summer solstice in the woods

6.20.22 ~ Bluff Point State Park & Coastal Reserve

This is the third year we’ve celebrated Midsummer since this endless coronavirus pandemic began. Driving on our way to a walk in the woods I was chattering to Tim about the “end” of the pandemic, how it was becoming more or less endemic now and that maybe I should stop tagging my posts with “pandemic.”

last quarter moon

Monday was a perfect summer day and the trees were green and lovely. Tim was already wearing shorts and I was still in my hoodie, typical between-season attire for this couple. ๐Ÿ˜‰ We had forgotten it was a 3-day weekend, a Monday holiday for Juneteenth, so there were lots of people in the state park. No matter, everyone was friendly and in good spirits.

a peek at the Poquonnock River

We had a nice conversation with a young couple from New Hampshire who were very excited about a bird they had spotted. (We finally got a glimpse of it but couldn’t see it well enough to identify it.) And another conversation with a man, about our age, who commented on how good the honeysuckle was smelling and asked me about the zoom lens on my camera. I really didn’t feel too nervous being so close without a mask since we were outside.

it looks like these two trees are lifting the glacial erratic up off the ground

I took a picture of these trees holding the boulder (above) in November 2020. See here. Interesting difference between autumn and summer surroundings.

beach rose blossom
honeysuckle blossoms
greenery!

It turned out to be the longest walk we’ve taken in ages, a whole hour and a half! And I don’t know what it is about catbirds this year — they are turning up everywhere! It was one of those days where it simply felt exhilarating to be alive and present.

gray catbird
twig art on glacial erratic
the twig and the glacial erratic in the above picture
clover blossom
another sunlit glacial erratic
another gray catbird

I’m still enjoying daily encounters with the catbird coming to the birch tree outside my kitchen window. He usually announces the visit with a few meows and then begins his repertoire of varied melodies, songs that I imagine he has picked up and adopted along the way.

on another branch

People who watch a banded gray catbird outside their window all summer will find it hard not to wonder exactly where it’s spending the winter, or to marvel that science still doesn’t have the answer. And if the catbird doesn’t come back, they, too, will inevitably wonder why.
~ Miyoko Chu
(Songbird Journeys: Four Seasons in the Lives of Migratory Birds)

looking the other way
hawkweed (thanks to Eliza for the id)
a chipmunk on the path

But perceptions will inevitably shift, as fickle as the weather. On arriving home we learned that a fully vaccinated relative has come down with covid and had a very high fever. The news shattered my hopeful illusions. Other relatives who have had the virus have said it was no worse than a cold. One of the most disconcerting things about the illness is that it is impossible to know how it will hit you until you actually catch it.

And then, the next morning I woke to the news that a play we were planning to attend outdoors this week was put on hold:

Update on PEER GYNT: Due to COVID delays, our production will not be opening this weekend (June 23-26) in Wilcox Park. We will update on our revised schedule of performances as soon as we can. Thank you for your understanding and stay safe!
~ Flock Theatre

Connecticut’s positivity rate is hovering around 8%. So, all things considered, I guess it’s too soon to remove the pandemic tag from my posts. This refreshing walk will be recalled as our third pandemic summer solstice celebration. Feeling gratitude for the company of sociable strangers, playful catbirds and a chipmunk with the munchies on this memorable, bittersweet day.

music in the meadow

6.3.22 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum

Friday evening my sister and brother-in-law invited us to go with them to Music in the Meadow, a family-friendly outdoor concert in the Connecticut College Arboretum. We brought our lawn chairs and enjoyed the beautiful weather and setting. After walking through the woods we found a spot for ourselves up on a hill overlooking the lawn where most of the audience was seated.

the mountain laurel was starting to bloom
in the meadow

After we got settled I took a little walk and tried to capture with my camera some of the plants growing in the meadow. Suddenly I spotted an eye, a little bunny was looking at me, frozen in place. I kept my distance and used my zoom lens, delighted with my discovery.

The bunny wasn’t there when I checked back later so I worried about it. But I think, although small and young, it was old enough to be on its own. Phew!

Baby rabbits leave the nest when they’re 3 weeks old and about the size of a chipmunk. If you find a chipmunk-sized but fully-furred rabbit with eyes open, ears erect, and the ability to hop, they are meant to be on their own. As small and helpless as they may look, they are not an orphan and doesn’t need your help.
~ The Humane Society of the United States website

meadows have so many layers and textures
our view from above
Kala Farnham

The first performer was an amazing folk singer-songwriter, Kala Farnham, and the four of us agreed her hour of singing was the highlight of the whole show.

