Learning Ahead: Boating Season

Season of Boating

The water is warmer and the ponds, lakes, and rivers are often swelling with water from summer thunderstorms. Whether it’s in a kayak or a canoe, paddling on the open water offers a unique perspective to witness wildlife, get exercise, and recreate outdoors.

Building watercrafts to traverse water is an ancient practice. In the America’s, there are many examples of indigenous canoes that allows for water travel across rivers and lakes. Often, these watercraft were built by hand from bark, animal skins, and logs and utilized for travel and trade. Compare the craft of these crafts with modern canoes today which are often built out of fiberglass by machines.

While kayaks seem to have originated in Greenland and utilized by Eskimos in Northern, cold climates, the canoe was built and used throughout the world by different cultures and peoples. Canoes were built as open tops and still keep this feature today whereas kayaks originated in the Arctic as closed top boats to prevent the icy water from getting into the boat, usually by stretching animal skins over the top.  Canoes: A Natural History in North America by Mark Neuzil and Norman Sims is an excellent literary choice for learning more about the history of canoeing.

With a historic appreciation of canoes and kayaks, there are many unique waterways in Western Massachusetts to take these crafts out to explore and connect with our local landscape. If you don’t have a boat for paddling, check out your local outdoor outfitter for boat rentals. Additionally, many campgrounds open for day use offer boat rentals for paddling adventures.  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Ahead: Camping

 Season of Summer Camping

Summer is camping season! Campgrounds are open, tents are aired out, and the makings for s’mores are ready for starry nights surrounding the campfire telling stories and enjoying each other’s company. The smell of campfire and early morning rises in the woods during the cooler hours of the morning define the spirit of summer outside in New England.

Backcountry camping is different from car camping. Car camping allows folks to pack all of their gear into their car, drive to a campsite, and pitch a tent at a maintained campground or an area for camping. Generally, your car is close to where you pitch your tent, and most campground areas have sites and amenities (such as showers, rental equipment, and trails). Backcountry camping involves carrying everything you need in your pack, so you must be frugel with your packing. It also means you might be setting up camp in the woods in an area of your discretion, as opposed to having a site with amenities. It’s a different experience, and both allow for a range of adventure. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Ahead: Summer Wildflowers & Gardens

 Season of Summer Wildflowers & Gardens

Summer is the season of flower-studded meadows and blossoms on the wayside or at home in our gardens. Nothing says summer like a freshly picked bouquet of Oxeye Daises or New England Asters. Summer is also the time of year when public gardens are open to visitors wanting to learn about botany or just enjoy the beauty of cultivated flowers. These public gathering places connect community to the growing season, these senses in the form of color and scent, and to the incredible beauty and diversity nature has to offer. In Western Massachusetts there are a few public gardens to explore and enjoy that may offer inspiration to the artist, writer, or botanist inside:

Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Ahead: Fishing

Season of Fishing

The summer time is the season for fishing! There are many places to go fishing in Western Massachusetts as a way to connect with the local landscape while spending time outdoors. There are different types of fishing, such as saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing, fly fishing, and ice fishing. Fishing, or angling, is a sport that provides a direct interaction with our rivers and lakes as well as a meditative and tranquil way to relax and enjoy nature quietly.

The art of fly fishing has even inspired writers to create stories based on the sport, such as David James Duncan’s contemporary novel The River Why (1983). Voted the 35th best novel in the San Francisco Chronicle list of “The 20th Century’s 100 Best Books of the American West,” the novel centers on a young man from a fishing-centric family that moves to a small cabin in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range where he spends most of his days fly fishing. The novel was also made into a film in 2010. Check out your local Western Massachusetts library to see if the novel or film is available. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Ahead: Vacation Destination

Season of Vacation Destination

In the 19th century, New England was a popular place for outdoor recreation. At a time when the American landscape was championed for its unique, natural features, setting it apart from Europe, Americans were interested in exploring the mountains and woods that defined this country’s geography. In fact, as you discovered in the Summer Storms section of this issue of Learning Ahead, 19th century authors Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville participated in outdoor recreation by hiking up Monument Mountain. Henry David Thoreau, another 19th century author and transcendentalist, climbed Mt. Greylock, located in Adams, MA. Another scenic spot for recreational tourists was the Summit House at Skinner State Park (then known as Mt. Holyoke) which operated as a hotel, allowing visitors to stay overnight while visiting. As you can see, Western Massachusetts was a popular destination for 19th century Americans with many of the outdoor places and summits still available for today’s hikers and outdoor enthusiasts to explore. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Ahead: Season of Berries

 Season of Berries

Summer is the season of berry picking and canning! It’s the time of year when pies are baked and fruit is canned to enjoy during the colder months.

