On the Trail: Nature and the Woodland Forests

Exploring Literature, Art & History through Nature Trails

Hiking is an engaging way to explore seasonal patterns with family and friends. It requires very little gear, just walking shoes, a water bottle, and a map! You can also bring a trekking pole to keep your footing steady. Art activities such as sketching, painting, and journaling encourage hikers to thoughtfully observe the macro and micro patterns found in their surroundings. Like Henry David Thoreau on his hike up Mt. Katahdin in Maine, take a moment to reflect on your engagement with the outdoors. Bring a notebook with you to write down your thoughts, ideas, questions, and observations. Prefer sketching to writing? Use your sketchbook and pencil to sketch the different trees, wildflowers, and water features you encounter on your path. Each time you venture outdoors, follow the same format until you have a notebook or sketchbook filled with different places and trails, filling your notebook with nature-based inspiration.

Chesterfield Gorge, West Chesterfield, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Explore nature and the woodland forests through reading and literature. Here are recommended titles and poetry available through your local library:

  • Walking with Thoreau: A Literary Guide to the New England Mountains by William Howarth
  • “The Rivulet” (poem) by William Cullen Bryant
  • The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau
  • Wild Moments by Ted Williams

Excerpt from Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts (Seasons: Sept/Oct), a downloadable 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.

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4 Guided Hike Resources in Western MA

Guide Hikes Connect to Nature

In The Maine Woods (1864), Henry David Thoreau writes:

Talk of mysteries! — Think of our life in nature, — daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it, — rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! The solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we?

Franklin Land Trust. Guyette Farm in Plainfield, MA (c) Sienna WildfieldBefore asking the questions “Who are we? Where are we?” Thoreau already provides his readers with the solution to discovering the answers: “think of our life in nature,” He urges the reader to come into contact with nature – to experience the natural world. This interaction with the outdoors can help us build a deeper sense of self and place – hence Thoreau’s final questions are left unanswered to provoke the reader, as if the author is directly telling you “go outside and discover! See yourself in nature, as a part of it!”  Read the rest of this entry »

25 Self-Guided Hikes in Western MA

Self-Guided Hikes in Western Massachusetts

Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield, MA (c) Sienna Wildfield

Bullitt Reservation in Ashfield, MA. (c) Sienna Wildfield

The following is a list of places to discover in your community with friends, family, or on your own. Before exploring, become aware of the literary, artistic, and historic connections that some of these places offer.

Easy Hikes in Western MA:

  • Chesterfield Gorge, West Chesterfield
  • Dinosaur Footprints, Holyoke
  • Field Farm, Williamstown
    Field Farm features a garden with 13 modern sculptures, including works by artists Henry Ferber and Richard M. Miller. For architecture enthusiasts, the artistic play between Field Farm and The Folly’s mid-century design elements and the natural landscape surrounding them is compelling.

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Learning Ahead: Sept & Oct Cultural Itinerary for Western MA

Learning Ahead:
Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts
Seasons: Sept & Oct

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 new 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, our debut Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts is for the months of September and October and includes:

  • Participation in local CULTURE: Agricultural Fairs and Fall Festivals
  • PLACEMAKING through annual events: Guided Tours and Plein Air Paint Outs
  • Gathering and preparing seasonal FOOD: Apples and Pumpkins
  • VALUE based engagement: Intergenerational, Skillsharing, and Community Meals
  • Marking the SEASON with annual events: Back-to-School and Halloween
  • Engage in local HABITAT: Nature Trails and Fall Foliage
  • INTEREST based learning: Domestic Arts, Pastry Arts, and Paranormal

Click here to download PDF (38 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.

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