8 inches of snow!

12.17.20 ~ nisse by our dwarf river birch 

Nothing captures our imagination more than the idea of nature spirits. Stories about them are found in every tradition upon the planet, and they never fail to touch us in some way. The truth is that most of us have had amazing nature spirit encounters, but we have either forgotten them, didn’t realize what they were at the time or allowed others to convince us that they weren’t real. But the truth is that Nature is one of the most powerful realms of spirit contact and guidance available to us.
~ Ted Andrews
(The Intercession of Spirits)

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)

circling around the kettle

11.4.20 ~ Kettle Hole Trail
Ledyard, Connecticut

Kettles form when blocks of ice are broken off of the glacier and then buried in drift. When the retreating glacier melts, so does the block of ice, leaving a depression. Kettles can be very small and hard to find if they are obscured by foliage, and if the water remained in the hole, they can become lakes.
~ Jessica Cobb
(Connecticut’s Landscape Is the Story of Glaciers website)

a stone wall surrounded most of the kettle,
it’s hard to see how far the land drops down beyond the wall

While trying to learn more about glacial erratics online I discovered kettles, and learned that we had one nearby. And so Tim & I were off to have a look at Kettle Hole in Ledyard. A loop trail circles along the perimeter. Well, it was very large and easy to find, even though it was obscured by foliage, and was not filled with water. Unfortunately, this kettle was not easy to capture in a photograph, its depth (perhaps about 50′ – 15m) just didn’t show up in a flat picture. Sigh.

Tim thought the drop might be more visible from this angle
this rock looked like it had started to tumble into the kettle

All the same, we had a very pleasant walk on a lovely autumn day. And enjoyed photographing other things. We’ve had some rain here and there so our drought level has dropped to moderate, so we’re headed in the right direction.

rotting log covered with moss
not sure what to make of this,
it looked like a miniature fern growing out of and lying on top of the moss

All through autumn we hear a double voice: one says everything is ripe; the other says everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite.
~ Gretel Ehrlich
(The Solace of Open Spaces: Essays)

acorns and oak leaves on moss
fading fall colors
princess pines ♡ little fairy forests in my mind
spotting these evokes sweet memories from my childhood

The green branchlets and stems of princess pines stay fresh-looking all winter, and they stand out prominently on the dry browns of a forest floor. Being evergreen like that may have contributed to the name, even though princess pines do not make pine cones. People often collect the tough, pliable plants and make Christmas wreaths and lush table arrangements out of them. They last a long time that way, despite the dryness of life on bare walls and tabletops. All you have to do is soak them in water for an hour or so to revive them. Although princess pines do a fine job of evoking holiday spirit, I do not want to encourage you to go out and collect great heaps of them every year. So many people are doing it already that some of these plants are in danger of being wiped out.
~ Curt Stager
(Field Notes from the Northern Forest)

the darker half of the year

10.31.20 ~ full blue moon, Barn Island Wildlife Management Area
Pawcatuck, Connecticut
~

I tremble with gratitude
for my children and their children
who take pleasure in one another.

At our dinners together, the dead
enter and pass among us
in living love and in memory.

And so the young are taught.

~ Wendell Berry
(This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems)

It’s been almost a year since we’ve gathered to eat with our children and grandchildren and ancestors. I miss those times. Some day we will all be together again in person but for now we will be grateful for our video calls.

When we know about our ancestors, when we sense them as living and as supporting us, then we feel connected to the genetic life-stream, and we draw strength and nourishment from this.
~ Philip Carr-Gomm
(Druid Mysteries: Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century)

We have reached the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker half of the year. Earth’s energy has shifted and the veil between the spirit world and our world has lifted for a few days. It’s a time to reflect on and honor the lives of our ancestors. Three of mine died in an epidemic in the winter of 1711-1712. With this knowledge I do draw strength and nourishment.

We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation. All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.
~ Dr. Anthony Fauci
(CNN, October 30, 2020)

family treasures

“Bergaporten (The Entrance in the Mountain)” by John Bauer
(a guardian of family treasures?)

The real continuity, what we truly love and cherish, is not confined in the forms. And perhaps there is something infinitely freeing in letting all these relics go. Perhaps holding onto our family treasures is actually painful. Because we know deep down that we are holding onto dust. We are clinging to nothing at all. And yet, at the same time, it is beautiful to have things in my life now that were there in my childhood, things my mother and father cherished and touched, things they found beautiful.

Sometimes people feel obligated to keep family treasures that they don’t actually want. My mother was great that way. She told me repeatedly, “These are my things, from my journey, and you don’t need to keep any of them you don’t want.”

