finally going to complete an eight-mile loop through the rare ecosystem of the Hopper, and along the ridges of the adjoining mountains.
The previous day we had driven from Connecticut, stopping at the Furnace Brook Winery, where we sampled a refreshing Riesling, an unusually buttery Merlot, and one of the best hard ciders. We had continued to Herman Melville’s house south of Pittsfield. We walked on the piazza he built with the view of Mount Greylock, its snow-covered, saddle-backed shape reminding the author suspiciously of a huge white whale. Then we had come to that whale, driving up the old winding road that led to the summit.
Once there, we climbed the strange, lighthouse-shaped tower with its 360 degree view of five states.
As Amy and I ate breakfast at the campground, I packed our backpacks for a long day on the trail. I was excited to complete this hike, and even more so to take Amy on what might be her most difficult hike to date. And then, as we prepared to leave, the sky opened up and began to rain. Not just a shower, but a steady downpour that made all thoughts of hiking unreasonable.
“What should we do?”
“I don’t know.”
I ground my teeth in frustration, unwilling to give up my dream. Luckily, I had options at hand, activities in the area that we could do, things that might be better for a rain day than a sloppy hike through a sodden forest.
“Let’s go to the art museum in Williamstown,” Amy said firmly. “Yeah,” I conceded. I knew we had to change plans and put regrets and maybes from our minds. But as we drove down long Notch road, I looked back at the shrouded mountain ridges, and cursed the inconstant weather. We entered the environs of Williams College and followed directions to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, I tried to focus on the present experience rather than the imaginary one, the fantasy I had built up.
We found it at last, a modern building set on one hundred and forty acres of rolling meadows and forest. Immediately upon entering the vast atrium of the museum, Amy commented that she liked it already. We spent the next several hours wandering the Clark collection together, and then separately. We found old favorites likes Renoir, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Monet. American painters, John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer, found a new place in our hearts, as we studied their styles, so similar to the French masters and their subjects – distinctly American.
I didn’t think once about the hike on our scourings of the galleries, taking notes on our favorites. When we had finished the tour, we joined forces again and revisited each other's preferred paintings, commenting on their suitability for the walls of our new home. We kept talking about the images that haunted us, even as we headed outside to see the cows in the museum’s pasture, our eyes transformed by the painters’ visions.
We arrived back at the campground at four o’clock. The rain had dissipated. There was a short trail to a waterfall only a few yards from our tent. So we hiked down the path, not the long trail of my dreams, but one that seemed quite satisfying after the experience at the museum. A shaft of sunlight hit the misty water where it sprayed into the sunset air. The surrounding trees glowed unnaturally green from the fresh rain, making the scene appear suspiciously like an Impressionist painting.
We laughed and played, without a thought for what we had missed. And I made a vow to always anticipate rain days, so that instead of regretting lost fantasies, the canvas of my memory would be thick with the brushstrokes of actual experience.