Growing up as I did in the town of Greenfield, Massachusetts in the ‘60s, the place to pause and reflect on life was Poet’s Seat Tower.
When you needed inspiration, or simply to rise above whatever was happening in your world and refresh your perspective, you hiked or drove or rode a bike up to the base of the tower, climbed the stairs inside, and took in the view through the big arched windows. People still do.
The sandstone structure was built in 1912 on Rocky Mountain, in the northern Pocumtuck range. That was the year Greenfield poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman died. He’s considered a minor American poet (which, as a kid, I thought meant he was petite. I was not a scholarly child).
Poet’s Seat Tower honors Tuckerman and other 19th-century poets who found solace and inspiration in the view of the valley below. They wrote for hours up there, absent the digital distractions so tempting today. To my eye, the tower architecture looks a bit medieval, not out of place on a Game of Thrones set.
Greenfield is no longer shaded by the canopies of majestic elms whose branches once met over residential streets. But the name still fits. There are green fields and yards and maples for miles. It’s a nice view of a nice place to live.
When I climb the tower now, the valley unfolds like a panorama of my boyhood. I can see the hospital where I was born, the roofs of public schools I attended, the street where my family lived and I rode the coolest bike in town (dad replaced the handlebars with the steering wheel from a neighbor’s old dump-truck), the field where youth baseball games unfolded in August heat, the sledding hill where my childhood friend Nancy sledded into a tree and broke her leg, the houses on my newspaper and lawn-mowing routes, the smaller home my parents’ downsized to in their later years, the roof of the home where my sister and her husband live.
All that sweet life rolled along below this stately, steadfast presence. You could look up and see the tower from all over, reassurance written in stone.
Should you be in the Greenfield area, consider driving up to Poet’s Seat. It’s about ten minutes off Route 91, maintained by the town, open during the day in warmer months, and free. It’s a favorite vantage point of foliage fans around Columbus Day
The tight spiral staircase from the third floor to the very top level frightens some visitors, including some sisters I won’t name, as you can see air down between the metal treads. But if you’re not prone to vertigo, it’s worth it. The best view is from the very top.
On windy days, the large American flag flying over Poet’s Seat Tower snaps back and forth overhead, furling and unfurling as if unsure of what to do next. Should you find yourself wondering the same thing, this is a good place to go and sort it all out.