Category Archives: New England

Return to Riverside Cemetery: Autumn Leaves Bursting with Color

This past October. we returned to the Riverside Cemetery in Waterbury with hopes of seeing the statuary complemented by gorgeous fall colors.  Yang and I were not disappointed!

The entrance was serene and gracious, with background colors hinting at the beauty we would find beyond.

The highlight that these fall colors brought t o the monuments was deliciously melancholy.  The leaves behind this woman leaning on a cross brought forth the saffron beauty of autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

Then there was the flame of orange encompassing this melancholy dame, flaring against the shadows of a of grey autumn day.

 

 

 

 

 

Or there was this lone, proud figure fronting a brilliant crimson of oak trees.

I loved this shot from behind of the woman gazing out over the rolling hills of autumn glory.

I think this deer must feel at home, encompassed by the gorgeous green morphing to yellow-gold of fall.

Likewise, this pensive young woman is lost in deep thought while greens turn to flame and yellow-green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was especially enchanted by so many trees that combined various colors as their leaves slowly shut down the ports to chlorophyll and let their true hues burst froth in brilliant glory.

Green and Gold

 

 

 

 

 

Orange and Red, like a flame reaching heavenward.

And then, some trees seemed to  us gifted with four colors at once!

Well, maybe that’s a Japanese maple photo bombing the sugar maple.

Just gazing across the cemetery, you see slopes rolling with gorgeous fall glory:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trees were so gorgeous, Yang decided to stick one in his back pack to carry it home.

Just kidding:  optical illusion.

 

I particularly loved this sage woman’s pensive and imposing presence, her blue-green copper complementing the reds and greens of the trees behind her.

And that, my friends, is all she wrote.

 

 

Fairhaven, Fair Gothic

At the end of September, Yang and I finally made it back to Fairhaven, Mass. for a fun bicycle ride.  We didn’t see loads of critters; however, passing by a marsh we did come across a Great White Egret convention.  Yes, take a closer look: those white blobs in the trees are  EGRETS!  And there was one Great Blue Heron.  Master of ceremonies.  We were especially happy to discover that the trail had been extended and is supposed to reach the next town in November.  It’s a sweet spot for a long ride through trees, fields, marshes, and along the ocean.

 

 

All that said, what we found especially intriguing was our walk through the town of Fairhaven, where we came across some absolutely delightful gothic architecture!  The person responsible for this gorgeous architecture was nineteenth-century millionaire, Henry Huttleston Rogers.  He not only funded the design and construction of the Town Hall, seen to the left, but the library and the Unitarian Universalist Church.  The Town Hall was dedicated by none other than Mark Twain, and the library, still a free public library, was  designed “in 1893, [as} a memorial to his beloved daughter, Millicent, in the form of an Italian-Renaissance palazzo” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairhaven,_Massachusetts).  Here’s the library below:

The “Italian-Renaisance design” certainly explains the outside relief on the building.  Notice the  cherubs peeking on either side of the column.

And who’s that poking his head right out front?  Why it’s Dante himself!  I had conjectured to Yang, when I saw that kisser, that it must be Dante.  And now I understand why the library is called The Millicent Library.  A beautiful memorial to a daughter taken from her father too soon.  We didn’t get a chance to  explore the inside of the building; however, as I said to Yang, here’s a library to put on my list for trying to do a reading. Next spring or fall?  I may have another novel out by then!

 

Yet the most spectacular of the edifices was The Unitarian Church.  We’d spied the tower through the trees as we walked along checking out these other buildings.  We were drawn like iron filings to a magnet to discover what kind of Gothic delights this building might hold.  Gosh!  We were more than delighted with what we found!

 

 

We were expecting a Catholic, or at least an Episcopal. cathedral. So imagine our surprise that this ornately appointed church  turned out to be a Unitarian/Universalist place of worship.  Even the Parish house of the Unitarian Memorial Church was replete with gargoyles and saints.

 

We not only found gargoyles on all the corners, but saints and patriarchs beneath the gargoyles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And even a few patriarchs and saints on their own.

 

 

 

 

 

The Church, itself, was  designed by architect Charles Brigham of Boston (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unitarian_Memorial_Church), and is decorated with so many fascinating types of gargoyles on its corners and cornices.  There were owlgoyles.

 

 

 

 

Cat-or-pumagoyles

 

 

 

 

 

As well as your standard flying dragony-type things, maybe with one have a hint of the leonine.

Particularly interesting, were the head sculptures adorning the outer walls of the church.  I wondered if some of them reflected the founding members of the Church – not all of them, though.  You’ll see what I mean when you take a gander at some of their visages.  Here is a solemn  dame, who seems right at home in a Medieval world. 

 

 

Here is a beautiful young girl, who would seem at home in a world of Medieval romance.

 

 

 

 

This chap looks as if he would have been one of the better fed pilgrims to Canterbury.

 

 

 

 

This guy has a perfect 1960s-style flip.  Must be the early inventor of Dippity-Do.

 

 

 

What can I say?  St. Theresa of Avila stuck next to Pickle Puss!

There were also other fascinating sculptures adorning the church.  An angel holds a book of good works or devotions or philosophy.

Another angel stands guard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four women represent the celestial power of music.

 

Here, Yang stands before one of the entrances, Mr. Pudgy Pilgrim looking over his shoulder.

 

 

 

For the official website for this church click here.

 

Finally, we found another intriguing building, though not nearly so ornate, right where the trail enters the town.  I’m not sure what this abandoned brick building once was, now overgrown with trees, holes in its roof.  A factory?  A school?  Who knows.  I don’t, but I wonder what story it could tell us.

