The Side Trek Column
Valley Living Magazine
2006 – 2010
Ditching navigation maps and apps, Carol Colitti Levine’s aversion to driving on highways steered her to explore and write about hidden gems along the scenic byways of the Pioneer Valley & Western New England for a local magazine, Valley Living. Carol convinced the talented Dr. Husband to collaborate as her photographer. She named this quarterly travel column The Side Trek.
The Side Trek Blog
2010 – 2016
Carol created The Side Trek blog in 2010. Her quirky take on politics, current events, books, and bizness. But, its Travel Treks page remained focused on hidden gems along the back roads of Western Massachusetts as photos below show.
Signs of the Times
The “Valley” has gorgeous vistas and architecture. It also has many colleges, farms and factories. Conservatives and liberals living together. Sometimes in the same house!
Epitomized by these yard signs during the presidential primaries of 2016. As we stopped to take a photo, the woman homeowner opened her door and yelled, “Do you think we will still be married after the election?” Hmmm. Wonder if they are.
Route 5 Hatfield
Autumn Sojourn with Jean Jean
Ashfield & Conway
Clark Art Institute
Special trek to see Van Gogh and Nature, a limited exhibition. Vincent’s study of the impressionists in France. Arles. Auvers.
Super Bowl bonus. Since the Patriots beat the Seahawks, the Seattle Art Museum loaned The Clark Albert Bierstadt’s wall-sized masterpiece Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast.
Susan B. Anthony Birthplace
Strawberry Picking Polka Dots
Turn of the Calendar
Spring in the Valley
Fall Photo Contest
mAdBen v. Dr. Dad
Autumnal Still Life
Mystery of Blue Hill
Mid-summer night’s dinner at Blue Hill restaurant in Greenwich Village. Famous for fresh produce from its farm. Locavore award. James Beard winner. Alas. Our dinner’s vegetables disappeared. They never appeared on our plates. So, we decided to search Blue Hill Farm, the eatery’s namesake to investigate. Up the road on a pristine day, we found the culprit, overlooking the Housatonic River. We didn’t spy a stalk of corn or a wandering squash. Just a Jewish cow family. The Holsteins. Way down the hill. A view. To a kill?
Connecticut River Valley
Route 5 Whately
Original Williams House
The Good Time Stove Company
Spring Weekday Trek
William Cullen Bryant Homestead
Where he retreated to pen pastoral poetry and think Thanatopsis thoughts.
So Long Side Trek!
Carol and photographer Dr. Husband said goodbye to Western Massachusetts in July of 2016, moving on to SideTrek . NYC. They loved their many years of Side Treks along the country byways and will miss Western Massachusetts and their friend in Shelburne Falls.
HAPPY VALLEY HOLIDAY LETTERS
2011 – 2017
Carol created a fictional family called The Bidrights. They write newsy oversharing letters to celebrate the holidays each year. They lived in “Silent H” an ultra-liberal town, then moved to “Pronounced H” a more eclectic city near a famous women’s college across the Connecticut River.
The letter writer’s gender is unknown. He/she has a wife Zelda. They have a grown son Moonbeam, and an elderly cat Mephistopheles. If you’ve lived in the Happy Valley, you’ll recognize them.
Dear Friends We Haven’t Seen in Twenty Years,
Zelda and I are so excited to update you all on our family’s meaningful 2011. Little Moonbeam graduated from Middlebury and is off saving babies in the Sudan. It’s so hard not to have him home over Kwanzaa, but we’ll light a candle of harmony for peace in the world instead of buying him a material extravagance. Our trust funds haven’t fared as well this year what with interest rates so low. Moose Lake cabin even lost value and we had to sell the canoe.
We’ll be serving braised short ribs to the homeless in our humble hamlet, of course without the meat. We chopped down a lovely two foot spruce in the woods and dragged it four miles back to the hybrid Prius. There’ll be plenty of sparkling cider, spring water and pine cone cookies at our annual yuletide open house. I’m so proud of Zelda, she cut off her 30-year ponytail to honor the end of the Iraq War. But. Unfortunately. She’s still smarting from the bug bites she got in our Occupy Wall Street tent.
I am sorry to report that Dizzy, Moonbeam’s pet hamster, met a rather violent fate. It seems Mephistopheles, our thirteen year old tabby, still has some zing in her pounce. And, at the risk of boring you with my own gory medical procedures over the year, suffice it to say that scalpels, monitors and screws were involved. Oh dear, it’s hard to believe another year has come and gone.
