Category Archives: New England

Autumn Eases In: Windsor Locks

The first day of October, Yang and I journeyed to Windsor Locks for one of our favorite bicycle trails.  It’s shorter than many of the ones we ride (about 9 miles round trip); however, the surrounding trees, along the Connecticut River on one side and the canal on the other, provided plenty of natural beauty-including natural habit for lots of interesting critters.
We wanted to make sure we got in  a ride before too late in the season because the trail officially closes from November to April while the resident bald-eagle couple nest and raise their young.  Sometimes they nest earlier than usual, so we lose out on a fall ride.  The swift-flowing Connecticut River on one side and its attendant canal on the other provide them with plenty of fish and other tasty treats. As this picture shows, the nest is close enough to the trail for the eagles to be disturbed by passersby.  Anyway, take a gander at that nest.  Enormous, isn’t it?
As we started off at the trail head, I noticed that the lock gate had been held open by a log washed down into the canal.  All the recent rain must have swollen the river so that it drove much debris down river and some over the dam to the canal.  You can still see the canal wending beyond and banked by trees that we later found filled with Cedar Waxwings, Chickadees, Robins, and  Yellow-rumped Warblers.  Those warblers must get some teasing with a name like that.  Yet that rump is a lovely bight shade of yellow! Not my photo, though.  The little guys move way to fast for us to photograph!  This was my first ever sighting!
Here’s how the trail looked as we were starting off.  You can see the leaves subtly shifting from green to soft autumn yellow.  At the beginning of the trail, they created an almost chilly canopy, but not too cold.  It was a gorgeous, sunny fall day, with  bright sunlight and a soft blue sky.  The perfect day for a bicycle ride! There were also hints of red sumac and orange maple splashing through the green and yellow, creating beautiful early-autumn accents. You can see the river and the opposite bank through the trees as well. Don’t these berries also add a wonderful dash of contrasting color?
Those berries were not only attractive to us!  We saw fleets of Cedar Waxwings dashing from tree to tree, hopping about to snack on these and other berries.  They are one of Yang’s favorite birds with their slick buff-colored feathers, crests, triangular black masks, and bright yellow borders on their tails.  Apparently, these guys may sometimes feast on berries that have fermented, and  then  you never know who might stagger about the trees!  Again, they moved way too fast and were too distant for us to take pictures.  However, as with the Yellow-rumped Warblers, our trusty binoculars gave us a nifty view of them, even if we couldn’t capture them on film.  Fortunately this site did.
We did see lots of neat critters that day, though we couldn’t always get a shot for one reason or another.  I did get this picture of a beaver’s den on the bank of the opposite side of the canal.  There were at least two of three of them along the way.  Apparently the beavers are starting a development here.  We also saw a majestic Great Blue Heron on the canal banks opposite, lots of Mallard’s hanging out, turtles basking in the sun on logs, and even a Cormorant scanning for fish from a dead tree extruding into the canal.
There was another neat creature whom I barely avoided hitting with my bike as he was stretched across the road.

Trigger warning- and I’m not referring to Roy Rogers’ horse- if you’re askeerd of SNAKES, scroll right past this paragraph. 

I thought this guy was pretty cool!  He extended nearly half way across the road, even semi-coiled.  I think this is similar to one we saw in the marsh on the Kingston, RI trail.  Is it a black snake?  He seemed to just chill for a bit while Yang and I watched him, then WHOOSH! he was across the road, down the bank, and headed for water.  I bet he’s glad that the eagles aren’t back yet, because they find guys like him pretty tasty.
Yang says so long to the snake.
I thought that now I’ll just drop some lovely images from the trail on you. Isn’t it beautiful the way the canal reflects the changing colors in the trees and brush?

I love this image of the power lines extending to a tower across the river.  You can see some of the changing colors in the plantation and the beauty of the river and the soft blue skies dashed with clouds, their white shadowed with slatey blue.
I love the way the bitter-sweet-yellow leaves and softening greenery embrace and curve about the rusty maroon of the railroad bridge here.
The gorgeous brown-stone banks across the Connecticut ripple horizontally above the river.
There’s almost a Lovecraftian touch to the exposed roots of ancient trees snaking through and over the red rock on the other side of the canal- as if they were something sentient.  Heh, heh, heh.

SNAKE TRIGGER WARNING AGAIN!

