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.

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. 🌲

autumn afternoon

10.17.20 ~ farm relic ~ Avery Farm Nature Preserve
Ledyard & Groton, Connecticut

We don’t usually take walks after lunch, but yesterday Tim had a lot of meetings in the morning so we decided to take an afternoon walk. We visited Avery Farm Nature Preserve back in May so this time we went back and took a different trail. We got some rain a couple of times last week, so it was good to see a brook with some water in it.

leaves in Ed Lamb Brook

There is still a lot of green on the trees, and mostly yellow on the ones that have turned. It was a challenge finding red or orange ones, but maybe they will appear next week when the colors are supposed to peak.

looking down Ed Lamb Brook
this tree with some root aboveground seems to be bound to the boulder
same tree, different angle, and an interesting assortment of orbs
sunlit sapling poking through leaf litter
bandit hiding behind glacial erratic
golden yellow
yellow and green
the largest glacial erratic of the day
tangle of twigs and leaves
crimson

I wonder what you are doing to-day — if you have been to meeting? To-day has been a fair day, very still and blue. To-night the crimson children are playing in the west, and to-morrow will be colder. How sweet if I could see you, and talk of all these things! Please write us very soon. The days with you last September seem a great way off, and to meet you again, delightful. I’m sure it won’t be long before we sit together.
~ Emily Dickinson
(Letter to Josiah Gilbert Holland & Elizabeth Chapin Holland, Late Autumn, 1853)

rusty orange
double burl
study in brown
mellow yellow
sunlit trail
burnt orange

The light was beautiful, the air crisp and delightful to breathe in. We even caught a whiff of smoke from someone’s woodstove. Quite a few excited woodpeckers were calling and flitting from tree to tree. Autumn. It felt good to be alive!

Walktober!

10.7.20 ~ Goose Pond, Haley Farm State Park
Groton, Connecticut

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.

starting out

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!)

meadow and woods, just a hint of fall colors

We started walking south, the narrow boardwalk leading to a wide dirt road following along Palmer Cove.

meadow obscuring view of 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

white on light with orbs

Ahead: glimpses of Palmer Cove and one of Caleb Haley’s many stone walls.

waning gibbous moon setting over the woods
looking back down the road behind us

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. 🙂

Canopy Rock

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

sunlight in the woods

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

a path to follow another day
autumn art in a grassy meadow

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!

to dew her orbs upon the green

6.26.19 ~ heavy with dew

And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green:
The cowslips tall her pensioners be;
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dew-drops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.

~ William Shakespeare
(A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

6.26.19 ~ cedar waxwing enjoying a mulberry
6.26.19 ~ dragonfly landing on dewy grass

We had a very wet spring and so far it’s looking to be a wet summer, too. Tuesday we got two inches of rain! It rained all day and I enjoyed many hours of family history research. But Wednesday we emerged from our den and took a walk in the very wet woods. And we saw several cedar waxwings, a new bird for us!

6.26.19 ~ cedar waxwing
6.26.19 ~ serenity
6.26.19 ~ ferns covering a bubbling brook
6.26.19
6.26.19 ~ cedar waxwing

As I approached this tree I was trying to figure out if it might be a shagbark hickory. (Still not sure…) And then a new experience for me: orbs appeared in the viewfinder when I went to take a picture! In the past, orbs have been an occasional surprise when they show up in pictures downloaded from the camera. But these were there before I even took the picture.

6.26.19
6.26.19 ~ looking up the tree with orbs
6.26.19 ~ more magic, sunlight highlighting a stone covered in lichen

In the span of centuries the rock became glazed with a gray-green crust of lichen almost indistinguishable from the rock itself, a bare coating of life.
~ Robin Wall Kimmerer
(Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge & The Teachings of Plants)

6.26.19 ~ juniper berries?
6.26.19

These trees and stones are audible to me,
These idle flowers, that tremble in the wind,
I understand their faery syllables,
And all their sad significance.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Collected Poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1823-1911)

solstice memories

Katherine still loves her penguins

Trying to get used to this new editing page with its blocks and new steps I am having a difficult time… 🙁 But I must adapt to changes no matter how challenging this one is for me. It took me hours to create my last post but I will give it another go.

Today was a very emotional day for me. I took all the decorations off of the solstice tree, the best tree we’ve ever had. It was a Fraser fir. It smelled amazing! Its branches were strong enough to hold the glass bead garland my sister made for me years ago. I had such a good time decorating it with Tim, using all my white, silver and clear glass ornaments. A white skirt resembling snow. A white owl on top and a white fox curled up in the snow underneath it.

Katherine with the snow orb tree behind her

And while I was at it, I sorted through all the decorations I’ve been hoarding over the years and donated at least half of them. It’s funny when I think I’ve made so much progress simplifying my life and I still find object collections that have yet to be minimized. Now I have kept only the ones that truly “spark joy,” as Japanese decluttering author Marie Kondo teaches.

This holiday season was extra special for us. Nate & Shea haven’t been home to celebrate since they moved to Georgia in 2011, and Larisa & Dima were last here for the holidays in 2014. It was interesting how it worked out because we usually have our niece and her teenagers and my sister and her husband here for Christmas day but this year all of them couldn’t make it for one reason or another. We missed them!

