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.

Beyond the Horizon

27 11 2017

Beyond the HorizonI am drawn to the opening of Beyond the Horizon, landscapes by Ashby Carlisle and Rick Silberberg, because it is being held in a building designed by Sol LeWitt, whose work I’d seen recently at Mass MoCA. Once inside The Main Street Gallery in Chester, I am impressed by the crowds and enthusiastic response to the artists. I overhear one woman say to another, “Look at this trio of paintings, reasonably priced. You could get the group of them.” Although the price list is above my means, as I walk around, I am tempted.

At the reception, there is the requisite wine, cheese/crackers, dips, and jazz duo. Carlisle’s work calls to me; the nature scenes are simple upon initial view but more complex as I scrutinize them. Paper collage, wire, soldered or rolled paper buds; suggestion of movement, weather, pain or joy. Pastels suggesting sunsets or rises, water, sky. Cleverly disguised wire holders that merge into the piece to provide horizons, the edge between land and water or water and air. Paper bits with words or letters or perhaps even computer code, only discernable upon close inspection.

I overhear a conversation among three women about aging wisely, and join in. One well-dressed woman explains she’s part of a discussion group using the book by Rabbi Rachel Cowan and Dr. Linda Thal. She and I chat; she’s just celebrated her 82nd birthday and I congratulate her. She’s here as a friend of Silberberg and owns one of his pieces but would like to meet Carlisle. I introduce them, although I’ve never met Ashby before (I recognize her from the pre-event publicity). Ashby and I continue talking as our octogenarian moves on. Turns out her husband is one of the musicians; she’s moved her studio to New London, my home town, so I sense our connection growing.

I hear my name and a friend has arrived so I mingle; turns out Diane has sung with one of the musicians and I tell her that’s Ashby’s husband, which she didn’t realize. Here we are, making lovely, connecting loops between my worlds. I do love how life flows when we let it!

This show continues through January 26, 2018, Monday through Friday, 10am-3pm. The Main Street Gallery, 55 East Kings Highway, Chester, CT


20 11 2017

Mass Moca ticket

A friend texts on a Friday night: “Wanna go to MASS MoCA with me tomorrow?” Sure, I think, getting out would be a healthy thing and I like MASS MoCA. We arrange transportation details and, first thing Saturday AM, we start off.

The time in the car flies by, as we catch up on each other’s life since we last spoke. His mom had grown up in North Adams, so this is a home-coming for him, although he’d never been to the museum before. I love the Sol LeWitt material, mainly the concept of prescribing a piece of art in the way LeWitt does.

MASS MoCA Turrell Fred AlbertA highlight of the visit is James Turrell’s Perfectly Clear. We are part of a timed entrance into this space, where the docent explains that the back wall appears to continue on, but actually is alarmed on its edges because there is a five-foot drop. With special paint enhancing the experience of light, this exhibit requires us to don protective clothing. (Small aside: MASS mOCA BOOTIESI am so overwhelmed with the instructions and light that I quickly slide the provided blue covering on my head, only to be gently corrected by the docent that these are for my shoes. Oops.) We enter the exhibit and it feels foggy, entrenched in thick air and I look at my hands to confirm they still are visible – it is so convincing. As the light show continues, when I close my eyes, I see the complementary colors. A very fascinating experience.

I am totally enthralled and curious about Dawn DeDeaux’s digital drawings, particularly one of a lace dress and another of a figure cloaked in a quill-covered garment. A new medium for me, and I strike up a conversation with a student who has used this method in one of his classes. He describes the process and I wonder how much of this is true art and we get into a discussion about that. If I use a typewriter, word processor, or hand-write, it is still words coming from my head. But if I use a computer to generate strokes and color, shading and such, am I doing graphic design or art? Ah, I certainly am not one to make those types of decisions.

My legs are tired but my companion wants to see ALL the buildings because he’s not sure when he’ll return. So, we streak through the Sol LeWitt and a few other floors before we (or at least I) collapse in the car for our two-hour trip home. Grateful for the proximity of this eclectic quirky museum.

Hiking for Friendly’s: Case Mountain and Manchester Friendly’s

17 11 2017

15 November 2017

Manchester Case Mt overlook 11.15.17

Frosty, brisk, but sunny when Cherry and I meet to head to Manchester, one of our four remaining Friendly’s sites. We arrive by 9:30; I’d hoped it would take longer to get there, so it would be warmer when we started. But here we are, Case Mountain. The trailhead map calls it Highland Park, the printed material I have indicates it’s a short but steep walk to the overlook, and the return trip can be extended by taking the Carriage Road. OK, we agree, we will take the longer route or else our lunch will start before 11AM.

We climb up, catching our breath occasionally, as we talk local politics. National news. Refugees. Deportees. Difficult subjects for such a beautiful day. Frosty edges on fallen leaves. Quiet in the woods. Within a half hour, we reach the overlook and gaze at the juxtaposition of the up-close natural setting compared with the stick-looking buildings of Hartford in the distance. Several people walk by with their dogs and we become engaged in conversation with the owner of Harry, an exuberant Australian Shepherd. He (the owner) is interested in our Hiking For Friendly’s project and shares some wonderful childhood memories of eating there and then going to bowling every Saturday morning, or trying to consume an Awful-awful. As a Wilbraham Academy student, he was aware that the Blake brothers, Friendly’s founders, helped support his school also. He shared that Friendly’s hired a young man-gone-wrong that he and his wife had sponsored. We have found an audience.


Manchester Case Mt Harry and Kirk 11.15.17We are invited to join him and Harry on their travels in the southern portion of the park, which will extend our hike significantly and we agree. We head off on more obscure trails that wind through glacial erratics and above water-filled gorges. We talk of their trip to New Zealand waterfalls and our guide shares photos from his phone. Harry’s love for water. How dogs keep us fit. Our hiking plans when we finish Friendly’s. Harry and his owner leave us at the southern tip of the park and Cherry and I meander back towards my car.

Cherry talks about an upcoming church convention. Her cat’s excitement of finding a mouse in her house. I share my need for distraction and busy-ness. At some point, I worry, as the trail leader, that we may be off course, but we encounter others walking toward us who reassure us we are close to the parking lot.

We find the Carriage Trail and wander along Chase Pond, which is lovely this time of year. Still, peaceful, hint of fall reflections. Near the road, we find the waterfall and remnants of Highland Park. And we are back to the car, five miles later.

And it’s almost 1PM and we are starving. Friendly’s sounds even better than usual! We reach the Buckland Hills restaurant and glide into our red bench seats. The waitress comes and we are all ready; no, don’t bring our waters and then take our order! Cherry has the tuna (probably not again, she confides later) and I splurge with the 1300-calorie honey BBQ chicken and bacon on brioche. I do manage to save half for later (which turns out to be 4PM, I admit sheepishly) and we enjoy our sundaes.

Manchester Friendlys 11.15.17Cherry shares with me, and our waitress, her conversations with the Cromwell Friendly’s manager about celebrating the end of our Connecticut Friendly’s tour in the spring… only three more to go! Wow, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Hiking for Friendly’s: Talcott Mt, Avon

29 10 2017

18 October 2017

Trap Rock along Trail:

Talcott Mt trail traprock

Interior of Tower:

Talcott Mt tower interior

View from the Top:

Talcott Mt view with shadow

View of the Tower:

Talcott Mt tower with foliage

Avon Friendly’s Exterior:

Talcott Mt Avon Friendlys exterior

Avon Friendly’s Sign of the Times:

Talcott Mt Avon Friendlys