Category Archives: New England

“Back in the Saddle Again!”

In June, I was finally  able to get back in the saddle concerning appearances.  After one fun reading in May at TidePool books in Worcester, I first did a joint author event with my friend and colleague, Leslie Wheeler, on Saturday, June 4th at the Booklovers’ Gourmet.  We had a responsive audience and a lot of fun.  Leslie suggested that we, ourselves, be more interactive.  So, instead of just reading and talking separately, after each  short reading, we asked each other questions about our methods of writing, our particular joys and pains in writing, future writing plans, etc.  Our questions and responses, in turn, drew questions and observations from the audience.  Totally interactive! I think we even made some new friends and readers, as well.  I’m especially excited because we talked about Leslie’s new book, Wolf Bog, which will be released July 6th, this year!
Next, I joined an even bigger group of writers from Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America at a corner of the Natick Farmers’ Market called Beach Reads, organized by Tilia Jacobs.  I shared my table with Janet Raye Stevens, who also writes mysteries set in the 1940s.  It was a gorgeous day, where we enjoyed chatting with people -and each other- of course, also selling some books.  Here’s a tip for writers:  have a QR code on your bookmarks, postcards, or advertising poster so that if people don’t have cash, they can use their smartphones to connect to a site where they can buy the book (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, your web site) there or later.  Anyway, it’s great to see people and enjoy a beautiful afternoon.

I already have some plans for August. On August 24th, from 7:00-7:30 p.m., I’ll be interviewed by Barry Eva on A Book and a Chat. I’ll provide more details when I have them. Next  is Lala Books in Lowell, MA on August 26th from 7:00-8:00 p.m., so come and hear all about the latest 1940s mystery adventures for Jessica Minton, James Crawford, and Dusty – as well as talk about writing and publishing! I may be able to give you a sneak peek at book #4, Shadows of a Dark Past.

 

“You’re Own Private Audubon”

You’ll pardon me for paraphrasing the B-52s, but bird watching in my back yard since spring has sprung really has been like living in my own private Audubon. Yang pointed out that we often see more birds (in number and variety) through our sun porch windows than we do on many of our nature walks! It’s been a delight to see many old friends return.

First back were these Mockingbirds. Usually we see one in February or early March. S/He doesn’t stay long, but chows down for a day or two – maybe a week – and then is on the way to wherever Mockingbirds like to chill. This year, we got TWO. A honeymooning couple? I don’t know, but they were a pleasure to see.

 

Another of the spring early birds are the Red-Winged Blackbirds. In my yard, they are one of the earliest sign of spring rolling in. These guys actually showed up in the end of February – and I’ve never seen so many of them! Usually their numbers tend to thin out as we get into May, but this year we still have many of these visitors with the red and yellow epaulets. You can see this chap flashing his shoulder embellishments as he shares the feeder with a grumpy-looking Grackle – tons of Grackles off and on since February. Below is the blackbird taking a turn on the suet.

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In fact, everyone seems to be into suet this year! You saw the Mockingbirds above. And get a load of both the female and male Downy Woodpeckers. You can distinguish their genders by the red dot on the back of the male’s head.

 

 

 

 

 

These two aren’t the only woodpeckers who visit us. Through the winter and still into the spring, we’ve had a pair of Redbellied Woodpeckers chilling with us. In fact, this male is probably the one Yang and I saved from frostbite after he was stunned from hitting a window – the woodpecker, not Yang. Anyway, we call him Red and his mate Ruby. Original, aren’t we?

Of course we also had a spring newcomer woodpecker: my friend Flicker (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.). Just last week, I saw him hunting insects where my and my neighbor’s yard meet.

One of my favorite returnees is the Catbird. I love the way they say my name in one of their calls: “Sharon!” Last year we had two. This year, I’ve seen four! I don’t think they’re all pals, either. One day, I saw two of them in my Canadian Maple with their heads up, beaks pointing skyward, and their shoulders thrown back in a stand off. Bird number three was merrily chowing down on suet all the while. Who knows where number four went. Still, I do see two, three, four of them traveling together, making the rounds of the bird feeders in my yard.