~ Joan Tollifson
(Death: The End of Self-Improvement)

chickadee memories

image credit: pixabay

Inside their skulls, the sophistication of the neural capacity of black-capped chickadees increases in autumn. The part of the brain that stores spatial information gets larger and more complex, allowing the birds to remember the locations of the seeds and insects that they cache under bark and in clusters of lichen. The superior memory of the birds that I hear in the tips of the fir tree is a neuronal preparation for the hungry days of late autumn and winter. The seat of spatial memory in the brains of chickadees that live in these northern forests is particularly voluminous and densely wired. Natural selection has worked winter into the birds’ heads, molding the brains so that chickadees can survive even when food is scarce.

Chickadee memories also live within societal relationships. The birds are keen observers of their flockmates. If one bird should happen on a novel way of finding or processing food, others will learn from what they see. Once acquired, the memory no longer depends on the life of any individual. The memory passes through the generations, living in the social network.

~ David George Haskell
(The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors)

Chickadees were probably the first birds I became aware of when I was a little girl. They frequented my mother’s birdfeeder which was right outside our dining room window. (Our tiny Cape Cod style house didn’t have a breakfast room or eat-in kitchen.) I still remember eating my breakfast at the table in the winter and the cold blast of air that made me shiver when Mom opened the window to spread more seeds out onto the protected platform.

I remember playing out in the snowy winter woods with the chickadee fee-bee song playing in the background. And the well known chickadee-dee-dee alarm call. My father taught me to recognize their warning call, which I often hear out of the blue on our walks in the woods these days. My guess is we might be entering someone’s territory so we respectfully move on quickly.

10.25.15 ~ woodpecker
photo by Tim

For many winters now we’ve been hanging a suet feeder on our condo balcony to attract the woodpeckers I also love. Chickadees hang around and glean the seeds that fall out of the suet while the woodpeckers are feeding. Unfortunately starlings have figured out how to hang onto the suet feeder and they wreak havoc with their large numbers. Why can’t they come one or two at a time like the woodpeckers and chickadees? We also welcome a fair number of titmice, nuthatches and juncos.

Every winter our neighbor complains that the birds poop on his balcony. For this winter I had planned to not put out the suet feeder in the interest of being neighborly but, unbeknownst to me, my thoughtful husband bought a few months worth of suet cakes he found on sale. A woodpecker already came by the other day and was hanging onto the sliding glass door screen, inquiring within about the missing feeder, no doubt. And the chickadees have also been checking out the balcony, it seems to be much earlier than usual this year. I used to put the feeder out mid-October, after Columbus Day. But the fall colors have arrived two weeks early; perhaps the birds are ahead of schedule, too.

Because our neighbor goes out on his balcony to smoke a cigar and the unpleasant fumes come into our unit even when the windows are shut, we’ve mostly ignored his complaints about our bird feeding. Tit for tat. I have a funny feeling my resolve to not feed the birds this winter is crumbling. Watching them brings me so much joy in the winter! Maybe just one more winter, since we are in quarantine? I’m going around in circles weighing the pros and cons… I have to decide now!!!

Wish the bird feeding quandary was the worst of my worries. Connecticut College now has 24 students in quarantine, a cluster of 4 positive cases and their friends. One of the students was in my sister’s class a week ago. All her classes are outdoors and all her students are wearing masks, still, I worry about her safety. It’s a grim feeling, the virus keeps coming closer and closer…

And now our reckless president has tested positive for COVID-19.

early work, fall colors begin

c. 1968 ~ Barbara’s early genealogy work

One thing about staying home during the pandemic is having gobs of time to sort through all the family stuff I’ve been grumbling about for years. The other day I discovered the above chart, created by me when I was eleven years old!

When people see how passionate I am about family history they often ask how long I’ve been researching my tree. “For as long as I can remember,” is my usual reply. Well, now I have proof I was doing it at least since age eleven. 🙂

Looking at this made me smile because it has so many mistakes, mostly the spellings of some of my cousins’ names. And using nicknames where I wasn’t sure of the full name. But I did the best I could after interviewing my parents. No dates. I was keenly interested in the relationships.

After I found this chart and drifted down memory lane for awhile, Tim suggested we go for a drive up in Ledyard because one of his friends said the trees were starting to show their fall colors. It was a beautiful Sunday drive! Please enjoy a little glimpse of our autumn. I have a feeling because of the drought it might go by too quickly…

9.27.20 ~ above photos taken along the roads in Ledyard, Connecticut

Every day you play with the light of the universe.
~ Pablo Neruda
(The Poetry of Pablo Neruda)

Local COVID-19 update:
Ledge Light Health District is tracking an uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases in southeastern Connecticut. People are letting their guards down. We decided to try a take-out order on Monday — it was delicious — and then heard this news and decided we won’t be doing that again. Numbers are now higher than they were in April. People are gathering and not following protocols.

