winter-patience

1.13.21 ~ Stoddard Hill State Park
Ledyard, Connecticut

Several weeks after our first visit to this state park we returned to hike up the hill to the lookout, 183 feet (56 meters) above the river. The leaf-covered path started behind the cemetery and was much more steep than we had anticipated.

looking towards the Thames River from behind Stoddard Cemetery

It wasn’t long before I covered the camera lens and grabbed two strong walking sticks to steady myself. Tim already had his walking stick and was more steady on his feet, but had to stop frequently to catch his breath. I was starting to question the wisdom of embarking on this expedition! Especially when we lost the trail and decided to just keep going up…

several kinds of moss and lichen on a rotting log

When things leveled off a bit I got a few pictures…

mushroom
princess pine trying to poke through the layers of leaves

Near the top we turned around near this ledge and saw the cemetery way down below…

Stoddard Cemetery from high above

At last we could see an opening in the woods and views of the river, trees and railroad tracks below. Tim said it was a good thing we came in the winter because the leaves on the trees would have blocked these lovely scenes. Keep in mind, under these ridges is that jumble of glacial erratics pictured in the last post. We didn’t go close enough to the edge to peek down there.

even way up here there were a few dead fish

Only with winter-patience can we bring
The deep-desired, long-awaited spring.

~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh
(The Unicorn & Other Poems)

We found the trail again and managed to follow it all the way back down to the cemetery. I’m pleased to report that neither of us fell! I slipped a couple of feet once but my sticks saved me. 🙂 That’s probably enough of steep climbs for us!

hairy woodpecker, telephoto lens
same hairy woodpecker
mallards on Stoddard Cove, also telephoto lens
thin ice on Stoddard Cove

It was nice to finally stand on level ground and take a couple of bird pictures. Phew!

a light shines through us

12.28.20 ~ Stoddard Hill State Park
Ledyard, Connecticut

We took this walk along the banks of the Thames River a couple of weeks ago. Immediately we were confronted with dead, half-eaten fish littering the path. It was pretty creepy and we wondered what on earth was going on. We had to watch our steps!

probably Atlantic menhaden

Later, after asking around, we learned that this phenomenon has been spotted by others taking walks in other natural areas near the river. We tried to ignore the gruesome scene underfoot and enjoy what else the trail had to offer…

spotted wintergreen

From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(The Selected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson)

fungi? lichen? growing in tree wound cavity
Stoddard Cemetery

We found a cemetery at the foot of a hillside of jumbled glacial erratics. We noticed a couple of stones for local Revolutionary War soldiers.

Stoddard Cemetery
a huge burl on a very thin tree trunk
glacial erratics seeming to tumble down the side of the hill
lichen growing on part of an erratic

In the past month, DEEP Fisheries Division staff have received and investigated numerous calls of reported sightings of dead fish along the Connecticut shoreline, from Darien to New London, and numerous points in between. These incidents, known as fish kills, involve a species of fish called Atlantic Menhaden, also known as “bunker.” Menhaden are the most abundant marine fish species on the east coast, and fish kills involving them are not uncommon. Menhaden fish kills can occur for a variety of reasons, most often due to natural or environmental factors such as school-induced hypoxia (lack of oxygen) or cold water temperature. While DEEP continues to investigate these events, staff believe the cause of the fish kills observed over the past month have been due to more Menhaden overwintering in the Sound this year, possibly due to a missed migration cue, leading them to succumb to the cold water temperatures and a lack of nourishment.
~ The Fisherman website, December 14, 2020

jumble of erratics from another angle
Norwich & Worcester Railroad tracks, Thames River
big scramble of glacial erratics cascading down off Stoddard Hill
looking down over the very steep riverbank
every few steps, another one
???
an open acorn stash

Recently I found a website with pictures of old postcards of huge glacial erratics, many from New England. When the pandemic is over, and if health permits, we might try to visit a few of these! Boulders of the United States

a bit nippy

1.7.21 ~ song sparrow, Eastern Point

The song sparrow, who knows how brief and lovely life is, says, “Sweet, sweet, sweet interlude; sweet, sweet, sweet interlude.
~ E. B. White
(Charlotte’s Web)

1.7.21 ~ brants in Thames River estuary

Thursday’s afternoon walk was a bit nippy. (We thought it might be slightly warmer than our usual morning walk. It was, but still, my fingers froze. Maybe two layers of gloves in the future… Maybe stop trying to take so many pictures…) I counted five song sparrows flitting about near the thicket and sea wall. I left them a few seeds.

