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.
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.
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!
|These waning days of winter have given Yang and I some fun bird watching, whether at home or away. For instance, Yang went for a stroll one day on a canal that runs perpendicular to the Blackstone River and sighted some interesting ducks and the peripatetic Kingfisher. So, the next day, I had him take me back there. Sure enough we saw some swell birds. Yang got some really nice shots of a pair of hooded mergansers. At first we thought they were both females, but I noticed that one had a distinctive long, pointed tail sticking above the water, as well as a fluffier brush of feathers at the back of the head. I suspect that one was a juvenile male. We either had a Mom and her teenage son or a Cougar duck. Who can tell? Enjoy the pictures!
I also got to see the Kingfisher, a male. I heard his excited chatter way down toward the end where the canal ran into the Blackstone. I kept my eyes peeled until I saw a blob of white way ahead in a tall tree over the waters. Training my binoculars confirmed my suspicions, bringing into focus a magnificent male Belted Kingfisher. Yang came up and got some shots with the binoculars he could attach to his cell phone. We had a great time watching His Majesty swoop down into the water, skimming along to fly off with his fishy dinner.
Further from home, we visited Forest Park in Springfield on our way to lunch in Montague. This turned out to be the mecca for Common Mergansers. We saw tons of them in one of the ponds. They were shy guys, as whenever we got close to the shore, they paddled off to the middle of the pond. Yang did get some nice pictures of them, though. I love how the males gleam white, their green heads almost black. Their head feathers in the back are far smoother than those of the male Red Breasted Mergansers. In both these types of Mergansers, the females are beautiful, with their Rita Hayworth-red locks! Yang loves the ducks’ red beaks.
We also found some American Black Ducks enjoying the same pond as well.
Closer to home – as in the bird feeders next to my house – we’ve been seeing some nifty birds, old friends and new. The Mockingbird and the Redwinged Blackbirds are back. Would you believe that even in the snow, the Robins have been scooting about for at least two weeks? Here we have a Robin and a Downy Woodpecker chilling (literally with all the snow) in a tree outside my sun porch window.
I must say that this Robin loves his/her? suet.
We also had the pleasure of this Red Bellied Woodpecker’s company. Since it’s a female, it wouldn’t be the one who was stunned after hit our sun-porch window. We brought him in in a box and let him warm up for about an hour then set him free. Whoosh! He was in great shape and off to the races. We see him and his mate here quite a bit. They’re also big suet lovers.
and perky Downy Woodpeckers.
Bring on the Rose Breasted Grosbeaks!
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.
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!”
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.
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?
Yang and I found a gorgeous old cemetery in Utica, NY when we went to the Joan and Constance Bennett film festival in Rome this past summer. However, life has just been so busy with all the prep for Dark Horse‘s release, then it’s actual release, that I just didn’t have time to put together a pictorial blog on it. Maybe that’s just as well, because aren’t we in just the right season for a sepulchral tour?
So, welcome to Forest Hill Cemetery. You know this is going to be one neat burial ground when you enter through these wonderfully Gothic gates. And the cemetery is definitely well-named, winding up above Utica on an extensive tree-shrouded, green hillside. Maybe we don’t have flaming autumn colors; however, the misty green mossyness perfectly emanates a Keatsian melancholy.
The statuary here was marvelously haunting: women, angels, urns, unique mausoleums, and one guy backed by a tree that seemed like something out of a Lovecraft piece. Let’s start with the angels. The first one that I noted, just getting out of my car (me not the angel), was a uniquely colored creature. It wasn’t as large as many or the others and the tip of one wing was chipped. Yet it’s lines were straight and powerful, grace and strength in a soft glow of gold.
Yet, there were other more traditionally imposing figures. This angel rose above a long bench that curved like his wings. It’s an imposing figure that makes you uneasily recall the Dr. Who injunction, “Don’t blink! On the other hand, this angel below sits peacefully atop the Ives family monument exuding comfort and repose. If it came to life, it would offer gentleness and compassion. The day’s sky, still a tad cloudy, softens the gleaming white of its stone.
This family must, indeed, have had clout! Not only do they have a fancy sepulchre, but they have two angels guarding the way to their entombed remains. Facing us, you can see that one angel holds a book, while, in the case of the one with its back to us, you can just make out its trumpet. Clearly that divine guy is ready to blow the horn to announce Judgment Day – or it’s Harry James.
