Tag Archives: New England

Last Glimpses of Autumn

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

Autumn Eases In: Windsor Locks

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

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

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

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

SNAKE TRIGGER WARNING AGAIN!

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

Images

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

Casting Characters, Part 3: Always Play the Dark Horse

Part Three: Always Play the Dark Horse  horse and rider

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

Dustyg

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

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

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

Always Play the Dark Horse

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Hillside Cemetery, A Dunwich Kind of Place

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

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

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

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

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

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Continue reading Hillside Cemetery, A Dunwich Kind of Place

Celtic Crosses, Funerary Statues in a Winter Cemetery

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

Winter Birds at Chez Yang

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

In the Bleak Midwinter: Hillside Cemetery

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

Enjoy the ducks in motion:

Keystone Arch Bridges Trail

The Saturday after the elections, to get away from all the stress, Yang and I took a four-mile hike on the Keystone Arch Bridges Trail. It was something! The trail leads through woods in Chester to one of the oldest set of stone railroad bridges in the country. And some of these bridges are still in use! Here is the first of these arched granite bridges that we saw, one that is still used. We just missed the train going over it.
To get to the other arch bridges, you have to do some hiking through the forests. The paths run along the river and then up and down some semi-tough slopes. However, the work is certainly worth it. There were some cool views of woods, streams, and rock formations.

 

Before we got to the other bridges, we came across some interesting abandoned or ruined structures. We could see this tower piercing through the denuded trees not too far off to the right of the trail as we started. I’m not sure what it is, so if anyone has an idea, let me know. We would have investigated on the way back – there was a drive off the trail – but we were really bushed.
I don’t know what this rock wall was originally. A foundation? A pen? A border demarcation? Can’t tell you. Cool, though, isn’t it?

 

 

We were able to check out two of the abandoned bridges. These were built around 1840, using blue-stone granite. This part of the line was eventually abandoned along with the bridges because in following the river, the rails had to take too sharp a curve for the speed of the trains. Disaster prevailed. To get to this bridge, we walked along where the old rail bed was, between high walls of rock that had been blasted and dug out in the early/mid-1800s. At the bridge, the tunnel of rock opened into a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. There was still some color in the trees, so I could just imagine how gorgeous the vista would have been even a week earlier.
In this shot, you can see the handsome Yang sitting near the edge-I made sure his insurance was paid up before the hike. Click on the picture and look below him to the right to see the river. Above that, note the rest of the mountains to get an idea of how high up we are. To the left, you can see the path that came out of the rail bed we walked up between walls of rock.
This picture can give you an even better idea of how high up the bridge is. It’s taken on the same side of the bridge as the shot of Yang above, but from the other end of the bridge. Click on the picture and notice the tiny patches of blue at the bottom, on the river bank. Those tiny things are two people! Pretty far down, huh? The acoustics are darned good, though. We could hear those two girls laughing and joking as if they were right there on the bridge with us.
Here’s a shot of the other abandoned bridge, also on the same line. Though I didn’t get a picture of the surrounding hills, the view of them from here was also impressive, even with fall’s glory of color having passed. This trail is certainly worth a return trip at almost any time of year-well, maybe not through winter snows!
Click here for more information on the Keystone Arch Bridges Trail.