Learning Ahead: Summer Trails

Summer Trails: Leisure History & Literature

Towards the end of June, we find the beginning of summer and a landscape ready for exploring in the warmer months. In Western Massachusetts, we are fortunate to have so many conserved landscapes that offer mountain views, scenic trails, access to waterways, and places to discover nature’s inspiring energy.

In the 19th-century, outdoor recreation became a popular leisure activity.  Summit houses, such as the one atop Mount Holyoke at Skinner State Park, were constructed to accommodate tourists traveling to see mountain views.  An interest in the wild landscape and sweeping view of countryside inspired many Americans to explore the natural landscape and value spending time outside.  Many writers and artists looked to nature as a creative muse for poetry and painting.  Walking through the woods became a pleasurable and meaningful pastime.

Follow the footsteps of earlier Americans and stay active and healthy during the summer by walking. Many of the local woods and trails in Western Massachusetts were common destinations for 19th-century hikers and fueled the creative genius of many writers. Engage with local history and experience the landscape from a literary perspective by reading some of these writers’ works while on the trail or before you embark on your next outdoor adventure.  For example: imagine reading William Cullen Bryant’s The Rivulet, with the poet’s description of the prattling water, as you stand by the same rivulet yourself and hear the same sound (featured in the March/April Season of Learning Ahead)! In a way, the poem acts as a time machine, bridging together the woods of Bryant’s life in the Hilltowns with the same forest you can hike today.

Additionally, check out Henry David Thoreau’s book, Walking, from your local library (or listen in the video below). A lecture delivered in 1851 and later published as an essay, Thoreau discusses the importance of nature to mankind through the act of walking and immersion in nature.  Follow Thoreau’s lead and ramble through the woods along many of these Western Massachusetts trails. Look back to our September/October Season issue of Learning Ahead for trails in our region. Other trails to consider include literary trails featured in the March/April Season issue of Learning Ahead.

[Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield]

Download our May/June edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.


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