Speaking of sepulchres, there are some really neat fancy ones here. This one makes me think of a stone beehive. It also has a medieval look. The stones fit together like the blocks of a castle. There are spires and arches like in a Gothic cathedral. Even fleur de lis are carved on joining stones on the sides and back. Note the brass door gone green. The graceful furl of draping ribbons carved on the doors evokes the unfurling of a gentle melancholy sigh, doesn’t it? Here’s a closeup so you can better perceive the detail. Notice how flowers trail from the end of the ribbons. A symbol of life’s fragility like a flower or of life’s renewal of flowers from seeds shed by flowers past/passed?
This mausoleum is more in the art deco vein. It’s shape is square-angled with blocks sharply cut. The woman on its metal door, though Grecian garbed, has the stylized posture of art deco figures. Pressing herself to a door carved with a gate of flowered shapes holding her out, her stance and expression are quietly yet powerfully sad. Is she reaching for the lost departed or is she a departed soul reaching back for life?
The statues of women representing faith, loss, families also abound here in some beautiful forms. I loved the view of this weather-stained woman peering down the hillside, through waving grass and dark green trees into the world beyond her, outside the grave. In a closer view from the front, you can see she supports stalks of harvested grain. The soul harvested from this earth? Or her life’s harvest of experience, carried into the next realm?
Here sits a pensive female, pure white against the greenery. Though she marks the reality of death, there is peace in her expression. Does she represent the soul’s passing into a realm beyond suffering to a place of calm contemplation or the quiet remembrance that those left behind have of loved ones now beyond the veil? I love capturing a close up of her features against the vivid blue streaked with the gauzy whiteness of clouds.
Here an angelic figure points an attentive Victorian mother and plump toddler heavenward. There are no wings on the rising figure, but there are definitely suggestions of her angelic nature. Interestingly, her trumpet points downward. A reference to the family in the world of the living below? The sculpture beautifully creates the illusion of the female figure rising through the sweep of her garments. I can’t help thinking that perhaps this monument commemorates the loss of a young wife and a child. Is the rising figure a younger daughter who had angelic qualities?
Then there is this far from traditional carving of gleaming white marble. The figure does not seem carved so much as transforming stone into a vibrant, pure flame consuming a body into a higher, ethereal form. Is her expression joyous, pained, both – combining the two in the ineffable constitution of the sublime.
Of course, we can’t forget about the gents, either. This chap must have been something, taking up the center of an enormous monument that surrounds him as if part of a capitol building or cathedral. Gothic arches and fancy urns denote his prominent family standing. You can see me standing there in front providing scale. The book he holds in his hand and his far away look seem to mark him as a scholar of some sort, or at the very least, a man of great learning.
I’m not sure who this guy was, but he certainly must have been important to get such a fancy statue of himself. He must have been wealthy, too, to be so well fed. Reminds me of Sidney Greenstreet. What do you think? Something else that’s neat is that if you look carefully behind him, you can see a tree that almost seems to have a cyclops eye; a long, bowed nose-trunk; and menacing upraised arms. The image didn’t photograph as well as it should have, but it’s still very Lovecraftian. Below is a picture of just that just shows that eldritch, daemonic tree, appearing to stride forth on an unspeakable quest of relentless destruction. And here’s a link to a list of Lovecraft’s favorite adjectives.
I’ve got to say that this tree also looks as if it’s up to no good, eldritch or otherwise. There’s a horror story in here somewhere.
There are still more wonderful monuments of unique shapes and beautiful scenes of a sea of stones, but I’ve just no more space. Perhaps, I can do a second edition on this cemetery. We’ll see. October is a busy month. Hmm, what’s that I hear tapping at my window pane? I hope it’s nothing cyclopean or eldritch.
Say “so long” to Forrest Hill as we drive out those wonderful Gothic Gates!
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.
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.
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!”
Yellow-rumped Warbler: https://www.borealbirds.org/bird/yellow-rumped-warbler
I 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 example, 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.
The 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, and 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.
Speaking 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 without 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.
The catbirds used to come frequently in the beginning of the summer, then they disappeared, pretty much, for about a month. 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.
Well, here I go trying to create a new blog with WordPress’s Godawful new editor. Forgive me if this comes out crappy. It’s taken me forever to figure out how to switch back and forth between html editor and visual-nothing is clearly labeled or explained. I know this format is much uglier than the one I had previously. We’re all at the mercy of tasteless, unimaginative, homogenizing forces.