“I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DemIlle!”

Images

Yellow-rumped Warbler:  https://www.borealbirds.org/bird/yellow-rumped-warbler
Cedar Waxwing: https://www.pennington.com/all-products/wild-bird/resources/cedar-waxwings

The Dark Side of the Screen, the Dark Pages of my Novels

Growing up watching films from the ’30s, 40’s, and 50s, often in the dark hours of Seventhbthe night, I was deliciously haunted by the noir-inflected, melancholy, shadowy worlds of Val Lewton films, the eerie displacement of Universal and Columbia horror, and the mind-twisting mysteries exploring the dark side of society and the human heart.  Those were perhaps the major impetus for my desire to recreate shadowy even eerie realms with my own writing. For the chiaroscuro worlds of the mystery and horror delightfully lingered in my imagination.
Specific films influence each of my novels.  With Bait and Switch, I was inspired by those exercises in noir that voiced homefront fears of Nazi fifth columnists infecting our security from within.  So, when Jessica Minton finds herself caught in the middle of a espionage plot that is either a gambit to flush out a fifth columnists or a fifth columnist’s plot to trick her into saving his skin, such films as They Live by Night, The Fallen Sparrow, and Confessions of a Nazi Spy inspired my creation of slippery deceptions, unclear loyalties, and sudden death in a world of slick, dark mean streets; fog rolling off the Hudson, through the New York waterfront and the Brooklyn Bridge; crumbling, sinister rows of buildings lowering on the wrong side of town; and deserted theatres.
Of course, I was not inspired merely by the dreamy darkness of these films but by the quick wit and humor peppering many of them.  Perhaps the most influential in that department was All through the Night, a fast-moving tale of Nazi infiltrators inhabiting the stylish but shadowed upper echelons of New York Society – as well as the dark recesses of obscure warehouses and secret panels leading to command centers.  Cutting through that sinister atmosphere is the sharp wit of Humphrey Bogart’s semi-gangster, Gloves Donohue, and his sidekicks played by the fast-talking likes of William Demarest and Frank McHugh.  Of course, there is romance, as well, with a damsel in distress.  I love to spice Bait and Switch with the same sort of irreverent, sardonic humor.  And, though Jessica Minton may find herself caught in distress, she’s hardly a damsel. She holds her own when in danger, though a little help from her vis à vis does come in handy – that and a banana cream pie.
Letter from a Dead Man is more straight noir.  No Nazis, but plenty of intrigue and unexpected conflicts stemming from hidden identities fatally revealed; stolen jade; romantic intrigue; a femme fatale who’s in the chips now (socially and financially) but will do anything to prevent the exposure of her sordid past; a frame job for murder; two tough cops, just this side of jaded; and an F.B.I. agent from Jessica Minton’s past who has his own agenda.  Images and even passages from specific films noirs imbue Dead Man.  The seductive manipulations of Helen Grayle fromMurder, My Sweet inspire the deadly web that Alanna Tewkesbury weaves around the Minton sisters, and those they love, to keep her secrets intact and to get her hands on stolen treasure.  Imagery from The Seventh Victim, Woman in the Window, The Fallen Sparrow, Scarlet Street, and Manhunt live on in the darkened, deserted offices; lonely, rain-slicked streets; deadly lurkers in late-night subways; and even behind the hulking, cold stone of the New York Public Library Lions!
Dead Man is not all darkness.  It’s lightened with the sharp reparté you’d expect from the mouth of a Rosalind Russell, a Joan Bennett, or an Eve Arden.  Plus, there are some truly Lucy-and-Ethel-worthy moments of slapstick, with Jessica and Liz forced to hide in a closet from Alanna and her tough-talking torpedoes, friend Iris leading a room full of party-goers in a madcap conga to cover up an argument between Liz and her boyfriend that will put him at the center of a murder investigation, and Jess donning disguises as a maid to recover a stolen gun and as a shady lady in need of reform to snare a vital witness.
This leads to the third, soon to be released, novel in the Jessica Minton mystery series: Always Play the Dark Horse.  Though this book shares much with its predecessors, there’s a different take on the noir world of mystery, fifth columnists, darkness, and doubt.  Dark Horse is more inspired by the dreamy nature of Jean Renoir’s The Woman on the Beach, Lewis Milstone’s Guest in the House, or Orson Welles’s The Stranger.  Scenes on the Connecticut beach at night; in the foggy advent of a storm; the presence of a mysterious rider on a magnificent black horse along the shore; the battered ghost of a beached ship where forbidden lovers once met; the twisting corridors, warren of offices, dark-paneled rooms, and hidden stone staircase of a college building, all capture the dreamy world of those films, especially Woman on the Beach.  As in Renoir’s film, I found myself caught up in creating a world formed in tune to the haunting mood of Debussey’s music.  The story of dark love, vicious personal conflicts, uncertain loyalties, cruel memories of war’s horrors, and the threat of a Nazi resurgence, however, edge that dream uncomfortably into the realm of nightmare so effectively created in The Stranger and Guest in the House/

