Tully Lake Awaits

Tully Lake is located north of Athol, a beautiful state park great for camping.

Tully Lake is located north of Athol, a beautiful state park great for camping.

We’re heading for four days of relaxation around the campfire at Tully Lake in nearby Athol.  This state park is unique, because the camp-sites are located away from where the cars are parked. So we don’t have to put up with that familiar car-camping sound of car doors opening, alarms going off, and especially, music blaring from car stereos.

Instead, at Tully, they provide garden carts which are used to transport all of our stuff to our lakeside campsites. And best of all, we choose our spots way, way back in the frigid month of March, so we have claim to the nicest, closest-to-the-water sites in the whole place.   Tully is a great place for kayaking, there’s a reed-filled river that’s perfect for a leisurely paddle, and there is a hiking path that goes around the lake.  Mary has had a tradition of camping at Tully for ten years, it’s an annual tradition that last year was not fulfilled. Last year we missed the deadline and had to settle for Lake Dennison.

But we’ll be back and I can’t wait to very little—except make food on the fire, and sit in our camp chairs. Rarely do I enjoy such extended moments of downtime, but I think this nice long four-day weekend is going to really hit the spot!

Atkins Farms Opens in North Amherst!

The newest Atkins Farms in North Amherst is now open!

The newest Atkins Farms in North Amherst is now open!

It’s been quite a long road for Cinda Jones, who has a vision of her North Amherst Mill District becoming the next bustling commercial neighborhood in Amherst, and yesterday was a big day. Cinda knows that food and drink are the keys to get people to visit a new shopping destination, and so far she’s done well by recruiting a first-rate restaurant, Bread and Butter, and now, a grocery store. Atkins is officially a part of the Mill District on Cowls Lane!

Be prepared to be a bit underwhelmed if you head over to Atkins expecting the bounty you’ll find in their sprawling south Amherst store. It takes time to stock the store, find out what sells, and to fill in the gaps. I drove over yesterday at around 4:30 pm and it was not busy, but there is still an excitement in the air. I envision the store being totally filled up with the vegetables, meats and especially the full deli in not too many weeks.

Inside the Atkins North store, which will be much fuller in the weeks to come.

Inside the store, which will be much fuller in the weeks to come.

For now, I’m glad that there is a place that’s just 10 minutes and 14 seconds from my house where I can get local milk, a good variety of produce, some good looking meat and a few other things like Atkins chicken pies that I’d never expect to find at Millstone Market in Sunderland.

Living in South Deerfield, we always have to drive at least 10 or 12 miles to get that. Atkins was once considering opening a store in our little town, but truth be told, there aren’t enough people here. I wish Pauline Lannon and her partners the best of luck making North Amherst a success. It’s clear to me that they’re in it for the long haul with the solid job they did on renovating the former cow barn.

This is progress…let’s enjoy it and spend money there to encourage them in their earliest days!

Greenfield Rec Tennis League: Losing Ain’t All That Bad

Beacon Field, Greenfield, one of the courts where Greenfield Rec Tennis league matches are played.

Beacon Field, Greenfield, one of the courts where Greenfield Rec Tennis league matches are played.

Ever since I visited my old friend Harry in Atlanta I have been interested in playing more tennis.  During my visit, we set out on a Friday night and played doubles with his regular group, and I realized that I loved the game and vowed to find a way to play more. Then my local friend, Curtis Rich, told me about the Greenfield Recreational Tennis league, where three divisions of players have regular matches throughout the summer.  I signed up and soon I was facing my first opponent, on a sweltering June afternoon.  Then the pattern began.

You see, I signed up for the Intermediate division, called the Borg.  There are twelve players in this division, all men, and all of them have been playing tennis as adults far longer than I have.  So as I faced down my first opponent, Field Maloney, I had no idea what would result.  This first match started a trend. I was to be humbled and beaten by every single member of the Borg division as the summer wore on.  And not only beaten, but beaten bad. Like 6-0, 6-1 bad. Not a chance. If I won a handful of games, that would be stretching the truth.

