On this, the shortest day of all the 365, I wander over the covered paths of the garden hillside. I wade through the drifts along the swamp edge. I walk over the snow-covered ice among the catttails. The wind is gone. The day is still. The world is decorated with unmarred snow. This is winter with winter beauty everywhere. Autumn is finally, officially, gone. Like the evening of the day, the fall has been a time of ceaseless alteration. Cold, in the autumn, is overcoming the heat just as darkness, in the evening, is overcoming the light. All around, in recent months, there have been changes in a thousand forms. The days of easy warmth were passing, then past. Birds departed. Threadbare trees lost their final leaves. Nuts fell from the branches. Pumpkins and corn turned yellow in the fields. For animals and men alike, this was the time of harvest. The phantom summer, Indian summer, came and went. The chorus of the insects died away in nightly frosts. Goldenrod tarnished; grass clumps faded from green to yellow. Milkweed pods gaped open and their winged seeds took flight. The windrows of fallen leaves withered, lost their color, merged into one universal brown. Now they are buried beneath the new and seasonal beauty of the snow. Autumn, the evening of the year, is over; winter, the night of the year, has come. ~ Edwin Way Teale (Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year)
Another nice day Tuesday. After Labor Day the beach is “closed.” No lifeguards, concession stand or restrooms open. Fewer people to navigate through. Great for a morning walk. Got closer to a cormorant than I’ve ever been before, but as luck would have it, the sun was behind him and he came out as mostly a silhouette.
The gift for this morning was spotting four immature male common eiders hanging out in the estuary. I’ve only seen a female common eider once, last summer. New England is in the southernmost part of their range. I was enchanted.
A bird of the cold north with a warm reputation, the Common Eider is famous for the insulating quality of its down (typically harvested from nests without harming the birds). Breeding males are sharp white and black, with pistachio green accents on the neck. Females are barred with warm brown and black. These largest of all Northern Hemisphere ducks gather along rocky ocean shores, diving for mussels and other shellfish, which they pry from rocks using long, chisel-like bills. Males court females throughout the year with gentle, crooning calls. ~ All About Birds website
The coronavirus pandemic rages on, surging especially among the unvaccinated. But the fully vaccinated are getting sick, too, which gave us pause and led to our postponing our trip to North Carolina to see our grandchildren until we can get our third dose of vaccine. We don’t even want to get the “mild” version of COVID-19. We’re back to wearing double masks in the grocery store. And because we’re super cautious we stopped going inside anywhere else. Avoiding crowded outdoor places, too. Masks at the farmers market.
My sister reports from Connecticut College that on Monday, 20 students who were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and some of their friends were tested. Through contact tracing, it was determined that the students who had contracted the virus had been socializing without masks in cars, in friends’ rooms or apartments, at parties or in bars. Tuesday morning the test results showed an additional 34 students had tested positive. All were moved to isolation housing.
Connecticut College requires all students and staff to be fully vaccinated (and to wear masks indoors) so these are breakthrough cases. Beverly spent one week with us but is now teaching remotely from her home and probably won’t be back here for the semester. 🙁 I’m just glad we were able to see each other a few times this summer before this new social distancing period seems prudent. Sigh.
It’s been a while since I’ve made note of our local coronavirus statistics. We have had 3,014 detected cases in our town. Connecticut has had 376,747 confirmed cases and 8,395 deaths. We’re coming close to the 8,500 number of estimated deaths we had in the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. On September 8th we had 403 new cases. Overall, 2,368,830 people or 66% of Connecticut’s population has been fully vaccinated.
And now CNN is reporting that 1 in 4 new cases of COVID-19 are in children.
It’s nowhere near over.
Update: As of Thursday 107 students have now tested positive. Many are going home instead of quarantining on campus. Seems like that would not help to contain the spread.
What a gorgeous day for a walk! First we strolled through a meadow full of blooming buttercups…
Even though Brown-headed Cowbirds are native to North America, many people consider them a nuisance bird, since they destroy the eggs and young of smaller songbirds and have been implicated in the decline of several endangered species. ~ All About Birds website
Nature will bear the closest inspection; she invites us to lay our eye level with the smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain. She has no interstices; every part is full of life. ~ Henry David Thoreau (Excursions)
We climbed until we reached the lookout indicated on the map.
Wouldn’t you know it, we spotted a tiny cemetery right below the lookout. We kept following the trail hoping to find a way down there. A man about our age came up behind us, noticed my camera and asked if I had spotted anything. I mentioned the gravestones and he led us along the path and pointed us to another path and gave us directions on how to get there.
To-day is very beautiful — just as bright, just as blue, just as green and as white and as crimson as the cherry-trees full in bloom, and half-opening peach-blossoms, and the grass just waving, and sky and hill and cloud can make it, if they try. How I wish you were here, Austin; you thought last Saturday beautiful, yet to this golden day ’twas but one single gem to whole handfuls of jewels. ~ Emily Dickinson (Letter to William Austin Dickinson, May, 1854)
It was a long way around but we finally came to the side path leading off to the right and to the cemetery. Much to my delight there was a “wolf tree” on the corner.
Sacred to the memory of Starr Chester Esqr. who was born Aug 23rd 1759 and died Feby 12th 1812 This spot contains the ashes of the just who sought to honour; and betray’d no trust. This truth he prov’d in every line he trod.
