Thinking of Whales and Trails During a Heat Wave
As the Tri-state region experiences a few particularly hot days, it’s pleasant to think about ocean voyages; and to consider sitting indoors with a fan or the air conditioning on, while reading a very long book.
“Moby-Dick”obviously springs to mind. I mostly associate Herman Melville’s Great American Novel with New Bedford and the whaling towns of Massachusetts, but Melville has some significant connections to us, in the Berkshires and Connecticut.
As a curiosity: A descendant of the author lives in Cornwall, Conn. I will respectfully not mention her name here, but I thank her for having written many lovely articles for this newspaper, and for sharing the information that her nephew, the musician Moby, earned his nickname as a bald toddler, in honor of his illustrious ancestor.
But there is another local connection to Melville that I hadn’t known about until last week, when I received a press release from Arrowhead, which was the Melville family residence from 1851 to 1891 and which is in (relatively) nearby Pittsfield, Mass. (about 37 miles — or one hour by car — from my house in Lakeville, Conn.).
It was at Arrowhead that Melville wrote many of his most famous works, including the novels “Moby-Dick” and “The Confidence-Man” and the short stories “Benito Cereno” and “Bartleby the Scrivener.”
In his novel “Israel Potter,” Melville describes the views from Arrowhead: “On one side the eye follows for the space of an eagle’s flight, the serpentine mountain chains, southward from the great purple dome of Taconic — the St. Peter’s of these hills — northwards to the twin summits of Saddleback, which is the two-steepled natural cathedral of Berkshire; while low down to the west the Housatonic winds on in her watery labyrinth, through charming meadows basking in the reflected rays from the hillsides.”
The views from the property are still relatively intact, thanks to the hard work of the area’s many land conservancies and sensitive property owners. And while of course you can see the Housatonic River and the Taconic mountain range from many vantage points in the area, how fun would it be to see them through the eyes of one of America’s first and most famous writers? (After the heat wave ends, of course.)
The property has recently opened again, after a COVID-19 quarantine that ended on July 9. Tours of the house and barns are offered by appointment Thursdays through Mondays at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. There can only be four people at a time on each tour. Tickets are $16 for adults, $14 for seniors, $10 for students (children 12 and under are free). To set up an appointment, go to www.berkshirehistory.org/arrowhead-opening or call 413-442-1793.
The grounds are open from dawn to dusk daily.
There is also a Melville history trail that includes eight places in the area that the author visited: Park Square, Hancock Shaker Village, Crane Museum of Paper Making, Balance Rock, Lenox Court House, Tanglewood/Hawthorne Cottage, October Mountain and Mount Greylock. The trail and information about each of the stops along it is sponsored in part by Housatonic Heritage and the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area, which was started by a group here in Salisbury, Conn., and which includes history and culture sites in Litchfield and Berkshire counties.
If you’ve never undertaken a cover-to-cover reading of “Moby-Dick,” a hot quarantine summer could be the perfect time to do it. You can order a copy through one of our excellent and hardworking local booksellers (who could all use your support), or find the text online at no cost at www.gutenberg.org.
Writers who are inspired by Melville’s work, or by the landscape, can apply for the Writer in Residence program at Arrowhead. This year’s writers were announced in mid July; the summer-season writer is Robin Catalano of Stephentown, N.Y.; in autumn, the writer will be Kevin O’Hara of Pittsfield. For more information on the residency program, go to www.berkshirehistory.org/herman-melville-arrowhead/writer-in-residence.