A past boyfriend of mine – when things became a tad too deep – would quickly end our “discussions” by declaring, “Well, I’m just a simple boy of Shaker backdrop!” Yeah, sure, funny, funny… easy out, right? Needless to say, he was not a Shaker, nor simple…. And we decidedly did not end up together! Yet that phrase always resonated with me … exactly WHAT is it that defines the Shaker life?
Well…what a delight of a day I had pursuing the answer as the opportunity actually presented itself!
So should you be looking for a really interesting, as well as colorful fall getaway- not faraway – try a regional fall country day, complete with baby farm animals and a hearty farmer’s market, by driving north to Hancock Shaker Village up in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts.
When you drive Route 20 thru Richmond en route to Hancock Shaker Village, you immediately sense something special awaits….this is spectacular landscape painting territory, you are immediately comfortable. Small, charming homes pop up here and there, but it’s the glory of the sunlight, the natural setting, a scenic simplicity and splendor of pure country air that is so inviting.
Hancock Shaker Village was… and is now…an active, breathing locale. Visit at your leisure, by all means, but allow an entire day, so much to enjoy! You can’t believe the sense of calm and content that prevails.
This landmark site has been lovingly restored and consists of a working farm, seemingly endless acres (some 750) of grazing pastures for the wonderful farm animals that are essential to this community, and some 20 historic buildings indicative and important to Shaker community life, including their school and their communal site for worship and meetings. All are open and welcoming to visitors for a nominal fee. Yes, there are relatively few members remaining from actual Shaker sects, but your curiosity as to their practical way of life is immediately peaked and you truly believe that your knowledgeable tour guides in serviceable village dress are indeed practicing Shakers. This is a huge site, a great stretch of the legs and should you solely wish to admire the great outdoors in its Fall finery, there are some 6 miles of fine hiking trails.
The initial draws for me were the farm animals – goats, chickens, pigs, cows, hens, sheep, horses – the springtime when the baby animals are entering the world is beyond joyful. Yet I also found myself attracted to the simplicity of life here, the spiritual rises from the natural ritual and easy rhythm of daily Shaker life. The warmth and peace that surrounds this locale surely stems from an uncluttered, clean style. Nothing is wasted and everything has a purpose and use. As the saying goes, you “go back in time, but forward in thought.” The Shakers truly had their own pragmatic approach to living, and a unique look, one that is still familiar to us via their fine furniture and the famous oval box form. However you really get a sense of how practical was their approach to the world we live in when you visit their structures. They are designed with the deceptively simple rule of “form follows function.” The iconic “Round Stone Barn” is a perfect example of an efficient building suiting the needs of a practical working dairy farm.
There are demonstrations galore offered here ranging from “Backyard Beekeeping” to “Oval Box Design,” from blacksmithing and textiles, to Shaker cooking and woodworking. Many are free but some are offered for a small cost. As you walk the village, talk to the welcoming artisans, lecturers, tour guides and caretakers on site, they are eager to share their enthusiastic expertise. Learn about the farm to table crops grown here and then enjoy a wonderful meal using these fresh ingredients at the reasonably priced Village Harvest Café.
Close your walk back in time with a visit to the “Museum Store” where there are lovely handmade items, quilts, Shaker furniture, candles, books, and a huge variety of gifts available for purchase that you will not find elsewhere.
I highly recommend their upcoming weekend (September 28/29th) Country Fair, a celebration of all things simple – the great and the small, the bright and the beautiful.
Hancock Shaker Village is indeed a “valley of love and delight.” Less can indeed be more.
Extra special thanks to my knowledgeable tour guide, Michelle, wise beyond her year’s … such a pleasure spending a delicious day with you!
WHERE: HANCOCK SHAKER VILLAGE 1843 West Housatonic Street, Route 20 Pittsfield, MA 01201 413.443.0188
By: Joanne Theodorou
A very special thank you to the wonderful folks at the Berkshire Visitors Bureau!