The ground may be covered with snow right now, but it wasn’t so long ago that Yang and I had an autumn day at the beach. Of course, it was kind of a gothic day at the beach because we were visiting one of the famous Five Ruins of Connecticut, The Aquinas Retreat at Charles Island.
We hadn’t planned on starting the grand tour, but our love of ruins has already taken us to two of the locations in the set. I posted our earlier visit to Hearthstone Castle in Danbury, CT. So, that Sunday afternoon, we trekked down to Milford, CT to finally get the chance to travel the tombolo out across the bay to
the island. This trip had been on our agenda for years, but getting to the island is no easy feat – not because of reefs, pirates, or sea monsters, though. The ocean only subsides from the tombolo during low tide and this land path is only dry and clear enough when the moon and sun exert their strongest gravitational pull. On top of that, colonies of egrets and cranes nest on the island from April until September, so the Wildlife Service has deemed Charles Island off limits during that time.
There’s a legend about the island holding Captain Kidd’s hidden treasure, but the treasure we found were beautiful ocean scenes and fun walking and exploring the edges of the island that has a circumference of a bout a mile. The going could be a bit rocky and uneven when you start out counterclockwise, but you get to enjoy the gorgeous ocean bay as much as do the lounging cormorants.
Then there are the ruins of the Aquinas Retreat Center. Not many extensive ruins to find. Built in 1929 by the Dominican Fathers as a lay retreat, it was abandoned by 1938. Perhaps storms or difficult access for supplies undermined its success. At this point, there are barely the scraps of stone and mortar outlines left to some out buildings and small towers.
There was also one lovely archway. I wonder if this structure could be the remains of an entrance to a chapel or shrine.
This space must have been a wonderful location for contemplation and communing with God through nature amidst the calls of wild birds, the surge of waves, and the rush of wind.
We also saw some nice smaller birds on the island. Yang got a great shot of an Eastern Kingbird.
And while I was watching birds, Yang was watching me!
It was such a lovely, warm and sunny fall afternoon. There were families and young and old couples, also making the circuit of the island, but never so many you’d feel crowded – and the cormorants didn’t seem to mind.
Say, what do you think of this place for setting a mystery novel? In the 1860s, there was resort here. Maybe Jessica and James need a vacation, or Liz needs a retreat – Naagh, no shopping!
I’m heading back to school this week. So before work gets too hot and heavy, I want to post a blog on one of the wonderful short trips Yang and I took when we went away for two days. The first day was a visit to NYC to explore Central Park and have a yummy tea at Alice’s Teacup – another blog on that later! The second day, as we made our way back from where we’d stayed in Milford, brought us to Danbury’s Tarrywile Park and the Hearthstone Castle. If you click here, there’s a wonderful history on this link about the castle.
We walked up a fairly short, but decidedly steep, wooded path to be greeted with this sight. What a pity that the castle has been defaced and let go into such disrepair. Still, it was deliciously eerie, with the afternoon sunlight rising in a clearing amidst the trees. Note the turrets with sharp field stones acting as the crenellation. There in front was the portico where the wealthy would arrive in their carriages to be dropped off at the door for a summer weekend in the country or a formal dinner or ball. They must have had a ballroom! And here I am walking quite determinedly up to get a closer view, braving assault from ticks and poison ivy.
We took some neat shots of the ruins, so you could see the sky pouring blue through a window in the back wall out to you from a smashed window or a broken wall in front of you. Unfortunately, the sun was so bright that it washed the blue right out of most of these shots. I love the gorgeous turret here and wonder what kind of round rooms were inside on each floor. The view must have been a delight. A great place to sit with your tea and a good book. Perhaps a Scarlet Tanager or Rosebreasted Grosbeak might fly by, even perch on the ledge? Looking through the smashed windows, where the boards had been pried away, you could also see the brick that lined or insulated the interior where the material covering the interior walls had been stripped away. I couldn’t help recalling the marvelous ruined abbeys I’d seen on my trip to England – sky gleaming blue through soaring arches and graceful architecture. Of course, this ruin is on a much smaller scale – and more jagged than the medieval constructions. Still, doesn’t the setting lend itself to a novel? Hmm, maybe that’s what I’m working out in my mind here.
Here’s a neat farewell shot of the ruin. I’m not sure if Yang or I took it. I would love to go back in the fall, when the leaves turn gorgeous! You should make a visit, too. And remember that the park has lots of inviting hiking trails. Yeah, I think this place has to make it into a novel. It’s just so Thornfield or Manderly!