Sacred to the memory of Mary Chester relect of Starr Chester, Esqr. Born Nov 11, 1758 Died Jan 12, 1826 May faithful angels guard my moulding dust until the general meeting of the just. Then rise triumphant from the dark abode to realms of light, to love and praise the Lord.
Since I have both Starrs and Morgans (Mary’s maiden name) on my tree I imagine these are distant cousins of mine…
While inspecting the stones two unusual things happened. First, a young man appeared above us at the lookout with a dirt bike. He rode off the edge of the precipice, flew through the air and landed a few feet away from us. As if he did such things all the time, as I’m sure he does.
Another retired couple was a little ways down another path and saw the flight, too. We got to talking and stood there for at least half an hour chatting about all kinds of things. They moved here from Pennsylvania to retire. They love the area, close to the sea. They’ve explored many of the same parks we’ve been exploring.
After we parted ways, we finished following the other trail, stopping to see the wolf tree as we joined it. When we got close to the car I heard and finally spotted another catbird. 🙂 What a lovely ending to a pleasant ramble!
Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous to be understood.
How grass can be nourishing in the mouths of the lambs. How rivers and stones are forever in allegiance with gravity while we ourselves dream of rising. How two hands touch and the bonds will never be broken. How people come, from delight or the scars of damage, to the comfort of a poem.
Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say “Look!” and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.
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 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…
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.
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…
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
On our way out of the Arboretum we saw…
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.
Sunday we took my favorite walk by the sea at the Avery Point campus of UConn. It’s good to visit on the weekends because parking isn’t restricted like it is during the week when students are in classes. There weren’t many people out and about, though, and the few people we encountered gave us a very wide berth. I think everyone is more cautious these days because southeastern Connecticut has become a coronavirus hot spot in the state, our numbers have been going up dramatically.
This sculpture was left over after the open air exhibition a couple of months ago. All the cairns were gone, however.
I need the sea because it teaches me. I don’t know if I learn music or awareness, if it’s a single wave or its vast existence, or only its harsh voice or its shining suggestion of fishes and ships. The fact is that until I fall asleep, in some magnetic way I move in the university of the waves. ~ Pablo Neruda (On the Blue Shore of Silence)
Flowers by the sea…
Although the main focus of Project Oceanology is educational, they do offer some public cruises. For years I’ve dreamed of taking one of the harbor seal watch cruises in March or April…
‘Twas a lovely hour-long walk all over the campus and now we’re tucked in for some rain. We might get an inch from the remnants of Hurricane Delta but we’re eleven inches behind normal. Our drought was elevated from severe to extreme. We’re going to need a lot of storms to catch up.
Due to illnesses and the births of grandchildren and other distractions I’ve never had a chance to participate in Robin’s Walktober invitation. See here if you think you might be interested in taking a walk and posting a blog about it: This is it: Walktober! Finally, this year, I can join in! Tim & I took this walk at Haley Farm State Park on October 7th.
Two things have worked to keep us very close to home this year. Health problems and the coronavirus pandemic. And this has led us to discover that our hometown has over 3,500 acres of open space preserved, 17% of the town’s total land area. We have 463 acres in land trusts, 1,511 acres in town and city recreation and conservation areas, and 1,586 acres in three state parks. (We live in the tiny City of Groton, which is part of the Town of Groton, and yes, we pay property taxes to both!)
We started walking south, the narrow boardwalk leading to a wide dirt road following along Palmer Cove.
Connecticut’s first governor, John Winthrop Jr., owned part of the farm in 1648. Over the years the land passed through various hands, including the Chester family in the 18th century, whose headstones are still on the property. When Caleb Haley owned and farmed the land in the late 19th to 20th centuries, he had a very unique hobby which can be seen throughout the park – the building of stone walls. Boulders found on the property were extracted and placed by an ox drawn stone-puller. The walls separated a number of pastures. Some remains of the farm’s buildings are still visible near the entrance of the park. ~ Haley Farm State Park website
Ahead: glimpses of Palmer Cove and one of Caleb Haley’s many stone walls.
And then the road eventually led us into the woods, narrowed to a trail, and to the locally well-known Canopy Rock, a glacial erratic and favorite hang-out spot for local teens. We didn’t climb up there. 🙂
We cut through the woods to return to the parking lot, consulting the park map frequently because there are so many criss-crossing, unmarked trails in this 267 acre park. The stone walls are also indicated on the map, which was helpful in determining which path we might be on. map
In 1963, efforts to protect the farm from being sold to developers began. The State of Connecticut agreed to match funds raised for the purchase of the farm. The Groton Open Space Association with the help of The CT Forest & Park Association led a successful fund raising effort that led to the purchase of the property. In July of 1970, Life Magazine featured an article on Haley Farm titled “Battles Won”. Haley Farm became an official Connecticut State Park in July of 1970. Nearby Bluff Point State Park and Coastal Reserve was protected from great development pressures and was saved in 1975. It can be reached from Haley Farm via a bridge over the railroad tracks. The two parks, combined, offer over 1000 acres of land and are permanently protected as open space for public enjoyment. ~ Haley Farm State Park website
Living in the southernmost part of New England, we will be the last to get a peak of fall colors. More brilliant days to look forward to. Thank you, Robin, for hosting Walktober!
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.