 

We’ve also had some more colorful returnees as well. Although a Goldfinch or two would come by during the winter, we had a huge influx in April. They’ve thinned out a bit, but it’s been fun watching the boys gradually change back to their bright yellow duds. They’ve also broadened their tastes. Rather than only snacking on sunflower hearts, they are now going for the black oil seeds, no longer too lazy to crack them open with their powerful finch beaks. This fella is giving the feeder a quizzical study before he zeroes in on dinner.

 

Finally, May brought back two of my favorite friends. First, the Baltimore Orioles. This year we’ve seen two adult males and one juvenile. These guys love their oranges! Yang gets them the good ones from the Asian grocery store in town.

 

One day, Yang and I saw Dad taking his young son out for his first drink.

Dad says, “Watch me, son, it’s simple.”

 

The Kid dives in and proud Pop looks on.

 

Then they both turn to our window and stare: “What’re YOU lookin’ at?!”

One week later, who should come to town but the last of our colorful spring regulars: the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. Usually we get a couple of couples. However, this year, I’ve only seen the male. Still, for all I know, it’s not the same male every time. There could be a bunch of them, each showing up one at a time. However many, these guys are always gorgeous to see! Here one of them is sharing the feeder with a House Finch. He doesn’t look too chummy, though, does he?

Of course, we’re not the only ones who like to watch the birds from the sun porch. But the girls are kept safely apart from feathered visitors.

Now, bring on the Indigo Bunting and the Scarlet Tanager!

 

 

 

Adventures with Waterfowl at Silver Sands Beach

Yang and I went to the beach last week when we had some warm weather– in New England, in winter,  you can call 40 degrees warm. It started out as a trip to Tea with Tracey in Connecticut for tea (obviously), but since the day was so sunny and “warm,” Yang suggested that after tea, we head to nearby Silver Sands Beach to see what birds might be visiting.  I think he felt bad for me because we were the only people at Plum Island the week before who didn’t see a Snow Owl. Anyway, once we got there, we were NOT disappointed, with a special guest star appearing that neither of us had ever seen before!
As we approached where the waves broke on the shore, we were delighted to see Herring Gulls mixing and mingling with Brant Geese.  The gulls I’d seen many times before.  However, I’d only seen Brants twice previously.  They were not afraid of us and let Yang take lots of photographs.  Here are some neat ones we saw of them along the shore.
When the Brants took to the water, they proceeded in well-ordered convoy fashion.  You’d almost think they were heading to Britain with Lend-Lease weaponry, on the watch for Nazi U-Boats.
Maybe they had air support from the Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.  I think some gulls might even have been acting as the Armed Guard.

We also saw some old favorites, American Black Ducks.  Here are two in conference.

 

 

 

Over here is another guy just chillin’ on a rock.  Maybe he felt he’d be chillin’ too much, literally, if he joined his pals in the ocean.  What do you think?
Then, there was this lonesome stranger.  Yang and I spotted a white dot in the ocean.  We almost dismissed it as yet another Hooded Merganser, but Yang had second thoughts and trained his binoculars on this guy.  Well, what do you know?  A duck that neither of us had ever seen before.  He was a study in art decco black and white, with a whitish Presley pompadour swept and puffed up off his forehead. His yellow eyes contrasted with a black pupil.  Even his pink beak had symmetric black patches on either side! Then, when he dived, there was that long, slim tail flipping up.

What could he be?  A Harlequin Duck?  A funky Woodduck? A pintail of some kind? My guess was an Oldsquaw – and darned if a peek in my Peterson’s and a look on-line didn’t prove me right.  Now, some people don’t like the term “squaw” in his name, feeling it’s offensive.  So, considering that yellowish white pompadour, could we rename him an OldElvis?  Too soon?
Anyway, like our new friend, I’m going to take a dive and say, “so long!”

