George D Seymour State Park

28 03 2018

Seymour SP 1

From the DEEP site: George Dudley Seymour was a man of vision. In 1883, at the age of 24, he began his law career in New Haven. His great success as a patent attorney provided him with the wealth necessary to fulfill his desire of land preservation in many areas of the state. In addition to the acquisition of this 334 acre park which bears his name, Seymour and his foundation acquired all or part of seven other state parks: Beaver Brook, Becket Hill, Bigelow Hollow, Hurd, Millers Pond, Platt Hill, and Stoddard Hill state parks and the Nathan Hale State Forest.

This park location in Seymour’s name was once the estate of George, Henry and Thomas Clark. Their Clark Cutaway Harrow Company in Higganum successfully produced cider presses, disk harrows, hay spreaders, plows, carriage jacks and other necessities of the day in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. Their wealth enabled them to purchase the land and build their family estate at this location along the Connecticut River. The estate was called Clarkhurst for their own surname, and -hurst, meaning a wooded piece of rising ground.  Here along the floodplain their comfortable lives played out and their agricultural tools were tested.

Over the years Henry purchased the property from his brothers, but with his passing in 1914 the mansion and many buildings began their decline.  Deeded to his daughter in 1921, she attempted the maintenance of the property through the development of a golf course and other recreational facilities. But by the depression years of the 1930s, overgrowth and structural collapse had sealed its fate.  In 1942 the land was acquired by Mrs. Marion Guthrie who, though she attempted its quick sale ultimately held it until 1960.  Gladly the George Dudley Seymour Foundation provided the $60,000 necessary and the Connecticut Forest and Park Association was able to purchase the land for the state.

It is interesting to note that native grasses across the state have been altered or replaced over time as a result of various land uses. But here on these floodplain soils, grass species that date from the 1600s or earlier can be found. These grasses predate European colonization and represent a time only the Native peoples were witness to. These and other grasslands within the park provide an excellent location for bird watching. In the spring of some years the DEEP manages this habitat with mowing and through controlled burns.

Wrasslin Cats 1

We lunched at Two Wrasslin’ Cats, East Haddam. Good food, great ethics, home to Saturday vigils and various marches.


Middletown Hero: Major General Maurice Rose

19 02 2018

Maurice Rose signA year or so ago, a sign went up on Route 9 as it passed north through my town, Middletown, CT. A section of the road was dedicated to the memory of Major General Maurice Rose. I decided to find out more.

Maurice Rose birthplace plaqueMaurice Rose was born in Middletown in 1899; a plaque marks the location on Main Street. When he was four, his family moved to Denver. Rose was determined to join the military and served in both World War I and II.

MauriceRose wiki

It was in 1944 in Germany, after multiple medals and heroic accomplishments, that Rose was shot by the Germans. His initial grave was later moved to the Netherlands.

In his memory, the following are named after him: a school in the Netherlands, a hospital in Denver, a Jewish War Veterans Post 51 in Middletown, and the Middletown Armed Forces Reserve Center.

Maurice Rose colleague Bob SwirskyThe most remarkable occurrence at a recent presentation about Rose by Post 51’s Karen Uberti was the arrival of a WWII colleague. Almost ninety-eight year old Bob Swarsky arrived by wheelchair, maneuvered by his friend Glenn, to tell of his personal recollections of the day that Rose was killed. With hearing and mental agility that surpassed most of us in the room, Swarsky spoke about many efforts of the 3rd Armored Division, First Army.

Maurice Rose display at JWV51As those who served during that time get fewer and fewer, it becomes even more important and poignant to hear their stories and honor their memories.

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!

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!


Nature and Art Converge

22 05 2017

IMG_2748Nestled in the woods in eastern Connecticut lies a unique, eclectic, edgy – I don’t know what – artist colony, center, living installation? Located on about 450 acres adjacent to a state park, I-Park is an anomaly, a creative endeavor, a unique way of looking at landscape, nature, and its intersection with art. Brain child of co-founders Joanne Paradis (now Executive Director) and Ralph Crispino, it provides a safe haven for creativity to prosper.

With various studios scattered over the main blueprint of the property, this international artist-in-residency program is far from the madding crowd and provides a place of peace and restorative energy. Since 2001, more than 800 artists have created visual, auditory, and textual pieces both inside and on the landscape.

Recently, a ribbon cutting ceremony opened new studio space, and simultaneously welcomed twelve 2017 site responsive artists-in-residence from wide ranging locations (USA, China, Sweden, Japan, and the Netherlands). They will be provided with bird walks, history talks, and other presentations to provide a sense of their location, to be integrated into their work while on site.

IMG_2764Ceremony attendees were treated to a vocal performance by Raymond C. White, who sang O Sole Mio and other works in a bellowing voice as he was transported across a beautiful pond on a floating platform by its constructor Ted Efremoff.  The sun set behind them as they docked what was called the “Floating Living Room.” Minds that think of terms like that follow different neuron pathways than the common brain. Where do they get these ideas? The novelty, creativity, and uniqueness of their thoughts and visions manifest themselves across the I-Park landscape which provides the environment to “nurture artists and the creative process.”