Nestled away in the Quiet Corner of rural Connecticut, a pint-sized songstress set out into the world with one vision: to inspire and heal through the transformative power of music. Decades later, Kala has performed at listening rooms across the country, garnering numerous awards and media attention, including The Rose Garden Performing Songwriter Contest 2019 winner, 2020 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Grassy Hill Emerging Artist, and Great American Song Contest Finalist. Drawing from a classical education and a professional background in musical theater, Kala presents a hallmark reinvention of the folk tradition. Her passion for fairytales, ancient history, and storytelling draws audiences from around the country into the reinvented worlds of alternate times and places.
~ Kala Farnham website

However, our attention kept being drawn aside to the excitement of lots of children playing on the glacial erratics at the back of the lawn. Their shouts of glee as they darted from stone to stone, climbing and jumping… it was pure joy to see. To be young and that quick and flexible again…

When Kala Farnham was done with her set and The CarLeans were setting up for their hour, I took another little meadow walk. They were good, too, a blend of styles, folk, Cajun, Latin, and Americana.

meadow magic
some other kids discovered this glacial erratic up on our hill

It started getting dark when The CarLeans were done and then Ward Hayden & The Outliers (“a mix of old school country, early rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and country rock”) started setting up. We stayed for one of their songs but then headed for home because we were getting cold and tired — old folks — as my father used to say. It was a wonderful evening.

looking south after sunset
moon magic
the darkening woods behind us
one last look down at the stage

We’ve been busy the past few weeks getting ready for another change in our lives. Tim’s heart disease has progressed to the point where he now needs a pacemaker. He will be having surgery to put it in on Tuesday and will spend one night in the hospital. His cardiologist hopes this will help with his shortness of breath, abnormal fatigue and very low pulse. Time will tell. โค๏ธ

it’s like the woods

4.4.22 ~ Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center

Four days after we visited the nature center with Kat I wanted to return to see if the Canada goose was still sitting on her eggs. She was, and had turned and was facing the other direction. This time we walked on some other trails through the woods and the meadow. There are still more loops to follow so we plan to return once a week to see the Canada goose, and if we’re lucky, some goslings one day.

eastern white pine sapling growing in the swamp
glacial erratic on top of Council Rock

It’s like the Light —
A fashionless Delight —
It’s like the Bee —
A dateless — Melody —

It’s like the Woods —
Private — Like the Breeze —
Phraseless — yet it stirs
The proudest Trees —

It’s like the morning —
Best — when it’s done —
And the Everlasting Clocks —
Chime — Noon!

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #302)


I imagine ‘it’ in Emily’s poem is Presence.

We also found six locations along the Meditation Walking Path, “each selected to provide a place for quiet reflection or meditation.” The path follows some of the other trails and the shortcuts between them. A little confusing but I think we sorted it out.

plentiful skunk cabbage
the leaves are food for the Canada goose couple
a blind for meadow bird photographers
a view from the blind
birdhouse in the woods
red-bellied woodpecker
Canada goose on her nest
notice the turtle climbing up the rocks
mama
seed pods, goose feather and moss on water
papa’s morning nap

The light is so magical this time of year!

Sadly, Connecticut’s covid positivity rate is going up again. On Friday it was over 5%. I got my second booster shot that day and felt malaise all weekend, but it wasn’t too bad. Feeling overwhelming mourning and anticipatory grief for Ukraine…

to the dinosaur place

4.1.22 ~ The Dinosaur Place
Oakdale, Connecticut

Kat’s last day with us turned out to be the season’s opening day at the Dinosaur Place. We were there when the doors opened and were the first visitors of the year! It was a chilly, dreary day and we were sprinkled with occasional raindrops, but we had fun in spite of the dismal weather.

First we spent a lot of time watching Kat play in the T-Rex Tower at Montyโ€™s Playground. While we were waiting for the attendant to dry off its surfaces we played a couple of rounds of hide-and-seek with our granddaughter. I can’t remember the last time I played hide-and-seek!

Then we started walking on one of the trails, noticing along the way just some of the 50 life-sized dinosaurs lurking in the woods. Kat followed the signs to Carnivore Cavern.

The first time through Grandpa was brave enough to go with her. They came out smiling but Kat was covering her ears and reported that it was VERY LOUD in there.

Then Kat announced that she was going to go through all by her self, and she did. ๐Ÿ™‚

Then we found the A-MAZE-asaurus maze, complete with an observation deck, from where Grandpa and Grammy watched Kat try to make her way through. After a bit we offered suggestions. Good thing she knew her right from her left.

The exit turned out to be a tunnel slide, with a dinosaur mouth to pass through. Too bad we couldn’t scramble over there fast enough to see her at the top or landing at the bottom.

Then we followed the map to find the secret treasure, a large piece of quartz in the ground.

And some petrified wood…

And then Kat wanted to return to Carnivore Cavern to take me through. So I got a picture of inside the entrance.

And then it got very dark and then the dinosaurs in there roared. I managed to get a picture of one of the beasts!

After we that we followed another trail. I couldn’t resist getting a picture of a skunk cabbage down in the swamp.