And we saw a huge flock of brants on the lawn. Suddenly they took off en masse to fly a short distance and alight on the river. (Attemped in-flight photos were all blurry.) If you want to hear the sound they made while flying there’s an audio clip at the bottom right side of this webpage: brant sound. It’s very different than the honking sounds Canada geese make.

Maybe they’re here for the eelgrass and will then move on to greener “pastures.” I can only imagine how much of it such a huge flock consumes in a few days.

1.7.21 ~ Canada geese in Beach Pond

Geese are friends with no one, they badmouth everybody and everything. But they are companionable once you get used to their ingratitude and false accusations.
~ E. B. White
(Charlotte’s Web)

off the beaten path

12.29.20 ~ cute little sapling, Connecticut College Arboretum
New London, Connecticut

Tuesday we donned our masks and warm layers and headed over to the Arboretum to meet my sister and her husband for our first in-person visit since the pandemic started in March, unless you count video calls and quick verbal exchanges from our balcony to the parking lot. We had planned a “safe” outdoor meeting like this to celebrate Thanksgiving and then Christmas, but rain had spoiled our plans for both days.

Beverly & John, geologist and botanist, know the natural areas of the Arboretum like the backs of their hands so I was anticipating a wonderful guided tour, off the beaten path. It did feel awfully unnatural, though, keeping six feet apart behind masks for a couple of hours, but we pulled if off. It was so good being with them again. We explored the Bolleswood Natural Area.

partridge berry

Partridge Berry is a native perennial, a small, woody, trailing vine with 6 to 12 inch, slender, trailing stems that does not climb but lays prostrate on the forest floor. The trailing stems root at nodes which come in contact with the forest surface and may spread into colonies several yards across. … The fruits are tasteless and generally survive through winter and into the following spring. Birds are the primary consumer of these fruits and the subsequent distribution of seeds.
~ US Forest Service website

Knowing about our recent fascination with glacial erratics, Beverly had a surprise for us, a huge one! Our first glimpse of it is below…

first side
front side

It looks like that rotting tree grew up there and was then snapped down in a storm. But it also looks like humans have moved some wood around, making it look like the wood is holding up the stone, but it’s not. It’s resting on other erratics underground.

other side (Tim is 5’8″)
a close-up from the back
a peek underneath ~ two orbs!

After marveling over this erratic’s size and its precarious perch we continued on. Sometimes there was so much moss along the path it reminded me of a forest in Ireland.

And we finally came to a flooded bog. (The drought is definitely over.) It was beautiful with bits of moss, autumn leaves under the water, partial sheets of thin ice, sticks, and a few remaining plants and grasses.

And then John pointed out a carnivorous plant…

pitcher plant hidden in leaves

The pitchers trap and digesting flying and crawling insects, making the species one of the few carnivorous plants in North America. The hollow pitchers fill naturally with rainwater. The pitchers also have broad lips where insects land. The insects crawl into the pitcher, where stiff, downward pointing hairs prevent them from leaving. Anectdoctal evidence suggests pitchers capture less than one percent of the flies that venture into their traps, but a few insects eventually fall into the water at the base of the pitcher, where digestive enzymes secreted by the plant release the nutrients within the insects. Eventually, the nutrients are absorbed by the plant, which supplements the nutrients absorbed by the roots.
~ US Forest Service website

pitcher plant

On our way out of the Arboretum we saw…

winterberry aka black alder
oyster mushroom, thanks to Larisa’s friend for the id

It was sad to say good-bye but we were getting cold and so made our way home to some hot tea. Curled up under our blankets, we put on some music and our happy holiday hearth DVD. Very cozy after having rosy cheeks from the chilly air. Maybe we’ll do this again — hopefully soon.