Groundhog Parade

6 02 2017

joe-at-essex-parade-2017-alisa-lebovitzJanuary 29, 2017

My friend Joe, color guard for the Sailing Masters, the Essex CT fife and drum corps, told me about the Essex Groundhog Parade. The weekend before Groundhog Day, a plastic six-foot groundhog statue (“Essex Ed”) is loaded onto a truck near the cove, driven a half mile through this small town of 6,500, and followed by antique cars, the Ancient Mariners, and local groups. Wearing groundhog paraphernalia, spectators bang pots and pans. Each year, a different sponsor dresses Essex Ed in timely costume.


Looking for something silly and nonpolitical, I convinced three of my Essex colleagues who had also never been to the parade to join me. When we arrived, my friend Barbara, who knows everyone in town, led us to the staging area, where she whispered that Ed would be Edna this year for the first time. With flourishes and drum roll, along with hot chocolate and groundhog-shaped cookies, organizers opened a huge garage door to see the fruition of the Child and Family Agency’s efforts: and it’s….Edna as Princess Leia!!

Image may contain: 1 person, sky and outdoor

Somehow, we were invited to march with Child and Family Agency members and away we went, banging our pots and cowbell. The Ancient Mariners led the way, followed by a small contingency from Punxsutawney, PA, the home of Phil, the famous groundhog.  Then our group, followed by the local girls’ crew team – women predominated here this year. Some old cars, and then came Princess Leia in the back of a bright yellow Dickenson Witch Hazel truck. In no time, we reached Main Street and waved at the viewers in their silly hats who were making a racket with their spoons and pot lids. Smiles all around, with marchers greeting bystanders they recognized. Even I, an out-of-towner, saw people along the route I know.


In Connecticut, the land of steady habits, in a small town where Main Street still boasts homes primarily from 1790 to 1820, a median income of $89,000, but a history rich in rebellion, an agency whose very services are under fire chose for the first time to dress this town’s tradition as a woman, and one admired for the qualities of strength and hope, no less. To me, it was a subtle political statement, somewhat masked by the good-natured participation of those attending. But I was proud to have been able to add my noise to the celebration.


Princess Leia, shine your message of strength and hope on us as we march through the remaining weeks of winter, however many more there may be!

Additional Photo Credits: Alisa Lebovitz, Barbara Benjamin Haines

Baby Birds

10 01 2017


January 10,2017

A long-time friend recently gave me a copy of Julie Zickefoose’s book, Baby Birds. Her treatise is a multi-year project involving drawing and discoursing on baby birds from hatching to fledging. Julie, a former Connecticut resident, conveys the miracle of life, the importance of each and every being, and how one person can make a difference, in these seventeen life history chapters. Her drawings are exquisite and her commentary is as direct and unpretentious as she

I’ve allow myself only one chapter each night, and I am drawn into my own memories when I reach the one covering Tree Swallows. The murmuration at the mouth of the Connecticut River is described by Julie as “a little-known autumnal ritual of roosting swallow flocks [which] remains among the most impressive ornithological spectacles I’ve ever witnessed.” Since her time, this phenomenon has become “discovered” but it doesn’t make it any less magical. I’ve loved introducing people to this experience…sitting in a kayak as sunset, while being buzzed by hundreds which then become thousands of swallows flying in from hither and yon. I can imagine their conversations amidst their twitterings, “Just got back from Hammonasset,” “Where’s the South Cove group?” and so on.

beth-and-marcy-pointing-at-swallowsPhoto Credit: AA White

As we sit floating, the sun dips in the west and the grouping of birds grows larger and larger. False swoops into the reeds, followed by rising waves back into the sky. How do they keep from flying into each other? And finally, with my binoculars trained on the birds, I shout, “Here it comes!” They funnel and gather, and then, swish, they are all settled into the reeds for the night. Done. Amazing.

Some colleagues out there on the water with me have missed the climax. They were focused on their bota box, cheese, and crackers. And, honestly, it’s a lovely setting for all that, even if you miss the birds. And quite honestly it isn’t always exactly the same. Sometimes, there are several funnels and it’s less dramatic. But it’s always magical.


Ah, “California dreamin’…on a winter’s day.” Here I am thinking about Tree Swallows when we have at least eight inches of new snow. I’m grateful to be able to stay home; there’s a 30-vehicle pile-up on the nearby highway. I get a kick out of watching the gyrations of the birds using my whimsical, out-of-proportion hummingbird-lookalike feeder during even the fiercest part of this storm. Tomorrow, the sun will come out, we will all shovel out, and I’ll return to winter. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the daydreaming of summer was exactly part of all the winter stories and tales from our ancestors as they huddled in front of the fire, waiting for the return of spring. And I relish the connection with these birds, bringing me back to Julie’s approach, recognizing the importance of each one, and our connection to all living things.