That’s not to say you’ll need uppers to get through Dark Horse!  The quick wit and strong sense of camaraderie that I portray in the other novels percolates here as well.  I really enjoyed developing the married relationship between Jessica and James, showing their support and love for each other seasoned with their playful humor.  They may not always get along or be perfectly happy with each other; but, as grown ups, they work things out.  That partnership and humor are what help them resolve their case.  I also enjoyed Jessica’s bond with her friend Rose.  An educated and intelligent working woman (professor) and mother, Rose is a loyal, funny friend who helps Jessica stay ahead of the game.  I always like to show the power of girlfriends in my books!  Last, but never least, where the dog – e.g. Asta – has traditionally been the animal sidekick in mysteries, I once again return Dusty to her feline glory!  She plays a major role in all three novels:  a pal but not a drippy one.  And there ends up being nary a mouse in the cottage by the beach where Jessica and James must do their part against murder, betrayal, and Nazis.

Screen shots from The Woman on the Beach and The Seventh Victim are from the author’s collection.  RKO videos
Still photos from Scarlet Street  and The Woman on the Beach are from the author’s collection
Image of Dusty and images from book covers from the author’s collection
Image from Murder, My Sweet from unknown source
Image of New York City from New York in the Forties, Andreas Feininger (Dover Publications, 1978)
Banana cream pie image courtesy of  https://www.pngkey.com/detail/u2w7u2e6q8e6t4r5_pies-clipart-slice-pie-lemon-meringue-pie-drawing/

 

 

Feathered Critters of Summer at the Yangs’ Abode

DSCN5870I haven’t had a chance to do a lot of photography around the yard lately, since I’ve been so busy with writing and traveling.  However, we do have many neat critters to see.  We still have many interesting birds, for DSCN5877examSas for several days, visiting around 5:00 in the afternoon.  Rosalind noticed the turkey first and tipped me off.  so, we got some nice shots of her.
DSCN5879The cardinals have been bringing their kids to visit.  I see plenty of Mr. and Mrs. Cardindal, but I’m not sure how many adolescents they have because they are all olive colored with black beaks (The beak helps you distinguish kids from female adults). I only see one baby at a time, so I don’t know if it’s the same one repeatedly or different Cardinal kiddos every time.  Last year, the parents brought quite a few to the feeders, andDSCN5880 we had about six males and females in the winter and through the spring.  Then, we only seemed to have two adults.  My guess is the last generation of kids moved off to college or got a job and nest in a new territory.  What do you think, Cardinal experts?  Anyway, this kid is pretty aggressive.  He was on the feeder with a female Rosebreasted Grosbeak, who had scared every other birds off, including Mommy Cardinal.  Not this kid!  He kept pecking right back at her for some time.
DSCN5867Speaking of Grosbeaks, we have at least three males (whom I’ve seen all at the same time), but I’m not sure how many females.  I have noticed that I do see a pair show up frequently, though I usually see a male or two show up DSCN5886without the wife. Occasionally, I’ve seen a female without the hubby.  These two like to hang together on this particular feeder.  They also decided to check out the oranges we put out for the Orioles as well.
DSCN5885The catbirds used to come frequently in the beginning of the summer, then they disappeared, pretty much, for about a DSCN5979month.  However, now they are BACK.  And they are aggressively defending the suet, cocking up their black tails and showing off that red spot underneath.  I’m glad to see them-and hear them call my name, “Sharon! Sharon!”  There’s one outside my window right now!
I’ll have to do another bird blog, to show you more pictures of our other feathered visitors.