snow melting in the oak-beech forest

12.24.20 ~ Poquetanuck Cove Preserve, Ledyard, Connecticut

On Christmas Eve morning we headed 13 miles north to find some snow without a sheet of ice on top of it. It was melting up in Ledyard but still looking lovely and was walkable. I was delighted! I was going to get my chance to walk in the snow covered woods!

trailhead, others had been here, too

In the winter there are fewer men in the fields and woods … you see the tracks of those who had preceded you, and so are more reminded of them than in summer.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Journal, December 12, 1859)

first glimpse of a wolf tree

The preserve’s website mentioned wolf trees, which are “relics from the agricultural era when trees along the edges of fields could spread their branches.” My curiosity piqued, I soon spotted one. I’ve seen trees like this before, but didn’t know there was a term for them.

winter shadows are long and enchanting
moss peeking through the snow
beech marcescence with splotches of lichen
part of the huge wolf tree, probably an oak

In the strictest sense, wolf trees are those spared the axe during widespread Colonial-era deforestation in order to provide shade for livestock or mark a boundary. As second- and third-growth woods filled in abandoned pasture and farmland, these titans have become crowded by dense, spindly youngsters. Where those upstarts are tall and narrow, competing fiercely for canopy light, the wolf tree they surround has fat, laterally extended boughs and a comparatively squat trunk—a testament to the open, sunny country in which it once prospered.
~ Ethan Shaw
(The Old in the Forest: Wolf Trees of New England & Farther Afield)

wolf tree bark close up
wolf tree leaves high up on a branch
my favorite picture capturing the magic of the snowy woods
Avery Hill Brook

When we got to the brook we decided to turn around because there was no bridge and crossing over by stepping on the small rocks looked like a dicey proposition. But on the way back we paid more attention to the little things peeping out from under the snow.

ice, leaves, moss, lichen, rock
oak leaf in snow
chunky snow melting on rock
lichen, moss, leaves, snow

The winter, with its snow and ice, is not an evil to be corrected. It is as it was designed and made to be, for the artist has had leisure to add beauty to use.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Journal, December 11, 1855)

more beech marcescence
part of rock surrounded by melting snow
simplicity
puffs and sparkle

We will return some day, better prepared to cross the brook and make our way to the cove, where we might find osprey and waterfowl. It was good to get a great walk in before heading home to hunker down for the fast approaching Christmas wind and rain storm.

We wound up having a good Christmas, even though it was pouring rain all day. There were treasured video calls with family. We finished a jigsaw puzzle together while listening to my winter solstice playlist on shuffle. Watched the final episodes of a Norwegian TV series on Netflix, Home for Christmas, dubbed in English. (Hjem til Jul)

“In the Still Light of Dawn” by Alan Giana

As we started to close the drapes at dusk we found ourselves awestruck. The eastern sky, opposite of the sunset, was violet!!! We couldn’t believe our eyes! The color comes from the extra moisture in the atmosphere refracting the setting sun’s light rays so that the violet is reflected.

12.25.20 ~ eastern sky at sunset

Color! What a deep and mysterious language, the language of dreams.
~ Paul Gauguin
(Perception & Imaging: Photography as a Way of Seeing)

midwinter in self-quarantine

12.21.20 ~ 7:11 am, foggy winter solstice sunrise

After nine months in self-quarantine life still seems pretty bizarre. The coronavirus pandemic still rages and is getting worse with every day. Our fervent hope is that getting everyone vaccinated will turn things around sooner than later. Two of our elderly relatives-in-law have caught it, one is still fighting for his life in the hospital and the other is still sick and isolating at home. Some of Tim’s friends have lost loved ones. These are truly dark days.

Since I took a sunset picture for the summer solstice in June I decided to take a sunrise picture for the winter one. But we had fog and clouds on solstice morning, not even a hint of daybreak in the sky. There was a travel advisory for black ice on the roads so we stayed home and I took the picture from an upstairs window.