LLHD recorded 60 new cases during the week of Sept. 19-25 and another 43 new cases this weekend alone. Those numbers compare to a low point of five new cases a week in mid-August.

New London County now has 1,959 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 14 people are in the hospital and 115 have lost their lives. That’s 339 new cases and 7 more in the hospital since September 9 when I last reported. We were startled to see our part of the state the new area of increased concern on the news. Living in our bubble has become a comfortable routine yet this is raging all around us. It’s unsettling. A reminder that we’re doing all this staying home for a reason.

On Tuesday we decided to take another leaf peeping drive, as it was too humid for a walk. The weather people said that the colors are coming two weeks early because of the drought so we might be headed up to the Quiet Corner of Connecticut sooner than planned for our autumn drive. Still a lot of yellows for now but we did see a few rust and orange leaves…

Lantern Hill, elevation 491′ (150m), North Stonington, Connecticut
9.29.20 ~ Maple Lane Farms, Preston, Connecticut
9.29.20 ~ along NW Corner Rd, Preston
9.29.20 ~ along Cossaduck Hill Rd, North Stonington

We are under a gale warning today as we get some badly needed rain. Waiting to see how many leaves will be left on the trees tomorrow!

Augusta Jean & Jon Stephen

Augusta Jean Chomiak (1913-1986)
Jon Stephen Chomiak (1909-1919)
c. 1914

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you may remember a picture of my Ukrainian grandmother and three of her eight children. (Katherine’s Children)

This picture is special because it is the only picture I have of Jon, who came to America with his mother when he was only 5 months old. He was born in Ukraine on 19 September 1909 and arrived on the SS Finland at Ellis Island in New York City on 4 March 1910. Sadly, he died at home of appendicitis when he was only 9 years old. His family was living in Buffalo, New York at the time.

At the time this picture was taken his older sister Mary was still living in Ukraine with their grandparents. The youngest four children (Lillian, Olga, Theodore, Ludmila) had not been born yet. There is a mystery child mostly unaccounted for, a boy named August or Augustine. No one seems to know anything about him except that he died as a toddler after ingesting something stored under the kitchen sink. I can find no birth or death records for this child, but it seems he was younger than Jon and older than Augusta Jean. It seems likely to me that Augusta was named after her brother who had probably died shortly before she was born.

Oddly enough, when one of my aunts filled out a family group sheet for me she gave August’s birth date as the same date as Augusta’s, leading me to consider that perhaps they were twins, however no one else in the family thinks this is likely. But it does seem likely that August was born in 1911 because Jon was born in 1909 and Augusta was born in 1913 and at that time most siblings were born about two years apart. And Lillian was born in 1915.

Anyhow, my Aunt Lil remembered that Jon was buried in “Father Baker’s Cemetery” in Lackawanna, New York. On a 2002 summer trip to western New York, we found the cemetery, which is now known as Holy Cross Cemetery, but we were disappointed to find no record of his burial in the office and no death certificate in the city hall. (Years later I discovered the family was actually living in nearby Buffalo, according to 1920 census records.) The kind people at the cemetery said that there were many graves not yet recorded in their database.

Aunt Lil remembered Jon fondly as a very loving big brother who bought his little sisters Jean (she went by her middle name) and Lil candy whenever he could. He was an altar boy at the church, and helped the family out by collecting coal from the railroad tracks, which we also located. We discovered quite a bit about Father Baker (1842-1936), and learned that the church where Jon must have served was replaced by the Basilica of Our Lady of Victory (consecrated 26 May 1926), which we toured.

Aunt Lil was four years old when her beloved big brother died and she spoke of him often through the years. Aunt Jean was six years old when Jon died. The middle name given to her only son is Jon. Lil and Jean were seven and nine years old when their baby brother, my father, came along. According to him they teased him relentlessly. 🙂

Today is Jon’s birthday and also the 7th anniversary of my father’s death. A bit of synchronicity that I would stumble across this picture today when I was looking for something else.

crickets

“The Boys on the Grass” by Ilya Repin

Further in Summer than the Birds —
Pathetic from the Grass —
A minor Nation celebrates
It’s unobtrusive Mass.

No Ordinance be seen —
So gradual the Grace
A gentle Custom it becomes —
Enlarging Loneliness —

Antiquest felt at Noon —
When August burning low
Arise this spectral Canticle
Repose to typify —

Remit as yet no Grace —
No furrow on the Glow,
But a Druidic Difference
Enhances Nature now —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #895)

New London County now has 1,499 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 3 people are in the hospital and 106 have lost their lives. That’s 66 new cases but 3 fewer in the hospital since August 9. College students are returning to their dorms and time will tell how well they do with social distancing.