 

Haunting by the Riverside

The second day of December is not yet winter, with traces of muted versions of the fall colors lingering, especially in the trees and grass of an old cemetery, almost forgotten.  On that date this year, Yang and I finally got to visit the Riverside Cemetery in Waterbury, Ct.  When passing by on the highway, we would always look down on the Victorian Gothic chapel and monuments to those lost in death, leaving us fascinated by its haunting, melancholy beauty.  Finally, we managed to make a trip there to explore.  We  were not disappointed.

Of course, we stopped first in Seymore for tea at Tea with Tracey, where I enjoyed a delicious fig and cherry tea and Yang took pleasure in a nice green tea.  The array of tea sandwiches was yummy, and soon we were well fortified for our expedition into the past of Waterbury through its monuments to the passed. The day was appropriate, with grey skies and a nip in the air.  As you entered, you are greeted with an exquisite monument to the Elton family. The bronze has turned a soft green, but the female figures flanking either side of the memorial urn are beautifully articulated.  On one side is a shrouded figure of grief at death and on the other a hopeful one looking upward serenely.  The execution of the figures is graceful and feeling.  Interestingly, the handles of the urn are cherubs, somewhat menacing in demeanor. I think it’s kind of neat that the man’s name is John Elton. Reverse the order and you have . . .
You can find the actual grave of the Elton family deeper into the cemetery. Clearly this was one of the leading families of Waterbury in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  I heard that there was even a highly regarded Elton Hotel in the town quite some time back.  What has happened to them since?  I can’t tell you. Perhaps there are some Waterbury historians reading this blog who would like to take that one? I’d love to know!
There were several others who were clearly prominent in the town, indicated by the plaques on their graves or the imposing nature of their monuments.  One interesting sort was the Civil War veteran John Lyman Chatfield.  This plaque tells the story of his wounding on the battlefield and subsequent death back in Waterbury.  The bronze statue of him in uniform further attests to his history as a Civil Warrior.  The Chatfield family must have been one with tremendous clout in the city to be able to leave such an imposing monument.  Any local historians want to fill us in on more about him?

 

 

The Spencer family also must have been amongst the movers and shakers of 19th-century Waterbury.  Witness the tall monument with the carefully carved likeness in relief.  This guy must have worked awfully hard for his money and position because he does look rather cranky, don’t you think?
Here we have a doctor who must have had a great deal of success and done much good.  The description of his work helping children reveals his value to the population.  Perhaps that’s likely the reason for the sleeping children on the corners of the face of this elaborate tombstone.  They are a little creepy though, don’t you think?  I guess that’s why they’re so Victorian, the era of photographing your dead all dressed up to remember them by – if you were upper middle class.
And of course the BPOE was a force to be reckoned with in those days as well.  If you were a high-antler and did a lot of good, then you’d certainly be properly memorialized, so check out this monument.  I don’t remember of the chap honored here, unfortunately, but I had to get several shots of this elk.  How does he compare with the elk in the Edson Cemetery of Lowell’s ?  Click here for an earlier blog to make a comparison.  The one in Lowell does have the advantage of being cleaned and returned to its original bronze glory.  Anyway, I can’t help providing you with several shots of this wonderful statue. It’s so cool how his base is shaped as a rock crag and is set on the hillside, so that he presides over the rolling slopes of the cemetery.

 

And roll those slopes do!  I think navigating that terrain is half the reason the injured ligaments in my knee haven’t healed yet! You notice that geography immediately on entering the cemetery, with mausoleums banking upwards to a bleak late autumn sky, almost as grey as their stone. I want to share images of the slopes of stone rolling  through the cemetery, topped with trees whose mostly denuded branches scratch across the grey sky, the grass rusty brown, and an occasional shrub or tree bearing the maroons or dark orange of late fall.  Definitely the perfect setting for a mystery or a tale of terror.  I just have to work this place into a novel, too!
Of course the statuary revealed the entrancing work of inestimable craftsmen.  There were so many haunting statues of women.  For example, regard the deep feeling of this woman who guards the entrance to one family’s mausoleum.  Is this an actual likeness to a wife or mother of the N.J. Welton family who preserved that family’s secure home?  Was the truth of that family portrayed in this woman’s intense devotion, or are any conflicts whitewashed here for posterity?