It’s fun seeing dinosaurs outside and getting a walk in the woods in at the same time.

Kat resting with Grandpa
waiting for Grandpa and noticing a lot of moss behind her
observing an abundance of mosses and lichens
the king of a rocky moss-covered mountain

On the way out Kat and her grandpa got some ice cream at The Village Ice Cream Shoppe, the first customers of the season. ๐Ÿ˜‰ A perfect way to end the day. I hope we will be bringing Finn here, too, someday soon. ๐Ÿ’™

It was almost nine years ago that Tim and I came here with our grandnephews, Julius and Dominic. I’m glad to have pictures and memories from that fun day, too. Pictures here. Those little guys are teenagers now!

to the nature center

3.31.22 ~ Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center
Mystic, Connecticut

While she was visiting last week we finally got a chance to take our granddaughter, age 7, to the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center! She was all set with her camera and water bottle and we played follow the leader as she explored the place at her own pace. Sometimes we struggled to keep up but she was patient with us and we would catch up and so we had a fantastic time. ๐Ÿ˜Š

Kat playing a bird species memory game with Grandpa
taking pictures
eastern painted turtle

After exploring the indoor exhibits we headed outdoors to see the birds in the rehab enclosures. We even got to see a staff member feed the raptors dead mice. It was difficult getting pictures through the wires but these two were acceptable.

For many decades the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center has been licensed by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife to care for injured wild animals. We are part of a region-wide network of wildlife specialists that handle emergencies and help seek appropriate care for injured wildlife.
~ DPNC website

Next we followed a trail and spotted a Canada goose sitting on her nest on a hummock in the middle of a pond. Nearby her mate was patrolling the area.

Kat probably took more pictures than I did!

Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.
~ Edwin Way Teale
(Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year)

moss-covered glacial erratics are always fun to capture
who’s that taking pictures of me?
Kat discovers a meadow
let’s see, which way to go?
time to stop taking pictures and start consulting a map
Kat loves maps
planning our meadow route
reviewing our meadow trek with Grandpa

Kat led us back to the nature center and to the parking lot, checking rocks along the way to find dry ones for Grandpa to sit on for his rests. The occasional benches were welcome, too. She is a very curious, thoughtful and kind little sweetheart.

stone wall and daffodils across the road from the nature center

Here are two posts from the past illustrating Kat’s keen interest in maps: here (5th picture, age 4) and here (2nd picture and others, age 2).

The three of us had such a wonderful morning at the nature center! ๐Ÿ’•

crocuses, black vulture, brants, stumps

3.26.22 ~ more crocuses in my garden

As we were leaving for an intended walk at Avery Point on Saturday I was delighted to find some more crocuses opening up in the garden.


Then we drove down towards Avery Point and suddenly saw a black vulture guarding a dead racoon on the side of the road! When we slowed down to get a good look at him he started walking away, eyeing us carefully. He didn’t want to leave his prize but he also didn’t exactly want to stick around us humans.

3.26.22 ~ black vulture near Avery Pond

We finally moved on and left him in peace to tackle the task nature has assigned to him.


Distracted by seeing the vulture up close, next thing we knew we had missed our turn into Avery Point. We pulled into the Eastern Point parking lot to turn around and spotted a flock of brants swimming and feeding in the estuary. Hopped out of the car and took a few pictures. But I had my heart set on getting to Avery Point.

3.26.22 ~ brants in the Thames River estuary

On we drove to the Avery Point campus, but, there was a wedding happening and the parking lot, which is open to the public on weekends, was full. And we knew from experience that they wouldn’t allow us to walk in front of the mansion and along the seawall, spoiling the view for the guests.


We then decided to go for a walk in the muddy woods at Copp Family Park. It was a partly cloudy day, with an afternoon temperature of about 50ยฐF (10ยฐC). Being a weekend day we encountered quite a few people, and because there is a dog park there we also ran across a few loose dogs. (They’re supposed to be on a leash until they get into the enclosed dog park.) Sigh… Next time we’ll keep to the trails that don’t go by the dog park.

moss covered stump
a tiny princess pine with its cone-shaped flower
stump with moss and lichens
one of the trails
a tall stump at eye level
this woman was looking at her son hiding
in the space between two glacial erratics
a new stump with mushrooms

An interesting afternoon, full of surprises! Our shoes got wet but not too muddy after all.

wandering around rocky neck

3.22.22 ~ Rocky Neck State Park, East Lyme, Connecticut

There are still a few places to walk we haven’t visited yet so we decided to check another one off of our still-growing list. Rocky Neck State Park is a little farther west down the coastline than we usually like to go, but seeing pictures of birds taken there and posted online tempted me to give it a try. Sadly, no birds on this windy day. We had to walk through a tunnel (see above picture) under the Amtrak railroad to get to the beach.

