Recently my blogging friend Linda, over at Walkin’, Writin’, Wit & Whimsy, has been posting about her visit to the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, and this inspired me to finally visit Connecticut’s own national wildlife refuge. I’ve lived in Connecticut most of my life and had never been! We decided to start with the Salt Meadow Unit in Westbrook, closest to home.
Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge is comprised of 10 units stretched across 70 miles of Connecticut’s coastline. It was established in 1972 and was originally called Salt Meadow National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was renamed in 1987 to honor the late U.S. Congressman Stewart B. McKinney, who was instrumental in expanding it. ~ Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge website
We were very excited to reach the wildlife viewing platform overlooking the salt marsh. Unfortunately, though, we did not see a single waterbird, even though we waited patiently for a while. Wrong time of year or maybe wrong time of day…
I was surprised to find an andromeda bush (on the right) in the woods. Perhaps it originated in the garden of Esther Lape & Elizabeth Read, who owned the property and donated it to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 1972.
Looking forward to returning some day to take the Marsh (Blue) and Woodcock (Orange) Trails. And maybe to see some birds!
On Friday we returned to Sheep Farm, last visited early in April, so we still haven’t visited when the leaves are green. Maybe next summer on a low humidity day. Autumn colors were still pronounced on this lovely day.
Most of the birds we saw were too far away but I finally spotted this goldfinch, perhaps a juvenile or nonbreeding female. I was delighted even if he/she wasn’t brightly colored or willing to come out of the foliage.
And then, after such a wonderful day, that night I had a new experience, watching a livestreaming concert on my laptop. It was wonderful!
I’ve been a Mary Chapin Carpenter fan for years. My father introduced her music to me one night when he was watching a recorded performance she had on PBS. It must have been in the late 1980s. My father played the guitar and he and I shared a love of guitar-playing troubadours. He loved Woody Guthrie. I loved James Taylor. We both loved Mary Chapin Carpenter. I started buying Mary Chapin’s CDs and playing them while driving around town in our 1988 Dodge Caravan with our first CD player that came with the car.
Then, one day in 2012, I found out that she was going to do a show on September 15 in a cabaret setting at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts in Storrs, Connecticut. Right there in the town where I grew up! But everything was falling apart in our lives at the time. Tim had been hospitalized for several days in August with a cardiovascular event, my failing 97-year-old aunt was being moved from elderly housing into my father’s house, and my father was ill and wheelchair-bound. Even so, Tim and my brother-in-law John held down the fort so my sister Beverly and I could go see the concert together. Mary Chapin talked a lot between her songs about her life and her music and it felt very intimate. It was such an extraordinary evening to share with my sister, who is also a fan.
This concert was special, too, livestreaming with two hours of music, but no talking in between the songs. It must be strange singing without being able to see and get feedback from your audience. Mary Chapin’s voice has gotten deeper over the years but is still beautiful and expressive. I found myself comfy and cozy on the couch, content to be enjoying the unfolding of a new memory.
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!
Wednesday we took a walk in the woods at the Merritt Family Forest. This was our second visit — the first was in May — and this time we took a different trail. The sunshine coming through the leaves this time of year is exquisite. Tim felt good and kept going so we wound up walking for an hour and a quarter. I’m so happy we can get out in the fresh air once again!
Looking forward to many more autumn walks, but hoping for some rain, a good soaking rain, to keep us inside sometimes. There have been a few forest fires in Connecticut so far, but they are nothing compared to what is happening out west.
A 1,000 lb. beefalo, now named Buddy, is still on the loose in the state after escaping slaughter several weeks ago. But he was last spotted about 70 miles from here, so we’re not too worried about an encounter. A GoFundMe page was created for him so he was purchased from his owner and when caught, he will be sent to Critter Creek Farm Sanctuary in Florida. $8,500 was raised to buy him and put towards his retirement. He’s on the news almost every night, with warnings to stay away from him because he is aggressive.
And of course, bears… The things one thinks about when wandering around in the woods.
After all my kvetching on the last post a lovely day followed and we grabbed the opportunity for another early morning walk. Having visited the arboretum in early May and early June, we decided to see what might be blooming in early July. Fewer flowers but a lot more greenery.
The local weather forecaster has announced that “the muggies are back.” Dewpoints in the 70s! Tropical air is upon us and we might get a tropical depression storm Friday and Saturday. So glad we grabbed this walk when we had the chance. Enjoy!
