the comfort of a poem

image credit: pixabay

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.

~ Mary Oliver
(Mysteries, Yes)

where a battle has been fought

1.19.21 ~ Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park
Groton, Connecticut

Near the end of December we found the graves of a couple of Revolutionary War soldiers on a walk in Stoddard Hill State Park. Debbie, one of my readers, mentioned that they don’t have graves that old where she lives in Illinois. So, although I much prefer nature walks, I decided we could change things up a bit and take a history walk. Because of Debbie’s comment I have a new appreciation for the historic Battle of Groton Heights that took place right here in my town. (Link is for history buffs.)

DEFENDERS OF FORT GRISWOLD • SEPT • 6th 1781•

This is the historic site where, on September 6, 1781, British Forces, commanded by the infamous Benedict Arnold, captured the Fort and massacred 88 of the 165 defenders stationed there. The Ebenezer Avery House which sheltered the wounded after the battle has been restored on the grounds. A Revolutionary War museum also depicts the era. Fort Griswold was designated as a state park in 1953.
~ Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park website

Col. Ledyard memorial

There is some doubt about the details of this story. The shirt and vest Col. Ledyard was wearing when he was killed had tears in the side, suggesting a bayonet wound is what caused his death, not his own sword in the hands of a British officer.

parade ground in the fort
dried seed pods on the wall

Critical acumen is exerted in vain to uncover the past; the past cannot be presented; we cannot know what we are not. But one veil hangs over past, present, and future, and it is the province of the historian to find out, not what was, but what is. Where a battle has been fought, you will find nothing but the bones of men and beasts; where a battle is being fought, there are hearts beating.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(A Week on the Concord & Merrimack Rivers)

dried seed pods on the wall
a door in the fort wall
looking down at the lower battery, seen from the new viewing platform
USCGC Eagle docked across the Thames River at Fort Trumbull in New London

The 295-foot Barque Eagle is the flagship of the U.S. Coast Guard. She serves as a training vessel for cadets at the Coast Guard Academy and candidates from the Officer Candidate School. The Eagle is the only active-duty sailing vessel in America’s military, and one of only two commissioned sailing vessels, along with the USS Constitution.
~ US Coast Guard Academy website

Tim at entrance to the tunnel through the wall of the fort
Tim at exit of the tunnel through the wall of the fort

From the tunnel we followed a trench down the hill. The trench hid the soldiers from enemy fire as they moved between the fort and the lower battery.

view from the trench
looking down the trench, it turns to the left ahead
after the turn, getting closer to the end
powder magazine, built in 1843
looking up at the fort, the trench zig zags to the right

Off to the side on the lower battery is the restored Ebenezer Avery house. It was moved to this location from a nearby street in 1971.

In the old times, women did not get their lives written, though I don’t doubt many of them were much better worth writing than the men’s.
~ Harriet Beecher Stowe
(The Pearl of Orr’s Island: A Story of the Coast of Maine)

Anna Warner Bailey

Sometimes I think that historical houses should be named after the wives and daughters who lived in them, to honor them, as they very likely spent more time working there than the men who were out and about in the world.

But on a plaque outside this house I found a picture of Anna Warner Bailey (1758-1851) and the note that she was one of the first women to tend to the wounded after the battle. When I got home I found this online: Our Petticoat Heroine by Carol Kimball

We’ll have to wait until the pandemic is over before we can tour the house. I discovered a bit of synchronicity, we happened to be visiting this place on the 170th anniversary of Anna Warner “Mother” Bailey’s death. And there is a house named for her close by, where she had lived.

entrance gate and Groton Monument, seen from lower battery

The Groton Monument was built between 1826 and 1830, and is the oldest monument of its type in the country. Built of granite quarried locally, the Monument stands 135 feet tall with 166 steps.
~ Fort Griswold Battlefield website

We will also have to wait until the pandemic is over before we can tour the monument and small museum.