I prided myself that I was giving these guys a game, and we were both getting a good work-out.  I’d tell friends about how I play tennis once a week and they would nod appreciatively, giving me silent props for going out and playing.  But then I’d tell them my win-loss record and they would agree, it’s tough.  But in recent weeks I’ve had a revelation–the men who play tennis in the Borg division are interesting characters and all are people with great life stories.   I first realized this when I found out that my first opponent, Field, was once an editor at the New Yorker magazine.  Now he runs an apple orchard that his dad started.   Then I played a guy whose name sounded familiar, Philip Elmer-DeWitt.  After he was done trouncing me, I asked him what he did for work.  “I’m a senior editor at Fortune magazine, ” he replied, ” I write a blog called Apple 2.0.”  Later as we had coffee together in his Greenfield home, he shared with me that his blog gets 25,000 readers every day! I remember reading his articles in Time Magazine decades ago. Wow!

This morning I faced down a guy named Norm who also handily beat me. After the match, we began talking and he shared with me that six years ago he was diagnosed with lymphoma and later a brain illness and that the docs said he’d be dead in six months.  He has successfully fought back with diet, exercise and perseverance, and today his body is clear of disease.  We shared some of his tips, such as a book full of anticancer remedies, and talked about our own histories of cancer and other problems. It was inspiring to meet a guy who had come back so far, and who had such a great outlook.  He gave me some advice and once again I realized that the tennis and the score is not the only thing I come for. It’s the people who I get to meet and share my life’s story with who make losing at tennis not so bad after all.

South Deerfield’s Downtown: The Good and the Sad

Are the empty storefronts in our little town indicators of what is to come in the future?  I was saddened recently when the one high-end restaurant in South Deerfield, called MRKT, closed its doors in July.  There is now a sign that says ‘for lease’ and like the general store around the corner, it seems unlikely that the for lease sign will go away any time soon.

I did my time trying to revitalize our village. I opened and ran the GoNOMAD Cafe for five years in a space across from the town common.  It’s fortunate that someone has finally rented the space, but it’s a home care agency, just like another similar business that opened two buildings down.  I once used to be so proud of our town, that we had restaurants, a cafe, a successful hardware store and even a pharmacy.  While I am happy to patronize these two last businesses, now the sad blight of empty stores is creeping in.

I was happy to see that the moribund TV shop, Leo’s TV, finally gave way to a new business, the Deerfield Fly Shop.  This type of specialty store might just make its own niche, if enough fishing enthusiasts make it here, and perhaps if he can also sell flies on line. And next door to the fly shop, the Franklin Community Television office just got a bright new leader, in Chris Collins, the radioman and Recorder columnist who was just hired to run the place.  Maybe Chris will energize the station and create television shows that people will be interested in. For now the main programming seems to be people dancing to polka music at a summer chicken barbeque.  We must have more to show off than that.

What I would love is to see someone build a new cafe right off Route 5 at the corner of Elm Street.  For a few months several years ago, the property was listed, and it was touted as a perfect restaurant site.  It is on Route 5, a busy road, and there is almost no other place to find good coffee and a meal right off the road.  What I worry about is that our town has too few people and it’s getting smaller.  In all of Franklin County, the population hovers at about 75,000, a number that hasn’t changed for ten years.  Without new blood, new construction, and new people coming to town, there is no incentive for new businesses except those that benefit from helping the elderly.  So we have two home care operations in retail stores that once served more inspiring purposes.

Art in the Orchard: What a Wonderful Stroll in Easthampton

'Song of the Birth of the Stars by Mark Fenwick, is one of the most memorable of the 28 outdoor sculptures  you'll find at Art in the Orchard this year.

‘Song of the Birth of the Stars, by Mark Fenwick, is one of the most memorable of the 28 outdoor sculptures you’ll find at Art in the Orchard this year.