Casting Characters, Part 3: Always Play the Dark Horse

Part Three: Always Play the Dark Horse  horse and rider

Now we come to Always Play the Dark Horse, with a cast of characters 106738603_10223680069933821_7022871368887621055_nboth new and familiar.  Rose Nyquist, Jessica’s professor friend, returns from Dead Man, only this time she helps Jessica navigate academic politics at the College at Margaret Point, even joining Jessica and James to face intrigue and murder.  Who better to play this part than the straight-from-the-shoulder, quick-witted Barbara Stanwyck – with a dash of my good friend Kathy Healey, who is also quick-witted and straight-from-the shoulder.
DSCN5749The English Department’s chair is Nigel Cross, a man of powerful character, icy cold control, and a devastating wit to those who try to play cute with him.  With those he respects, though, he seems a square shooter. The perfect inspiration for the character, especially the first part of the description? How about Nigel Bennett, well known as the formidable and cool LaCroix on Forever Knight?
Terry Clarke was Jessica’s college boyfriend many years back, in a Selby2relationship that didn’t end well when he opted to look for a gal with the do[ugh]-re-mi to restore his family fortunes.  Now a professor at Margaret Point College, he’s intelligent, capable, witty, and charming enough to balance out his ego, almost.  However, Terry’s also a bit of a ladies’ man, to his wife’s chagrin.  My casting choice was the handsome, young Quentin played by David Selby on Dark Shadows.  That hint of a Southern accent dovetails nicely with Terry’s Virginia horse-country roots. No Quentin-1897 sideburns, though. But those blue eyes, WOW!
Maureen_O'Hara_1950Meanwhile, there’s Carolina Brent Clarke, the wife who resents Terry’s philandering with another teacher who has mysteriously gone missing.  Who should inspire the Virginia belle whom Terry thought he could marry for money, only to discover she had the same misapprehension about him?  Well, I don’t have enough redheads in my stories, so how about the fiery-tressed and -tempered Maureen O’Hara?  I know she usually plays a heroine, but she could go fatale when she wanted.  So I traded in her Irish accent for the faint strains of a Maryland one and let her take the folks at Margaret Point for one hell of a ride!
Then, there’s Sailor, aka Phil Novack, the mysterious man who rides theRyan equally mysterious Dark Horse of the title.  A solitary sort, haunted by war memories and perhaps something more, to whom Jessica is drawn by their mutual love of horses.  This becomes dangerous for them both. My inspiration was the craggy-featured, brooding presence that Robert Ryan so beautifully brought to the screen.  Naturally, I’m thinking more of the decent but tortured and confused types he played in The Woman on the Beach or Act of Violence, not the sly, murdering racist in Criss-Cross.
DSCN4673And what inspired my College at Margaret Point?  Ah, that’s interesting.  Over the years, I’ve made many a visit to the campus of UConn at Avery Point.  It’s located on the Long Island Sound, with wonderful grounds, a gorgeous view of the ocean, and an impressive mini-chateau that was once  a wealthy business person’s Branford House.DSCN4684  Now the House holds administrative offices and hosts conferences or even weddings in its magnificent Great Hall, with its first-floor rooms  boasting gorgeous woodwork and carved mantels.  On the second floor is a  small but nifty art gallery.  Although I embroidered on the campus a bit by including stables,  victory gardens, and cozy faculty-cottage housing in my novel,  the fictional Cameron House neatly captures the elegance of Branford House.
Once again, Dusty remains Dusty!  Mice, murderers, and master spies beware! What’s she nabbing now?!

Dustyg

Stay tuned for more blogs to whet your appetite for Always Play the Dark Horse, coming out on August 24th.

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Barbara Stanwyck Image, unknown source
Nigel Bennett Image:  Screen shot, Forever Knight, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2006
Maureen O’Hara Image:  By J. Fred Henry Publications – page 32, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44624486
Images of David Selby, Robert Ryan, Branford House, and Dusty:  Author’s collection

No copyright infringement intended by use of images.  Only educational and entertainment purpsoes.  Contact me should you feel your copyright has been infringed

Always Play the Dark Horse

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Hillside Cemetery, A Dunwich Kind of Place

Well, here I go trying to create a new blog with WordPress’s Godawful new editor.  Forgive me if this comes out crappy.  It’s taken me forever to figure out how to switch back and forth between html editor and visual-nothing is clearly labeled or explained.  I know this format is much uglier than the one I had previously.  We’re all at the mercy of tasteless, unimaginative, homogenizing forces.
DSCN5809Anyway, let’s move on to a more enjoyable descent into darkness.   Here’s a DSCN5834last gasp at wintry images with Part 2 of my report on the Hillside Cemetery of North Adams.  Across the street from the original portion of the graveyard, lonely mountains rise up to close you you in and the rest of the world out on this grey day.

