Vernon Rails-to-Trails and Friendly’s

23 08 2017

18 August 2017

Vernon trail view

The weather isn’t promising; in fact, my phone indicated rain most of the morning and thunderstorms at 9:15. But Cherry and I decide to hike anyway. As she quips, “The worst thing that could happen is we have a short hike and a long time to enjoy the food and ice cream at Friendly’s!”

We meet and head to Vernon around 9AM, just after rush hour traffic. Cherry’s had some family time with her half-sister, visiting from England with hubby and two kids. They all spent a day, along with her step-mom and other family members, at Look Park in Northampton, MA. Cherry describes the fun they had on the train, picnicking, and being together, which is special when some live across the pond.

Vernon rocks and plantsThrough my intuitive sense of direction (strongly lacking in Cherry, she always says), we find the Vernon Rails-to-Trails crossing on Taylor Street. We park on a nearby side street and head north. We both are surprised by the beauty of the surroundings. And the weather is holding; “I won’t say the “R” word,” Cherry declares.

Excellent signs describe the rail history of the area. We see remnants of track and talk about the Essex Steam Train, now able to travel northward into Haddam. I am disappointed the line won’t be converted into a hiking trail at this point.

Vernon Reading TrailWe see families with bicycle and other walkers, especially near the parking area. Here, we encounter a Reading Trail, something I’d not heard of but Cherry knew. For National Trails Day, the Vernon Park & Rec Department partnered with a local bookstore to establish a mile-long Reading Trail, where Curious George Makes Pancakes is parsed out, page by page. I think of my grandson’s love of George and how this would inspire children to walk!

After an hour, we decide to return to the car. We refuse to say the “R” word, but it’s starting to look ominous. We talk about friends and the difference between activities companions and true friends. Cherry’s thought a lot about this, and suggests that being friends with herself is most important, although a bit more challenging.

And then to Friendly’s, a brief six-minute drive! Well, actually I pull in too soon and we park at the neighboring fast food place and climb a small embankment to enter Friendly’s. Our waitress, Abby, can’t me more than 16; she must be at least that to work, right? Cherry notices an enlarged photo on the wall of three young women in the 1950s and tells Abby she had a dress like the one on the left and used to come to Friendly’s in Holyoke when she was young. “I used to come when I was a kid, too,” says Abby. Could that have been more than ten years ago, Cherry and I laugh, after Abby leaves our table.

Vernon Friendlys queen for a dayI try to convince Cherry to be Queen of Friendly’s for a day, but she leaves the crown at the register. And as we drive home, we laugh about the silent “R” word – it was perfect weather! We are chugging through the remaining Connecticut options; according to my notes, we only have six more to go!



Pachaug State Forest, Voluntown and Norwich Friendly’s

18 07 2017

10 July 2017

Pachaug Rhodies 07.10.17

Cherry and I pick another perfect day to head to Pachaug State Forest in Voluntown. It’s a long trip, an hour and a half, but the time flies as we chat. Recently, Cherry and her colleagues (church friends, local officials, park staff) welcomed a group kayaking down the Connecticut River when they arrived at Haddam Meadows State Park. It was pouring when they paddled up, almost perfectly on time, and all relished the food, coffee, company, and tents that had been prepared for their arrival.

Today, we travel country roads until we see signs for Pachaug. We enter the forest and park at the Mount Misery campground where we spy the sign for the Rhododendron Sanctuary. We’ve chosen this location for today because the plants will be in flower. The path, handicap accessible, is level and easy. We notice plenty of gypsy moth eggs clustered on trees, which frustrates both of us. We pass through tall cedar trees and spot the Rhodie flowers, a few at first and then tall bushes full! They have a slight aroma and it feels magical. We continue along the boardwalk to the end, where we spot a few painted turtles basking. We encounter a bicyclist on the return to the parking area, but otherwise, it is still.

We decide to walk behind the campground in search of the trail to Mount Misery. We never do find it, but enjoy the open feel to the woodlands and the mystery of not knowing where we are. We walk about 45 minutes and decide to return to the car. My stomach is rumbling and ready for lunch!