P.S. A tip of one of my many hats to Robert Johnson for putting me wise to this site.
Last weekend, we had a mini-vacation in Vermont, connected to my day at Bookstock. What a great time! We’re so fortunate to be living in New England. Friday afternoon, we took a leisurely drive up to Brattleboro to have an early supper at our favorite bakery on Main Street. In a space overlooking the river and mountain, we watched a thunderstorm roll in while we enjoyed a scrumptious olive tapenade/goat cheese/walnut salad and a cappuccino. The storm passed; we rolled out for Springfield, Vermont and the Toonerville Rail Trail. It’s not a long trail, only seven miles round trip, but it runs along the Black River and through some gorgeous Vermont mountain and woodsy scenery. I even managed to spot some Phoebes and Thrushes! The river ran fast and muddy. I’m not sure if that was just from the recent rainfall. Whatever the case, there were some notable rapids. This should be a nice ride in the colorful New England fall.
The next day was my stint at the Sisters In Crime-New England Table on Woodstock Green at Bookstock. I had a wonderful time with two of my favorite writers, and pals, Leslie Wheeler and Connie Johnson Hambley. Leslie has a new book out in Rattlesnake Hill and Connie has completed her Jessica trilogy. If you’re looking for some exciting and enjoyable summer reading, these are great choices – as are Letter from a Dead Man and Bait and Switch! We have the best conversations on writing, the great stuff to do in New England, our families, etc. We also had a lot of fun talking to and getting to know readers and writers visiting our table. I can’t say enough about the great opportunities Sisters in Crime offers both readers and writers (published or not). And one of the best benefits is meeting the other members of the group. I’ve made some swell (as Anne Sheridan would have put it in a movie) friends here. At our booth, the three of us couldn’t help telling interested readers how enjoyable we found each other’s writing!
Last day of our vacation, Yang and I went to Shelburne Falls and visited the Bridge of Flowers. If you’ve never been there, this is an old foot bridge that has been planted on either side of a central path with all kinds of different, beautiful flowers and shrubs.
There are zinnias, roses, red hot poker, delphinium with bachelor buttons, Rose of Sharon, bee balm – you name it. Here are some lovely lilies.
These dahlias and the sunflower are all set for the Fall !
Here I am, delighted to be with a shrub with which I share a name!
You can see from the pictures how gorgeous the flowers are. Several years back, a terrible flood wiped out the bridge garden; but, as you can see, it has been restored with resounding success. Some of the flowers will last several seasons of the year, while some are more seasonal and will be replaced with flowers and plants appropriate to the autumn, later.
So many people enjoy the garden! However, as I will show you, humans aren’t the only ones who delight in the Bridge of Flowers. Yang got several wonderful pictures of one of the many Tiger Swallowtails taking a sunny Sunday brunch on the Bridge.
There was also a Hummingbird Hawk Moth, which people frequently mistake for a Hummingbird. Gorgeous and otherworldly, isn’t it?
Then, we got some shots of the real deal: this female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. She adored the Bee Balm and the Red Hot Poker! She was also fairly undaunted by most of the humans at her restaurant. Yang got some superb shots, didn’t he? I’m happy to say that we also saw another such bird on our stroll through town and that the hummingbird who usually visits us each year at home has made several appearances already! All in all, a delightful weekend!
Wood Thrush Image: https://www.freeclipartnow.com/animals/birds/Wood-Thrush.jpg.html
All other images, author’s collection
I’ve had the pleasure of many wonderful bird sightings since spring began. Some are old friends, and at least one is a new addition. Because I don’t have a fancy camera and the birds are too shy to let me get close enough or they don’t stay still long enough for me to get a good shot, some of these pictures aren’t the best and some I had to find online – but I hope you enjoy hearing about what I’ve been seeing lately.
One of the first signs of spring was the return of my friends, the Red-winged Blackbirds. They’re usually the first to arrive, so I’ve been seeing them March 6th. They even stuck it out through our April torture by snow. I’ve seen several males and also several females. I guess these folks must find my feeders quite the congenial place.
In April, I was further delighted by the return of the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Interestingly enough, my first sighting this year was almost exactly the same date as my sighting last year. This year, we have at least one male and one female – it’s hard to tell if I’m seeing the same or different ones every time. Happily, even as we move through June, I still see these beauties every day. Please forgive the fuzziness in some of the pictures. It’s rather hard to compensate for the pattern-effect of my window screens.