 

 

Lee Library Author Event: A Walk on the Noir Side in Shades of Autumn

Since some of the Covid issues have waned, I’ve started going back to doing in-person author readings.  Friday, October 14th, I had the good fortune to do an event at the Lee Library in Lee, Massachusetts.  What a wonderful day!  Lee is in the western part of Massachusetts, so my husband and I had an exciting drive through all the gorgeous fall foliage to arrive at our destination.  Lee is a neat little town with a main street of equally neat shops, and in an antique store I found a 1940s movie magazine with pictures of favorite stars.  The main street has lots of  tasty restaurants.  We had our lunch at The Starving Artist Cafe, where they craft the yummiest sandwiches and
crêpes. They made a pumpkin latte that was absolutely perfect – not all sugary and fake whipped cream, but good coffee, the flavor of pumpkin spice, and steamed milk.  We sat outside at the street seating on a warm October day and enjoyed the small-town scenery, great food, and trees dressed in their autumn flames and oranges.After a stroll amongst the shops and a peek at some of  the gorgeous Victorian houses in town, we went to the library for my talk.  You can see what a beautiful old building the library is.  When visiting the town earlier, I was taken with the building and thought, “I’d like to do a talk here.”  Well, I contacted Jodi Magner at the library, and she was tremendously welcoming and enthusiastic at the prospect of my doing an event.  She told me that they loved mysteries in that town!

That day, Jodi and her daughter Megan made me so welcome and helped my husband and I set up.  I was delighted that my friend, mystery writer, Leslie Wheeler could join us, as well as other women whom I’d never met before.  We were a small group, but we had a great time.  I got so many intelligent questions, and people seemed interested in my inspiration from film noir and haunting movies of the 1940s like Val Lewton’s films and The Uninvited.  They seemed to get a kick out of the excerpts that I read from Bait and Switch, Letter from a Dead Man, and Always Play the Dark Horse to illustrate how the dark, dreamy elements of noir and the smart talking gals of the 1940s influenced my writing!  One of the women even said that a friend, sometime earlier,  had been suggesting she read the Jessica Minton series.  I’m getting a fan base! And now you can read all three Jessica Minton novels through the Lee Library.

Say, how do you like the pin-stripe black suit and the black fedora?  I thought the gold blouse was just right to add fall color. Should I have brought along a gat?

I’m hoping to go back in the summer, after the fourth novel comes out:  Shadows of a Dark Past.  Maybe I’ll see you there!

Return to Colebrook Reservoir

Two years ago, Yang and I made our first trip to Colebrook Reservoir on a brisk Halloween afternoon.  What a treat!.  After at least a year of drought, the old Rte. 8 was completely clear and dry of the water.  We even saw part of the “ghost bridge” and the stone walls marking the boundaries of farms in what had once been a community displaced by the formation of the reservoir.  That day, we saw our first slate-colored juncos of the season, while the fall colors were still in bloom.  (Check out an earlier blog on our adventure here).

We came back last year, after an extremely rainy summer and discovered just how quickly a reservoir can fill up!  Not even a trace of the road we traveled between a slope of boulders and the water.  We were lucky the parking lot wasn’t swimming!

Ah, but 2022 brought another summer drought – and maybe the only good thing about the dearth of precipitation was that the way at Colebrook became so much clearer – though not nearly as clear as two years ago!

So, here’s my report, with photographic evidence!  On a gorgeous September afternoon, we were able to take the road (old Rte. 8) down from the parking lot for a bit of a stroll, until the inundation of the low road cut us off.  Were we daunted?  Not we two Yangs!  We scrambled over 1/8 to 1/4 of a mile of boulders flanking the waters.  You can get a bit of a picture from this photo, though you can’t see quite how steep the slope was – it was too hard to take pictures and scramble at the same time!

 

Where the road rose on higher ground, it was clear of water.  Unfortunately, there were gaps of low lying road that were inundated.  So, we managed to circle around the submerged road through rock-strewn mud flats, where we saw all kinds of fauna tracks:  deer, lynx, big herons.  We also saw some neat flora, as well.  I was taken with these nettles, some of which were accompanied by red berries.  Anybody recognize them?  We kept an eagle eye out for ticks!  Also, for fellow MSTKies, we did watch out for snakes.  None sighted – not even in the water.

It was fascinating to see how the wash of waters over the past few years had covered what was left of some of the road with gravel and how the flooded areas created islands of what had once been  roads.  Yang and I were both struck by how torn up the exposed blacktop had been since the last time we’d walked this road.  When we went through a stand of trees, we found some big trees down that we had to climb over.  No riding our bikes here the way we did two years ago when we had returned the day after Thanksgiving.

Last time we were here,  we had walked out to a highway bridge from the 1950s that crossed a stream emptying into what was originally a river (now the reservoir).  There was even a jetty to walk out on a little further along.  Well, at least the bridge was still there, but water was almost even with it.  Still we had a nice walk there and a little beyond, until the road dipped and the water filled in everything.  As you can see, we weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the bridge.  The area seemed to have become the playground for female and juvenile male Common Mergansers.  These ducks were having a grand time strolling about, splashing, and playing in the water.

Speaking of birds, Yang was disappointed not to see any Juncos (though it’s a bit early).  Nevertheless, he more than made do with the many water birds we saw.  Across the waters were Great Egrets, and on our side we saw several interesting types.  On the left is one of the Spotted Sandpipers we saw, though we usually saw only one at a time.  Maybe it was the same one a few times over?  We also saw this Greater Yellow Legs.  It might have been a Lesser Yellow Legs, but we didn’t have anything with which to compare him.  Less than whom?  There were plenty of Cormorants, too.

This was a pretty scene of the shore across the reservoir.  I really enjoyed the view.  Too bad we won’t be able to go back this year when the colors really go full-on autumn.

Of course, this is my favorite view.

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you’ll pardon me while I duck out now.

“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/