When You Cross the Bridge

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As many of you already know, my father died peacefully at home, in his sleep, on September 19.  I’m still in a daze and it still seems like a dream.  When I finally got to bed after he died, I started thinking it would be nice to have a memorial for him on my mother’s birthday, October 17, at the cemetery where his ashes will be buried next to hers.  The next morning my sister called me and said she hoped I would like her idea, and her idea turned out to be the exact same idea that I had.  So it was settled.

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When we were little we always went to visit our beloved grandparents on Cape Cod for our mother’s birthday.  So we are both looking forward to one last trip up there with Papa, bringing his ashes in a beautiful biodegradable wooden box my sister found for him.  The gravedigger will have the earth ready for him before we arrive and we will all stand in a circle and say whatever we want to say before we lay him to rest.  I’ve never planned a funeral or memorial before, and I’ve never been an executrix before, either.  For some reason the planning is comforting.

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We’re renting a large house nearby.  Even though it was closed for the season the owner has kindly opened it up for this special occasion.  When the owner sent an email to confirm the days, he wrote, “We should be ready for you to check in anytime after 1:00, but give us a call when you cross the bridge and we will meet you at the house.”  When I read this it made me cry.  All Cape Codders and all of us who love the Cape know what “when you cross the bridge” means.  And the funny thing is there are two bridges crossing the Cape Cod Canal, and either one will do.

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…1953, Bachelor of Arts in Bacteriology…

The first three pictures were taken by me in 2001.  In 2000 my father fell and crushed several vertebrae.  He was in the hospital for a while and needed to use his cane afterwards.  Papa had made a trail meandering through the woods on his property and he maintained it while taking his daily walks.  Walking through the woods with him countless times is a memory I will always treasure.  He would use his cane as a pointer as he identified various nuts, leaves, wildflowers or the entrance to an animal’s den.  Or he would point it up into the tree canopy when he heard a familiar bird call.  The cane was carved and used by his father and now I have it for safekeeping.

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…Easter, 1983, my parents…

Sadly, in 2007 Papa fell again, this time breaking his femur and his pelvis.  He never made a good recovery from that unfortunate accident.  There were no more walks in the woods. He was mostly in a wheelchair after that and suffered from dementia.  The last six years have been so difficult for all of us, but especially for him.  When I found these pictures taken at an earlier, happier time, they helped me to overlay the recent memories with more pleasant ones.

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…Labor Day, 1985, my parents with three of my aunts…

Many thanks to our Aunt Em, who came up to visit us from Maryland last weekend, and to visit Aunt Lil, too, who seems to be doing as well as can be expected in the nursing home. Aunt Em brought and gave us some of her pictures – the last three are from her.

falling of leaves…

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“Waning Summer” by Willard Metcalf

The time of the falling of leaves has come again. Once more in our morning walk we tread upon carpets of gold and crimson, of brown and bronze, woven by the winds or the rains out of these delicate textures while we slept.

How beautifully leaves grow old! How full of light and color are their last days!

~ John Burroughs
(Under the Maples)

Welcome Autumn!

an unspoken law…

"Backwoods" by Ivan Shishkin (1832-1898) Russian Landscape Painter

“Backwoods” by Ivan Shishkin

A lady, with whom I was riding in the forest, said to me, that the woods always seemed to her to wait, as if the genii who inhabit them suspended their deeds until the wayfarer has passed onward: a thought which poetry has celebrated in the dance of the fairies, which breaks off on the approach of human feet.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(History)

I have learned through walking with my dogs here that there is an unspoken law. Always send a warning. Never surprise the animal life in the forest. So walking along without the noise of the jeep, it is wise to whistle a little tune and give the creatures some kind of an idea that you are approaching their area. This gives them a chance to adjust and find a place to hide, so they can watch you from their position out of your view. It is wise to follow the rule of the forest.
~ Neil Young
(Waging Heavy Peace)

Mountain Laurel Sanctuary

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June 26, 2013, Union, Connecticut
Nipmuck State Forest, Mountain Laurel Sanctuary

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…a lovely afternoon exploring with Janet…

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Mountain laurel, which is in the heath family, is Connecticut’s state flower and is abundant in moderately shaded woods in this state.  The flower of the native shrub produces clusters of beautiful pinkish white blooms between Fathers Day and Fourth of July in this part of the state. The foliage is evergreen so it stays green all winter long.  Hiking in the woods one may come across a thicket of mountain laurel and wonder if it is at all possible to penetrate through the tangled branches that grow close to the ground.
~ Mountain Laurel Sanctuary

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…a little frog (or toad?) who was nice enough to hold still for a second…

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…there were many mountain laurel bushes, in all stages of blooming,
lining both sides of this long path through the sanctuary…

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…a whimsical woodpecker, evidence of other human visitors…

There was a blue dragonfly flitting about us (not to mention hoards of mosquitoes!) but it wouldn’t stay still long enough to be photographed.  A few days later, however, Janet found a more cooperative blue dragonfly resting on one of her tomato cages at home and sent me this picture!

