So… there were other treasures waiting to be discovered while we were on our long hike Saturday. In 1907 the mountain laurel, a lovely native American shrub, was designated as the official state flower of Connecticut. They are just starting to blossom and we saw loads of them.
I was raised by the melody Of the whispering grove And learned to love Among the flowers. ~ Friedrich Hölderlin (Odes & Elegies)
Now, the staff at the arboretum is keeping a meadow open for habitat for several kinds of animals and birds. They also erected several birdhouses and we did see a tree swallow looking out the “window.”
These shots were very hard to get because they were taken from so far away. I didn’t have a tripod to stabilize the camera and the zoom lens. I climbed a bank on the side of the trail, through a thicket of plants and saplings, and then leaned one arm on a tree to steady my grip, trying to avoid the gypsy moth caterpillars. (I wound up bringing at least one tick home – I hope I won’t find any more…) Even though I had to delete most of the shots I took it was a thrill to get home and find that these three came out!
I love all the orbs I captured…
We were just thinking of turning around and retracing our steps when Beverly was beckoned by yet another tree growing through the rocks. So we left the path and carefully navigated our way through uneven terrain of rocks and bushes. I found a spot to take the picture. More orbs!
After finding our way back to the trail I finally put away the camera, took a long drink of water, sprayed on some more bug repellent and enjoyed the long walk back, hands free.
May 2, 2020: When this post was first published I misidentified the bird as a baby bluebird, a mistake that was pointed out to me recently by much more knowledgeable friends. Consensus is that the brightly colored bird is an adult tree swallow! I have edited the text above, but the comments below reflect my original error. Sorry about that!
On Saturday afternoon my sister and I did some hiking in the uncultivated part of the Connecticut College Arboretum. It was like being in the woods we played in and rambled through as children. We encountered a doe along our path, she stopped short when she spotted us and then darted off sideways into the woods.
Nature — sometimes sears a Sapling — Sometimes — scalps a Tree — Her Green People recollect it When they do not die — ~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #457)
When I was at the doctor for a check-up last week he said it seemed like he was treating nothing but rashes from these little villains. Why do people even touch them, I wondered? But they can dangle from invisible threads and I was startled when I walked right into one. No rash, so far…
Death is like the insect Menacing the tree Competent to kill it, But decoyed may be.
Bait it with the balsam Seek it with the saw, Baffle, it cost you Everything you are.
Then, if it have burrowed Out of reach of skill — Wring the tree and leave it. ‘Tis the vermin’s will.
~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1783)
For some reason I am drawn to trees that seem dead, but sculptural, and yet still have a few green leaves up near the crown. Sometimes dying is a very gradual process.
And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in everything. ~ William Shakespeare (As You Like It)
One will see roots while looking down (photo above), of course, but also when looking up (photo below). The tree below decided it could grow sticking out of a rock face, high above the ground. There must have been just enough soil between the layers of rock for it to sustain itself. Maybe it is strong enough to move the rock some to give the roots more space.
One impulse from a vernal wood May teach you more of man, Of moral evil and of good, Than all the sages can. ~ William Wordsworth (The Tables Turned)
Ferns (above) with visible roots growing on the rock face. Plenty of moss to soften the surface, too.
A tree (above) seems to have been blown over in a storm and left with a large cavity between its roots and the rock below. Stones and boulders, dumped by receding glaciers eons ago, are so ubiquitous in Connecticut and it seems the trees have no choice but to grow above, below, around and between them.
I wondered if someone might have set this stone deliberately pointing up as a benchmark for future hiking adventures. It’s amazing to contemplate that these stone walls deep in the woods once surrounded fields and pastures in colonial days. Farmers used the stones cluttering their land to build the walls but in the end, growing crops was difficult. Many eventually abandoned their homes and headed west for better farmland. The woods slowly came back and claimed the landscape once again.
This past weekend we took a long walk in the woods at Connecticut College Arboretum, and found ourselves fascinated with all the dead and dying trees. Some have been recently toppled, either by Hurricane Sandy or Blizzard Charlotte. This is the time of year to see deep into the woods, before the view is obscured by green foliage.
This fallen tree brought underground stones, embedded in its root system, up into the air, along with the soil.