Also back once more is our buddy from last year, turkey Raymond Burrd – though I have since figured out that “he” is a “she.” Still, if there can be gals called Micheal, Jamie, and Ashley, having one named Raymond shouldn’t be any problem. It’s the twenty-first century, folks. Get over it! She has shown up every day, sometimes more than once a day for over a week now – starting 6/4. She’s pretty friendly – not that she’s asking me to tea or anything, but she doesn’t startle and run away or threaten me when I have to walk past her for one reason or another. If I’m enraptured in reading, she’ll wander by quite close without turning a feather. My neighbor said he thought she was going to hop into my lap the other day! Although Natasha was howling out the window at Raymond in the beginning, she and Rosalind have settled down to a minor glance in the turkey’s direction while looking daggers and claws at chipmunks and morning doves.
We were not able to use the front porch for a while because the Robins would shout up a storm at us – they had built a nest in a rhododendron surprisingly close to one of the porch columns. It was so surprisingly close that I happened to glance down and was shocked to see two young, speckled robins checking me out from a nest. Needless to say, the flowers on the front steps went thirsty for awhile. After some time, no Robins could be heard squawking in the rhododendron, so I checked and noted there were no kids in the nest or parents around. Fledging must have occurred, and the parents probably figure they’d move to a neighborhood with less traffic for their next clutch. That’s why I was able to take these pictures.
We also had a Baltimore Oriole visiting our yard. I had heard him for some time, then found him sitting in the juniper bush outside my bedroom window. I ran to get my camera, but he’d taken off when I got back. I have seen him in the high trees in my backyard and hear him as well. In fact, I’ve had lots of Oriole and Yellow Warbler sightings. We saw both types of birds at the Blackstone River Trail and I later had about six sightings of as many as two Orioles at a time by the Quinnebaug River in Putman, Ct. There were also plenty of Yellow Warblers, too. I wonder if the plentitude of Orioles has anything to do with the large number of Gypsy Moth Caterpillars invading New England now. I could hear the caterpillars in the trees by the Q. River – I’m too delicate to tell you what I’ve been informed that I was hearing the caterpillars doing. Let’s just say I was glad I had a hat on!
On a trip to the rail trail that runs from Falmouth to Woods Hole, my husband and I were lucky to see Ospreys hunting and feeding their kids. Here’s an older picture from the same area. We also saw out first Blue-grey Gnatcatcher. It’s quite the lively bird, and you can’t miss the white vertical bars on the sides of its tail. This link shows the little guy in action and captures his blue-gray colors.
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen as many goldfinches, chickadees, Titmice, and nuthatches of late – though I have seen s few. I know they sometimes disappear around this time to brood their young, then return with the kids, when they can fly, for family smorgasbord. I hope they haven’t been driven out by the greedy Grackles, Mourning Doves, and Sparrows. Though Sparrows can be pesky, I have to admit these guys are cute.
At least I saw the Catbird again yesterday while I was reading! This picture is from last year.
Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers have come by, as well as a Flicker. Here are two neat, albeit window-screen-fuzzed, photos of a Hairy Woodpecker. Like most Woodpeckers, this guy just loves that suet!
Oriole image from Pexels.
Yellow Warbler image from: Pixnio.
Last week, Yang and I finally got the opportunity to do something we’ve been promising ourselves for years: visit Battleship Cove. As someone who is fascinated by the WWII years and who had a father who served in the Navy, this was a special treat for me. I’ve long heard of my Dad’s various adventures, both in the Armed Guard doing convoy duty in the North and South Atlantic and on the U.S.S, Hudson in the Pacific Theatre. Here’s a picture of the Hudson (DD475) from the USS Hudson Homepage.
We first checked out a landing vehicle, then moved on to two different PT Boats. These guys were supposed to be small, but the one we photographed looks awfully intimidating. Maybe its the big shark’s maw painted on it? Small, though they may have been considered, they were pretty darned effective with their wooden construction giving them speed and agility and their firepower allowing them to take some nasty bites out of the enemy tonnage.