 

 

This statue of woman and child from another branch of the Welton family seems to portray a sad loss.  Did mother and child pass when both were young or are they immortalized as eternally young in the next world?  The child seems afraid, burying herself in the comforting lap of her mother, who has one arm  around her but raises her hand hopefully, while the other holds a book and looks into the beyond. Is she holding the Book of Life or the Bible?  Her steadfast stare and gentle but firm hold on her daughter  indicates her guidance of her family toward redemption.  This seems a statuary representation if the Victorian Angel in the House.

 

It’s hard to select which other statues to show you,  there are so many beautiful, poignant ones, so I’ll try to select the more unique. I was fascinated by the bronze cast of this woman, whose plaque celebrated her firm virtues.  The photo doesn’t quite convey how massive the bronze form is. Her hair style, dress, and sandalled feet portray her as a Roman matron.  so, clearly, she was a powerful force in her family, devoted to her duties there and preserving them.  Again, the book she holds indicates learning and wisdom, though perhaps only in religion if it’s a Bible.  More knowledge of the family and this woman might indicate she was actually learned in areas outside the woman’s domestic sphere.  Anyone know something of her?
This statue was particularly intriguing, for the base was not a smooth column, but in the shape of a cairn, with the information of the family’s deceased inscribed on the individual stones. I’m fascinated by the creativity of the masons who contributed to the Riverside Cemetery.  Their statuary is amongst the most unique I’ve encountered in my explorations of cemeteries.

 

Now this statuary tremendously intrigued me.  Coming upon it from behind, both Yang and I thought it was a spectral figure in a shroud, a figure implying the mystery of the world beyond this. However, as we came around the front of the monument, we realized that what you saw from the front was a partially  draped urn.  This leads me to wonder if the artist intentionally played with our perceptions, implying the ineffablity of pinning down or defining death.  Was he, perhaps, implying our thoughts of ghosts and spirits turn out to be nothing more than dust in a dead stone urn?  Or was he implying that perception of death as final dissolution into dust and cold stone was a superficial view that we have to look behind or beyond to accept the mystery of the world beyond? Maybe I just think to much?  I was an English professor; it’s an occupational hazard.
 I’ll just wrap up with  an image that delights me in my most melancholy, Keatsian vein.

 

