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.

Barnes Memorial Nature Preserve and Friendly’s in Bristol, CT

29 10 2015

27 October 2015

Bristol Friendly hike 10.27.15.jpg 002Today, it was 37 degrees when Cherry and I met at the parking lot in Middletown to head to Bristol (where the kids are sharp as a pistol). At 8:30, there was commuter traffic and we decided we could leave later next time.

While admiring fall colors, we caught up in the car, covering Cherry’s open house a few weeks’ prior. She was pleased with the results, where her friends and family, who had heard about each other for years, finally had the opportunity to meet. I assured her that I enjoyed putting faces to all her family’s names.

After a brief set of wrong turns, we arrived at the Barnes Memorial Nature Preserve on Shrub Road. Originally owned by The Nature Conservancy (my former employer), the area boasted of three miles of marked trails. Although the center was closed, we could see three aviaries in the back on the second floor. One had an owl, the other a raptor, both of which must have been undergoing rehabilitation. Several woodpecker species foraged in the parking lot trees.

We started on the red trail, which included a small rash of labeled trees, before petering out. We crossed Falls Brook and continued until we reached the yellow trail. That took us to the top of Pigeon Hill, an esker formed during glacial melt twelve thousand years ago. Along the way, Cherry shared her recent adventure to the source of the Connecticut River with her stepmother, Barbara. They enjoyed poking around the quiet and peaceful small towns in northern Vermont and New Hampshire.

We missed the white trail intersection, so returned to the junction with the blue trail and followed the Tunxis Trail north. We were impressed with the large trees and lack of bird activity. This time around, we found the white trail connector and completed our loop. Our hike lasted about an hour. By then, it was almost 11:30, a respectable time for lunch.

Friendly’s in Bristol was on Route 6 and easy to find. Our waitress, Amy, was amenable and led us to a sunny table by the window. I ordered the newest $5 meal (chicken fingers), while Cherry had soup and salad. While eating, I shared my efforts to reach out to repair some gaps that had developed with some of my friends and family over time. Following the Jewish New Year tradition of seeking forgiveness, I had listed ten people to include in this effort, along with ten projects I’d wanted to work on. I felt a bit discouraged with my progress, but Cherry encouraged me to consider a longer time frame for completion.Bristol Friendly hike 10.27.15.jpg 007

By then, our sundaes had arrived and life was good again. Amazing what a little ice cream can do! Returning to Middletown, by early afternoon, we separated with intentions of making good progress on our To Do lists.

And next month? Avon!

Update on Thomas and Victoria Williams

17 09 2015

East Hartford cemetery and meeting 003Yesterday, I visited the Center Cemetery in East Hartford, CT, to check on the Williams grave. Marty had alerted me to a new marker she’d seen online, so I checked it out. Sure enough, the Friends of Center Cemetery had erected a plaque identifying Thomas and his history. Thirty markers total were scattered around in what will become a podcast site tour option. Others included freed slaves, Civil War casualties, small pox victims, and captains lost at sea.

East Hartford cemetery and meeting 004Later, I met some of the Cemetery Friends and they described an encounter with a great-grandson at the cemetery one day. They had an informative conversation with him. He had mixed reactions to the attention paid to Thomas: proud but reserved about the publicity. The cemetery group lost contact with him and hope to reconnect (FCenterCemetery@gmail.com) with family members.

East Hartford cemetery and meeting 009After visiting the cemetery, I spoke at the annual meeting of the East Hartford Historical Society. This devoted group of historians eagerly heard how I discovered Thomas and Victoria’s story, my research, connections with Williams family members, and how I integrated the information into my latest novel, Caravan of Dreams. I was particularly pleased that I was able to bring this information back to East Hartford, where Thomas and Victoria ultimately resided in the Old Farmer’s Hotel. Life does come full circle!

Ragged Mountain and Friendly’s in Southington

10 09 2015

8 September 2015

Ragged Moutain 09.08.15 003So we thought it was hot last month when we hiked, but today, again, it was in the 90s and humid. A record. But fear not, Cherry and I forged ahead with our plans to hike at Ragged Mountain in Southington.

We met on Route 66 in Middletown and, after some confusion about our hike location, we piled into my car and headed off. We found the trailhead easily and were pleased to see a clear map posted there. Less exciting was the notice that coyotes were defending their young in dens and people with dogs should be on alert.

We decided to take the woods road to the peak, catch the view, and then return to the car. Although it would be only two miles, we thought that would be sufficient in this weather. We started at 8:30AM on the upward adventure.

Gratefully, the entire trail was forested and the heat hadn’t invaded the understory at that point. Cherry was excited about the balance in her life, her ability to have enough quiet time and interactions. She was choosing how to spend her energy and was looking forward to getting a new bench on her property, so she could sit and watch her garden.

It wasn’t long before we reached the top. The overview was stunning, looking into Kensington, down on the reservoirs, and across to other ridges. Surprisingly there were white pine, not pitch, on the ridgeline here. Many plants, blueberries in particular, were wilted from the drought. We saw two other hikers along the ridge who also were trying to beat today’s heat by getting an early start.

On our return trip, I talked about upcoming hikes and workshops on ecotherapy I’d be leading. Always the cheerleader, Cherry was excited that Middletown Recreation Services was supporting my work.

By 10AM, we were back at our cars and headed to Southington’s Friendly’s. It was less friendly than most of the others, so far, and the ambience was neutral. No special effects or experiences. I had the $5 bacon burger; Cherry had soup and salad. We both topped it off with sundaes. Polite wait staff but not willing to make a special effort. Am I getting jaded?