Skunk cabbage is one of the first plants to bloom in spring. Its flowers are often partly or wholly hidden beneath last year’s fallen leaves. Like many other dark-colored flowers, skunk cabbage is pollinated mostly by flies. The flowers actually produce heat — a benefit to the flies out in cold weather. The leaves emerge after the flowers. They smell unpleasant if they are crushed, hence the name “skunk cabbage.” ~ Connecticut Botanical Society
Imperfection is in some sort essential to all that we know of life. It is a sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, a state of progress and change. Nothing that lives is, or can be rigidly perfect; part of it is decaying, part nascent. ~ John Ruskin (The Stones of Venice)
Earlier today Beverly and I went hiking in the woods near Gallows Lane in New London. She was setting out flags and prizes hidden in the woods for the thirty children who will be coming to her Map & Compass activity on Saturday. The children have to use a map of the woods and a compass to locate eight places marked by the flags. Each location has a plastic box filled with a little treasures. They bring back one treasure from each box to prove they found each of the flags. (They get to keep the treasures…) I think the first kid back from the expedition gets another prize, too. It took us a couple of hours to set it all up, so they’ll be having a long walk and an adventure, too, if they manage to find them all!
One might wonder how a road would come to be designated with such a morbid name. Gallows Lane. Well, it was a terrible thing that happened there. A servant woman named Sarah Bramble was executed by hanging off the cliff here in 1753. She had been convicted of murdering her illegitimate newborn daughter. So far I haven’t found out too much about her, but what I have found out makes me more curious than ever about her life.
November 21st, 1753, Sarah Bramble was executed in a cross highway that leads out of the main road to Norwich, about two miles north of the town plot. This path has ever since been known as Gallows Lane. It is a rugged, wild and dreary road, even at the present day. The fearful machine was erected in the highest part of the road, and all the hills and ledges around must have been covered with the spectators. It was computed that 10,000 assembled on this occasion; some of them probably came twenty or thirty miles to witness this repulsive exhibition. The gloom of the weather added another dismal feature to the scene, a drizzly rain continuing most of the day.
This is the only public execution of any white person that ever took place in New London. The crime of the unhappy woman was the murder of her infant illegitimate child, on the day of its birth. It was committed in April, 1752, and she was tried by the superior court the next September. But the jury disagreeing in their verdict, she was kept imprisoned another year, and sentenced October 3d, 1753. She declined hearing the sermon intended for her benefit, which was preached by Rev. Mr. Jewett, before the execution.
Frances Manwaring Caulkins, History of New London, Connecticut: From the First Survey of the Coast in 1612, to 1852, (Hartford, Connecticut: Press of Case, Tiffany & Company, 1852), 468
[September 28, 1753] “at the meeting house to hear the Tryal of Sarah Bramble for murdr of her Bastard Child in March 1752. Court Sat by Candle light.” [October 1, 1753] “the Jury brot in their verdict & found Sarah Bramble Guilty of Murdering her Bastard Child a female in march 1752.” [October 3, 1753] “Sarah Bramble Received Sentance of Death ys Day” [October 24, 1753] “went to Lectureto hear Mr Jewit who pr to Sarah Bramble &c.” [November 7, 1753] “in the aftern att Lecture. Mr Jewit preacht. the Sermon Composed to be pr to Sarah Bramble, but she declined Coming to hear itt, a Large Congregation.” [November 21, 1753] “Misty & Rain moderately. S: Bramble. I was at home foren. in the aftern I Rid up to the Cross Highway abve Jno Bolles to See Sarah Bramble Executed for the Murdering her Bastard Child in march last was a year Since. She was hanged at 3 Clock. a Crowd of Spectators of all sexes & nations yt are among us from the neighbouring Towns as well as this. Judged to be Ten Thousand. it Rained moderately most of the day.”
Joshua Hempstead, Diary of Joshua Hempstead of New London, Connecticut (New London, Connecticut: New London County Historical Society, 1901), 616-619
It strikes me how matter-of-fact and unemotional Hempstead is about this woman’s trial and execution. He doesn’t say one way or the other what he thinks about the matter. Why did the jury disagree on a verdict? Who was the father of Sarah Bramble’s child? Didn’t he have some responsibility for what happened? Was the father possibly her employer? I can’t help feeling she was probably abandoned and forced to bear the blame for the “fornication.” And why did she murder her baby, if she did? Did she want to spare it the pain of a lifetime of being referred to and excluded as a Bastard? Did she feel cornered, like there was no other way out? Honestly, I could see myself reasoning that way if I had found myself in that situation in that time period. Maybe she was suicidal…
There’s a lot of history in these woods, which are still claiming back the land the early settlers turned into farms and then abandoned when they moved westward. Today we found a pen made of stones for ewes and their lambs. The rocks were low enough for the mother sheep to leave to find food and return, but high enough to keep the lambs safe inside. Amazing how shepherds knew to build such an enclosure and how the sheep made use of it, instinctively knowing it was just what they needed for a perfect nursery!
We also found a pretty little princess pine forest…