Last Glimpses of Autumn

Here we are with only two days left to November, closing out autumn. Though the season doesn’t officially end until December 21 or 22, depending on the year, the last day of November always feels like the turn of the page into winter with December 1st.  So, I’d like to present you with a blog or two taking a lingering, pleasing look back at the “season of mellow fruitfulness.”
Last year, Yang and I celebrated Halloween during the day with a hike at Colbrook Reservoir in western Mass.  Remember how we were in drought status that year?  Well, that’s why we not only were able to have a memorable walk along the waterway on an abandoned two-lane paved road, but also could discern parts of the town that had been submerged  by the flooding to create the reservoir.  We even caught sight of the phantom bridge!  This year we sought to repeat our adventure, with hopes of an even more pleasant outing since the weather was so much warmer than last year.  Unfortunately,  in 2021 we had so much more of something else than last year:  Rain!
Last year there was water, shoreline, road, rocks and trees.  This year, there was water, rocks, and trees.  We were flooded out in both directions of the road from the parking lot.  Yang mentioned that we also rode our bikes here the day after Thanksgiving last year; so, I commented that unless we had paddle boats, we weren’t doing any paddling here this year!  Disappointed, I still managed to get some nice shots of foliage and water, as you can see.  Yang had another idea, which also had been percolating in my head.  We hopped in the car and headed just across the nearby border for Heublein Tower on Talcott Mountain  in Connecticut! (If you want to get a look at what we saw  at Colbrook last year, click here for my earlier blog .)
A little on Heublein Tower.  Heublein was the third tower to stand on Talcott Mountain, built by German-born, American businessman from Hartford, Gilbert Heublein,  While hiking the mountain with his fiancee, he promised her “a castle on a mountain,” keeping his promise after their marriage by constructing this tower.  The edifice, which contained bedrooms on all but the pinnacle, a spacious ground-floor living  room and foyer, dining room; second floor sun room, an elevator, and a ballroom on the glassed-in top floor was completed by 1929.  Here, the Heubleins relaxed in their summer home, inviting guests and holding events that drew the cream of Hartford’s social crop. Heublein died in 1937, with his  building falling out of use until bought in 1943 by The Hartford Times.  Once again, it became the place to be for social events with celebrities of the era in attendance, including Tallulah Bankhead!  Eventually, it was let slide by the Times and nearly bought by developers, until saved by the group  Save Talcott Mountain.  Now the mountain and the Tower are open to the public for hiking and viewing, as the area has become a state park. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy nature and some unique architecture.  For more details on the Tower and the park, click here for the web site.
Hiking up the mountain isn’t too bad a hike at all.  There are several trails to get to the Tower.  The most popular one is a little steep at first, through autumn woods, but there are benches along the way if you’re out of shape and need a rest.  We were in good enough shape not to!  Then, you come out of the woods and onto a ridge overlooking the valley below.  The view along this ridge is wonderful, and you might even see a hawk as we did! Some great overlooks.
The Tower itself is quite a treat!  This old photo shows what the foyer and living room originally looked like.  My shot lets you see an updated in-color version.  The furnishings have been carefully assembled to approximate the style and taste of the original era.  Though I’m not sure I would have wanted a big deer head on my wall, I would have loved to relax before that fireplace in a comfy chair or to play card games with friends on a crisp fall evening, with coffee or tea and scones for sustenance.  And how about this nook by the window that looks out over a gorgeous mountain landscape, cascading fall colors into the valley below?  How’s that for having breakfast or an afternoon tea?  I wonder  what flavor that cake is on the table?
Or maybe I’d take tea, solo or with companions, on this wonderful sun porch, warm with solar emanations?  Could also be a great place to settle down and read or listen to the radio programs back in the day.  And the view from up here ain’t bad, either.

 

How about some of those bedrooms?  Not necessarily luxurious, but roomy enough.  Plenty of sunlight during the day, should you wish to retire here. Pleasant, if not elaborate, decor.  But you’re on a rustic  retreat, so who needs frills?  Though this set up is far from camping on the cold, hard New England bedrock.  And, oh, those views when you get up in the morning!  Imagine the rising sun setting aflame these fall colors!
One of the most interesting parts of the Tower is the observation deck.  Originally, this area was known as the ballroom, as you can see from this old image of the earlier set up.  Wouldn’t it be grand to dance away the evening on these hard wood floors?  It could be a real Stardust Ballroom, with the twinkling lights of the darkened heavens glittering through the tall windows of all four sides of the room.  Of course, you’d have to move away all that furniture.  Great place for a big party!
Yet there’s no need to wait for evening to fall in love with the observation deck.  During the day, you get views  for miles, across Connecticut and into Massachusetts – an especially fine sight in the autumn, when the hills burst with colors.  Feast your eyes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, returning to the first floor, towards the rear of the building, you find the formal dining room, gorgeous in wood paneling, dark wood furniture, marble fireplace, exquisite Persian rug, elegant china and cutlery, and painted medallion above the fireplace.  How about the gorgeous beamed ceilings? It’s fun to notice that the door to the butler’s pantry is hidden in the shape of the paneling on one side of the fireplace, while a closet is similarly hidden on the other.  Light pours in the windows.