We had tried to take a walk on Saturday but found a sheet of ice on top of the snow making it too hazardous to continue. So instead of attempting another trek out on Monday I put Grandfather Frost out on our balcony, hoping to catch him casting the longest shadow of the year at noon. At first there was no sun and no shadow but by some miracle the bright star came out from the clouds right at solar noon for just a quick minute! I took the picture and then it disappeared again. (If I had known where the railing shadows would fall I would have located him standing fully in the sunshine!)

12.21.20 ~ 11:46 am, solar noon
longest shadow of the year!

A year indoors is a journey along a paper calendar; a year in outer nature is the accomplishment of a tremendous ritual. To share in it, one must have a knowledge of the pilgrimages of the sun, and something of that natural sense of him and feeling for him which made even the most primitive people mark the summer limits of his advance and the last December ebb of his decline. All these autumn weeks I have watched the great disk going south along the horizon of moorlands beyond the marsh, now sinking behind this field, now behind this leafless tree, now behind this sedgy hillock dappled with thin snow. We lose a great deal, I think, when we lose this sense and feeling for the sun. When all has been said, the adventure of the sun is the great natural drama by which we live, and not to have joy in it and awe of it, not to share in it, is to close a dull door on nature’s sustaining and poetic spirit.
~ Henry Beston
(The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod)

12.21.20 ~ yule tree

We kept trying to get a decent picture of our lovely “snowball and icicle” tree but our cameras refused to focus — at least you can get a vague impression of it from this one. I suspect the camera doesn’t know what to do with the little lights and glass reflections. Then again, I’ve never mastered the art of indoor photography. Outdoor light is my friend. I tried to get a few close-ups of ornaments with mixed results. The best ones follow….

May your holidays be merry and bright and full of blessings and gratitude. As the light returns and as our days grow longer may the coming year sparkle with hope, love and peace. 🌲

in a thicket

12.13.20 ~ Eastern Point ~ leaves in the estuary

After my yucky week Tim made sure I got out for another walk soon, especially since we’re supposed to be having a few storms this week. I haven’t been finding many birds lately, and not even the gulls were cooperating at the beach, where we found ourselves on Sunday.

and driftwood
and seaweed
young man meditating on the rocks

But then I remembered a song sparrow I had seen back in July in a thicket near a chain link fence on top of a cement wall near the estuary. (timelessness and quiet ecstasy) I decided to see if some song sparrows were still there. Yes! They live here year round and are native to North America. Finding them made my day! 🙂

song sparrow on the lookout

in a thicket by
the sea the song sparrows are
still keeping a home

~ Barbara Rodgers
(By the Sea)

the top of a chain link fence serves a useful purpose

Feeds heavily on seeds, especially in winter, mainly those of grasses and weeds. Birds in coastal marshes and on islands also feed on small crustaceans and mollusks, perhaps rarely on small fish.
~ National Audubon Society website, page on song sparrows

If you would have the song of the sparrow inspire you a thousand years hence, let your life be in harmony with its strain to-day.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Journal, May 12, 1857)

reflections

12.11.20 ~ Barn Island Wildlife Management Area
Pawcatuck, Connecticut

Somehow a week passed between our walks and I was feeling the definite lack of my regular endorphin boost. How did that happen? Some of the time was spent decorating our tree, which is almost done. I’m waiting on a mail order of ornament hooks. For some reason I ran out of them before all the pretty glass icicles made it onto the tree. But mostly I’ve been puttering around aimlessly.

Barn Island is the largest coastal wildlife management area in the state. It has about 1,000 acres of deciduous forest and tidal saltmarshes and lovely views of Little Narragansett Bay. The area supports “at least 9 State-listed avian species.”

clouds reflected in a tidal creek

I love it here, even if we didn’t see any birds this time. That might be because several couples were there walking their dogs. One couple was even letting their two large rambunctious dogs off the leash, putting them on the leashes when they saw us and then letting them go again after they had passed. Infuriating!