When I was preparing this post I noticed I already had a category for Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park. With another nod to synchronicity, it turns out Tim & I visited the fort nine years ago, almost to the day! The trench looks a little different nine years later. We had climbed up on the fort wall, which is no longer allowed. They have installed a viewing platform on the wall sometime in the past nine years. My, how things keep changing… The views of the river and city below are amazing. My old post: Fort Griswold Battlefield

winter-patience

1.13.21 ~ Stoddard Hill State Park
Ledyard, Connecticut

Several weeks after our first visit to this state park we returned to hike up the hill to the lookout, 183 feet (56 meters) above the river. The leaf-covered path started behind the cemetery and was much more steep than we had anticipated.

looking towards the Thames River from behind Stoddard Cemetery

It wasn’t long before I covered the camera lens and grabbed two strong walking sticks to steady myself. Tim already had his walking stick and was more steady on his feet, but had to stop frequently to catch his breath. I was starting to question the wisdom of embarking on this expedition! Especially when we lost the trail and decided to just keep going up…

several kinds of moss and lichen on a rotting log

When things leveled off a bit I got a few pictures…

mushroom
princess pine trying to poke through the layers of leaves

Near the top we turned around near this ledge and saw the cemetery way down below…

Stoddard Cemetery from high above

At last we could see an opening in the woods and views of the river, trees and railroad tracks below. Tim said it was a good thing we came in the winter because the leaves on the trees would have blocked these lovely scenes. Keep in mind, under these ridges is that jumble of glacial erratics pictured in the last post. We didn’t go close enough to the edge to peek down there.

even way up here there were a few dead fish

Only with winter-patience can we bring
The deep-desired, long-awaited spring.

~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh
(The Unicorn & Other Poems)

We found the trail again and managed to follow it all the way back down to the cemetery. I’m pleased to report that neither of us fell! I slipped a couple of feet once but my sticks saved me. 🙂 That’s probably enough of steep climbs for us!

hairy woodpecker, telephoto lens
same hairy woodpecker
mallards on Stoddard Cove, also telephoto lens
thin ice on Stoddard Cove

It was nice to finally stand on level ground and take a couple of bird pictures. Phew!

a light shines through us

12.28.20 ~ Stoddard Hill State Park
Ledyard, Connecticut

We took this walk along the banks of the Thames River a couple of weeks ago. Immediately we were confronted with dead, half-eaten fish littering the path. It was pretty creepy and we wondered what on earth was going on. We had to watch our steps!

probably Atlantic menhaden

Later, after asking around, we learned that this phenomenon has been spotted by others taking walks in other natural areas near the river. We tried to ignore the gruesome scene underfoot and enjoy what else the trail had to offer…

spotted wintergreen

From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(The Selected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson)

fungi? lichen? growing in tree wound cavity
Stoddard Cemetery

We found a cemetery at the foot of a hillside of jumbled glacial erratics. We noticed a couple of stones for local Revolutionary War soldiers.

Stoddard Cemetery
a huge burl on a very thin tree trunk
glacial erratics seeming to tumble down the side of the hill
lichen growing on part of an erratic

In the past month, DEEP Fisheries Division staff have received and investigated numerous calls of reported sightings of dead fish along the Connecticut shoreline, from Darien to New London, and numerous points in between. These incidents, known as fish kills, involve a species of fish called Atlantic Menhaden, also known as “bunker.” Menhaden are the most abundant marine fish species on the east coast, and fish kills involving them are not uncommon. Menhaden fish kills can occur for a variety of reasons, most often due to natural or environmental factors such as school-induced hypoxia (lack of oxygen) or cold water temperature. While DEEP continues to investigate these events, staff believe the cause of the fish kills observed over the past month have been due to more Menhaden overwintering in the Sound this year, possibly due to a missed migration cue, leading them to succumb to the cold water temperatures and a lack of nourishment.
~ The Fisherman website, December 14, 2020

jumble of erratics from another angle
Norwich & Worcester Railroad tracks, Thames River
big scramble of glacial erratics cascading down off Stoddard Hill
looking down over the very steep riverbank
every few steps, another one
???
an open acorn stash

Recently I found a website with pictures of old postcards of huge glacial erratics, many from New England. When the pandemic is over, and if health permits, we might try to visit a few of these! Boulders of the United States

a squirrel’s estimate

11.6.20 ~ Bluff Point State Park & Coastal Reserve
Groton, Connecticut

A Saucer holds a Cup
In sordid human Life
But in a Squirrel’s estimate
A Saucer holds a Loaf —

A Table of a Tree
Demands the little King
And every Breeze that run along
His Dining Room do swing —

His Cutlery — he keeps
Within his Russet Lips —
To see it flashing when he dines
Do Birmingham eclipse —

Convicted — could we be
Of our Minutiae
The smallest Citizen that flies
Is heartier than we —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1407)

It had been a couple of years since I’ve visited Bluff Point, but Tim hadn’t been here in ten years! There was still plenty of fall colors to enjoy.