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This is the newer portion of Hillside, and much more on an actualDSCN5812 hillside.  With the rolling slopes here, the graves, mostly 19th century,  tilt and are almost upended  as the ground has settled and shifted over the years-or is someone or something trying to push out?

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DSCN5865And those slopes are pretty darned high, too, with gravestones and monuments, bleakly, implacably towering upward from an earth  both browned by autumn and frosted by snow.

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This cemetery has it’s share of intriguing, impressive statuary, but theDSCN5850 brutal western Massachusetts winds, rain,DSCN5826 and snow have not been kind to them, gradually wearing them down to softened blurs in many cases.  The dove embracing this shrouded cross has lost its distinctive features and  now softly merges into the cross’s drapery.  The child and the lamb, representing her innocence, have melted into the seat of broken rocks symbolizing her life cut too short, too soon.    A DSCN5819relief that should have preserved a woman’s identity in endurable stone for eternity has blurred her features into  gentle vagueness.  Even her identity in the form of name, family, and birth and death dates have been smoothed away to soft whiteness.    A book of life’s secrets DSCN5830has subsumed its truths into a creamy blank of pages melted together, marked only by the stain of mold and decay.  Or might this be an edition of the Necronomicon?
DSCN5832Of course there are also still striking images of angels and symbolic broken columns, some standing relentless against nature’s assault by winds, weather, and  devouring by lichen and mold.  DSCN5854
Some are  less successful than others in resisting the assaulting elements, but are no less beautiful.DSCN5859
There was only one large mausoleum in this portion of the cemetery-butDSCN5837 it is impressive, especially for the art deco angel guarding the resting bodies of the family beneath.  There’s a wonderful starkness in its rising near the crest of the rolling hill, the dark tree grasping hungry branches at the sky beyond it.
And here is a closeup of the angel.  Regard the myriad layers of feathers creating a shield of wings behind its head, seeming both like a peacock’s tail in full extension and a wall of tongues of flames.

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The day had been cold, but not bitterly so.  The ground betrayed the tracks of deer, racoon, and perhaps more predatory mammals.  It was an isolated spot where no human seemed to have ventured to grieve or pay veneration for a very long time.  In fact, this day this cemetery seemed like a place lost to time, to  human connections.  Thank goodness I saw this cute guy and not some colour out of space.

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Continue reading Hillside Cemetery, A Dunwich Kind of Place

Celtic Crosses, Funerary Statues in a Winter Cemetery

As winter, we hope, is wrapping up and March approaches, I thought I’d post a couple of last minute winter visits to some of the local cemeteries to show you some of their lovely funerary work.  Last December, when we were first treated to snow-and when snow still seemed like a treat-, I took some neat shots in St. John’s Catholic Cemetery in Worcester.  I was particularly struck by not only the statuary but some reliefs and some Celtic crosses.
First, check out some of the neat  reliefs.  This one is graced with a stone head of Christ looking lovingly down at a stone chalice of His blood.  The Celtic cross also has the austere yet graceful petals of flowers carved upon it.  The vivid French blue of the winter sky bespeaks the crispness of the day.

 

There are many styles of Celtic Crosses rising out of the snow and winter-browned grass of this cemetery.  Many also are adorned with striking, symbolic carvings.  Others may  hold statuary.  This Celtic cross particularly caught my eyes, with it’s intricate  interlocking designs along its body and its distinctive symbolic figures at the top.  The snow beautifully reflects the cool purity of the sky’s winter blue.

 

A closer study of the figures in the upper central section of the cross reveals the creatures symbolizing the four gospel writers on each branch of the cross, with the knot of eternity and the Infinite in the center and praying angels at the very top,  From the top and moving clockwise, you have the winged ox/calf (Luke), the man (Matthew), the griffin/lion (Mark), and the eagle (John)- their wings and halos signifying their divine nature.