I was especially interested in USS Jospeh P. Kennedy, because, as it was a destroyer built during WWII, I thought it might give me a good idea of the type of vessel on which my Dad served. The Kennedy wouldn’t be an exact match, as a Gearing-class destroyer, where the Hudson was a Fletcher-class. The Gearing class is somewhat bigger, and this ship was in its 1970s update state; however, I thought I might still get something of an idea. I can’t get over how you can pack so many people in this space, though it is a big ship. When I was in the rooms where the men slept, I pitied the 60 or so guys my Dad must have tortured with his snoring. They must have thought they were under attack! I was also struck with how athletic you have to be to get around and stay on your feet with the steep climbs and the narrow corridors – and I didn’t have to contend with roaring seas or battle conditions! I was stiff for days afterwards! Still, the space was luxurious compared to what we saw on the submarine Lionfish – more about that later.
My Dad was a gunner on the Hudson, Sfc, but I don’t think he said he was on one of these monsters. If you look at the second picture, you see the red circle warning you to stay outside the guns’ turn radius. You wouldn’t want to get hit by this monster – unless you’d always had a hankering to turn into a pancake. You’ll notice that I was going down the stairs here. Too steep to descend facing down! I think guys used to almost slide down with both hands on the rails. But I could be wrong.
I found this picture online of the Hudson’s crew in 1945, and I think I can pick out my Dad. He’s the one with the beard and the cocky expression on the right, in the second row, behind the last seated guy on the right with his cap on. I know that expression well! You better click on the picture and enlarge! My Dad had a wonderful album from his Navy days, but either my brother or one of my nephews has it now. I really want to get my hands on it so that I can scan the pictures! If you click here, you can see the crew list with my Dad’s name! This is also from the Hudson Homepage. For more history of the Hudson, you can also click here.
Finally, we went on the WWII sub, the Lionfish. this was my second visit to a WWII-era sub, as Yang and I had also scrambled through the Tigershark in Baltimore Harbor many years back. All I can say is, tall or wide people don’t bother! It’s amazing how much equipment and machinery you can cram into such a narrow passage. What killed me was moving from compartment to compartment, because the hatches require you to step up and pull your legs up and along to get through. Now you know why you see guys grab the hatchways on either side and swing their legs straight through. It’s only for the young! I don’t think I’d particularly enjoy bunking over a torpedo, either. Maybe that’s just me!
By the time we finished the destroyer and the sub, we didn’t have it in us to explore the battleship, the biggest of the lot! So, another day, another visit! This display of ships was a cool experience. Oh, and we did see that the sailors weren’t the only ones in dress whites that day.
I promised you a second post on our adventures in the Lowell Cemetery, so here it is! This blog will concentrate on the unique statuary gracing the cemetery. However, to begin, I want to revisit two of the monuments I showed you last time out. I’ve done some additional research and discovered intriguing background on them.
First is this beauty. I wrote about it as a penitent soul being ministered by an angel. However, I found out that it has an intriguing back story. A mill girl had saved up a considerable sum over the years, planning for a special monument to be erected upon her death, which came to pass in 1886, after a long life. For various reasons, her plans weren’t implemented until some after her burial. Finally, when everything came together for the tomb stone to be created, there was $8000 available (lots of dough back then!), and those left in charge employed Daniel Chester French (creator of the Minute Man Monument) to create this work of art (Chris Camire).
This monument to the Bonney family has been the subject of all kinds of crazy stories about witches and hauntings. However, the truth is that it is just a remarkable monument to the Bonney family (“Mysterious Witch Bonney”). It was created by Frank Elwell, the director of the Sculpture Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He titled the monument “New Life”(Camire), no references to witchcraft at all! The tomb honors Clara Bonney, who died relatively young in 1894, as well as other members of her family (Camire) – which kind precludes the monument housing the remains of anyone executed in the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s as some like to claim. I’m just saying . . .
Maybe the most remarkable monument, definitely the most well known, is this gorgeous recumbent lion. Called the Ayer Lion it memorializes James Ayer, a business man so prominent that he has a major street named after him in the city. The face is so powerfully expressive you almost forget it’s not a human. The lion is made of the finest Italian marble and was created in Italy, by Price Joy (“The Ayer Lion,” Lowell Cemetery).
I don’t have any back stories on the following statuary, but I think their beauty speaks for itself. I did note that books and publishing seemed popular, with two monuments taking the forms of volumes. I believe this one on the right honors two publishing partners. I also found the one below that showed the “open volume” of one man’s life, resting steadfast on a rock.
And below, is a closeup of the text of his life.
There were also some funky, creative shapes. I love the intertwining of initials here with what could be some form of a Celtic cross.
