Last week, I took one of my favorite hikes in town, up Stone Hill.
This outing holds a special place with me. It's not the length or the difficultly; for regular hikers who remain physically fit, it's a solid warm up, about an hour with some moderate elevation change.
But aside from its beauty - I'll get to that - the trek has value because it's a bona-fide in-town hike on a combination of woodlands preserved by private and public lands. It grants hikers access in the spirit of the British common trails and ways system, where the ability to walk the land is seen as a right.
That's not as easy as it sounds. North of the border, in Bennington, for example, this ethos exists in the complex trail system spread over most of Mt. Anthony, to include the considerable acreage of the old Everett family estate, now the site of Southern Vermont College.
But one of the finest in-town trails remains almost dormant: the rail bed of the old Bennington-Rutland line, better known locally as the Corkscrew because of its winding turns. That byway remains a hodge-podge of open access, private owners blocking the path, and overgrown sections as a result of power and phone companies not keeping easements as clear as they should be.
Such issues don't exist in Williamstown because the town, the Williamstown Rural Land Fund (WRLF) and private property owners have, and continue, to do the hard work to keep trail systems connected and open to the public.
But land management is only half the story. What's more important to the casual eye is the beauty and convenience of the Stone Hill hike and its connectors. If I want to add 10 minutes I'll park by Tunnel City Coffee at the bottom of Spring St. and head to the Clark from there. If not, even with all the construction on the museum grounds, there never seems to be a lack of parking - or of people up and down parts of the trail.
The way up Stone Hill in snow, especially a fresh coating, is much like walking though enchanted woods. Starting out with my youngest Siberian Husky, Gabrielle, I came upon museum visitors and the local dailies, some with dogs, others with children, many with both.
Traversing the cross-trail firebreaks that head east back downhill to the Buxton School, and to the farms behind Pine Cobble School, I crossed into town-preserved lands, and then the fun started.
That's because solitude began to surround us. In fresh snow, the effect is heightened by silence, as if walking on a white blanket with just the vapor of breath and raindrops of sweat to keep me company until the summit. Then I enjoyed the soft roll of descent to the west. Gabby found an excuse to pull me even more, as if I were her personal sled.
Along the way, I got lucky: Redbirds were out and about. On a snowy backdrop, even one cardinal can accent a late-winter afternoon. But I was treated to something of a swarm: crimson exclamations that wanted to come along, all while serenading me allegro with their "cheer-cheer" concerto.
Heading back north past the Old Stone Bench, I unwrapped my late Christmas gift. The views from the upper fenced-in cow pastures directly to the Clark's west are some of the region's most vivid. Even on a cloudy day the town below sits nestled in comfort and Vermont's Green Mountains stand guard in their finest parade stances.
This year, change is in the air. The Clark's latest phase of campus expansion is taking shape, and from the Stone Hill vistas you can appreciate what a substantial undertaking is in our midst. I can't wait to see what the centerpiece reflecting pool will look like from up there in winter, with its planned ice-skaters gliding along.
Without snowshoes, I had pushed hard and wasn't out for much more than an hour. It was time well spent. As I descended from the pastures, the sun broke through the overcast and wisps of blue opened up behind me. I stopped to take in the view one last time. Gabrielle sat briefly, her panting a seal of husky approval. Then, with Mt. Greylock as her backdrop, she sprung up, ready to pull me home.
Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.