After a still winter night I awoke with the impression that some question had been put to me, which I had been endeavoring in vain to answer in my sleep, as what — how — when — where?
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Walden)

I’m missing my grandchildren. Most of the time I don’t dwell on it because I’m so grateful that we’re all safe and have incomes and food and roofs over our heads, the basics that so many Americans have lost or are losing soon. But recently, on a video call, Finn, age 2, called me Grammy for the first time, and the sound of his little voice coming into his own tugged at my heart.

Little Narragansett Bay in the distance
tidal creek

And then there was the evening that Katherine, age 6, created a solar system model out of Play-Doh. I watched for about an hour as she told me about the different planets and that the first four were rocky and the last four were gaseous. I was captivated.

spotted wintergreen
moss and lichen

Another morning I got a phone call, Katherine wanted to know if I still had the Barbie Animal Rescuer set she played with here over a year ago. Yes! It is waiting right here in the living room for her next visit. When she visited us that November (2019) I meant for her to take it home with her but she said no, it was to stay at Grammy’s to be played with here. We had such fun playing with it together and I had wondered if she would remember that, and she did.

tidal creek

Katherine has lost four of her baby teeth. And Finn, an agile little guy who loves speeding around on his scooter with the greatest of ease, wound up tripping over his bean bag chair in the middle of the night, hitting and cutting his lip with his tooth on the bedframe and getting 7 stitches! But it’s healing up well and the scar is almost invisible.

trees reflected in tidal creek

The beauty of the earth answers exactly to your demand and appreciation.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Journal, November 2, 1858)

I trust that the walkers of the present day are conscious of the blessings which they enjoy in the comparative freedom with which they can ramble over the country and enjoy the landscape.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Journal, February 12, 1851)

morning at the tree farm

12.4.20 ~ Yetter Road Tree Farm, Mystic, Connecticut

With 16 acres of 11 kinds of evergreen trees, we had a nice long walk at this tree farm before we (I) settled on one to take home. We thought we were looking for a Fraser Fir but none of them seemed right and with the guidance of a helpful employee we finally came home with a lovely Nordmann Fir. I’m in love!

An excellent needle retaining species with soft glossy dark green needles. Nordmann Firs are the preferred Christmas tree of Europeans, with long, full, lush, dark green foliage, similar to a Fraser fir, but soft to the touch and with excellent needle retention. … Their soft and lustrous black-green needles stem from symmetrically arranged branches, producing the ideal pyramidal specimen for a Christmas tree.
~ Pick Your Own Christmas Tree website

We liked the color of the Nordmann better, for some reason we never noticed how yellowy the Fraser was before we saw two, one of each, growing right next to each other. The only thing the Nordmann is missing is fragrance, but we’ll just burn some scented candles to make up for it. 🙂

I was so busy trying to stay six feet away from the young man helping us that I forgot to take a picture of our solstice tree before he cut it down. I have to say, he was very patient to answer all our questions, and my last minute change of mind didn’t faze him in the least. Tim was relieved when the tree was finally cut and loaded into the truck. It was all bundled and ready for us when we returned to the holding area.

On the way back I saw a bluebird! But it was too quick for me and the pictures came out too blurry to use. Sigh… My luck with birds seems to be waning.

There seems to be a shortage of Christmas trees this year, or so I’ve been hearing on the news. More people looking to make their pandemic holiday extra special. Every time we thought we spotted a good looking tree it turned out to be tagged already. Next year we might just pay the extra few dollars to tag a tree before Thanksgiving. But we’re still happy with the one we finally found.

ready for pick up
this pretty decorative ball was hanging from a tree
waiting for twine
all set up and ready to be decorated
(it will take me a few days)

Since my last post the new guidelines say that those over 65 years old should have their groceries delivered now during this surge. So it’s back to Instacart for us. Staying home except for our walks in the unpopulated woods.

Latest statistics: New London County now has 6,648 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 54 people are currently in the hospital and 180 have lost their lives. That’s 1,980 new cases since November 15 when I last reported.

Connecticut’s positive test rate is now 5.7%. (It was 6.4% on November 15.) It looks like we’re doing better than many other states. Still, we’re hunkering down for the next few months.