Nature Writing

The First Visit to Hoosac Tunnel

[Cassie, 2/6/18]

This is our first time visiting Hoosac Tunnel. We thought we knew where we were going but we were not in the right location when we first set off. Second time trying to find the dirt path, completely covered by snow, was much more successful. We parked the car in a small plowed spot and started on our adventure. To our right: a small building. We made a note to visit it on the way back to the car. Our main focus was to just get to the tunnel. Neither of us had seen it before.


Stumbling along up towards the tracks, we were excited to see them stretch out to our left and our right. We go right, wondering if this was the direction we needed to head towards to get to the Hoosac Tunnel. The crisp snow crunched under boots. I run forward arms out on both side, the contents of my backpack jumping around as I stumbled forward trying, and failing, to keep my balance. I’m sure I looked like a little kid running home from the bus stop as I tripped through the snow, nearly falling several times. We didn’t actually cross the tracks but we did note a small stream on the other side and not long after we noticed another possible stream on our side of the tracks (after almost stepping directly into it). 

Walking up to the tunnel, the West Portal to be exact, was not as “creepy” as expected. Looking back on the moment, perhaps it was because of the snow that covered everything in the area. The area felt quiet and at peace. Nothing seemed to move. Everything was still, except for us as we trudged through the snow.

It’s hard to understand just how large the tunnel is until you’re standing at the entrance. It becomes even clearer when you see someone else standing at the entrance (especially someone as tall as Erica). The tunnel was decorated in graffiti and a common tag that can be found locally: “you’re going to be ok” was just on the outside of the tunnel. The inside of the tunnel looked unwelcoming. The snow itself didn’t dare to venture inside the darkness. How far back did it go? [Edit: Upon further research, well over a mile] The entire area seemed abandoned and silent.

Unexpectedly, we found that the closer we got to the tunnel, the warmer it got. I have had friends describe the tunnel to me beforehand and everyone always describes the tunnel as freezing, especially in the winter. The air seemed to stand still beside the tunnel. Maybe it was the history of deaths in the “Bloody Pit”  that added to the eerie feeling while standing just outside. But the longer I stood there, the more I was able to dismiss that uneasy feeling and enjoy exploring the outside of the tunnel, making excited remarks about the most unexciting things: the track wasn’t directly in the middle of the tunnel but closer to the side, closer to the small stream. Why?

We decided to backtrack before stopping by the building near the car. There was a brick building falling apart just above the tracks. Was this where they originally tried to bore into the mountain? [Edit: It was not. It was a power station.] There was a hole filled with dirt. It looked like there were tracks on the ground, but maybe not. The corner of the roof was missing (More excited remarks about unexciting things: “Wow! The corner is missing!”) I have no idea what this place was actually used for.

Between the two unknown buildings: beavers. I have never felt so excited about beavers before in my life. We didn’t actually see a beaver, but after identifying a tree that was clearly gnawed on, we ran back and realized we had walked right past a dam without noticing it was even there. I don’t know what it was about that particular experience that made it so exciting when we didn’t even see a beaver. I had seen a beaver walking down my street once before and didn’t think anything of it. But here I was, jumping like I was having the time of my life (I was), pointing at the dam repeatedly.

We took a look into this smaller structure, and the first thing we see: “you’re going to be ok” again. This area feels secluded from the rest of town, but the tag reminds us of where we are, that even though we aren’t surrounded by people, people have been here and people will be here (just as we were).



Despite the graffiti in the three locations in this area, there were no piles of litter that we could see, and the area did not look like it had been utterly destroyed by people visiting.

I hope the snow melts by the time we visit the tunnel again so we can take a closer look at the area.



I hope the beavers are having a good winter.




The Frogs in Western Mass

[Erica, 4/10/18]


I long for the sound of peepers in the spring.

When the nights are cool, the moon is bright and full, when peepers are singing their songs. You can hear the chorus through your cracked bedroom window, as a breeze comes in slow, rustling the curtains. The sheets are cold, comfortable. A musical number of singing frogs lulling you to sleep.

The peepers disappeared years ago, back home. The roads were covered in them, roads wet with long passed rain and the peepers would go out to sit on the warm pavement. Cars coming by, not bothering to swerve, because it was a given that you would hit a few dozen or so on your commute home.

For the longest time, I didn’t see them, hear them, or even fully realize they were gone. I didn’t notice until moments when I would be sitting in my room at night and hearing the sound of crickets, but no peepers. Staying awake all night and long into the red, red sunrise, the sounds of crickets fade into birdsong. But not the songs I wanted.

I can’t deny the magic and sense of belonging that Western Massachusetts brings me. Walking along the forest trails, especially as far as Mt. Greylock, you can feel the magic, which is no wonder why JK Rowling wrote about this place.

