Exhaling in the Berkshires

All adulthood is a reaction to childhood and youth. You’re either trying to recapture something you lost or create something you never had. For many years, my beloved Aunt Mary and I would make a biannual off-season pilgrimage of the heart to The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Mass. We’d take in some of the many cultural and historic offerings that grace the rolling, misty Berkshires in Western Massachusetts — where, according to a guidebook, “Life breathes deep.” Sometimes, though, we’d just sit on the inn’s famous front porch and watch small-town America drift by.

As the years went on, however, and my aunt became increasingly ill, our visits became less and less frequent until they stopped altogether. Then one day, I realized that with my aunt now gone it had been 10 years since I last corresponded with the inn. Time to renew an old acquaintance. But would it be too much emotionally to return to a place that once held so much joy and now mostly bittersweet memories?

I decided to see if the old magic was still there, enlisting the companionship of my sister Gina — driver, navigator and foodie, possessed of a questing, uncompromising spirit — and her faithful, feisty firecracker of a Chihuahua, Fausto. Both for convenience and the sake of the new, I suggested that we take Interstate 684 to Route 22 — instead of the Taconic State Parkway, my usual route — winding our way to Millerton, home of Harney & Sons, for lunch. I had written about the Harney family and its Dutchess County-based tea company for WAG’s October 2011 “Fabulous Feasts” issue, and the return didn’t disappoint as we savored salads of smoked salmon (she) and chicken (me) in the café — accompanied by plenty of tea, of course — and then a visit to the gift shop, which had been my ulterior motive. There I purchased three teas I’m obsessed with — the Valentine’s Blend and the Choco Nut Blend, which taste like liquid chocolate; and the spicy black tea Chai.

We then snaked along back roads dotted with farms — the cows resting in mud, the horses swishing their tails — as Fausto alternately slept in the back seat curled like a shrimp or tried to stand, alert to every jostle of the elevated terrain. Or perhaps he, too, was marveling at how a landscape of misty, verdant highlands a mere two hours from WAG country allows you to exhale and transports you to another state of mind.

What would that mindset be as we turned the corner onto Main Street and found ourselves in front of the white, four-story inn, whose 125 rooms have been welcoming travelers since the American Revolution? It was as if 10 years were only yesterday. I fingered my aunt’s opal ring, which I had worn for the occasion. Well, Tiny, I thought, using my nickname for her, we made it.

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