Camping with the Russians

We needed a break.

It had been a long time since we’d adventured anywhere, plus we were both really stressed out – E from starting a new job and me from wedding planning gone awry.  I don’t know whose idea it was to go camping (oddly enough, I think it was mine), and I don’t know whose idea it was to strike off for Western Massachusetts (I think it was E), but Friday afternoon found us stuffing the car with our camping equipment and following the Mohawk Trail (aka Route 2) into parts more or less unknown.  E had called around to a few campgrounds that were either full or not answering their phones, but had managed to find one out past Williamstown that promised to have sites available despite the holiday weekend.  Normally not having a reservation would have unsettled me to no end, but this time I didn’t care one bit.  I just needed to get away!

It’s a beautiful drive out through the Pioneer Valley and into the Berkshires.  Route 2 winds through all sorts of little valleys and vistas, including one hairpin turn as you descend into North Adams, providing this view of the mountains and the city they encircle:

north adams

We pulled into the campground a little after six, with plenty of daylight left to set up camp and build a fire for dinner.  We drove down a wooded and winding little lane before coming upon the campground entrance, which included this Cold War-era looking bunker:


It’s not that uncommon to see structures like this; there are several places we hike that used to be part of Fort Devens and were used for military training, so we’re used to seeing this sort of thing from time to time.  Still, it seemed out of place at a campground.  In fact, it felt like it belonged on an episode of Lost.

We entered the office, overseen by a blond-wigged mannequin, and were shortly welcomed by the elderly owner of the campground who, among other things, said he’d never been on the internet or Facebook.  “That Facebook, that’s what you all use to talk to each other now?” he said, waving a hand in dismissal.  “One of my customers built me a website but I’ve never seen it.”  The more he talked about his land, his efforts to go off the grid, and the wind farm that he lost out on, the more goosebumps I got up the back of my neck.  I just knew there was a story there; there were so many questions I wanted to ask that I started to feel dizzy.  E filled out the paperwork as the owner told us all about the campground amenities, which included a sauna.  “The sauna’s free this week because the Russians are here,” the man said.  “Those Russians, they love their sauna!”

I began to really wonder about that bunker.


Approximately twelve minutes later, in the midst of setting up our tent, one of the tent poles broke.  E just bought this tent last year and this was only the fourth time we’d used it, so it was doubly annoying.  I suggested duct tape, and off E went to borrow some from the owner.  A few choice words later…

tent broke

It survived the weekend, which was nothing short of miraculous given the deluge of rain we got on Saturday.  The rain meant that hiking was out of the question, as was a fire for cooking breakfast, so after finding a diner for eggs and pancakes we drove over to MassMoCA for a few hours.  We were both enthralled with the landscape photography of Clifford Ross, who couldn’t find the sort of camera he wanted so built one himself, as well as Eclipse, a project about passenger pigeons.  We also marvelled at the work of Korean artist Ran Hwang, these complex mosaics of pins and buttons (I thought they were paper disks!) painstakingly arranged in the shape of birds – phoenixes, actually.  One of the coolest installations we saw are the trees outside, which were planted high off the ground and upside down (Natalie Jerimijenko, Tree Logic).  Despite their inversion, the trees nature to grow away from the ground and towards the sun kicks in.  (It was actually pouring out when I took this picture with my phone; I have no idea why it looks like a blue sky!)



Back at the campground, my imagination ran away from me for a bit – what with the bunker and the Russians and campground roads named after planets…oh, it was too much for me!  As usual, reality was much more prosaic.  There was, in fact, a group of Russians staying at the campground; their kids were fluent in English though so my guess is that they are immigrants who just happen to come every year for a vacation.  The bunker – at one time an emergency shelter – has actually been converted into a power plant, enabling the campground to run on its own hydro power.  We were offered a tour, but we had to get back.  Upon returning home, I found part of the campground owner’s story.  I just know there’s more.


About Lori Allen Writes

Lori is plotting to take over the world one essay, one quilt, and one hand knit sock at a time.
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