a castle by the river

6.23.21 ~ Gillette Castle State Park
East Haddam, Connecticut

Another gorgeous day of mild temperatures and low humidity presented itself on Wednesday, so off we went to visit a small castle in Connecticut. The last time we were there was in 1981, when the gypsy moth infestation was in full swing. 40 years ago — where does the time go? My memories are of trees stripped of their leaves and our three-year old son stomping on every single caterpillar in his path. And there were many. It was slow going…

Wiliam Gillette as Sherlock Holmes lithograph
1900 Library of Congress Collection

The castle sits high above the Connecticut River. It was designed by William Gillette (1853-1937), an American stage actor who famously portrayed Sherlock Holmes in multiple productions. He lived in his castle from 1919 until his death. We couldn’t get any indoor pictures but it was a very enjoyable and informative tour. (We were required to wear masks inside the castle and the visitor center.) The man owned 15 cats and had designed many built-in features to entertain them, like a round table with wooden toys dangling off the edge.

Connecticut River, viewed from the castle

Looking at the river we spotted the ferry crossing from Hadlyme to Chester, which brought back another memory. One day when the caterpillar crusher was a teenager he wanted to visit a certain obscure comic book store, far from home and on the other side of the river. We went by the interstate but I decided we would take a side trip on the way home to locate an ancestor’s gravestone at a cemetery on this side of the river, and that we would take the car over the river on the little ferry. It was an adventure!

Chester/Hadlyme Ferry

Gillette also designed a short-line, narrow gauge train with three miles of track on the grounds of his 184-acre estate.

From the 1920s through the ‘30s, Gillette’s personal railroad amused visiting dignitaries from Albert Einstein to Calvin Coolidge as it carried them across bridges, trestles, and through a tunnel Gillette designed himself. The 18-inch-gauge railroad included electric- and steam-powered locomotives, two Pullman cars, and an observation car. In the 1940s the tracks and train engines were sold to Lake Compounce in Bristol. They were donated back in the 1990s and a restored passenger car is currently on display at the castle’s visitor center.
~ Connecticut History website

“Grand Central Station”
???mysterious substance hanging from ceiling of train station???
looking out from the train station towards the river
Gillette Castle from a different angle
stone wall along a driveway
entrance to ???
stone wall along a walkway

Tim spotted a bird high up in a tall tree and I did the best I could with the telephoto lens and no tripod! My first pictures of an indigo bunting!!! A lovely way to end the visit.

indigo bunting

But that wasn’t the end of the outing. On our way to the castle I had spotted a picturesque body of water and Tim had spotted a place where we could pull off the road to look at it. So on the way back we stopped. There were no signs so it took a bit of investigating when I got home to identify it.

6.23.21 ~ Whalebone Cove
Lyme, Connecticut
freshwater tidal marsh
dome-shaped beaver lodge of sticks and wood
lovely summer colors
more summer colors

And then I spotted what looked to be part of the bark on that dying tree in the first picture above. But when I zoomed in it turned out to be a bird! The bird never moved, except to turn its head, the whole time we were there. Flitting around it were two other birds who never landed for more than a second, but I managed to get the last picture below of one of them. I was able to steady my arms by leaning on the car. With help from the good folks at the What’s This Bird? Facebook group it seems to be a fledgling barn swallow and its parents.

juvenile barn swallow
barn swallow

We stopped at our favorite restaurant on our way home again and wondered how many more of these delightful days we will have before the heat and humidity return and settle in…

to whole handfuls of jewels

5.11.21 ~ Haley Farm State Park
Groton, Connecticut

What a gorgeous day for a walk! First we strolled through a meadow full of blooming buttercups…

a sea of buttercups
brown-headed cowbird

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

path leading uphill to a forest
“the smallest leaf”

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)

“an insect view”
Tim looking out

We climbed until we reached the lookout indicated on the map.

looking back down at the meadow
Chester Cemetery from above

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.

more small details
the woods seemed to go on forever
“just as bright, just as blue, just as green”

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)

for my snagged oak leaf collection
unfurling
on and on we walked

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.

one side of the wolf tree

For an explanation of wolf trees see this post: snow melting in the oak-beech forest

Chester Cemetery

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.

the other side the wolf tree

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!

gray catbird

west garden, box garden, rock garden

5.6.21 ~ water tower ~ Harkness Memorial State Park
Waterford, Connecticut

So… I decided to combine the west, box and rock gardens into one post because they pretty much flowed into one another. Please enjoy the pictures!