 

We had a magical summer evening last week when we visited the Park Hill Orchards in the rolling hills around Easthampton for their bi-annual celebration of outdoor art known as Art in the Orchard. New for this year are spiffy handicap accessible men’s and women’s bathrooms, along with a new roster of art by sculptors from around New England.

Every time we have gone to this event, it’s turned out to be much more than a simple art walk. Perhaps it’s because of the perfect light of the August early evening. Or because we were with good friends, paired off, men with men, women with women taking our time and chatting while enjoying discovering so many sculptures in one place. Perhaps it’s because we took our time and got to see all of the 28 sculptures, and even play with a few of them.

This is why I love Art in the Orchard. You can play with the sculptures, they’re not up on the wall, where a guard might chastise you for touching. One piece is a series of glass bulbs called ‘Chalice and Blade’ by Easthampton artist Eileen Jager that when lightly tapped on emits pretty music. Another called ‘What the Birds Know,’ by Lyn Horan, is a large cone, with birds in the outside, and drones and airplanes inside. How can you help but give it a spin?

The most evocative piece to me is ”Song of the Birth of the Stars by Mark Fenwick, depicting a gaggle of female figures and the spectre of death right behind them. It’s neatly tucked away in the furthest point from the store, and it’s just haunting.  I like art that makes you get emotional, as this piece did for all four of us.

Orchard Pig, by Susan Halls, stands guard over the pretty views at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton.

Orchard Pig, by Susan Halls, stands guard over the pretty views at Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton.

Art in the Orchard is a real bargain with a simple $5 donation requested. It’s open for strolling from Tuesday-through Sunday and holidays, and will be on exhibit at the orchard from now through October 31.  You can bring a picnic and you can also find perfectly ripe peaches, crisp apples, pears, blueberries and much more in their store. This is the third time in six years that JeanPierre Pasche, the owner of Big Red Frame Framing in Easthampton, has organized this show, and as usual, he’s proud to display this year’s bounty of art.  Good on ya, JeanPierre, another stellar line up and a wonderful addition to the Valley’s art scene!

www.artintheorchard.org

A South Deerfield to Greenfield Bike Bath: Can It Work?

Here the median is just too narrow to safely ride along Route 5 in South Deerfield.2

Here the median is just too narrow to safely ride along Route 5 in South Deerfield.

 

The path for bikes along the newly resurfaced Routes 5&10 is best between Yankee Candle and Magic Wings, but after that gets too narrow to safely ride.

The path for bikes along the newly resurfaced Routes 5&10 is best between Yankee Candle and Magic Wings, but after that gets too narrow to safely ride.

What if there was a safe and easy route to ride a bicycle between South Deerfield and Greenfield?  I think a lot of people would ride this route.  I have a dream that we could create such a bike path, and provide not only a tourist attractor, but an alternative method of transportation between these two towns.  The state recently resurfaced Route 5 between Yankee Candle and Magic Wings, and they even created double-sided lines on the wider sections of Route 5 to mark a space wide enough for bikes.  But I’d like to create a really safe path, where an even wider area is paved and a safety barrier exists to keep the cars away from the bikes.

After you pass Magic Wings, the road’s median becomes too narrow and the sight lines are not that good.  A few weeks ago, a bike rider was killed further up Route 5, at the dip just past Richardson’s Candy.  This is the hardest challenge of this idea–getting the land from the sides of the road wide enough to allow bikes to safely travel in two directions.

But much of the land that Route 5 travels through is owned by Deerfield Academy. This is where I am hoping we might be able to create a path that’s just off Route 5. What are the chances of  an idea like this becoming reality?  I have spoken with Deerfield’s Town Manager, Kayce Warren, and am hoping to speak with many more people and to try and interest Deerfield Academy in getting involved.  It’s an idea in its infancy, but I bet I could get a lot of other people to back this idea if we can get the word out. Leave a comment if you think this idea is worth pursuing.