This beach is one of the most visited beaches in Connecticut, with some of the buildings at the beach even dating back to the 1930s. This is one of the most popular beaches to visit for those in the area because of how scenic it is.
~ Roaming the USA website

The fact that it is so popular is probably another reason we never tried to come here before. Every summer weekend morning on the news we hear that the parking lot is full and no more cars are being allowed in. When traveling down the interstate we often see flashing LED changeable message signs, miles in advance, announcing the same thing.

We walked down the beach and up a ledge, following a sign saying “Pavilion.” The pavilion was huge! (Perhaps built in the 1930s?) We followed a tunnel through the bottom of it and took some stairs up the back, then came around to the front and took some pictures of Long Island Sound.

tunnel under the pavilion
pavilion balcony on top of ledge
Long Island Sound from the pavilion balcony

Behind the pavilion was a pedestrian bridge (above) back over the Amtrak railroad tracks. We decided to go for it, lured in by a point on a map of the park called Toby’s Nose Overlook. Eventually we found the spot but the viewing platform I was expecting did not exist. There was a complicated maze of trails, parking lots and driveways in the woods back there, but we finally figured out a zig-zaggy route we could take back to the car.

view of Four Mile River from Toby’s Nose Overlook
a glimpse of Long Island Sound through the woods
glacial erratic on top of a hill

When I got home and studied the map a little more closely I noticed that there was another part of the park, along Bride Brook, with a crabbing deck and an actual viewing platform. Maybe next time. Turns out we had only seen a very small portion of this place.

And now to prepare for a visit from our daughter and granddaughter! Kat has spring vacation so Larisa is going to work remotely here while we have Kat to ourselves for half the week. ๐Ÿ˜Š (Kat’s other grandparents will have her the first half of the week!)

3.26.22 ~ Look who are coming for a visit!!! (Larisa & Kat)

a heavily wooded glacial valley

3.16.22 ~ Paffard Woods, Stonington, Connecticut

The preserve offers diverse terrain ranging from a heavily wooded glacial valley in the northern portion to a salt marsh on a tidal cove at the southern edge. Other distinguishing features include many glacial erratics, large trees, a white pine grove, wetlands crossed by bridges, and a cultivated field.
~ Avalonia Land Conservancy website

After several weeks of being plagued with gout/tendonitis/edema, Tim’s foot was finally healed enough to take a walk! Just in time to welcome some lovely warm spring weather. We chose a new-to-us preserve, Paffard Woods and walked for over an hour, much to my delight! It was a sunny day with temperatures around 50ยฐF (10ยฐC).

skunk cabbage coming up, early sign of spring
glacial erratic with a split hidden in the shadow
curious markings on tree bark
(thanks to Eliza for identifying beech bark disease)
a stone crossing ~ we made it across without incident
root covered terrain leading up to a nicely placed bench on top of a ledge
looking down at glacial erratics from the top of the ledge
moss on log illuminated by sunbeam

Even though these dark-eyed junco photos are marred by twigs I was excited to see them in the woods. They used to visit my birdfeeder when I had one but these are the first ones I’ve seen in the wild.

dark-eyed junco
tree/glacial erratic buddies

And then we saw a couple of eastern bluebirds flying to and from the hole way high up in this tree. Again, it was hard to get pictures with the twigs interfering with the focus. These were the best of my dozens of attempts! (Lots of shots with blurry wing action, too.)

eastern bluebird
trunk with many legs
trunk with many arms
more skunk cabbage
even more skunk cabbage
vine strangling a trunk
marcescence

Connecticut’s positivity rate has been hovering between 2-3%. There’s talk of a fourth shot being needed for those of us over 65. Still exercising a lot of caution in stores. Putin’s cruel onslaught on Ukraine continues. But it was good to forget reality for an hour and feel grateful for a brief dose of the healing power of nature.

four friendly goats

left to right, Chai, Crackers, Brie and Addie

Friday afternoon we had a lovely visit with four very charming goats, and their guardians, our friends Bob & Julie. The kids, Chai and Brie, are seven months old. We brought them a treat to eat, our holiday tree. ๐ŸŒฒ I had a blast with the photo op!

Bob and Chai

Chai loves to be held, although she’s starting to grow out of that a little.

Addie (above) is a fainting goat, which I learned from Bob is a goat with a hereditary condition that may cause her to stiffen or fall over when startled. Thankfully our presence didn’t startle her.

Tim makes a new friend

The fir tree was a hit, at least when the goat crackers weren’t being offered. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Julie with Addie, Brie giving a kiss and Chai looking on

Clearly, Julie and her goats adore each other. It was so heartwarming to see. ๐Ÿ’•

queen of the glacial erratic,
a quick detour on her way back to her barn

We walked with them back to their barn and got to see where they spend the night. What a treat and change of pace this visit was for us. Thank you, Bob & Julie!