by guest blogger Kathy Duchesne
Sharing special moments and experiences with friends allows for personal growth and can extend the depth of relationships. Three of my friends and I brainstormed some places that we might go together to enjoy ourselves and experience something new. The challenge was that we liked to do different things. We all liked to do some walks together, but we couldn’t find any ONE place we could all get excited about. That is, until we discovered that there was a tropical rainforest in Massachusetts. Who knew? And the surrounding area had something that suited each of our diverse tastes.
After not doing much traveling due to covid, the four of us decided to do an overnight jaunt to northern Massachusetts. We left my hometown of Willimantic, CT at 7:30am, hoping to get to the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in South Deerfield, MA by 10 A.M. when it opened, leaving us time to do a pit stop on the way. We arrived at the stroke of 10 and entering this butterfly conservatory felt like emerging into a warm paradise. There was an added bonus of soft, restful music playing. We were surrounded by multitudes of butterflies and tropical flowers. It was like an instant trip to a rainforest in South America. Butterflies flitted all around us, landing on shoes and shirts and brushing by our heads. It felt truly magical.
After a few hours of being mesmerized by these delicate creatures, we left to pick up some sandwiches and view the area from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. Summiting Sugarloaf was recommended as something every visitor to the area should do. Readers need to know that we were 4 somewhat out of shape women in their 70’s, so hearing the road goes right to the top of the mountain made it an exciting destination! But when we got to the road that leads to the summit, we found it closed off due to road paving. There was no way other than hiking the whole way to get to the top! Our expectations led to disappointment as expectations often do. We therefore decided to focus on the experiences at hand and found a lovely place to picnic on the grounds of Yankee Candle. The area was complete with picnic tables, gorgeous flowers, and even relaxing music from outdoor speakers. Only two other people were enjoying this pleasant outdoor dining experience. After lunch we strolled through the giant Yankee Candle complex with its overwhelming smells and sights before seeking another adventure.
After lunch we drove through some beautiful farmland to Historic Deerfield. Being there was truly a trip back in time, with homes built in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s along with two schools and three working farms. The Nissan Cube we traveled in almost felt out of place. A horse and buggy would have felt more appropriate here.
We checked into our motel (a Red Roof Inn) in the late afternoon and then returned to Magic Wings since our admission allowed re-entry. We enjoyed a few more hours there and found a brewery that served pizza nearby for supper. After playing a few rounds of Rummikub near the pool area in the motel (Julie won them all!), we declared it a very satisfactory day.
Friday morning we stopped for breakfast and headed north to Greenfield, MA. We very much enjoyed the camaraderie and planning another day of adventure while we drank our coffee and enjoyed fresh baked English muffins. The first stop was Poets Seat Tower. It was dedicated to poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman who “studied nature and wrote verse” in Greenfield. The original tower was built with wood in 1879, and replaced by stone in 1912. It seemed to be a popular place to visit, which nicely overlooked the town and surrounding area. Unfortunately it was decorated with some graffiti, but the stonework was beautiful.
Historic destination #2
Our next destination of the day was in Turners Falls, a village in the town of Montague. We did a quick detour to a thrift store (we have always had a passion for thrift stores) on our way to find the Canalside Rail Trail. This pathway enables folks to walk or bike alongside the Connecticut River. We were fortunate to park near the Great Falls Discovery Center which is housed in former paper mill buildings. Inside we viewed displays about the 410 mile long Connecticut River’s watershed (which we know some of it well, being from CT). Outside we observed the Gill-Montague Bridge over the river and the dam to divert the mighty Connecticut into a deep, swift running canal. You could see remains of old paper mills downstream which made this area thrive in the 1800’s. The Canalside Trail was paved and made for easy walking, and is a joyous path.
Geological & Botanical Destinations
Shelburne Falls was our next stop. We viewed one of the largest collection of glacial potholes (kettles) in the world. The potholes are located below Salmon Falls on the Deerfield River. These continue to be enlarged at winter’s end with the snow melt, and were VERY impressive. We also toured the Bridge of Flowers, an old trolley bridge turned into a beautiful garden. Even though it was early May, it was full of beautiful flowers from one end to the other.
As we sat and had dinner at a Cracker Barrel on the way home, we marveled at how much we had experienced in just two days. So many diverse learning excursions in one small area of north central Massachusetts had us forget that we never got to summit Mt. Sugarloaf. Perhaps another overnight excursion in the future. We were very grateful that we could spend 2 days together exploring this area together, and uplifted by our encounters we could share. Adventures with friends, even just a simple overnight as this one was, filled us with gratitude for the blessing of friendship. I hope you may do the same with good friends.
The video below will give you a sample of the feeling of the magic of visiting Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory. For most North American readers, this will be the nearest Tropical Rainforest you can visit!