Way back in the ’90s, when I was first married and either working on my dissertation or teaching part time at UConn and Eastern Connecticut State University, Yang and I had a place we liked to visit that we called “The Secret Place.” The name didn’t quite fit because we would run into my students canoeing by or other walkers in nature. However, “The Secret Place” was not crowded with people and a little hard to get to. In fact, if you didn’t know it was there, you’d never think of going there. So what is this secret place and how did we ever find it?
Well, without giving away too many secrets, I’ll explain. We’ll go to the second part of the question first. Yang and I lived in the Mansfield/Wilimantic area in Connecticut while going to UConn. When driving one of the yellow-line-divided roads (no route number), we’d often pass over a bridge that let you look down into a lake made by a dam, with an abandoned asphalt road running alongside. It looked like such a cool place to walk, so Yang did some map snooping and found the road to take us there. That road in and of itself was almost a secret: a right that intersected the main road at such a sharp angle that taking it was almost like hooking a U-ie (non-New England translation: making a sharp U-Turn.). That brought you onto an old paved road tunneling through trees on both sides, a road slowly crumbling on the edges and being submerged by encroaching woods. A steel gate prevents vehicles from going more than about 1/2 mile down the road, but pedestrians are welcome. At one time this had been a route with houses following a river, but building the dam not only turned the river into a small lake but ended the status of the street.
The asphalt does continue through the woods and opens up along the body of water, ending in the dam. I have so many fond memories of coming here when the wild roses were blooming through the woods along the road, chickadees, titmice, and even Baltimore Orioles were flitting through the trees and brush, and all kinds of water fowl sailed along the lake, sometimes putting in at the many coves. I’d come here with Yang in all seasons to relax in nature, and even sometimes took a blanket and whatever books I was reading for my orals or dissertation and did my studying chilling in nature. What a wonderful place! But moving to Worcester and finding new places there and around the Northeast to explore, Yang and I put our thoughts of “The Secret Place” on the back burner – until the first week in March, when the good weather made us determined to explore something so old it was new again.
After a tasty breakfast at Bagel One in Windham – still the best bagels and cream cheese in my book! – we drove on down to find our Secret Place. This was not easy since we hadn’t been there in so long – and that entrance really hooks back from the road, making it difficult to see. But we found it! Our excitement grew as we drove down the old paved road through a tunnel of winter- denuded trees – it doesn’t take much to excite us. We found that metal gate and were surprised to see a sign calling the place a park – but a park with no name. I guess the state of Connecticut wants to keep it secret, too, sort of. We slipped through the gate and strolled in the sunny cold down the old road and found ourselves fascinated by stone walls and trees nature-crafted into twisted forms, which we’d never really noticed before. The bare bones of wild rose bushes tangled through the brush, but later in spring we knew they’d be bursting with sprays of white and soft pink tiny blossoms.
We emerged out of the tree-hugged road to see the lake sparkling silver-blue in the cold March sun. In days of yore, you couldn’t always follow the asphalt to the damn at the end because flooding would cover the road. You could still see the ghost of floods past in the scallops of dead plants and small debris across the road – nothing impassable, though! So, today, we were able to travel all the way to the dam, across an old bridge built in 1927. A place where in summer we would sit and watch fish and turtles take their leisure in the waters. And today, those waters sloshed over and under sheets of ice, hosting a variety of waterfowl: swans, golden eyes, mergansers, and the ubiquitous sea gulls!
The state has also now cleared and marked trails here that you can take through the woods. We circled back to the car over a roundabout route around coves (more ducks!) and up and down ridges. But they haven’t give the place a name. maybe they want to call it a “Secret Place,” too – but with well marked trails. Late spring and summer should bring us more beauty when we return – but, “Shhh! Don’t tell anybody!”
Here are some other neat shots:
I had originally wanted to post these pictures much earlier – like back in Winter when Yang and I took them. However, the semester has been brutal, and I just didn’t have time to do all the editing necessary. So, here they are!
The weekend after my birthday, there was a slight warming spell, so Yang and I made an expedition to Falmouth. After a hearty tea luncheon at the Dunbar Tea House – love that Ice Wine Tea! – we did some bird watching on the nearby rail trail. In one of the ponds, we saw the beautiful swans above.
Also in this pond, we were able to see a flock of Mergansers. Here is one chap swimming solo, with his lovely feathery mane.
Later, I was surprised to see a whole flock of males and females swimming happily in the ocean. I never realized this duck was an ocean as well as fresh-water critter! You’ll have to forgive the fact that the photos are a bit blurry. It’s not easy to get near these guys – especially with a cold ocean separating you. Still, if you click on the picture, you’ll be able to get a decent look at the ducks.
We also saw some of the ever-popular Mallards. A happy pair celebrating an anniversary, no doubt, with an afternoon out on the ocean. These ducks are pretty common around New England, so I normally wouldn’t photograph them. But they posed so beautifully, Yang couldn’t resist. Also, some of my other bird-loving followers might not have these guys in their necks of the woods – or ponds.
We also saw a pair of Eider ducks. I know they are a little blurry, but, again, there’s that pesky ocean in the way. Do you think the Eiders are funky enough to want to get down? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
And, in a different pond, more swans!
But here’s where things get really weird. Driving through the town of Falmouth, we had to stop for some feathered pedestrians.
Before the summer is over, I wanted to post some of my other favorite images from the summer adventures Yang and I had along the New England rail trails. In June, we did a rail trail in Falmouth, on the Cape. As always, we saw some of our favorite birds there. We sighted many rabbits and chipmunks, and at one point a fox dashed across the trail far ahead of us. Per usual, the Catbirds wouldn’t hold still long enough to be photographed.
So, here are some of the lovely birds we could photograph. In one little bay, we found this swan family: Mummy and Daddy and several young cygnets. Interestingly enough, one of the kids had already turned white!
We also managed to photograph this gorgeous Osprey. Look at those eyes! They’re enormous. No wonder no prey escapes this guy or gal. There are several spots along the trail that have osprey nests on poles and platforms erected by the good folks on the Cape. There is even one platform in the bay near the docks in Woods Hole. As your ship pulls in or out, you can see the family chilling in the nest.
We caught this swan swimming forward to greet us in a different marsh along the trail. I think he’s saying, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille” in this shot
This display is always fun to see along the trail. I think it’s neat that the people who live next to the trail here have such a fun and creative bent with all these nostalgic items.
This whole rail trail is wonderful to travel, and we usually take the ferry from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard to walk around there and enjoy the beautiful houses, especially the Victorian camp cottages. Sorry, no pictures. I feel intrusive taking those shots. What a great – and exhausting way to spend the day!