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!
My yearning for Cape Cod had been becoming more and more intense in recent weeks so on Friday we decided to visit the next best place, Napatree Point, just over the state line in Rhode Island, the Ocean State. Another lovely warm and sunny day to enjoy before the cold weather returned for the weekend.
We could hear the waves long before we climbed over the dunes. The smell of the refreshing salt air beckoned. Along the way there was plenty of evidence of storms shifting the sands of the dunes over the winter.
It was uplifting communing with the dunes and the sea. Much needed after a long, cold February! And at home, a snowdrop waiting for me in my garden. 💙
After a bitter cold snap we managed to get out for a good walk on Wednesday. Another new place for us. This time I brought my father’s cane to use as a walking stick so I wouldn’t have to find one in the woods. It fit perfectly and had a good energy! Papa was very fond of his cane because his father had carved it and used it. (A couple of pictures of him with it here.)
Our daughter-in-law mailed us our old camera a couple of weeks ago so I could see how it compares to the one I’ve been using for several years now. But so far I haven’t felt inclined to pick it up so Tim took it along on this outing. It was fun with both of us having a good camera.
We were looking for the remains of a famous huge oak tree in the woods here. Before long we spotted the sign and were saddened to see just how very little was left of it.
During the summer of 1969, the gypsy moth defoliated an estimated 260,000 acres of trees in northeastern woodlands — more than triple the defoliated acreage of 1968. ~ Ralph L. Snodsmith (The New York Times, April 19, 1970)
The famous oak didn’t survive the gypsy moth assault in 1969. Fifty-one years later this is all that is left of it:
My feet will tread soft as a deer in the forest. My mind will be clear as water from the sacred well. My heart will be strong as a great oak. My spirit will spread an eagle’s wings, and fly forth. ~ Juliet Marillier (Daughter of the Forest)
We continued walking and found a historical cemetery.
Within this park are more trails and the Nathan Lester House & Farm Tool Museum, presumably the home of the chickens. We will have to wait to explore when the pandemic is over.
Because of the winter storms we hadn’t had a real walk in the woods in over a month. “Get out there!” my favorite TV weatherman advised on Wednesday morning. We opened the door and the birds were singing and it felt like a spring day at 45°F (7°C). Most of the snow had melted. So we headed out to a new park for us, the Hewitt Farm in North Stonington.
This 104-acre park and recreation area was purchased by the Town of North Stonington in 2008 for the enjoyment of its residents and visitors to the region. The property consists of forests, fields, wetlands and streams; more than a mile of hiking trails, including the town’s Bicentennial Trail; the Shunock River; 3.5-acre Lower Hewitt Pond and dam; and several structures. The dam originally provided water-power to John Dean Gallup’s woolen mill located nearby. ~ Hewitt Farm Trail Map
We took the Bicentennial Trail. It felt so good to be outside with a just a sweatshirt and no gloves needed! We walked for an hour and a half, up a hill to Tipping Rock, a huge glacier erratic that didn’t disappoint. From the top of the hill we could see the wooded landscape 360° all around us. But there was also lots to see along the way.
For most of us knowledge comes largely through sight, yet we look about with such unseeing eyes that we are partially blind. One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?” ~ Rachel Carson (The Sense of Wonder)
Not sure how long the trail would be we were thinking of turning back but then we saw the sign. So we pressed on up the hill…
After much oohing and aahing we headed back down the hill. It was a lot easier and faster than climbing up, but we still paused to see a lot of nature’s delights.
About half way down we heard the delighful sounds of excited children approaching. Two mothers with two babies and four little ones between them were coming up the trail so we took our usual six-feet-off-the-trail position as they passed. We exchanged pleasant greetings. They were wondering about the ladder…
We were so happy to be out and about, as much as is possible, during the pandemic. Tim got his first shot on the 17th. Next one scheduled for March 17. My age group opens up on Monday but it may take a while to get an appointment because there are a lot more people in my age group than there are in Tim’s.