The first time we came here was about forty years ago. I was very pregnant with our daughter and our sons were three and five years old. We walked all the way to the point, about a mile and a half, I think, maybe two, but on the way back the boys were too tired to walk any more. So Tim put the five-year-old on his shoulders and carried the three-year-old facing forward in front of him. The memory of his feat still amazes me to this day.

Ten years ago, when Tim’s cousin and her three children were visiting us for a weekend, we took them here for a long cold winter walk. Those children are grown up and on their own now, too.

We didn’t go all the way to the point this day, Tim’s hip started acting up about half an hour in. The path is pretty flat, which probably worked against him, as we learned this spring he does much better on uneven terrain. On the way back, we got off the path and wandered along the Poquonnock River bank back to the parking lot.

How different things are these days. That young couple with so much energy has vanished out of the scene. An older couple remains, strolling along, one of them stopping frequently to settle his bones while the other flutters around him, taking pictures of this and that with her camera. He’s still my best companion.

There were more people in the park than I thought there would be for a week day. Most had masks on and all were respectful of social distancing. Two squirrels were near the entrance, nibbling on something someone may have left for them earlier.

Once we encountered two women with masks on, walking down the wide path six feet apart from each other, but having a lively conversation. I guessed they might be friends meeting up for a visit. It made me start wondering if it would be safe for me to do something like that, too. Or would I be too nervous about inadvertently getting too close?

I have a feeling the pandemic will be over before I find a good way to make these decisions. For now, we’ll stay the course. This was a very refreshing walk.

it looks like these two trees are lifting the glacial erratic up off the ground
someone might be living under these roots
Poquonnock River
waning gibbous moon
I loved the sunlight on the bark of these trees
pretty bark
leaf caught by a branch on its way down
you never know where a smile might turn up
an adorable tufted titmouse
as we were leaving, a surprise in the sky, a powered hang glider

after dinner light

“Picking Honeysuckle”
by Sophie Gengembre Anderson

Morning — is the place for Dew —
Corn — is made at Noon —
After dinner light — for flowers —
Dukes — for setting sun!

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #223)

7.5.20 ~ sunset at Eastern Point

black-crowned night heron

6.25.20 ~ black-crowned night heron
Elm Grove Cemetery, Mystic

Another early morning walk, definitely the bird hour. I was taking pictures of the pond when this black-crowned night heron flew up from the water and perched on the evergreens. I had to use the telephoto lens but he seemed well aware that I was looking at him and seemed determined to stay right there until I went away. He won! After moving myself to different vantage points and taking five zillion pictures I finally left him there. Most birds fly away before I can get a good shot.

water lily
pond full of water lilies
from a slightly different angle
and then it changed positions
a sidelong glance
across the Mystic River

The restlessness of shorebirds, their kinship with the distance and swift seasons, the wistful signal of their voices down the long coastlines of the world make them, for me, the most affecting of wild creatures.
~ Peter Matthiessen
(The Peter Matthiessen Reader: Nonfiction, 1959-1991)

morningtide

6.24.20 ~ Eastern Point
Canada goose papa watching over his family in Avery Pond

One morning, four days after the beach “opened” for the season on June 20, we got up early and headed down there before it opened for the day. What a difference! Now that people have to pay for a pass to enter between 8am and 8pm the freeloaders and all their litter, cigarette butts and dog crap have disappeared. Peace is restored and we had such a lovely walk!

killdeer parent and three tiny chicks
near Avery Pond
killdeer on the run after the speedy little chicks

In contrast to the tranquil Canada goose family, the killdeer parents were beyond frantic, chasing after and chirping to their three chicks, who were darting all over the place and in every direction. It made getting their pictures next to impossible! They blended in well with the gravel.

the morning dew promised a humid day

Someone is tending some beautiful rose bushes near the entrance, along the chain link fence.

rose and chain link fence

I love the contrast between rusty old metal and fresh new flower.

rose and buds

The water was very calm on the river/estuary side of the point.

juvenile gull
female common eider
flying over the Thames River estuary
underwater and above-water seaweed
please, please, please

Another risk factor to worry about:

The two stretches of DNA implicated as harboring risks for severe COVID-19 are known to carry some intriguing genes, including one that determines blood type and others that play various roles in the immune system. In fact, the findings suggest that people with blood type A face a 50 percent greater risk of needing oxygen support or a ventilator should they become infected with the novel coronavirus. In contrast, people with blood type O appear to have about a 50 percent reduced risk of severe COVID-19.
~ Dr. Francis S. Collins
(Genes, Blood Type Tied to Risk of Severe COVID-19,
NIH Director’s Blog, June 18, 2020)

I have type A blood. Fortunately my husband, children, and grandchildren are all type O. Reading this article made me glad that we haven’t let our guard down and continue to remain firmly self-quarantined. And now our governor has ordered out-of-state travelers to quarantine for two weeks when entering Connecticut because of the way COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire in so many other states. I’m glad to know he is still looking out for us. The numbers are getting very alarming again.