Happy trails from the Bidrights,
Silent H, Massachusetts
Betsey’s Clever Reply
It may be twenty years since we last saw you but we think of you often and remember the good times we all had living in the commune before the sheriff chased us off the property. Must admit that I just hated digging those latrines in the woods.
So little Moonbeam is all grown up now! I remember how he used to love to sit and braid the ladies’ hair. What a handy little fellow.
After leaving the commune we settled in a small college town where alot of “our kind” of people live. We raise pretty green plants on our property. We dry the leaves and pulverize them and add them, for an extra little kick, to the brownies and cupcakes that we bake. The customers love them and business is good.
One sad note. We had to put ole Granny into the county home. We had suspected that all was not quite right with her when she insisted on walking around naked but things really hit the fan when she walked into a meeting of the Presbyterian Women’s Bible Study Group wearing nothing but her Depends and a scarf around her head. The women were really upset so we had to take action. Granny is very happy in her new abode. She has three meals a day and ice cream every afternoon.
Life goes on and we are all well. We look forward to your letter of 2012.”
Chers Faux Amis,
Another year of living and giving. Gosh. So busy. Zelda and I completed six self-help seminars. Our sex life and relationship always open to group scrutiny for the common good. Little Moonbeam is now quite the young man. He is working for a secret non-profit dedicated to raising money for forgotten tribes on remote Pacific islands. So caring. Clever, too. Tax-free trips to paradise.
We’ve joined a new religion. Mayanastroism. If the world doesn’t end, we are screwed. Of course, we have eschewed cyber-consumerism. This yuletide, knitting scarves and brewing birch-branch tea for Hurricane Sandy victims. So rewarding. Holly-branch houses to give to the kids. Best to wear gloves, little ones!
The economy has improved in our enchanted enclave. We’ve been able to replace the canoe and are building a new boathouse on the Connecticut funded by the community, needless to say. Mephistopheles, our elderly tabby, continues to terrorize little creatures much to our delight. Take off your clothes, and join us at the Capitol protest. Fresh air and naked Pilates, please. Stretch! Stretch! Stretch!
Peace and love until…
Silent H, Massachusetts
Dear Faux Amis,
Annual oversharing tidings! So much to tell. The year was mostly serene. Our carefully curated Facebook page filled with montages of selfies in canoes. Portraying our truly rich life. Then in August we all went Osage County.
Moonbeam joined the 21st Century and discovered Candy Crush game. No time for global causes now. Living in the basement, he clicks away all day while malevolent Mephistopheles the cat jumps on his head. “Moonie” only leaves his lair to meet me upstairs nightly for gluten-free snacks and quite a few high balls.
I’ve given up naked Pilates. Drugs seem more convenient. Purple pills, blue pills, pink pills. Pretty to look at every morning. And they go down easy with my protein shake. I have contracted tuberculosis, leprosy, and goopy diarrhea from the side-effects. But, there are pills for that, too. So.
Haven’t seen Zelda in a few months. Moonbeam and I get facetime calls periodically from Vegas. Her credit card seems to have gone dry. What with so many sparkly jumpsuits, it’s no surprise. Lots of zippers. But, she is off fulfilling a dream. Pole dancing for men in brocade vests and cowboy hats. You go, girl!
As Town Manager here in Silent H, I proudly succeeded in banning nuts from our schools. Nobody left in class. But, hey. Tomorrow is a latter day.
Happy Thanks Kristmakkah,
Silent H, Massachusetts
Dear Friends & Others,
I couldn’t wait for Kristmas to tell you our exciting news. Happy Spring! MoonBeam has kicked the Candy Crush addiction and is off to Colorado, to embark on a career in cannabis retail. Zelda finally tired of her entertainment phase and is back from Vegas. Now she wants to start a new chapter.
So we decided to build an eco-friendly home across the river in Pronounced H, Massachusetts. Always conscious of the greater good, we are thrilled with our new project. Found the perfect heavily wooded lot in a family neighborhood. Oops. Had to annihilate all those annoying trees to make room for our sun. Solar zone! But, hey. I’m naked like a tree. It’s the only way to be. Apologies to David Gray.
Anyway. Footprint got away from us. Lots of big machines. Oil truck empties real quick. Cranky neighbors. Geez. The shovel dozer parked on their doorstep looks like a yellow Easter bunny. The mud pile in front of their picture window reminds us of Mt. Mansfield. How can they not enjoy that view every day?
Mephistopheles the cat is so looking forward to moving in! She hates our two newly acquired pure breed pigs. But, oh well. They will have to deal. Neighbors will love the squeals. In the meantime, we’ll replace CoExist bumper sticker with WeExist.