You can additionally see Celtic crosses and other monuments honoring priests in the cemetery.

 

 

 

 

The statuary is also quite striking in the winter light.  Here, a woman clings to a cross for salvation or for comfort at her losses.  The stone is weathered smooth, the statue almost featureless.  Perhaps a comment on the  transitoriness of life.

 

 

 

A time-smoothed lamb, couched within the limited protection of this monument further testifies to the relentless passage of time over even the young whom parents see as embodying a kind of immortality. It’s posture is not even terribly peaceful, seeming to indicate tightening oneself up in fear or cold.  Maybe both.

 

 

 

Then, there is this triumphant angel-who seems to be wearing a bustle in the height of 1880s fashion.  Her broken wing unintentionally testifies to the limits of human commemorations.

 

Still, when I tried to capture her face with  a shot from the front, the glow of the sun created this divine image that perhaps suggests that true immortality and enlightenment come from beyond this earth, transcending the capability of our mortal vision.  Ya think?

 

Winter Birds at Chez Yang

We’ve been seeing some wonderful birds this winter in our yard at our feeders.  Let me share some of them with you, starting from December.  This first set of pictures were taken that month, before and after the snow started.  I have  pictures here of some old friends and some new-like this Downy Woodpecker.  Do you think someone should tell her that bugs don’t live in concrete or vinyl siding-or does she know something that I don’t?
We also see plenty of our old standbys, the Chickadees and the Titmice.  They like to come and dine about 9:30 in the morning and about 4-5:00 in the afternoon-with an occasional snack or two throughout the day.  The Titmice are one of Yang’s favorites, and he likes to call them “little faces.”  With their big, expressive eyes, you can understand why. In this picture we have one of the cute chickadees.
One of my favorite birds is one of the first signs of winter:  the Slate-Colored Junco.  That’s the name they went by when I was first birding; however, I’ve noticed them now called “Dark-Eyed Juncos.”  Maybe they all invested in brown contacts.  I love their blue-grey coloring (though some are more brownish) and  their white tails that flash when the fly away, as they give a call that sounds like castanets.  We have large numbers of them in my yard, which it just fine with me.
These two Juncos don’t look to happy to meet.
“Who You lookin’ at?”
“No, who YOU lookin’ at?!”
The Goldfinches haven’t flown away until the spring.  They’ve just changed their sprightly spring plumage for heavy winter coats.  One fellow appeared to have a white cap of feathers, even with his winter color.  So, I dubbed him Whitecap.  Original, aren’t I?  However, closer viewing of him through these photos shows that his cap is more light yellow than white.  Nevertheless, he’s staying “Whitecap,” as Slightly Light Yellow Cap” is way too much of a mouthful.
Here’s another nice shot of Whitecap, with a Goldfinch pal (in the upper left corner) who apparently thinks he’s a bat.  I’ve got to stop watching Forever Knight when these guys are in the windows.

Here’s another one of Snowcap, after he was reading up on Edward Taylor and thought he ought to go out and starting preaching to Juncos.  Of course, if Snowie believes in predestination, that suggests that even other species can be saved.

 

 

I particularly like this picture because it includes so many:  Juncos, Goldfinches, and another of my favorites, the Carolina Wren, on the left.  She doesn’t quite look like a wren because she doesn’t have her little bum cocked in the air, but her long beak and white eye-stripe give her away. We have at least one pair who come to my feeders.  They’ve been around the house for several years, but it’s only the past three or four that I’ve seen them year round, and so frequently in the winter.  I often hear them in the trees of the woods behind my house and across the street.  I named this pair, Carolina and Carey.  Additionally, note the Goldfinch coming in out of inter-dimensional travel in the upper middle of the photo.
We also had an unexpected visitor on our suet feeder.  Regard this handsome Mockingbird.  Usually I don’t see them in the winter.  However, I  was informed that they don’t travel south, but hide out in deep woods during the cold months.  Apparently this guy didn’t get the memo about hiding out. He or she comes to see us just about every day to chow down on the suet.  I know these birds tend to be highly aggressive, but this one really doesn’t seem to mind sharing.

