Dear Winter

22 12 2017

salmon-riverYou begin. With bright sunshine and brisk temperatures, small patches of snow sparkling. As your days get longer, the chill will linger and the snow will fall gently. Give us time to appreciate your ways and keep all safe in the process. I watch the birds and squirrels I feed from the warmth and safety of my cozy home and trust that the outside weather will slowly but steadily move toward spring.

Thank you for reminding us to appreciate Nature’s cycles.

A Place Called Hope

18 12 2017

17 December 2017

APCH aviary

When I heard about this place for the third time, I decided I should listen. My first encounter with A Place Called Hope involved their release of a rehabilitated Turkey Vulture at a memorial service for a local naturalist. Shortly after that, I found them while searching for a mentor wildlife rehabilitator, when I began exploring how I might become one. Finally, I saw that the local Audubon society was hosting a trip to visit this rehab facility and I signed up.

APCH field trip

It was the day after our very first snowstorm. Thirty of us, fortified by hot cocoa and pastries, huddled in the welcoming sunlight. Co-Founder and Director Christine Cummings and Vice President Grace Krick introduced us to the organization, while Co-Founder Todd Secki assisted with logistics. Christine described their focus: Hawks, Falcons, Harriers, Osprey, Kites, Eagles, Owls, Ravens, Crows, Bluejays, and Vultures.

Christine and Grace knowledgeably introduced us to the residents (unreleasable birds) of the aviaries. Inspirational and dedicated folks!

Bonding with Ursula

15 12 2017


A few weeks after my friend Elizabeth passed away suddenly (heart atack), I was offered one of her plants. I thought it would be nice to have something, in addition to her hand-drawn holiday cards. Arrangements to pick up the plant were complicated by a snow storm and ultimately included breakfast at Friendly’s with a long-time friend/twice boyfriend.

Before I even knew much about this particular plant, another friend named it Ursula. That reminded me of a spider because a local shop is named Ursula’s Web. It suggested an octopus (from The Little Mermaid) to my daughter. But it turns out she was a fern of some type. Which was perfect because my friend Elizabeth had been one of the co-authors of the newly published Peterson’s Field Guide to the Ferns.

Ursula arrived in a box, covered with a black plastic garbage bag, so I was unprepared for her stunning beauty and uniqueness when I unwrapped her. Placing her in a wrought iron stand, I stepped back to admire her. She was solid, lush, and a bit disheveled… kinda like Elizabeth.

Her rhizomes (=root in a fern) were cinnamon and furry, kinda like Elizabeth’s hair. Somewhat like a tarantula. Or an octopus. I later learned she was a Rabbit’s Foot Fern (Phlebodium aureum), again perfect as my last name means rabbit in French. I was in love with this plant, as I’d never been before. I could envision Elizabeth in one of her (very) silly moods running her fingers along one of the rhizomes, petting her fern, and saying in a breathy voice (followed by a deep throated chuckle), “Calm down, dear, it will be okay.”

When I had a chance to look at Ursula more closely, I discovered she had many fertile fronds (=leaves) whose undersides were covered with symmetrically spaced spores. These are the fern’s reproductive equivalent of seeds; this can be an indication of either a very healthy plant or one under stress, trying to be sure there is a next generation.

brown tips

Two observations caused me to wonder about the stress factor. Many of Ursula frond tips were brown, perhaps a sign of too little water or too much fertilizer, but definitely an indicator of a problem. When I read about her species, there was a lot of discrepancy in the suggestions on temperature, humidity, and watering. I decided I needed to remove all the brown tips, so I could judge if I was caring for her properly. I got out my nail scissors and began the delicate operation. While doing so, I remembered my last visit with Elizabeth. She had been to a salon for the first time in decades to make some order out of her chaotic hair. Her hesitation at cutting much off was forefront in my mind, as I assured Ursula that I was only cutting what needed to be removed.

I also saw some areas that might be scale, an insect pest. I couldn’t determine if it was clusters of detached spores (an OK thing) or the pest. I erred on the side of removing most of the white clumps and will watch the others. If I were Elizabeth, I’d take out my loop and figure it out. Aw, heck, she’d probably know without needing her hand lens.

Which brings me to the reality of my situation: I have this plant, this lovely Ursula, because I (and the 200 other friends who attended her memorial service) no longer have Elizabeth. I stop writing, look out the window, and wonder why.


Hancock Brook and Waterbury Friendly’s

11 12 2017

7 December 7, 2017

It is a bit nippy today as Cherry and I head to Waterbury for our Hiking for Friendly’s trip of the month. Cherry tells me a funny story about making a wonderful meal for her sister, only to discover that her crock pot has broken and not cooked a thing! Fortunately, she and her sister managed and Cherry has discovered the defect before she tries to use the pot for several upcoming meals at some big events. They had a good laugh over it.