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…blue dragonfly by Janet Hale…

Dinosaurs in the Woods

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June 23, 2013, Montville, Connecticut
The Dinosaur Place

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…Dominic…

While Nate & Shea were in Connecticut for the wedding, we also spent a fun day at an outdoor Dinosaur Place with them and their nephews.  It was very hot so we were glad to be in the woods most of the time, and enjoyed watching the kids play on the splash pad after our long dinosaur walk.

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I don’t know the names of these dinosaurs, but Dominic knows ALL of them and he’s only 4 years old!  It was fun seeing this lost world through the eyes and imaginations of the little ones.

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…Julius and Dominic…

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…Julius…

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…Dominic…

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…Julius…

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…Dominic enjoying the amazing playground…

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…Dominic…

Lady Slippers

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…Liz (Janet’s mom)…

On Friday, Janet, Liz and I enjoyed a lovely afternoon at a Lady Slippers Walk & Picnic at the Peace Sanctuary in Mystic, Connecticut.  Our guide was Maggie Jones, executive director of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center.  Before we began our walk in the woods, Maggie gave us a little history of the 45-acre sanctuary property.

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The Universal Peace Union had been founded in Providence in 1866 by a group of reformers whose belief in nonviolence after years of bloody warfare led them to a broad critique of American imperialism, U.S. immigration and Native American policies.  The local branch had formed among Rogerene Quakers around Ledyard, and the first national meetings took place in private homes there.  As the number of members grew, including large numbers of women, the annual meeting moved to a larger venue in Mystic.

By the 1880s and 1890s, the gathering attracted as many as ten thousand attendees.  In 1890, the organization purchased land from Silas Burrows and the Fish family on a hill overlooking the river on the northwestern side of town.  Meetings then took place at this open and undeveloped spot, attracting such speakers as reformer Lucretia Mott and author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” Julia Ward Howe.

~ Leigh Fought
(A History of Mystic, Connecticut: From Pequot Village to Tourist Town)

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…happily growing in a decaying tree trunk…

When peace became less popular around the start of World War II, the land was purchased by explorer, naturalist, cartographer and writer, Mary Jobe Akeley (1886-1966), who turned it into a summer nature camp for girls.  Camp Mystic was very popular and attended by girls from across the nation.  Renowned explorers often visited the camp and shared stories of their experiences with the girls.  Sadly, during the Great Depression the camp was closed.

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…almost ready to bloom…

After her death in 1966, the Mary L. Jobe Akeley Trust & Peace Sanctuary was established and the property is now looked after by the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center.  In the month of May nearly 400 native pink lady slippers, also called pink moccasin flowers, can be found blooming in the woods on the property.

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Lady slippers are part of the orchid family and are native to Connecticut.  They love the acid soil found in the woods, and need a certain fungus found there in order to survive. They grow 6 to 15 inches tall and the flowers are about 3 inches long.  They can often be found growing in decaying logs.  I used to see them occasionally when I played in the woods near the swamp where I grew up, so it was a treat to see so many of them in one day!

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The pink lady slipper has been the provincial flower of Prince Edward Island since 1947, and the state wildflower of New Hampshire since 1991.

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…different stages of blossoming…

Our walk was mostly uphill and when we reached the top we were treated to an outdoor picnic buffet in a lovely woodland garden.  I had stinging nettle soup for the first time, and another soup made with wild leeks.

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…narcissus…

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5.17.13.5474…daphne…

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…a frog bidding us good-bye as we made our way back down the hill…

Farewell, Bernie

7.29.10 ~ Bernie

This weekend I received the sad news that my sister’s dear cat, Bernie, passed away. We are all heartbroken, even though we knew he was very old and very sick, and even though we are relieved that his suffering is over. Bernie was a wise soul who taught me many things about life, about acceptance, and about curiosity. Over the years he and I shared many long walks in the woods around my father’s house – he was a wonderful companion.

I invite you to read my first post on this blog about him here:  Bernie

On Christmas Day, 2011, Bernie didn’t want to take a walk with me, so I sat with him at the top of the stairs for a while, petting his thin and bony body, talking to him. Then I went out for a walk in the woods by myself before it got dark. I knew then that we would no longer be walking together…

Farewell, my brave friend, and may you rest in peace. We miss you so much…