 

Now, there’s one last interesting addition to our flocks:  Mr. Cooper, as in Cooper’s Hawk.  This guy showed up low on the Canadian Maple in our back yard, right outside my living room window.  The first time I saw him was in mid-January, when I couldn’t get any good shots.  Then, this week, he popped by and I was lucky, getting these three pix.  Now I definitely know what caused the splash of blood and feathers on the snow near the tree last week.  Still, he does leave alone the little birds-hardly worth consideration as hors d’ouevres?  Anyway, click on the photos to get a good look at him-or her.

Anyway, now I think I understand  why White Ears (named for these white tufts in his ears) has been keeping a low profile recently.

 

 

In the Bleak Midwinter: Hillside Cemetery

Just before the New Year, after a late December snow, Yang and I seized the occasion of some slightly warmer weather to take a walk in the Hillside Cemetery of North Adams, Mass. This cemetery is notable for more than one reason. First, it is split in half by Route 2. Second, its sloping grounds (more on one side than the other) create an eerie, desolate, even Lovecraftian, ambience. Those grounds are dotted with beautiful, if weather-worn, monuments. There is so much to remark, that I intend to split my blog into two parts: one for each side of Route 2.
This first blog focuses on the older section, which, though clearly on a hillside, presents far fewer and less abrupt rolling hills. It’s also the smaller of the two. Nevertheless, this shot reveals your legs will get a more than adequate workout hiking up these slopes. No matter which side of the highway you’re on, you see that you are encompassed by the Berkshires.
This white, colonaded mausoleum  is particularly interesting. You can see that it belongs to a family who must have been rather important in the town, perhaps even into the twentieth century. If you come closer, you can perceive the ironwork gate to the building has been sculpted into the graceful form of a woman. She faces away from this world into the next, for which the the mausoleum proves a portal,  Her form clings to the door and is curved with sorrow. The forsythia wreath wrapped over her right hand suggests that members of that family are still in the town, or at least are close enough to visit the grave. I was also struck by the beautiful Tiffany window that was part of the mausoleum.

 

 

 

 

 

Interestingly, the natural and the artistic worlds came to mirror each other in this portion of the Hillside Cemetery. I was much taken with this hewn from stone monument of the traditional broken tree, symbolizing growing life cut off. Age and weathering had buffed and grey-whitened this monument into a kind of soft purity. The burnt green and tawny grass, though muted colors, still provided a notable contrast to the stone. And then nature offered it’s own version of this monument in the blasted yet weather smoothed form of this ancient dead tree, its edges also rising  jaggedly toward the sky. Yet perhaps the actual tree was not quite such a symbol of life cut off, for it would be the perfect place for owls, woodpeckers, and squirrels to make home-though not all together! While all around the mountains hold us in.

 

There were  plenty of other intriguing monuments and carvings. I loved this contemplative, if not quite grieving, woman set on high. Bitter western Massachusetts winters had softened her sorrowing expression, but her posture, the thoughtful cock of her head, told the tale of her loss and reflections on it.

 

The relief on this tombstone of an anchor perhaps reveals that an adventurer on the seas had retired to the inner realms of New England to find his final rest. Check out the picture of the tomb itself and then the closeup of the relief.

 

 

This red rock column fascinated me, as well: so graceful and predominant on the slope. And those slopes were rolling to say the least! I’m glad we didn’t roll back down them. A close up also reveals a significant relief on the column: the inverted torch symbolizing death.

 

Here are more pictures to give you a sense of the sometimes steep, sometimes rolling grounds, all encompassed by the greys and faded browns of wintry Berkshires before snow would come to predominate. It’s an old place, a deserted place (even with Route 2 running by). An apt setting for a Lovecraft novel or short story-but not quite as apt as the part of the graveyard across the road. That photo blog is for another day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return of the Eiders, or You Get Down from a Duck

Every year, Yang and I make a pilgrimage to the Cape to check out the migrating ducks.  Usually we make the trip in mid-January or early February, not far from my birthday.  This year, we went on January 15th, and we weren’t disappointed.  We saw ruddy ducks, hooded and rust-breasted mergansers, a red-throated loon, swans, etc.  However, at first I was a little let down because I didn’t see the annual flock of eiders bobbing on ocean waves.  That  disappointment disappeared as we moved further along the beach trail.
Yang and I saw some dark specks floating on rough seas not far from a jetty.  The sun was in our eyes at first, so even with binoculars, we weren’t sure what we were seeing.  Then, we got out to a place with better lighting, and there they were:  my pals the eider ducks!  I’m not sure if we are going to that jetty to see them  every year or if they’re returning to get a peek at us!  Anyway, it was a delight to watch them  carried up and down by the waves, even swimming into a little cove of the jetty.  As you can see, we were able to get pretty close.
A couple of duck were giving us the once over in these shots!  Right in the center of the picture.