Waterbury hemlock brook 12.07.17As we exit the highway, I am tenuous about the directions to the Hancock Brook section of Mattatuck State Forest, and say we are supposed to walk along a gravel pit and I doubt the area will be well marked. Amazingly, we drive directly to the parking area (which is indeed at a gravel company office) and see the derelict bridge, on the National Register of Historic Places, that was mentioned in the descriptions I’d read prior to coming. And there in front of us are blue blazes! Glory hallelujah! By 9:30 AM, we are off.

We talk about Thanksgiving, as the scenery becomes more idyllic, and we parallel hemlock-lined Hancock Creek. My family, all 35, coming from as far as San Diego and Florida, gathered at my house to make a festive occasion, from which I am still putting away chairs. Cherry is awed by the fact that I have that many chairs! She too spent time with her extended family and a few adoptees at one of her sister’s home. We agree it’s a great holiday, with less stress and obligation than some of the others in December.

After about an hour, we veer from the creek to the outcrops above us. Cherry discusses some holiday-related challenges. I share that I am reclaiming my life, after 18 months being the parent of an adult daughter with a serious health issue that appears to be resolving. It is steep and we reach a series of impressive outcrops. Exposed quartz, bald knobs, and pitch pine stands add to the diversity of the site. Needles line the trail, it’s quiet, and the views are surprising.

Three and a half miles later, we find ourselves back at the gravel pit and my car. It’s noon, the sun is warm, and we agree it’s been a wonderful hike. “Not a walk,” clarifies Cherry. “Enough ups and downs to make a real hike.” We also agree that we’ve always thought each walk was a great place.

“We are just positive people,” I joke to Cherry.

“Yes, I really don’t like to spend much time with negative people,” Cherry adds, a philosophy I share, which I’m sure is why we enjoy our trips together.

It’s not far to the Friendly’s although I-84 is under construction and we have to take a short detour. Cherry and I bemoan the fact that the place is empty at 12:15; we want “our” Friendly’s to be profitable for many more years. We order; I get the Philly cheese steak and Cherry gets a hotdog (that’s a first for her). Our waitress, Wendy, seems a bit rushed and overextended as people begin to arrive.

As we order our dessert, Cherry tells Wendy about our Hiking for Friendly’s. Wendy says she’s met the original owners, the Blake brothers, at a corporate event about 15 years ago. She was one of the finalist in an ice cream scooping competition; who knew there was an art to perfecting the perfect scoop, with the proper weight, form, and speed?! Wendy glowed as she recalled the excitement and camaraderie of that event.

Waterburgy Friendlys 12.07.17When dessert arrives, I give Cherry a card for her upcoming birthday. She shrieks with laughter when she opens it to see a photo of herself tying her boot. It’s iconic; Cherry has to stop on every trip to double-tie her boots yet again. Today had been especially compelling for lace retying – we stopped at least four times, and each time, I had to keep my grin to myself, as I envisioned Cherry opening this card. It is a great way to end our meal and we share the card with our waitress, who hoots along with us.

Two more Friendly sites to go. Wow.


Music from East Asia, Wesleyan University

7 12 2017

3 December 6, 2017

I had heard Asian music in Chinese restaurants. But it wasn’t until I attended a concert at Wesleyan many years ago that I realized (true confessions) that the tangy twang, minor-key sound was actually produced by unique different instruments then western instruments. This year’s Wesleyan concert included performances from three distinct Asian music classes.

11.03.17 Asian music orchestra

Director Ender Terwilliger introduced the instruments of the Chinese Music Ensemble and provided an opportunity to hear one’s sound and characteristic. For example, the number of strings on an instrument ranged from 2 to 108! The dizi (a type of flute) added an enticing, charming, and poignant sound that echoed, danced, and tied into musical patterns of the rest of the orchestra.

The Korean Drumming and Creative Music students provided less traditional music, directed by Jin Hi, Kim, who soloed on the electronic komungo (a zither; Jimi Hendrix would have felt at home with its sound).  Another soloist, Poorya Pakshir played the Iranian tonbak (a type of drum).  The inclusion of a dance, performed by Celine Tao, amidst the drummers highlighted and augmented the rhythm

11.03.17 TaikoThe first time I attended Taiko drumming, I was taken by surprise. Held in a small concert hall, 20 students stood in front of their drums and, at the appropriate time, whaled on them, to the point of startling everyone from their seats. It reminded me of sitting at the side of the parade, with bass drums vibrations cursing throughout your body, massaging and stirring each organ.

In this larger performance space, the sound fills the area but it’s slightly less dramatic. Over the years I’ve noticed that students and instructors have advanced to some really fine tuning and sophisticated drumming patterns. Director Barbara Merjan described some history and construction of the drums, which provided opportunity for additional appreciation.