During the months of July and August, blueberries become ready for picking. There are many farms in Western MA where you can pick your own berries, or farm stands and markets to purchase local berries to enjoy at home. At http://www.poets.org, read Robert Frost’s poem “Blueberries” before heading out to your nearby blueberry farm to fill your pail. Consider the first and last stanza and how Frost describes the beauty of the ripe blueberry:

“Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!”

As you read the rest the poem, consider how is it structured. As a conversation between two people? What are they discussing? How is the blueberry and berry picking discussed in this poem? Bring the poem with you and read it together amongst a colony of blueberry bushes.  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Ahead: Summer Storms

 Season of Thunderstorms

While winter in New England brings Nor’easters and blizzards that cover Western Massachusetts in deep snow, summer brings thunderstorms that soak the soil and bring a deep intensity to the summer’s verdant landscape. There is something humbling about a strong thunderstorm as it approaches with it’s dark clouds, bolts of lightning, and claps of thunder that exemplify nature’s unpredictability and larger-than-life personality. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Ahead: Outdoor Concerts

Season of Outdoor Concerts: Place & Spaces Inspired by Music

Summertime in Western Massachusetts brims with opportunities to spend time outdoors and gather in community spaces to listen to live music, discover new musical genres,  and share musical interests while supporting local musicians. Given all of the beautiful parks and outdoor spaces in Western Massachusetts, there are many summertime concerts and music festivals for all ages to attend. Pack a picnic and share the experience with family, neighbors, and friends.  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Ahead: Independence Day

American History & Holiday: The Revolutionary War & Independence Day

Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield

The call for revolution in the late 18th-century echoed throughout Massachusetts as the early American colonists sought independence from the British. Massachusetts history is deeply rooted in the history of the American Revolutionary War, from acts of rebellion to the many battles fought on this soil.  Every 4th of July, communities commemorate the patriots of the North American colonies that spoke out against a government that they felt did not truly represent them and their interests. Lasting close to a decade (1775-1783), the American Revolution shaped our country’s early identity as a nation.  The places, spaces, and communities that made up the Massachusetts colony played a major role in the early American cause for Independence.

While visitors to Eastern Massachusetts can walk the Freedom Trail, learn about the Boston Tea Party, or tour the home of Paul Revere, folks in Western Massachusetts can explore the history of the American Revolution by witnessing historical reenactments of major battles, visit memorials to the cause’s courageous soldiers, and commemorate the war for American Independence through community celebrations such as fireworks, parades, annual events, and local resources. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Ahead: July & August Cultural Itinerary for Western MA

Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for
Western Massachusetts
Seasons: July & August

Who am I? Where am I? These are the fundamental questions proposed by the humanities. Inquiries related to local history, literature, and education, inspire us to think deeply about the places where we live and how our identity fits into the context of our community and the seasons.

Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts is a bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

With these downloadable seasonal itineraries, self-directed teens, lifelong learners, and families are encouraged to engage together in cultural opportunities that support similar interests, resulting in a shared history, strengthening sense of place.

Looking through a seasonal lens, a July and August cultural itinerary for Western Massachusetts includes:

  • An American holiday as a CATALYST for learning: Independence Day
  • PLACEMAKING at parks and community spaces through music: Outdoor Concerts
  • Resources that are ubiquitous and NATUREBASED: Summer Storms
  • Sweet fruits that celebrate FOOD TRADITIONS: Berries
  • Western MA as a CULTURAL destination for relaxation: Vacation
  • Outdoor activities that are INTEREST-BASED: Fishing
  • Ephemeral seasonal HABITAT: Flower Gardens
  • INTERGENERATIONAL outdoor living: Camping
  • Learning LENS that connects us to the season: Boating

Click here to download free pdf (32 pages).


Mass Humanities This program is funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Special thank you to sponsors of this issue, including:  New England Air Museum.

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