The Norwich Friendly’s is a half hour away, an easy ride, and a fresh-looking building. We are surprised inside to find it full and busy. Our server, Yo-yo, confides that she was late and forgot her name tag today (Cherry had to ask her name). We order: fishamajig for Cherry, turkey/bacon burger for me, both with applesauce (which I spy in the kitchen coming from a supermarket-sized Motts jar!). Our sundaes were cookie dough and forbidden chocolate and we eat every last drop, scraping the metal sides of our dishes.

Pachaug Norwich Friendlys empty sundae cups 07.10.17

As we finish up, Cherry confides in Yo-yo about our project of visiting all the Friendly’s in Connecticut and pairing them with a hike. She is genuinely interested and we toy with the idea of letting Corporate Headquarters know about our plans. I think maybe we are far enough along that we can let the cat out of the bag. Perhaps I will post this to their website or FB page and see if anything happens!

We are full and content as we return to Middletown where Cherry parked her car. All ready to plan our next escapade!


Hunting in Wartime

7 07 2017

29 June 2017

Hunting in Wartime HPLRecently, the Hartford Public Library sponsored a screening of  and discussion with director Samantha Farinella. This award-winning documentary highlights the lives of Tlingit veterans from Hoonah, a small fishing village in Alaska. Their entire male high school graduating class went off to Vietnam, all but one returned, but their lives were changed forever. Many began drinking heavily, experienced emotional and physical illnesses, and found their way of life challenged by changes in fishing regulations and influx of logging industries from the lower United States.

Hunting in Wartime is a brilliant work, integrating the local culture and its threat of disappearance, the impact of timbering, the loss of fishing, and the impact of PTSD from the Vietnam war. It vividly portrayed the horrific fallout from the use of agent orange on our American veterans and the lack of services available to those who had such a struggle during this war, the fact that they were not necessarily volunteers, and then the general country’s reaction to them when they returned, still reeling from the dreadful things they had seen and done.

Hunting in wartime SamanthaMoving and compelling, parts of the film was difficult to watch, as there is authentic footage showing carnage and the realities of war. I had to look away at times, but continually behind the footage were the voices of the Native American veterans and their story. And the intensity was relaxed through the use of an animated folk story that was relevant and instructive in the ways of the native people. The veterans would describe, “You’re smiling on the outside but you’re cold on the inside” and then the animated folk story of the beginning of their people would intervene: Their father the Sun sent five boys and one girl down in a basket. “Pull the strings if you’re scared,” said the Sun.

Samantha engaged the Tlingit community in all aspects of the production of the documentary. For example, they modified her title and suggested changes in the animation to make it more authentically native. The process of interviewing encouraged Tlingit veterans to talk about their experiences and also to each other.

Hunting in Wartime Carol talking

Since its completion, similar screenings and discussion were held in several Alaskan areas, notably Hoonah, Juneau, and Homer. Carol Vinick, Hartford area activist and Farinella’s mother-in-law, described how these talk-backs helped unite the native community and build bridges between them and non-natives. In some instances, law enforcement officers had a transformation when they realize that they had experienced similar issues in Vietnam. Poignant and timely, three Hoonah veterans have passed since the project began.

Hunting in Wartime Carol samantha Tom

Many of us had attended an initial fundraiser for the project at Carol and her husband Tom Connolly’s home several years ago. All   invited to celebrate there after the recent screening, bringing things full circle, somewhat parallel to the Tlingit veterans experience of returning home, changed but ultimately united again.

Hiking For Friendly’s: Kettletown State Park and Southbury Friendly’s

3 07 2017


Kettletown hemlock ravine.jpg28 June 2017

Our local weather person calls today a “10” and Cherry and I agree. We head west to Kettletown State Park around 9AM under clear skies and temperatures in the 70s. We arrive an hour later, find parking near the Brook Trail, and start off. The park is almost deserted and quite lovely. The hemlock-lined ravine provides a tranquil environment for us to talk. Cherry says Erik Hesselberg has written her uncle’s story in the July issue of the Hartford Magazine. The Singing Preacher at Ellis Island, Uncle John Evans helped immigrants arriving in America, a tradition Cherry has continued, without realizing it until Erik pointed it out.