Silent H, Massachusetts
Chers Faux Amis,
Six months since exciting Spring update. And. Well. Yes. I left my job as Town Manager of Silent H and we’ve moved over to Pronounced H, Massachusetts. Our matchy cottage is finally finished. Blue-gray is the color of the day. People in the blue-gray house next door can paint theirs. Ours is permanent. So. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. No? Also built a fenced-in pigpen out front. What will Zoning Board say about that? Let the squealing begin when those two little hogs tangle with aging Mephistopheles the cat. Our money’s on Meph.
The fresh outlook is wonderful. We can see right into neighbors’ windows with no trees in our way. Sunbeams galore on our PV panels. Remember. Our lives matter. Happy update on Moonbeam. He’s almost 30 now and back from Colorado. He’ll be training at the medical marijuana clinic here in town. Goody. He can resurrect Candy Crush marathons again in our brand new basement!
Zelda still needs to replace Prius CoExist bumper sticker with WeExist. Bought each other matchy-matchy winter jackets, too. It’s a theme. Have to collect melted snow from the plastic barrels now. Happy Kristwaanzakkah to all.
Newly of Pronounced H, Massachusetts
Formerly of Silent H, Massachusetts
Happy Kwanzaakah All,
Yes. It’s us again. The Bidrights. Here to regale you with our wonderment. We are enjoying our new town so much. Although people aren’t very friendly. They keep to themselves. I understand we are known as the Mulchkins in the ‘hood because of my lust for brown ground chips instead of grass. Zelda remains very anti-wood. Her arborcidal mania has left literally no tree behind. So. The yard is like a desert. We love living our own mirage!
The two pedigree pigs and Meph the Cat are constantly pooping in the front pen, but Zelda loves picking up all their crap in her purple bathrobe at dawn. And she adores the fresh air, hanging her elderly underpants on the clothes line for all to admire. Moonbeam gets a little embarrassed when he comes home early from work at the marijuana clinic to find us canoodling on our hammock in front of the neighbors’ big bay window. I’m sure they are jealous of our devotion. And. We just built a little stone patio that drops into a water hole. Hope the little toddlers don’t wander in. Oh well. WeExist. Our lives matter.
Until next year! People next door are outta here.
Pronounced H, Massachusetts
I know you’re all awaiting our upbeat holiday news from winsome Western Massachusetts. Regret to report that we end 2016 in severe post-election shock. An unholy macro-aggression has been perpetrated against our New England progressive pseudo-peace.
Decided to try growing magic mushrooms on our mulch farm. Psilocybin is said to ward off acute TTSD (Traumatic Trump Stress Disorder). Zelda’s a zombie, mindlessly yanking weeds in her purple bathrobe at dawn. Our manboy Moonbeam was last seen buried under Bernie signs in the basement months ago. So. I hang out with Meph & the hogs in the frontyard pigpen scooping poop for hours on end.
Back in our old burg, Silent H, the Lord Jeffs have been tomahawked. So to speak. And Hampshire College has banned the American flag. Solace indeed. Still blessed to live in the Happy Valley of safe spaces.
More good news. Cranky next door neighbors moved to NYC. They’ve been replaced by a young couple from L.A. Hope we can coerce these neophytes into cutting down all their sugar maples for our photovoltaic benefit. Anyway. If you see our crabby former neighbors in the Big Apple, tell them they are missing out on all the fun in the old ‘hood.
Until next year,
Pronounced H, Massachusetts
Dear Friends of the Bidrights,
This holiday season brings unsettling tidings. We regret to inform you of a shocking story in last week’s Daily Hampshire Gay-Zette:
” The Bidrights of Pronounced H suddenly and spontaneously combusted last Sunday night. So too their newly erected blue-gray photovoltaic home, two pure-bred pigs, and an elderly cat, known as Mephistopheles. Poof! Nothing found except a toppled clothesline with sadly tattered granny underpants, an electric blue Prius covered in taupe dust, crocs and garden tools strewn around a former frontyard poop-pen, plastic rain barrels rolled into the street. “
Theories abound. Many believe that they were abducted by aliens. But. Neighbors are convinced that there is another culprit. The Bidrights were overwhelmed by their half-acre of wood chips. Yup. All that mulch swallowed them up. Into the brown Upside Down!
Only the Bidrights’ thirty-something son Moonbeam seems to have escaped. He reportedly emerged from under a pile of old Bernie signs in the basement some time ago, lately spotted at his alma mater Middlebury College, protesting free speech.
It goes without saying that we will miss the Bidrights’ annual updates. Ah well. Godspeed to the disappeared dorks. Wherever they landed. As long as they don’t pop up in Central Park.
Bye Bye Bidrights!