The Bee is not afraid of me. I know the Butterfly — The pretty people in the Woods Receive me cordially —
The Brooks laugh louder When I come — The Breezes madder play; Where mine eye thy silver mists, Wherefore, Oh Summer’s Day?
~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #113)
We didn’t see any “pretty people,” but felt the presence of fairies at every turn. No birds, except for one catbird who was so busy he was out of sight before I thought to try and get its picture.
O sweet the dropping eve, the blush of morn, The starlit sky, the rustling fields of corn, The soft airs blowing from the freshening seas, The sunflecked shadow of the stately trees, The mellow thunder and the lulling rain, The warm, delicious, happy summer rain, When the grass brightens and the days grow long, And little birds break out in rippling song! ~ Celia Thaxter (Compensation)
Please note: I haven’t posted any pandemic statistics since June 17 because many have said dwelling on the numbers produces anxiety. But for me it has the opposite effect. The numbers are a picture of the reality which keeps my imagination from running wild and panicking. I like to know what I’m up against and how best to proceed. And lately I’ve been struggling to cope with my fears. Maybe it’s because I stopped paying attention to the facts. So when I record the latest statistics in my posts, at the end sometimes, please don’t feel obliged to read them. They’re mainly for my own sanity!
We now have 135 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. Our county (New London) has 1,304 confirmed cases. Of those 1 is still in the hospital and 102 have lost their lives. The last number (102) hasn’t changed since June 17, so our county hasn’t had any deaths in weeks. One thing that reminded me to start checking the statistics again is that on Tuesday, on the local news, they announced that Connecticut had its first day ever with no COVID-19 deaths reported state-wide. Our governor has a well-deserved 78% approval rating. He recently decided that bars will not be opening on July 20 even though we’re doing well. He cited what’s been happening in other states when they open their bars. I am grateful for his leadership.
The tempered light of the woods is like a perpetual morning, and is stimulating and heroic. The anciently reported spells of these places creep on us. The stems of pines, hemlocks, and oaks, almost gleam like iron on the excited eye. The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles. Here no history, or church, or state, is interpolated on the divine sky and the immortal year. How easily we might walk onward into opening the landscape, absorbed by new pictures, and by thoughts fast succeeding each other, until by degrees the recollection of home was crowded out of the mind, all memory obliterated by the tyranny of the present, and we were led in triumph by nature. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson (The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson)
The Merritt Family Forest is part of a large block of forested open space. The upper portion includes a steep, rocky, wooded upland with a mature hardwood forest. Descendants claim the forest remained uncut since the family acquired the property in 1848. The lower portion includes a meadow, and hosts a Tier 1 vernal pool and two Class A streams – Eccleston Brook and an intermittent tributary. Eccleston Brook flows into Palmer Cove, Fisher’s Island Sound and Long Island Sound. ~ Groton Open Space Association website
I had an especially good time enjoying the paths through the trees on that lovely, warm spring day. And I had an enjoyable afternoon creating this post today, a month later. A pleasant memory to savor. It’s been rough the past few weeks, battling the poison ivy. Tomorrow will be my last dose of prednisone and it will be nice to say goodbye to its side-effects, for me, anxiety and a headache. It’s no fun being up half the night with a panic attack! I’m ready to start living again. 🙂
A little change of pace, out of the woods and out to cross a few meadows on gently rolling hills. The sky was beautiful, the scenery divine. As we’re learning, the uneven terrain made for easier walking with less pain for Tim. The fresh air and sunshine was restorative for this quarantine-weary couple. We eagerly kept wanting to see what was over the next hillock or down the next inviting path. There were many interlocking trails. I lost count of how many grassy fields we crossed.
Two trails featuring varied land features and vegetation, including two hills, a valley, hardwood and cedar forest, brushland, meadows, pastures, swamps and ponds. Well-established 0.5 mile trail system with bridges. ~ Avalonia Land Conservancy website
I have to say, there were more than two trails, even on the map, and we certainly walked more than half a mile! But we didn’t walk all the trails and perhaps we will return some day.
As with our other walks, the songs of birds filled the air. And we had a few bumble bees follow us a time or two.
Before you thought of Spring Except as a Surmise You see — God bless his suddenness — A Fellow in the Skies Of independent Hues A little weather worn Inspiriting habiliments Of Indigo and Brown — With Specimens of Song As if for you to choose — Discretion in the interval With gay delays he goes To some superior Tree Without a single Leaf And shouts for joy to Nobody But his seraphic self — ~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1484)
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!