Anyway, let’s move on to a more enjoyable descent into darkness. Here’s a last gasp at wintry images with Part 2 of my report on the Hillside Cemetery of North Adams. Across the street from the original portion of the graveyard, lonely mountains rise up to close you you in and the rest of the world out on this grey day.
This is the newer portion of Hillside, and much more on an actual hillside. With the rolling slopes here, the graves, mostly 19th century, tilt and are almost upended as the ground has settled and shifted over the years-or is someone or something trying to push out?
And those slopes are pretty darned high, too, with gravestones and monuments, bleakly, implacably towering upward from an earth both browned by autumn and frosted by snow.
This cemetery has it’s share of intriguing, impressive statuary, but the brutal western Massachusetts winds, rain, and snow have not been kind to them, gradually wearing them down to softened blurs in many cases. The dove embracing this shrouded cross has lost its distinctive features and now softly merges into the cross’s drapery. The child and the lamb, representing her innocence, have melted into the seat of broken rocks symbolizing her life cut too short, too soon. A relief that should have preserved a woman’s identity in endurable stone for eternity has blurred her features into gentle vagueness. Even her identity in the form of name, family, and birth and death dates have been smoothed away to soft whiteness. A book of life’s secrets has subsumed its truths into a creamy blank of pages melted together, marked only by the stain of mold and decay. Or might this be an edition of the Necronomicon?
Of course there are also still striking images of angels and symbolic broken columns, some standing relentless against nature’s assault by winds, weather, and devouring by lichen and mold.
Some are less successful than others in resisting the assaulting elements, but are no less beautiful.
There was only one large mausoleum in this portion of the cemetery-but it is impressive, especially for the art deco angel guarding the resting bodies of the family beneath. There’s a wonderful starkness in its rising near the crest of the rolling hill, the dark tree grasping hungry branches at the sky beyond it.
And here is a closeup of the angel. Regard the myriad layers of feathers creating a shield of wings behind its head, seeming both like a peacock’s tail in full extension and a wall of tongues of flames.
The day had been cold, but not bitterly so. The ground betrayed the tracks of deer, racoon, and perhaps more predatory mammals. It was an isolated spot where no human seemed to have ventured to grieve or pay veneration for a very long time. In fact, this day this cemetery seemed like a place lost to time, to human connections. Thank goodness I saw this cute guy and not some colour out of space.
As winter, we hope, is wrapping up and March approaches, I thought I’d post a couple of last minute winter visits to some of the local cemeteries to show you some of their lovely funerary work. Last December, when we were first treated to snow-and when snow still seemed like a treat-, I took some neat shots in St. John’s Catholic Cemetery in Worcester. I was particularly struck by not only the statuary but some reliefs and some Celtic crosses.
First, check out some of the neat reliefs. This one is graced with a stone head of Christ looking lovingly down at a stone chalice of His blood. The Celtic cross also has the austere yet graceful petals of flowers carved upon it. The vivid French blue of the winter sky bespeaks the crispness of the day.
There are many styles of Celtic Crosses rising out of the snow and winter-browned grass of this cemetery. Many also are adorned with striking, symbolic carvings. Others may hold statuary. This Celtic cross particularly caught my eyes, with it’s intricate interlocking designs along its body and its distinctive symbolic figures at the top. The snow beautifully reflects the cool purity of the sky’s winter blue.
A closer study of the figures in the upper central section of the cross reveals the creatures symbolizing the four gospel writers on each branch of the cross, with the knot of eternity and the Infinite in the center and praying angels at the very top, From the top and moving clockwise, you have the winged ox/calf (Luke), the man (Matthew), the griffin/lion (Mark), and the eagle (John)- their wings and halos signifying their divine nature.
You can additionally see Celtic crosses and other monuments honoring priests in the cemetery.
The statuary is also quite striking in the winter light. Here, a woman clings to a cross for salvation or for comfort at her losses. The stone is weathered smooth, the statue almost featureless. Perhaps a comment on the transitoriness of life.
A time-smoothed lamb, couched within the limited protection of this monument further testifies to the relentless passage of time over even the young whom parents see as embodying a kind of immortality. It’s posture is not even terribly peaceful, seeming to indicate tightening oneself up in fear or cold. Maybe both.
Then, there is this triumphant angel-who seems to be wearing a bustle in the height of 1880s fashion. Her broken wing unintentionally testifies to the limits of human commemorations.
Still, when I tried to capture her face with a shot from the front, the glow of the sun created this divine image that perhaps suggests that true immortality and enlightenment come from beyond this earth, transcending the capability of our mortal vision. Ya think?