Thursday, December 29, 2011

Land and Lenox

The man at the counter at Nejaime's was wistful, retelling a relative's account of continually falling snow, inch after inch, somewhere, but not here. The lack of snow and mild temperatures (until very recently), hampering even snow-making operations, is dragging down the economy of Berkshire County and its smattering of ski areas, though not in a way that seems terribly unusual. Folks around here are used to a certain amount of economic pummeling.
I am in my room at the Yankee Inn, having brought my family to the old stomping grounds, when I lived in Richmond as a reporter for The Berkshire Eagle in the 80s. Though I was physically fit from doing things like team triathlons in those days, I remember the March when I decided it was time to go -- marveling at the phenomenon of frozen mud. There's a barren quality to the landscape that feels familiar. Here on Pittsfield Road, Route 7, Lenox has grouped all its big-box commercial retail close to the Pittsfield city line, drawing in the customers and confining the ugliness and the traffic close to its municipal neighbor to the north, while realizing all the tax revenue. Places to eat are in walking distance, but not really; the four lanes of the sidewalk-less arterial almost dare you to venture out by foot. The Stop and Shop plaza looks like it was carved out of glacial rock; indeed the premiere corner at Dan Fox Drive is just that, jutting black cliffs of rock, the blasting cores visible in neat rows. Dan Fox would have been the first leg of the Route 7 Bypass, just like Melnea Cass was the beginning of the Inner Belt in distant Boston.
Earlier we walked the trials of the Pleasant Valley sanctuary just south of here, and saw the work of busy beavers. Back at the hotel, the carpeted corridors feature pictures by Bill Teague, a veteran editor at the Eagle, who used to chain-smoke Marlboros in the newsroom and ask me if I had any news from the city council meetings. They show Greater Pittsfield in the 50s, all Norman Rockwell potraits, kids eating pizza and ice cream, singing at performances, women in those flared white sunglasses, crewcut teenagers by a lifeguard chair at a local lake beach. We'll see if they've made enough snow to ski down at Bousquet in the morning.