Kettletown eraticIt doesn’t take us long to reach the junction with the blue Pomperaug Trail and then its junction with the Crest Trail. I am on the look for skinks, a type of lizard, and the only one found in Connecticut. I think the crest habitat might be a possible place for them, so we decide to walk along there first.  As we reach an open area, we notice gypsy moth caterpillars hanging from trunks in abundance. “Those head down are dead from the fungus,” I say, having just researched the topic. We look more closely at one of the trunks and see dozens, maybe a hundred pupae! I grab a stick and scrape scores of them off, only realizing I should have photographed them before doing that.

Kettletown lake Zoar

I see an area that seems “skinky” to me, so I head off the trail while Cherry parallels me above on trail. No luck and I rejoin her. After about an hour, we reach an overlook of Lake Zoar, the expanded area on the Housatonic River that is at the base of this outcrop. Views are lovely and we contemplate how Native American village remnants were flooded by the lake establishment and the hunting and fishing rights were obtained by the exchange of a kettle (hence the park’s name).

We continue along the Crest Trail, up and down, and realize it’s been awhile since we’ve covered such challenging terrain. We finally reach the southern junction with the Pomperaug Trail. “Halfway,” I say, drinking my water. The signage throughout is excellent, so we know exactly where we are.



We continue northerly and then take a side trail west to the Camp Ground and walk the rest of the way back to the car on the road, until we hook up with the path near the beach. We are impressed with the accessible camping site and enjoy walking the boards back. I suggest to Cherry we can veer off the trail, up a steep embankment and would end up right where we parked (at least I hoped so!). Up we went, and sure enough, back to our starting point. Four and a half miles; we’ve earned our ice cream.

It’s only a few minutes to the Friendly’s, according to my directions. We head north of Southbury and it’s residential, away from the highway, and I start to wonder if I’m in the right place. Suddenly, we see a sign for Heritage Village and find ourselves in the midst of the retirement community. “This can’t be right,” I start to say, as I slow for a stop sign. And there, on the corner, is Friendly’s.

Cherry and I are seated, with Hailey being our waitress. The place is full, hosting people of all ages. We order our fare: grilled cheese for Cherry (she’s going to an Ice Cream Social later today) and Philly cheesesteak (again) for me. Good food, forbidden chocolate sundaes with hot fudge, chocolate sprinkles for each of us. This is the busiest Friendly’s we’ve been in so far. Probably because of that, we agreed the service is adequate but not personal.

Cherry suggests a title for this post, “No skinks but a good time.” I agree and we set a place and time for our next Hike for Friendly’s. See you next month in Norwich!

Nakatani Gong Orchestra

1 07 2017

Gong program

Real Art Ways presented a performance of the Nakatani Gong Orchestra recently and it was a unique experience. Acoustic sound artist and percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani, originally from Japan, conducted and performed “improvised-experimental music, free jazz, and noise, while still retaining the sense of space and beauty found in traditional Japanese folk music” (according to his website). Frustrated by the limited sound produced by striking a gong with a mallet, Nakantani discovered that using a bow (similar to that used on a stringed instrument) along the gong edge could extend the sound. He developed a handmade bow, using a variety of woods as handles, to produce this sound.

Nakatani was also interested in expressing the Japanese concept of Ma, a term that can be used related to time or space. In art, it is sometimes regarded as negative space, that which is imagined between what is presented. In that way, it exists only when experienced by the viewer/listener. It is the space between the trees or the silence between the notes, for example.

gong director

The RAW program began with a solo piece by Nakatani. He used a traditional drum set, augmented by a large and eclectic collection of percussion instruments, including gongs, singing bowls, sticks, and other objects that could make noise when struck. Clashing cymbal plates onto drum head rims, Nakatani fervently worked his tools. He filled singing bowls with metallic objects and swirled them to make a cacophony of sound.  At one point, I could imagine trains coming into a station, their wheels screeching along the rails and rumbling along the tracks.  Nakatani, always in motion during the piece, used a double bow technique that made his playing resemble Aikido or dance-like movements. His forty-minute piece ended with quiet, tranquil resonance.

gong group

The second piece was performed by the Greater Hartford Nakatani Gong Orchestra, comprised of local community members. These dozen-plus musicians gathered the previous evening to learn the skill of bowing a gong, practiced again before the performance, and then shared their competence. With bows and mallets on gongs, the group followed a series of hand signals from Nakatani that were reminiscent of a mixture of American Sign Language and modern dance. Their sound ranged from haunting, eerie, and nerve-jarring to exciting, motivating, and energizing. It was impressive to see how skilled players could become in a relatively short time.

