I am in the process of catching people up with some early hikes and other encounters with nature that I thought people might find interesting as part of a "How It Began" (HIB) series. Mostly this will describe specific hikes and perhaps some lessons learned along the way...if there are any. They are meant to be short and, perhaps helpful in some way to other hikers or fellow-travelers. I will post the dates of when I hiked a specific mountain since the ones in this series are NOT posted at or near the date I actually hiked them.
OCTOBER 8, 2021
History nerds will remember Shays' Rebellion, when a band of veterans from the Continental Army rose up to resist the entrenched interests of eastern Massachusetts and set off a series of events that ultimately culminated in the writing and ratification of the Constitution. If you don't remember, check it out. It was one of those iconic turning points in American history but in many schools you only get a day to digest the whole Articles of Confederation-to-US Constitution move and Daniel Shays gets merely a mention.
These days folks with just enough information will try to shoehorn this second revolution into the mythology of today's "red v. blue" divide. It is a futile endeavor. They were protesting a number of issues, like not getting paid and being taxed without adequate representation. Underlying their oppression was the economic desires of the landed interests in Boston. The story is a Rorschach test for activists. You can make of it what you will. My suggestion is to just take it for what it is, on its own merits and in its own context. It is a moment in time, and a romantic one in its own way. The actors in their story are the closest we get to the legends of Robin Hood or Rob Roy MacGregor.
I bring up this historical tidbit because you can check out Shays' old stomping grounds without too much difficulty. The Pioneer Valley--where the rebels were primarily from--creates a defensive bowl of ridges and rocks where Shays and Co. could hide out when the heat was on. I already mentioned the Seven Sisters hike. There are more to come, but this post is about Norwottuck, the site of their final stand.
The hike, itself, isn't that long. Also, the elevation isn't very high. You don't have to go too far up to get a commanding view when the land around you is flat as a pancake. From the parking lot I head into the woods and then passed an active quarry to my right. After a bit of confusion, I managed to locate the trail I was looking for and found the footing easy for a while. Then it became ledgey and more difficult. The total walk was four miles round trip. It included the sort of rolling hills that I now know as a key part of hikes in the region. There are some steep parts up toward the peak and then down the other side.
After a short scramble up the ledge to the top. I found numerous perches from which one could look out over the valley. That tacked on some time as I sampled many of them. I was working on a sermon, after all, and could use the inspiration.
Even though they were farmers by trade, Shays' army had already fought one revolution. They knew how to choose the terrain. In addition to those many lookouts, the land is rough and rocky, with many places to hide and take cover. I had no trouble imagining a musket or two peaking around the corner. It would be an unsettling place to try to attack if you knew it was defended by locals.
Dropping down from the top I eventually hit a flat area known as the "Horse Caves." Legend has it that Shays hid horses in holes in the cliff. If this is the case they must have very tiny horses! I would say there was room for maybe three goats. Still, it was a very cool spot to be. The flat area seemed like a likely location for their final encampment and it wasn't hard to imagine them there, waiting to face the militia from Boston.
In the end, though, they surrendered. The commanding officer of the Boston militia claimed in his reports to have surprised them and captured everyone involved. Strangely, Shays was nowhere to be found. Nor were the other officers whose capture would have resulted in their trial and death. My guess is that neither side had much interest in killing and--perhaps after some negotiation--the leaders were allowed to slip away.
A little research will reveal what happened to everybody from that point on. It did, in fact, prompt some reading for me. The hike was relatively easy, but it is one of my favorites. The story, the views, and the general vibe of the place got me going. I have tried to go back but it is also very popular with other folks and on the weekends it is hard to find a parking space.
I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.