I can’t even begin to tell you what this thing is supposed to be – but it does have a kind of Lovecraftian flavor, does it not? Speaking of Lovecraft, there were some people taking pictures of a wonderfully goth-coutured wedding party. The groom had perfect H.P. hair, glasses, and suit! We exchanged conspiratorial smiles as Yang and I drove by!
Of course there were also plenty of angels, women ready to guide you to the unknown, and wise matrons. Something that gave many of these statues a wonderfully eerie quality was that, as Yang noted, they hadn’t been cleaned, so they frequently were aged with wear from the elements. This woman bearing a cross is a particularly good example. Is she coming to get me or guide me? Her blurred features make her seem unnervingly not quite human and her motives ambivalent.
Others could be put in unique settings like atop a tall monument or caged within the marble barriers of something like a spire. I see the woman above as a symbol of the heaven to which we all aspire above us. Holding a victory wreath, she implies if we reach her we can achieve the victory of salvation. Perhaps she is a guide waiting in a liminal space to lead us ever upward. Still, what about the woman encased in marble. Does she need to be kept in to protect us? Don’t blink!
Uh oh! Hope that Whovian reference wasn’t too unnerving! Here’s a picture of the victory lady in closeup to comfort you.
And what better way to end an October visit to a Romantic cemetery than with an autumn moon in a pure blue October sky? Keats would surely approve.
Below are the web sites where I found the background information not evident from just looking at the monuments. Check them out for more information and photos:
Chris Camire. “What a Site! The Lowell Cemetery Celebrates Its 175th Anniversary and ‘The Serenity of Nature.'” The Lowell Sun. 16 June 2016. http://www.lowellsun.com/lifestyles/ci_30022685/what-site
“The History of the Ayer Lion” Lowell Cemetery. 2015. http://www.lowellcemetery.com/
“The Mysterious Witch Bonney.” Atlas Obscura. 2017. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/mysterious-witch-bonney
Saturday, 11/18/17, Letter from a Dead Man got its official launch at The Booklovers’ Gourmet in Webster. What a wonderful experience! There was a nice turnout of friends, colleagues from school, fellow writers, students from WSU, and even new people I didn’t know yet. As usual, Deb Horan had the room set up beautifully, and we all had the opportunity to partake of some yummy comestibles and beverages. I smoothed out my vocal cords with a tasty pumpkin latte – ’tis the season!
We all started off by chatting about writing, teaching, and the inspirations for my 1940s-style mysteries, especially how I like to cast my characters as favorite actors from the era: Joan Bennett and Rosalind Russell as the smart-talking Minton sisters, Lloyd Nolan as the tough-guy henchman, and Claire Trevor as the ultimate femme fatale, for example. Interspersed with these points, I did some readings, which I’m happy to report, people found tense and intriguing. I gave them a scene where sisters Jessica and Liz have to face off against the threats of the femme fatale’s menacing torpedo – without giving away what mysterious object he held in his hand that would prove a vital pivot for the plot. I later read from the scene where Jessica had to flee and seek refuge from deadly pursuers behind one of the lions in front of the New York Public Library. This led to a discussion of Dead Man’s cover and the fun story where I went to New York with Yang to “test” out the scene of Jessica’s flight.
I was fortunate that two of my Sisters In Crime, Lisa Lieberman and Leslie Wheeler, joined me. The three of us bounced questions and comments off one another to give the rest of the audience insights into the sources of our ideas, how we write (outliners or seat-of-our-pantsers), how we overcome writer’s block, and how good editors or writers/readers groups challenge and inspire us to overcome obstacles in the way of getting the right words on the page and those pages into print.
Speaking of reading/writing groups, one of the posse who keeps me on my toes, my friend Judy Jeon-Chapman, was able to join us. Not only has she given me great feedback, but there were days when she’d needle me every night to get her more chapters to calm the suspense I’d enkindled with my writing. So, as a reward, I worked her into the third story (yet to be published) as I was editing it! Several of these pictures even came from her.
You can see how enthusiastic I am about talking writing here. I also love Leslie’s “Crime Scene” scarf!
Maybe the best part of the day was getting to spend time with old friends and colleagues whom I hadn’t seen in a while, like Rini Kilcoyne and Jim Foley from Worcester State. I so much appreciate how these folks support me and the good friends and coworkers they have been over the years. I’m a lucky gal!
Here’s a picture of my favorite supporter!