It’s good to know my beach sanctuary is available to me again, at least for the summer. Looking forward to many early morning walks on the sand.

The salt of those ancient seas is in our blood, its lime is in our bones. Every time we walk along a beach some ancient urge disturbs us so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments, or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers like the homesick refugees of a long war.
~ Loren Eiseley
(The Unexpected Universe)

gull tracks

I like this place, and willingly could
Waste my time in it.

~ William Shakespeare
(As You Like It)

? near Beach Pond
red-winged blackbird near Beach Pond

We are nature. We are nature seeing nature. The red-winged blackbird flies in us.
~ Susan Griffin
(Made from this Earth: An Anthology of Writings)

in this very present moment

6.4.20 ~ beach rose
Napatree Point Conservation Area, Watch Hill, Rhode Island

Along the shoreline, about 19 miles east of us, the waters of Fishers Island Sound give way to the the bigger waves of Block Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. When leaving Connecticut and arriving in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, the terrain and the beaches feel a lot more like Cape Cod to me. The irresistable desire to hear those waves crashing led me to drag Tim to Napatree Point Thursday morning and he was a good sport about a hike over the dunes.

Napatree Point is a slender, 1.5 mile long peninsula in Block Island Sound. To the north of the peninsula is Little Narragansett Bay, a small estuary into which the Pawcatuck River empties. The small bay is an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean.
~ Wikipedia

dunes

First we walked along the bay side, but not all the way to the end of the peninsula. The water was calm and there were lots of birds busy fishing and flying, but only one herring gull. He was quite handsome and paid no attention to us.

What is it with me and gulls? I won’t say how many pictures I wound up taking of this one. 🙂 But the sound of the waves on the ocean side was beckoning…

Time to take a shortcut over the dune. We made it across without encountering someone coming the other way. With COVID-19 ever on our minds we knew it would have to be a one-way-at-a-time bridge.

The waves were relatively calm, but bigger than the ones at our beach, and the sound of them crashing was soothing to me.

Atlantic Ocean!

Till my soul is full of longing
For the secret of the sea,
And the heart of the great ocean
Sends a thrilling pulse through me.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(The Secret of the Sea)

Watch Hill Lighthouse on the point in the distance

There was a family with two children playing there on the beach. When we got closer the parents called the little ones back to their blanket and we hugged the water, putting as much distance between us as possible. We didn’t linger so the kids could quickly get back to their playing by the water. Life in the time of coronavirus.

I’ve been wrestling with several other concerns, though. Perhaps it’s stress, but my migraines have come back and have become very frequent, waking me up almost every night. Fortunately I have a stash of meds but I’m starting to worry I will blow through it before my next refill is due.

And then there is what I thought were spider bites I woke up with last Saturday morning. Mostly on my belly, a few on my face, and a couple of days later, a spot on my ankle. By the middle of the week I suspected flea bites or chigger bites. But the itching and rash now feels exactly like poison ivy. Which means I’ve got another week or two of this misery to live through. Probably picked it up in the woods on one of our walks. I think I will confine our walks to the cemetery and dirt roads for now.

Seeing the open ocean, hearing the waves, smelling the salty air, picking up a shell to remember the morning, all of it gave me some breathing space. Even the incessant itching seemed to stop for a while.

time to climb over the dune again

Try to be happy in this very present moment; and put not off being so to a time to come: as though that time should be of another make from this, which is already come, and is ours.
~ Thomas Fuller
(A Dictionary of Thoughts: Being a Cyclopedia of Laconic Quotations from the Best Authors of the World, Both Ancient & Modern)

This morning I read that headaches are one of the possible side effects of hydrocortisone cream, which I’ve been using on the poison ivy. Itching, too. So I’m going to stop using it for a while and see what happens. This too, will pass.

Watch Hill Lighthouse
looking back across Napatree Point from the top of the dune

I was very sorry to leave but very grateful to have enjoyed our moments there. On our way out we managed to stay far enough away from a couple of people arriving and exchanged greetings from behind our masks. “It’s the new way,” one man observed, as we all did our do-si-dos along the paths.