At Sunnyside Childcare Center, where Saskia spends three (cheery paint-and-playground-and-peer-filled) mornings each week, there’s a whole curriculum called Second Step covered across the different classrooms. Remy, now seven, also went to Sunnyside, and so I can anticipate some of what Saskia will encounter there over the coming years. In the Middle Group (ages three-early four), she’ll focus upon the concept of helping hands (but every preschooler knows about the clean-up song—everybody do your share—this is just emphasizing helping one another in all kinds of ways, building a bridge to understanding friendship that much more).

I am a preschool language adopter; in our household, helping hands stuck.

Maybe then, it’s not surprising that I love two seemingly disparate things about this community (and I am not the only one to feel this way). Both have to do with hands.


The first is really about helping hands. I’ve been thinking about how hands around here reach out, how they help, how they hold.

There are so many examples of this on the friends-and-neighbors level, the person you don’t know all that well bringing a meal when you have a baby, the neighbor making food or raking leaves for someone struggling with a health issue, and on. That happens in many places, sure. It just seems to be automatic here; what’s remarkable is less that people help one another and more the incredible frequency with which this occurs.

Note: it’s easier, for me at least, to be on the giving end than the receiving of such kindnesses, but I certainly have found myself in both positions. When Lucien, now in sixth grade, broke his leg skiing way back in kindergarten, we happened to find ourselves surrounded by friends up at Berkshire East (where the EMT’s were simply spectacular—professional, helpful, as well as kind and upbeat), and those friends leapt into action straight away. I was sliding toward the lift when a friend waved her arms in my direction, worried look on her face. “Lucien’s fallen,” she announced, her face pale, “and they’re in the emergency hut.” This before I heard a page for me over the loudspeaker, and before I even saw Lucien—wan took on meaning right, my brave five year-old boy clearly in a lot of pain, kind of crumpled and drawn on a board in the first aid shack—and after three people had offered rides home for Ezekiel as I hurried toward the injured one. Within minutes, although time slowed to dream speed and got kind of taffy-like in there, we’d lined up a way home for shaken Ezekiel (a second grader then) and we’d made it to the boxy green Explorer, where I rode in back with Lucien’s head on my lap. He was outstretched and moaning. Every single bump in the road seemed hostile.

Fast forward twenty-four hours and we had a still very pale boy with a honking cast covering his leg already adorned with a frog from housemate, Michael, and a house with legs by carpenter pal, Ted, a huge get well sign from the kindergarten class, a visit from our body-worker pal, Jody, and offers of more visits, meals, and help. I put the Polaroid camera beside the bed, and over the coming days, he snapped a huge stack of photographs, documenting each visitor.

During those first days, I was so shaken and kept wishing that somehow I could hit the rewind button and make the broken leg un-break. Each time I replayed a scenario in which somehow, miraculously, the bad thing didn’t occur—we left before the last run, we didn’t ski that day—another thought helped me move onward: as a parent, you can’t make your child’s life perfect, and even if you could, how would that help? Throughout your life, hard things are going to take place. That’s a given. I would think about our friend, Lenore, showing him how to pour light into the place where it hurt, and Ted’s booming laugh and confident carry down the stairs with a frightened Lucien in tow, and Lucien’s good friend, Alex, approaching so tentatively and then starting to play a game with Lucien, almost as if nothing had happened. I would think about all the ways friends helped and how Lucien saw us ask for help and how it buoyed him and us all, including the ways he learned how to help himself with some coaching and encouragement.

So, what flooded me and erased the rewind yearning was how grateful I felt to live somewhere that I could call compassionate, and how grateful I felt that hands and hearts—friends—work that way here, so that for my children, the model of community and friendships being tethered together in this way is so strong… it’s infrastructure versus paint job. Leaning on each other isn’t easy, necessarily. It may not even feel natural. Yet I don’t question whether my children are growing up trusting that people care deeply about others, because this is what they witness and experience, again and again, and not just at the very worst times.


Another thing I love about this place is how many people make things. I am about as un-crafty as they come (don’t sew, don’t knit, don’t can, don’t build). This valley (and the Berkshires, too) has an immense number of artisans, farmers, carpenters, and artists of all sorts, think coming out of the woodwork proportions, not just a handful or a bunch, a hoard.

This weekend, Northampton can boast an abundance of making things energy. Friday evening (the second Friday, always an arts night in town), at the Artisan Gallery is a personal favorite show—the third annual Cup and Mug Invitational—featuring cups and mugs created by many of the gallery’s artists and many more of their friends (how cool is that?). And talk about hands: what object better suits hands than the perfect mug? What is better to share with a friend than the warm drink delivered in that satisfying container? (Answer, nothing, put that in the good-as-it-gets category). I snuck in earlier this week for a quick peek and was sneak-peek awed (and instantly picking mugs up to test ‘em out, because mugs are really about the in-your-hands experience).

There’s more wow this weekend at the Northampton Center for the Arts, where Twist Fair is taking place. Twist is Lexie Barnes’ brainchild, modeled upon the trend of urban and kind of hip, affordable crafts fairs. Indeed, Twist brings a buzzing energy of cool to the craft scene around here (there’s also a Twist holiday pop-up store on the second floor of Thornes Market, if you miss this event or would prefer less of a scene when you shop, just avoid Thornes on bag day if calm is your aim, in fact, avoid town altogether). For me, it’s a chance to ogle my talented friends’ work and to see a big range of neat stuff (and maybe find new stories for writing purposes, for while I’m not a maker of things, I do like very much to write about people making things, and do so regularly for Preview Massachusetts magazine).

Up the road, at the hulking Arts and Industry Building (formerly, the Pro Brush factory) on Pine Street in Florence is its annual Open Studio event. Here’s a chance to see about forty-five artisans and artists—and some others, people who work in the building teaching karate or Pilates or writing—showcase what they do in the old factory building. It’s always a lot of fun to see how the word industry so aptly fits. I can’t name names for fear of missing someone important, but especially if you’ve never been, or haven’t for a while, this is inspiring, social, and fun (and there is so much ground to cover inside, it’s a chance to wander and explore a very cool spot). Bread Euphoria, one of the local bakeries giving us all delicious artisanal bread, will be selling bread, pastries, coffee and light meals.

And meanwhile tonight (if, miraculously, I can figure out a little chauffeuring of older kids and be free), I will try to toss the younger ones into the van and head to Pittsfield, home of more arts scene and crafts scene too, for the Berkshire Museum’s sneak look at its Festival of Trees show. An hour away, Pittsfield feels like a gateway spot to the ever-growing art scene there (more for someone who loves arts to look at, more arts stories for someone who likes to write about people making things to chronicle).


Hands at work create bounty in so many different ways I cannot quite wrap my mind around it, cannot quite hold it in my hands (clunk). But for lack of a really pithy conclusion here, I will say that I’m going to bring my filled-with-toddler hands somewhere tonight to honor hands that make beautiful things, and I’m going to head into the holiday season grateful for this reverence about the many ways hands prevail.