I don’t divide architecture, landscape and gardening; to me they are one.
~ Luis Barragán
(Designing Outside the Box: Landscape Seeing by Doing)

Roman Renaissance Revival architecture
common grackle
johnny-jump-ups
Beatrix Farrand was one of the two women who designed these gardens

Should it not be remembered that in setting a garden we are painting a picture?
~ Beatrix Farrand
(Beatrix: The Gardening Life of Beatrix Jones Farrand, 1872-1959)

buttercups
frog

It therefore results that the enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it, tranquilizes it, and yet enlivens it, and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.
~ Frederick Law Olmsted
(America’s National Park System: The Critical Documents)

cutting garden

5.6.21 ~ Harkness Memorial State Park
Waterford, Connecticut

Finally a spring day found us both feeling well and free of appointments. Off to explore the gardens at Eolia, the elegant summer mansion at Harkness Memorial State Park. So many birds and greenery to delight the senses. I took more pictures than usual and will probably make three posts out of our visit. 🙂 First, the cutting garden. Not too many flowers yet but plenty of birds and squirrels and even a bunny, who was too quick to be photographed.

gray catbird singing its heart out

His black cap gives him a jaunty look, for which
we humans have learned to tilt our caps, in envy.
When he is not singing, he is listening.
Neither have I ever seen him with his eyes closed.
Though he may be looking at nothing more than a cloud
it brings to his mind several dozen new remarks.
From one branch to another, or across the path,
he dazzles with flight.

~ Mary Oliver
(Catbird)

gray catbird
copper beech leaves
bluebells
northern mockingbird

I was very excited to spot this mockingbird. I had taken a picture of one back in 2011 but didn’t know what it was. Not too long ago I was going through old pictures and decided to post that old picture on the “What’s This Bird?” Facebook group and they identified it for me. I was pleasantly surprised to correctly identify this one when I saw it, but I did check with the group to make sure. (I’ve been known to get my shorebirds wrong…)

northern mockingbird
northern mockingbird
110-year-old Japanese threadleaf maple

I spent quite a bit of time lingering under this enchanting tree. The birds seemed very fond of it, too, singing away in the upper branches. Peeking out I could see Long Island Sound in the distance. A perfect place to curl up with a good book and, just as I was thinking that, a woman showed up with a book, looking for a place to read where she couldn’t hear the lawnmower. It wasn’t until she mentioned it that I noticed the noise droning away in the background. The lawns of the grounds of this old mansion property are vast and must require a lot of maintenance! Anyhow, I hope she was able to get some peaceful reading in, listening to all the birds.

Long Island Sound in the distance

As we left that wonderful tree Tim spotted three squirrels chasing each other in another tree. They were so cute!

playful squirrel
scratching acrobatics
dandelion dreams
beautiful mourning dove
mourning dove

Pretty doves, so blithely ranging
Up and down the street;
Glossy throats all bright hues changing,
Little scarlet feet!

~ Harriet McEwen Kimball
(The Doves)

mourning dove
tulip
Jonquil ? and ?

I will try to make my next posts about the west, box and rock gardens. We didn’t even get to the east garden and the orchard! Another time…

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

black-bellied plover

11.10.20 ~ Harkness Memorial State Park
Waterford, Connecticut

This is another state park we have avoided during the pandemic because it is so popular that it has closed early many times after its parking lot became filled to maximum capacity. We tried now on a weekday and found it busy but not crowded. There is much to see here, beautiful gardens and a mansion, but we headed for the nature preserve. A squirrel was here to greet us at this park, too.

Not sure what the above bush is but I liked the way it looked. The seed pods, below, remind me of pictures of the coronavirus, though. Sigh…

The path down to the cove was nice and wide, but we needn’t have worried about it because we didn’t encounter anyone down there. I took lots of pictures of the plants, the colors and textures were so pleasing to our eyes. The air was full of insect hums and buzzes.

When we got down to Goshen Cove I spotted a lone shorebird on the tidal mudflat, new to me, which my Facebook group helped me to identify: a juvenile black-bellied plover, or possibly a nonbreeding adult.

juvenile black-bellied plover

In breeding plumage, Black-bellied Plovers are a dazzling mix of snow white and jet black, accented by checkerboard wings. They are supreme aerialists, both agile and swift, and are readily identified at great distance by black axillaries (“armpit” feathers) in all plumages—and by their distinctive, mournful-sounding call. The largest and heaviest of North American plovers, Black-bellied is also the hardiest, breeding farther north than other species, at the very top of the world. It is also a very widespread shorebird, occurring on six continents.
~ All About Birds webpage

Tim took particular notice of this tree

After coming up from the nature preserve we followed a path across the lawn and down to the beach. We then encountered some people, some with masks and some without, but there was plenty of space to give them a nice wide berth.

Gratitude doesn’t change the scenery. It merely washes clean the glass you look through so you can clearly see the colors.
~ Richelle E. Goodrich
(Smile Anyway: Quotes, Verse & Grumblings for Every Day of the Year)

The whole setting had the feeling of an impressionist painting.

Our weather has been warmer than average and we broke a record for number of days in a row above 70° F (21° C) in November. Seven. The old record was four days in a row set in 2015 and 1975. It feels very unnatural.

Another public health doctor, Ashish Jha, has been on TV saying he’s not going to visit his parents for Thanksgiving, his example strengthening yet again our resolve to celebrate by ourselves, with video calls to the family. A vaccine seems to be close at hand now, maybe even by April, so it would be foolish to let our guard down at this point.

To lose patience is to lose the battle.
~ Mahatma Gandhi
(Insipiring Thoughts Of Mahatma Gandhi)

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