The Briary

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Mud, mud, glorious mud

Friday June 21, 2013

The Briarcliff Motel

The Briarcliff 'before'...

So, as you will have read, we finally took the plunge and got rid of the old look at the front of the motel. This was a leap of faith in some ways: yes we had a new design, courtesy of our guest Sam Panton from Terra Design, and we had a landscaper lined up in Tom Ingersoll, a local guy who we chose basically because he loves trees, and the local landscape, and so do we. But do you ever find when you start a project that STARTING is the hardest part? Getting everyone to commit to a price, and then to be in the same place on the same day, is not easy. But one day in early June, about two months later than we really wanted, there we were with a giant excavator parked outside the motel.

Our basic motivation was simple: we wanted to make our ‘front yard’ look like it was part of the mountain view behind it, instead of the artificially-imposed garden planted with annuals and twisted, stunted arbor vitae (‘tree of life’, how ironic) that we inherited when we bought the place. Sam’s design pictured two allées of birch trees, linking the motel and the mountain, surrounded by long grass with mown grass paths in between; a communal firepit; wildflowers; rustic outdoor dining tables; and lots of space for guests to sit and admire the view of the mountain.

The action would take place in the huge circular area bounded by our driveway. The only problem was, it was strangely humped up, with the middle around two feet above grade. We wanted it to be flat, but there was no way to know what was underneath it; our theory was that it was where they dumped the fill when they built the motel, but there was a possibility that three inches down, it was solid rock. Time for that leap of faith, and the giant excavator I mentioned earlier. Our trusty operators Seamus and Joe pitched up one morning, and began to scrape off the surface. The old, poor, turf would have to be dumped (at some expense), and we were hoping for a good six inches of topsoil underneath that we could reuse once the area was scraped out into a shallow bowl. Well, we didn’t hit bedrock, but the bad news was we had about an inch of topsoil – no more. We’d have to keep the rocky soil underneath on site, and ‘screen’ it through a giant sieve to reuse.

As the hump got flatter, a series of heaps grew in front of the motel. One rumour flying around town was that the Briarcliff had sewer problems. Someone else asked if the dirt pile was a replica of the mountain behind (we had to point out that this was not Close Encounters of the Third Kind). However, despite the noise, and the disruption, which we had to keep apologizing for, things were progressing well. Then the rain started…and just didn’t stop. We needed three consecutive dry days for us to start taking down the pile and redistributing it. We haven’t had three consecutive dry days in living memory, so the result has been deadlock and frustration. As ever, our lovely guests have kept us sane by reassuring us that nooooo, the vast ugly dirt pile didn’t bother them at all, and showing lots of interest in our ‘mood board’ showing what the new area will look like. But we became increasingly mortified that we’d taken something vaguely acceptable to most people and turned it into a mudbath.

Then, our anxious scanning of the weather forecast finally paid dividends – a whole dry week was forecast! Of course, it rained Monday, and again Tuesday morning… the dark clouds of despair began to gather around our heads. Then Wednesday was nice, and Thursday was gorgeous, and so today, Friday, we are set to screen. I haven’t been this excited since the Christmas I was five years old. Here’s hoping that our plan B, to turn the front yard into a dirt bike trail, and plan C, to open a mud-wrestling arena, can now be cancelled and we can finally turn this into a front yard to be proud of.

Washers & softball

Saturday June 1, 2013

The Briarcliff Motel

A trip to New England in the late 1990s had us escaping a rainy Boston day for the movies, where we had an epiphany while watching chick-flick masterpiece, Runaway Bride. Remember?

RB reunited Julia Roberts and Richard Gere (whose on-screen chemistry in Pretty Woman sparks so powerfully that we usually watch it wearing welder’s goggles), exchanging the broad-shouldered glam of late-80s LA for the rustic downhome-ness of Hale, Maryland. Maybe it was because we’d left the Berkshires behind the day before with a heavy heart, but I was less interested in indecisive spinster Maggie Carpenter’s relationship with vengeful non-fact-checking hack Ike Graham, than what life would be like if you could live in cool, bohemian Hale.

My trademark machismo crumbled, as I ached for Hale’s version of small town America through a mist of girly tears. Thankfully we were sitting in the dark. Hale combined the arty chutzpah of Great Barrington with the working mens’ swagger of Lee: I wanted to be there, and not just as a tourist. I wanted to josh with Maggie and the other townsfolk while buying a washer for an out-of-production tap. Cheer on the softball team. Greet my friends and neighbours on Main Street. Dye an uppity city slicker’s hair all the colours of the rainbow.

All this flooded back last weekend when I picked up a shade (not a washer) from a woman (not kooky Maggie) in the hardware store, ran into the landlord of my local bar, and bumped into regular Briarcliff guests from New York who are, themselves, joining the neighbourhood as they build a home in Beartown Forest (I won’t be dyeing their hair when they aren’t looking, though. They’re nice people.)

The point of this dreary ramble (there’s a point?) is that modern travellers would rather be locals, even if just for a day or two, than tourists.  We’re that way, and if the last two years are anything to go by, many of you are too. What our guests really want to know is: where do we go when we have a night off? Where do we shop, swim, hike? They want the skinny on what locals do in their spare time, so that they, too, can be locals for a short time. So having spent two years giving guests our version of what makes the Berkshires cool, we’re going to write about it and put it online, to help you plan your trip or help you decide whether or not you’d like to explore this area.

Our new blog will be going live soon and you’ll be able to access posts from this page, Facebook and twitter. Stay tuned.