October has arrived. Colors creep imperceptibly and interminably, stealing southward over the hills as buoyant leaves flutter, windborne, into gutters and onto the ground to crunch delectably underfoot. Crisp nights nip late library-leavers as they return home from their vigil. It is the season of apple-picking and cider-making, of hay-baling and leaf-peeping, of pumpkin-purchasing and pie-making. In our own little corner of New England, it is the month of Mountain Day.
Before Melville or Thoreau ever praised Mount Greylock’s majesty, Williams students left school behind for a day every fall to traipse trails along its variegated shoulders. Writing in his journal in 1827, President Edward Dorr Griffin expressed the need he saw for “a day to go upon the mountain” to exercise “muscles obsolete from study,” a holiday that was eventually institutionalized as a spontaneous event every October. First Mount Greylock and then Bald Mountain (as Stony Ledge was once known) were selected as destinations. Tracks were cleared up the slopes to accommodate heavier traffic (as well as the occasional president’s horse), and in 1830, students of the College installed the first watchtower on Mount Greylock’s peak for sightseeing and scientific observation. The tradition lapsed for much of the 20th century until 1982, when the enterprising new director of the outing club and his student leaders successfully lobbied the administration to revive the holiday – although it took another couple decades to fully restore the legacy of canceled classes on an unscheduled Friday during October. Today we are proud to celebrate the beauty of the Berkshires even as our venerable predecessors did during the College’s distant youth.
Not that this will be your forefather’s Mountain Day. In the old days, students ascending the mountain were greeted there by a view and a certain self-satisfaction for the achievement. Hikers this year will be met by the same sight and sentiment, yes, but will also be treated to good music and a copious supply of donuts, apples and cider, as well as the camaraderie of a thousand or so of their fellows.
Most of us will climb Stony Ledge by one of four two- to three-mile trails, leaving campus after the picnic on Chapin Lawn. A brave few will leave campus at 9 a.m. for a 10-mile hike over Mt. Greylock by way of the Appalachian Trail to Stony Ledge. Another group will leave an hour later on a six-mile hike, also summiting the high peak before descending to the event. All are welcome on both hikes (although we recommend previous experience with longer day-hikes); the groups will meet at their respective times in front of Paresky with lunch and a water bottle in hand.
Additionally, we understand that not everyone can participate in the afternoon event due to scheduling conflicts. It is for these people that we run an “alternate” Mountain Day on Stone Hill, but that is not to say that we discourage anyone from making it a day of two Mountain Days. Just like atop Stony Ledge, there will be cider, donuts and apples, as well as a cappella performances. Attendees are invited to gather in front of Paresky at 11 a.m. to meet the leaders of the procession to Stone Hill. The event will conclude in time to return to campus for the picnic.
This year’s Mountain Day will occur on Oct. 5, 12 or 19. Some number among you will doubtlessly think to guess the coming of the day, but those of us in WOC discourage this. We believe in the culture of spontaneity that distinguished the antiquarian Mountain Days of the early years of the College. So do your reading and that problem set, rather than hold to the procrastinator’s hope of miraculous rescue (as we all have on some occasion) and risk the vicissitudes of Berkshire weather; it will be so much sweeter then to wake to ringing bells and know the celebrated day has arrived.
Remember: Mountain Day is a College holiday and a time to spend however you may wish. We merely hope that the fun, tradition and natural beauty hold for you the same allure as over us and that you will join us for one of the most memorable events of the year.
Noah Wentzel ’13 is political science major from Seattle, Wash. He lives on Water Street.