We looked at our next location, which we decided will be Bristol. I wondered aloud how long we’d been hiking together. Four years, Cherry guessed. I thought we had been hiking when she’d taken her Holy Land trip, which was five years ago. We both remembered the impetus—a summer get-together when a former hiking friend came east to visit, which Cherry pursued that following March. When I looked it up later, I discovered we started in Spring 2010. Wow, time flies.

Shining Encouragement

24 08 2015

Dancing girl with sunflower 001It is summer and I am walking up the hill through a tree-covered archway on a dirt road, as I have done regularly for the past thirty years. I pause, as usual, at the Dancing Girl, a spindly hemlock with its trunk and roots resembling a gracefully moving young woman. But today, a few feet away from her splaying roots, in the gravelly till of the roadside, I catch sight of a splash of yellow rays and I stop short. Dead in my tracks, as they say.

For years, I’ve noticed this tree, with its roots exposed and clinging to rocky outcrops. They resemble legs, its trunk a torso, and its branches the swaying arms and head of a dancing girl. For decades, I’ve hiked up this dirt road and encountered a host of oddities, including discarded condoms and bundles of the Hartford Courant, enormous dead fish, blood-red saprophytic plants, and glimpses of fisher cats and red fox. One day, I was stung under the rim of my glasses on my eyebrow by a yellow jacket. Another, I tumbled head over heels into a ravine for no reason at all. “Okay”, I’ve shouted to whatever essence was floating around me. “Enough. I will find and tell your story.“

Now, I have started my story, writing what I was meant to write. It has taken me years, decades. All this time, I walk by the Dancing Girl and pay tribute, thanking her, my muse, for this story. Giving the Dancing Girl updates on my minuscule progress, I watch her succumb to hemlock wooly adelgid and become a bare skeleton, as her tops break off and her bark chips settle on the ground. Yet, she still clings to the rocky roadside.

I have begun, the story is being told, and as I write, I discover it’s not just the Dancing Girl who has changed over these years, but both of us. I have moved from one who identified the species of trees and gave all things names to someone who experiences those things’ presence. I have changed from one who experienced those things’ presence to someone who realizes I am actually those things, just as they are me. We are all interconnected, and all filled with the same grace that permeates our world, if we are open to it.

I pass through the tree archway, no longer evergreen hemlocks but tall swaying oaks and maples and ash. But there I am, naming again. I open my heart to these sheltering trees and I hear them whisper, “We will protect you.” I sense it so strongly; I feel tears of relief. I belong, I am them, they are me, we are part of this living organism, this earth. My role is clear: to live as present and harmoniously with life as is possible. And to tell others about it.

“We have begun, the story is being told.” I tell the Dancing Girl, even though she is dead, that her tale will now live on past her decaying trunk. I encourage her to let go and crash to the ground and finally come to rest. Yet, she stubbornly stays.

And now, today, I am startled by the splash of yellow. A small sunflower has pushed up through this hostile, shady, nutrient poor, salt-filled substrate and is smiling at us. He humbles me in his simplicity and beauty, optimism, and sense of continuity. “Dancing Girl,” I say, “you are still here.”

Hiking for Friendly’s: Tyler Mill Preserve and North Haven Friendly’s

19 08 2015

17 August 2015

Tyler Mill Park Wallingford w Diane Saunders 08.17.15 005

Diane Saunders

It may not have been the hottest or most humid day of the summer, but it was close. Regardless, Cherry and I met in Durham at 8AM to continue our Hiking for Friendly’s.

Route 68 towards I-91 was shut down due to an accident, but fortuitously, the detour took us directly to Tyler Mill Preserve in Wallingford. Armed with a map I’d downloaded, we parked and took off at 8:30AM. We entered the 1,000-acre park at its northern end and found the well-marked red trail. We started a clockwise exploration, moving quickly past it’s junction with the yellow and then orange trails. We enjoyed crossing forested wetlands with high rock outcrops on the eastern edge.

Cherry had just returned from a week’s silent retreat where she appreciated daily walks and swims plus an occasional massage. I’d just hosted a beach day attended by 25 of my beloved family. Life was good.

We reached Tamarac Swamp Road and swung around towards our parking area. Suddenly, I was confronted by a sign suggesting a continuation of the red trail not on my map. We decided to be adventurous and take the 2.2-mile extension. Shortly, we encountered another decision point, loop to the left or right. We chose left.

Cherry was excited about an upcoming party she’s hosting where her friends and family will meet each other. After hearing about sisters Missy and Holly and stepmother Barbara for years, I too was looking forward to the event. I shared my current strategy of taking August as vacation—trying to do as much as possible to recognize and meet my needs.

When we saw a fenced area, we stopped to read the sign describing a wildflower restoration area done with the assistance of Lyman Hall students. As we contemplated the project, a woman approached and described their activities removing invasives (multiflora rose and Russian Olive) and planting bird and butterfly-friendly natives. Suddenly, both Cherry and this woman, who turned out to be Diane Saunders, recognize each other as former colleagues at UCONN Extension! We got a personal tour of the project and guidance to some of the unusual sights in the area. And a revised copy of the map to get us back to our car. Three hours after starting, we arrived, covered with sweat but pleased with both the property and serendipity that life can bring.

And then, to North Haven Friendly’s where a cheerful Danielle allowed me to grab a printed paper roll filled with mazes, word searches, and other kid-friendly activities. (She even gave me crayons!) Searching the menu, Cherry discovered we were entitled to a ten-percent discount and free sundaes due to our senior status. Will the surprises at Friendly’s ever end?

While devouring sandwiches and sundaes, we looked at our list of Friendly’s to determine our next month’s stop. To be announced!