Now, I ask you, would this not be the perfect setting for a mystery?  This is how the UConn campus at Avery Point inspired me for Always Play the Dark Horse.  So, how should we work this?  Jessica and James are invited for a weekend by the owner,  a mysterious sort who seems to know more about them than they about him or her?  Or maybe it is someone they know, or think they do.  Should guests start dropping like flies over a dinner in that elegant dining room?  Should Jessica settle down to a quiet read on the sun porch, only to be interrupted by a figure sailing past to his/her death below? Should Liz also be on hand?  What do you think?

 

Lobster Rolls, Waterfowl, and Joan Bennett: What an Adventure!

At the end of the last week, I’d come down with a head cold!  Too much heavy-duty activity and book promotion, I guess, in cold weather.  Anyway, after lots of rest under the medical supervision of Rosalind and Natasha,  I felt well enough to join Yang on a little adventure to Connecticut.  First stop?
Lobster rolls, cole slaw, and french fries at Bill’s Seafood in Westbrook.  Yum!  That lobster has loads of cold-fighting protein, right?  Though there weren’t the usual osprey and laughing gulls and various ducks, we did see this neat cormorant circling the deck, then landing and arching his wings the way cormorants love to do- very vampirelike.  I think he saw himself as Count Cormorantuala.  I forgot to get my own pictures; however, here’s another photographer’s depiction of that favorite cormorant stance.
I did manage to get  some nice shots from the rest of our journey.
Next stop?  Rocky Neck, where you can see the fall colors are still going, even if some trees are a bit denuded.  In fact, the drive down treated us to some lovely golds, burnt oranges, saffrons, and burgundies.  Just in the parking lot was this lovely tree flaming into orange.  Yang especially loves multicolored trees, where the foliage morphs from green to yellow even to orange. This tree gives us orange, crimson, and burgundy!
If you look to the marshes, they are bordered by more foliage-enhanced trees.  Those marshes are circled by a trail and some lookout platforms, which have afforded lots of views of many different types of aquatic fowl.  this time, we didn’t see a lot, but we did sight some old friends:  black ducks; mallards, hooded mergansers (the speedboats of the duck world), and the Great Egret.  It was the latter we got some nice shots of.  In fact, as we walked the trail and paused on a bridge, we were able to get rather close to this fellow without him flapping a feather.  Rather, he had quite a time for himself fishing.  What a beauty, right?  As we were leaving, we actually passed seven of them all chillin’ together in another marsh, right near the road.
Ah, and then there was a stroll along the ocean and a nap on the rocks as I could hear the waves lapping those rocks and feel the breeze dancing around me.  It’s so nice just to let go!
Our final stop, after a wonderful ride down winding country roads, framed with glowing foliage in the sinking sun’s light, was to the cemetery where Joan Bennett rests.  We  found three bouquets of yellow roses, a small painted stone with a sweet message, and an arrangement with a patriotic theme, happily showing that our Joanie is so fondly remembered. Well, Joan certainly was a patriot in the best sense of the word.  Five of her forties films had her joining the fight against the Nazis, she went on bond selling tours, she was a member of the AWVS (American Women’s Voluntary Service), and she spoke out for protecting people’s civil rights.  So, it was our pleasure to pay our respects.  We tried to clean her Mom’s grave stone, but couldn’t do much.  Another member of our Joan Bennett FB group had done a beautiful job of cleaning Joan’s grave earlier, however.  Maybe Joan and my Mom can have a cup of tea and a cigarette together up in the Great Beyond.  You never know!  Just watch out for those Singapore Slings, ladies!

 

 

Cormorant Image:  https://www.macfilos.com/2017/09/15/2017-9-11-cormorants-reconsidered-birds-of-ill-omen-get-makeover/

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 DSCN5877example, a turkey 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. Cardinal, 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 relationship 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.

DSCN4680
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 purposes.  Contact me should you feel your copyright has been infringed

Always Play the Dark Horse

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