Especially interesting, I had never noticed that the males have a white stripe down the back of the black feathers on their heads.  I’d also never noticed  the greenish/yellowish/grey patch at the bottom of that black cap, either.  Click on the photos here to get a closer look.  Every year it’s something new.  Do you think they noticed something different about Yang and I this year?
Significance of the subtitle:  Remember the old joke?  “How do you get down from and elephant?  You don’t.  You get down from a duck.”  Eider down, right?

 

Enjoy the ducks in motion:

Halloween Treat

 

This Halloween, Yang and I treated ourselves to a hike in the cold autumn air at  Colbrook Reservoir Park.  Once a small town was on this land, but the river was damned to create a reservoir here that flooded it out.  Relax, they moved the people out first.  Appropriately for the day, when the water is low in times of drought, there’s a ghost to be seen.  More on that later.  However, as you can see in this picture, though the colors might not have been flamingly spectacular, they were still pretty.

 

In one direction, you can head toward the dam, which you can see here. 
We went the opposite way, down the old highway that is often covered when the reservoir is not in drought mode.  The two-lane highway makes for a  pretty smooth walk and is in surprisingly good condition for something that’s been submerged off and on over forty or so years.  You can see from this photo that the water level is waaaay down.  The boat launch is yards from the water and the water looks to be extremely shallow.
There are lots of interesting rock formations and trees on either side of the road.  There’s also supposed to be lots of wildlife around.  We were fortunate enough to see an American Kestrel, a bird I haven’t seen too much of lately.  The blue feathers on its back are gorgeous, especially when they contrast with the rusty red of its sides.  I was surprised not to see much in the way of waterfowl- only a mallard powering along the water.  You’d think there’d be plenty taking a rest stop on their migration route-whichever way they were going.  Perhaps the water was too shallow to provide much of a traveler’s buffet.  We didn’t see any beavers, but we did see the evidence of them.

There was also some nice views of the autumn colors in the hills surrounding the valley through which we walked .

If you click on this picture and look carefully, you can see the remains of old stone walls that marked the property boundaries of the people who had lived here

 

 

 

 

I love this tree!

 

We came to an old bridge over a run-off into the river and could see further upstream the remnants of another bridge that had once led into the town.  Looking down into the river and valley from the old highway, I couldn’t help thinking of what a beautiful setting this place was in which to live, with the hills and forest flanking you on one side, the small but swift river separating you from the highway, and the hills of rock and trees rising on the other.  And then there was that clear blue sky!  Greenly gorgeous in summer, brilliantly flaming in fall, and Christmas-card white in winter.  It must have been hard to leave such a beautiful place behind. Of course, that’s just my imagination running fanciful and feeling.
Now, I promised to tell you about the “ghost” of the reservoir.  Well, it’s neither human nor animal, but metal.  “Huh?” you say?  The phantom is known as the Ghost Bridge.  When the reservoir is not in drought, the bridge is submerged.  However, in seasons where there’s a dearth of water, like this year, the water recedes enough for you to see a metal bridge that crosses from one bank to the other of the old river bed into the little settlement that had been there.  This year, we were in luck!  Behold some neat shots that I got.  You can tell by looking at the length of the bridge that the river must have been much narrower, originally-unless cars back then had aqualungs as standard equipment.  Some other people we talked to that day (from over six feet away and masked) told us that someone had placed pumpkins on the boulders on our side of the bridge entrance.  If you click on the first picture and look carefully, you can see an orange object.   If you click on the second picture, you can see those boundary-marking stone walls.   Boo!
As beautiful an embodiment of fall as this day was, it also presaged winter.  Not only was the weather brisk, but what I consider one of the first signs of winter appeared there:  hundreds of slate-colored juncos!  I love their slate blue coloring, with the white flash in their tails when they fly off and make a sound like little castanets!

 

Here are a few more shots of the foliage and  rocky landscape.

 

 

 

 

 

The End