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.)
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
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.
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)
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
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.
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)
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.
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
On Christmas Eve morning we headed 13 miles north to find some snow without a sheet of ice on top of it. It was melting up in Ledyard but still looking lovely and was walkable. I was delighted! I was going to get my chance to walk in the snow covered woods!
In the winter there are fewer men in the fields and woods … you see the tracks of those who had preceded you, and so are more reminded of them than in summer. ~ Henry David Thoreau (Journal, December 12, 1859)
The preserve’s website mentioned wolf trees, which are “relics from the agricultural era when trees along the edges of fields could spread their branches.” My curiosity piqued, I soon spotted one. I’ve seen trees like this before, but didn’t know there was a term for them.
In the strictest sense, wolf trees are those spared the axe during widespread Colonial-era deforestation in order to provide shade for livestock or mark a boundary. As second- and third-growth woods filled in abandoned pasture and farmland, these titans have become crowded by dense, spindly youngsters. Where those upstarts are tall and narrow, competing fiercely for canopy light, the wolf tree they surround has fat, laterally extended boughs and a comparatively squat trunk—a testament to the open, sunny country in which it once prospered. ~ Ethan Shaw (The Old in the Forest: Wolf Trees of New England & Farther Afield)
When we got to the brook we decided to turn around because there was no bridge and crossing over by stepping on the small rocks looked like a dicey proposition. But on the way back we paid more attention to the little things peeping out from under the snow.
The winter, with its snow and ice, is not an evil to be corrected. It is as it was designed and made to be, for the artist has had leisure to add beauty to use. ~ Henry David Thoreau (Journal, December 11, 1855)
We will return some day, better prepared to cross the brook and make our way to the cove, where we might find osprey and waterfowl. It was good to get a great walk in before heading home to hunker down for the fast approaching Christmas wind and rain storm.
We wound up having a good Christmas, even though it was pouring rain all day. There were treasured video calls with family. We finished a jigsaw puzzle together while listening to my winter solstice playlist on shuffle. Watched the final episodes of a Norwegian TV series on Netflix, Home for Christmas, dubbed in English. (Hjem til Jul)
As we started to close the drapes at dusk we found ourselves awestruck. The eastern sky, opposite of the sunset, was violet!!! We couldn’t believe our eyes! The color comes from the extra moisture in the atmosphere refracting the setting sun’s light rays so that the violet is reflected.
Color! What a deep and mysterious language, the language of dreams. ~ Paul Gauguin (Perception & Imaging: Photography as a Way of Seeing)
With 16 acres of 11 kinds of evergreen trees, we had a nice long walk at this tree farm before we (I) settled on one to take home. We thought we were looking for a Fraser Fir but none of them seemed right and with the guidance of a helpful employee we finally came home with a lovely Nordmann Fir. I’m in love!
An excellent needle retaining species with soft glossy dark green needles. Nordmann Firs are the preferred Christmas tree of Europeans, with long, full, lush, dark green foliage, similar to a Fraser fir, but soft to the touch and with excellent needle retention. … Their soft and lustrous black-green needles stem from symmetrically arranged branches, producing the ideal pyramidal specimen for a Christmas tree. ~ Pick Your Own Christmas Tree website
We liked the color of the Nordmann better, for some reason we never noticed how yellowy the Fraser was before we saw two, one of each, growing right next to each other. The only thing the Nordmann is missing is fragrance, but we’ll just burn some scented candles to make up for it. 🙂
I was so busy trying to stay six feet away from the young man helping us that I forgot to take a picture of our solstice tree before he cut it down. I have to say, he was very patient to answer all our questions, and my last minute change of mind didn’t faze him in the least. Tim was relieved when the tree was finally cut and loaded into the truck. It was all bundled and ready for us when we returned to the holding area.
On the way back I saw a bluebird! But it was too quick for me and the pictures came out too blurry to use. Sigh… My luck with birds seems to be waning.