nina 06.25.17.jpg

The audience, too, was eclectic and representative of the greater Hartford neighborhoods and comprised family, friends, and Real Art Ways members, among others. A short personal aside: I attended this concert because a local friend was performing. The morning of the concert when I was still uncertain but hopeful I could attend, I received a phone call from a friend from Atlanta who was driving back there from Massachusetts. She wanted to spend some time at my house and I gave her my parameters: I would be away for the morning and wanted to leave at 6:30pm for a concert. “The Gong concert,” she said! I was astounded she knew about it, and, yes, she would be there. She’d been to the previous night’s rehearsal and intuitively knew I’d be there, before I did. One of her long-time friends was also playing in the orchestra. I love it when my worlds collide!

Gypsy Moth Tonglen

27 06 2017

27 June 2017

We are being eaten alive by gypsy moths in my area. Droppings all over the driveways and porches. Gathering clusters of leaf parcels clipped off and wasted. Trunks of trees lined with crawling caterpillars. Long black lines of final instars inching along leaves and stems of trees…oaks and maples, apples and beech, almost any green thing and every kind.

I look into the canopy and I see sky when I should see leaves. My heart aches for these trees, some in areas previously devastated by hemlock woolly adelgid, and now this. I know how important trees are for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide; we breathe in O2 and out CO2, while trees do the opposite and we form a complementary respiratory cycle. I can feel them struggling to get enough food and oxygen to survive.

UCONN Summer 2015 006.jpgAnd then I remember tonglen meditation. It’s a Buddhist practice of “give and take,” an opportunity to support those in pain. I stand under the trees, I inhale and take in all their pain, suffering, and difficulties that these gypsy moths cause. And I exhale my strongest wishes for the good health and continued sustenance of the trees. I do this multiple times until I have no more to give, or I feel I’ve done enough, or I run out of breath. I’ve asked groups of people on my hikes to do this. Twenty-plus of us standing under a group of gypsy moth-stricken trees, all breathing with them, supporting the trees that help us breathe.

I encourage you to do the same.

23 06 2017

18 June 2017

Ori Beth Uncle Larry

My 92 year-old Uncle Larry has passed away — it is sad, the end of an era, but he went peacefully. Their home was always open for me, my second home. Uncle Larry was a voice of reason, an understanding listener, an engaging story-teller, and a goofball.

We won’t have any new Uncle Larry memories, but his stories will live on.  Who can forget how he’d get lost on the way back from the bathroom or empty the dishwasher in the middle of the night, or goad Auntie Ruthie just to get a rise out of her (and she did rise to the occasion)?

Uncle Larry checks Ori feet 05.02.14Who could forget when he split his pants in the middle to Plant Street, as he rushed around gathering receipts from Youth Colony that he’d left on the top of the car when he drove off? Or when he had words of wisdom, looking at Ori’s newborn feet or always asked for Ori when I’d come to visit alone?

Who could forget when he drove so close to the telephone pole on Pequot Avenue that I had to pull in my right arm resting on the window and jerk the steering wheel towards the center of the road? Or when Kay stopped college for awhile and he said, “Well, there’s no point in going if she doesn’t want to,” without judgement or criticism.  Or when you’d hear that certain tone of voice, “Lah” from Aunt Rivie and you knew he was in trouble and his eyebrows would rise and his bottom lip would push forward and he had a special twinkle in his eye. When she called him “Lawrence,” we knew he was really in trouble.

SAMSUNGAfter Aunt Rivie died, Uncle Larry was well cared for by our families and friends. He was able to enjoy many aspects of life including time in his home, events with family, and trips to the beach.

We will miss the new memories, we will cherish the old ones. We all loved Uncle Larry and he loved all of us. He made us laugh and feel good about ourselves.

Larry Rivie BethWe know that Aunt Rivie and Uncle Larry are now cruising around again together, and they aren’t worrying about a crackdown!

And what does this mean to me? I inch closer to being an Elder, a role I feel incompetent to take. More places remind me of the past, than the present or future. But we have three new babies coming in the family, a poignant reminder that life is a cycle and goes on. That I can grab with gusto. Life is for the living.