Driving down the mountain with fog rolling in, mildly terrified of the lack of visibility, yet somewhat at peace with it all. The stillness in the air, the calm. The absolute silence is something completely unheard of.

Standing at the summit, looking into the expanse of white and gray, directly in the center of a cloud – you feel alone, that is, until another car breaks through the mist, only to disappear again. The fog blocks out the noise, you don’t hear the car approaching, and the only thing you can see are the hazard lights blinking out of existence.

It’s spring again. I still don’t hear the peepers at home, but in Western Mass, I heard them.

Driving at night. The darkness seeps in from all sides, headlights barely managing to cut through it, illuminating the road just ahead and nothing else. The rural areas don’t have streetlights, and apparently, barely have roads, either.

The GPS leads through some paved roads, some not. It takes not very many trips to realize which roads lead where, which paved roads you can avoid, and which you cannot. In the spring, one thing you cannot avoid, is the potholes, deep as car tires are tall, and wider than an entire car is long. Living here, you win made-up awards with names like, swerved before running over the 30th consecutive pothole, and managed to take a road with quarter of it chewed up, instead of half.

You know when the temperature is finally warming up, and the city thinks there will be no more snow – that’s when the potholes finally get fixed.

Before that, though, before the holes get fixed as well as before the last snow, the peepers awoke in the dead of night. Driving down through Western Massachusetts, trying to get south towards home, in Connecticut… it had been a long day.

I never mind driving the three hours home. I don’t mind seeing the parts of Mass and of CT that I never see. The miles and miles of farmland, trees. Driving up and down hills, feeling my stomach jump when I go over a little too fast.

I often get lost in thought, driving on autopilot because I’ve driven this way so many times, the same way for the past three years. I pass by signs that say to watch for bears, moose, deer, watching for fallen rocks and falling rocks. The hills get smaller the further south I go, until eventually, they become highways and bridges, suspended high above me.

My car radio was blasting something slow. Music I never really listen to when I’m driving, not until a chorus comes on that I know. It was in the break between songs that I heard them. When the music fades and I heard something in the distance.

The sound of my car’s engine almost drowns it out. I have to turn my radio off to stop the next song from coming on, and although it’s still cold, I turn off the heat, turn off the air in the vents. I crack a window, and I listen to the peepers for awhile as I drive. I almost forgot what they sounded like, I couldn’t place the noise at first.

It takes me a second to realize, and it’s then that I start grinning. I can’t believe I heard them again.


Beavers are like… ghosts?


I was drawn to Hoosac Tunnel by the intense, and dark history that lies within it. Locals know of the ghost stories that have weaved themselves through the tracks and stone of the tunnel. I have lived in North Adams for four years as a student and these stories are not uncommon. My freshman year at MCLA I had heard of the Hoosac Tunnel more times than I can count, at least more than the number of fingers on my hands. I knew of the Houghton Mansion, but unfortunately never had the opportunity to tour the home while it was open.

I’ve skirted on the edge of truly looking into history of this location and its relation to ghost stories, but through this course I was able to  explore the history of the Hoosac Tunnel and the relationship between ghosts and the dark history of the tunnel make sense. When you scroll through the list of those who have died, when you read page after page of the difficulties and dangers of constructing this tunnel, it would seem almost impossible to not have a supernatural twist existing side-by-side with it all.

But ghosts don’t always have to be supernatural, right?

I see the land itself as a ghost, a ghost of what once was during the construction of the Hoosac Tunnel. The tunnel and its history may be riddled with death but there was once bodies moving around, relentlessly working. And now, there’s virtually nothing. Two crumbling structures, and the tunnel. That’s it. Trying to image people moving around the area seems odd. Right now, it’s quiet. You see trees, dirt, mud, rocks, and beavers. Well, you don’t actually see the beavers. But they’re there. Their dam is right there, just to your right when you step out of your car and face in the direction of the tracks.

Bare with me, but I think the beavers are us. What I mean is that the beavers have claimed this space in a similar way that people once did. They claimed the space and have altered it to make their own, to benefit their own needs. While we have torn down trees to make room, beavers tear down trees to make a room.

“Work in Progress” by: the beavers
Photographed by: Erica Wilcoxen

We leave behind unfinished works, such as the False Start, as the beavers leave behind trees not completely gnawed through. The difference? We leave our mess, abandoned. The beavers come back, the beavers are continuing their work, continuing their destruction of nature. Generally, people see beavers as pests, but aren’t we the pests in  most cases? We claim things that aren’t ours, and leave behind more than just ghosts, we leave behind a mess.

There was a brief period where Erica and I believed that the beavers and moved on from the area, leaving behind their mess like we had after the construction of the tunnel. But the tree that we have visited numerous times in these last four months tells us otherwise.

Like ghosts, I believe the beavers are there, but I have yet to see one. But I know they are there. And unlike the nature of humans to conquer, use, destroy, and move on, the beavers have conquered, and utilize.



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