It was wonderful having a house full of children again. I will especially remember the brisk winter walks we took. Also the first time Finn smiled at me, his whole face lighting up when he heard my voice, and holding my sleeping snuggle bug for hours… Getting two temporary PJ Masks tatoos from Katherine ~ Owlette is her favorite character from that show. She also introduced me to Puffin Rock, which has to be the most adorable children’s show ever. (It’s Irish but it can be seen on Netflix.) Katherine and I had some special moments together as she talks well enough to tell me about her life. I love listening to her observations. One time she darted down the stairs and exclaimed, “Grammy’s the best!” Talk about melting my heart…

Nate & Shea brought their nephews Julius and Dominic and they were sometimes here, too, when they weren’t visiting other Connecticut relatives, of which they have many! Julius, in his teens now, loved my meatloaf, which forever endeared me to him, and Dominic is so curious and active, he’s 10 after all, and interested in how families are related, cousins and all that. His main objective for this trip was to see snow for the first time. His chance came at 3 o’clock in the morning one day, and he was awakened to see flurries, but not the blizzard we were hoping for.

Dominic and Finn ~ Shea is Dominic’s aunt and Nate is Finn’s uncle. That makes them cousins, sort of, right?

Dominic and Katherine hit it off ~ it was fun to watch them interact and listen to their conversations. Nate, Shea and I took them to a holiday light fantasia which they both enjoyed very much.

One night Shea cooked us a lovely pork dinner, and another night Larisa cooked a chicken pie. Dima saved the day on Christmas when I suddenly realized I hadn’t even thought about dessert! All the stores were closed. He scrounged around in my pantry and was able to make some gluten-free chocolate-chip cookies, using a chocolate bar for the chips. It was great having Dima’s parents join us for that day, too. We all enjoyed the crazy gift basket tradition we have. Instead of exchanging presents we fill baskets with little items and take turns pawing through them to fish out whatever we’d like to take home with us. Some gag gifts, some treasures ~ it’s always fun.

And Nate helped Tim with his honey-do list. My pantry door stays closed now, the bathroom door no longer squeaks, the hole in the kitchen ceiling is patched and the dartboard is hung securely.

It was a wonderful two weeks!

walking on this earth

12.26.18 ~ Beebe Pond Park, Groton, Connecticut

If there is any wisdom running through my life now, in my walking on this earth, it came from listening in the Great Silence to the stones, trees, space, the wild animals, to the pulse of all life as my own heartbeat.
~ Vijali Hamilton
(Of Earth & Fire: Poems & Artworks)

12.26.18 ~ trees growing inside an abandoned foundation

Six of us took another family walk in the woods the other day, in Beebe Pond Park. Nate had been there years ago but I had never had a chance to explore it.

Katherine and Dominic

Katherine and Dominic loved climbing on the many boulders deposited by receding glaciers millions of years ago.

following the leader

It was warmish for a winter’s day, but I was happy to have my gloves.

Katherine still loves to look at maps

We walked for a very long time and only turned around when Katherine got too cold and darkness was approaching…

mushrooms, moss, bark, leaves
a thin layer of ice on the pond
sticks and leaves under the ice
Beebe Pond
Katherine
Larisa and Finn and orbs
leaves hanging on tight in the breeze
Katherine sat a little too long on this cold rock,
enjoying the long winter shadows
the frown ~ one chilled little girl
Dominic on the go
turning around to head home
Nate and Katherine ~ it’s wonderful to have a strong uncle to carry a cold and tired little one home
interesting connection between a tree and a rock
Beebe Pond

Blarney Castle

2.5.18 ~ Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ our first glimpse of the famous castle

Waking up Monday morning my cold wasn’t too bad, mainly a sore throat. Katherine had to go to school and her parents had to work so Larisa dropped us off at Blarney Castle. It was another damp and chilly day but we had fun.

2.5.18 ~ Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ detour

The usual path to the castle was blocked off because they are in the middle of some major renovations.

another glimpse ~ we were definitely taking the long way around!
2.5.18 ~ Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland

When we got close to the castle we stopped and had the most delicious and warm bowl of Irish Stew at the Coach House Cafe. It really hit the spot. In spite of my sensitivity to wheat I took a bite of the warm brown bread that came with the stew. Yummy! 🙂 It’s not often one finds something that tastes so good at a cafeteria!

2.5.18 ~ Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ seating for summer tourists and an orb

The cafe was in the old stables and we ate in the main room. As we were leaving we saw that in the summer there was space right in the stalls for overflow dining. My only complaint was (again) no heat in the restrooms! Brrrr….

2.5.18 ~ Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ another building in the stable yard
looking though the book on Irish birds I bought at the wildlife park, I think this bird might be a pied wagtail ~ he was surveying the stable yard
the best shot I could get of the impossibly narrow steps

Because of the castle renovations we could not take the usual stairway up to the Blarney Stone. We never made it to the stone at the top because, well, the alternate steps were very small and continued to narrow the higher we went. We made it about 3/4 of the way up before we called it quits and retreated. We had to return home without our gift of eloquence. Notice in the picture above that the only railing we had was that wobbly rope. I’m only 5 feet tall and I had to duck to go through that doorway. And going down was even harder to pull off for these senior citizens. Phew!

well, at least we made it up to the kitchen
scaffolding for those working on the renovations
2.5.18 ~ Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ snowdrops
2.5.18 ~ Blarney Castle, Blarney, Cork, Ireland ~ friendly European robin

On the castle grounds there are several other things to see. For this trip we chose the Rock Close. Pictures of that magical place in my next post…