There seems to be a shortage of Christmas trees this year, or so I’ve been hearing on the news. More people looking to make their pandemic holiday extra special. Every time we thought we spotted a good looking tree it turned out to be tagged already. Next year we might just pay the extra few dollars to tag a tree before Thanksgiving. But we’re still happy with the one we finally found.
Since my last post the new guidelines say that those over 65 years old should have their groceries delivered now during this surge. So it’s back to Instacart for us. Staying home except for our walks in the unpopulated woods.
Latest statistics: New London County now has 6,648 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 54 people are currently in the hospital and 180 have lost their lives. That’s 1,980 new cases since November 15 when I last reported.
Connecticut’s positive test rate is now 5.7%. (It was 6.4% on November 15.) It looks like we’re doing better than many other states. Still, we’re hunkering down for the next few months.
This pandemic Thanksgiving felt so strange with just the two of us, to say the least. We had takeout turkey, worked on a jigsaw puzzle, listened to music, communicated with faraway relatives, and when it got dark and stopped raining, went to see some holiday lights at a large outdoor shopping village.
It was very pretty, although I don’t think they had all their lights up yet. There were a few families there with small children. Everyone was wearing masks and stayed quite far apart. (I’ve started wearing two masks when I go outside these days. I still won’t go inside of a building.)
After we were there a while they started playing music which was very festive but it seemed so bizarre to have to exchange muffled Happy Thanksgiving greetings from behind our masks and from a distance.
I wonder what the holiday shopping season will be like. We’ll be ordering a couple of gifts for our grandchildren from local businesses in their area so our daughter can pick them up curbside and wrap them for us.
It will be interesting to see on the news what happens for Black Friday… (Something I frown upon and have never participated in…) I hope common sense will prevail somehow.
Heading out for a walk in the woods today. We decided we do want a solstice tree this year, but will wait until the middle of next week to visit the local tree farm, so as to avoid the weekend crowd. We are determined to make the best of things!
It’s been a challenge finding red leaves this autumn, while dull yellows are everywhere. Looks like our nights haven’t been chilly enough to encourage a brighter display this year. Perhaps the drought is a factor, too. But I continue the search. On Friday we walked on the Denison Farm Trail at the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center.
To get a really good, colorful display, you want to have chilly nights alongside sunny days. The sun helps stimulate the leaves to produce sugars, according to the National Wildlife Foundation. Then the cold nights close off the veins that allow the sugars to escape back into the tree. It’s these trapped sugars that eventually show off the brilliant reds and violets; if this process falters, you get more dull-looking browns and yellows. ~ Scott Sistek (KOMO News, October 17, 2020)
Our drought continues, but was lowered from extreme to severe. We’ve been getting a little rain here and there, and next week more is expected. It was a very cloudy day.
I found no pleasure in the silent trees, the falling fir-cones, the congealed relics of autumn, russet leaves, swept by past winds in heaps, and now stiffened together. ~ Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre)
I have tried to delay the frosts, I have coaxed the fading flowers, I thought I could detain a few of the crimson leaves until you had smiled upon them; but their companions call them, and they cannot stay away. ~ Emily Dickinson (Letter to William Austin Dickinson, Autumn, 1851)
On the way home I finally spotted some red in Old Mystic. It wasn’t in the woods and it had wires going through it, but I took what I could get. 🙂
Looks like we’re hunkering down for winter and the growing surge in the pandemic. I hope our bubble holds. Statistics:
New London County now has 3,456 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 23 people are in the hospital and 136 have lost their lives. That’s 1,497 new cases since September 30 when I last reported.
Our contact tracers continue to report that they have observed many instances of family and social gathering connections. We are also seeing a significant number of cases associated with sporting events. Cases associated with institutions (schools, long-term care facilities, etc.) remain relatively low. ~ Ledge Light Health District website
Groton is now a “red alert town.” We are advised to cancel gatherings and events with non-family members. (We’ve been doing this all along, but our neighbors haven’t.) The Parks & Recreation Department has suspended all programming.