Hiking for Friendly’s: Naugatuck SF and Friendly’s

1 05 2017

20 April 2017

It is raining when Cherry and I leave Middletown but clear by the time we park in the west block of Naugatuck State Forest in Beacon Falls. That is partly because the storm is moving away from us, and partly because we need to check and recheck directions to find the entrance. But we arrive around 10AM and start out. We are drawn to this site because of the promise of magnificent waterfalls. However, the trail head doesn’t match the map I’d printed; there is a blue, orange, and unmarked trail and none are on the map! We take the orange.

We talk, as we go upslope. Under a bit of stress lately, Cherry says she divided everything she was doing into whether it fed or drained her. Fortunately for me, preparing a meal for me and my family on a day that my daughter has treatments is on her positive list! Being clear about what she can do has helped her redesign some of her volunteer work. I voice my similar discovery related to some political outreach I am doing.

The trail passes through hemlock forest and I note how wonderful it is to see healthy trees not infested with hemlock woolly adelgid. I speak too soon; we encounter young branches covered with the cottony pests as we head down an unmarked trail to the noisy falls we can almost see below us.

When we reach the bottom, Spruce Brook is a delight! Beautiful yellow violets, gurgling stream, and then waterfall after waterfall. Our recent rain has swollen the flow and it’s a beautiful series of cascades all the way back to our starting point. Near an adjacent parking lot, we find informational signs and discover this was a popular pic-nic area in the 1880s, with “romantic and weird-like scenery” that was reached by train from New Haven and Waterbury.

The Naugatuck Friendly’s isn’t far away and we are hungry. When we pull in, it’s 12:30PM and only one other car in the lot. We both want Friendly’s to succeed; we both have fond memories from our youth, and now this hiking focus. Inside, we are greeted by a smiling waitress, Jill, who escorts us to our booth. As we pass the hostess stand, I notice a coloring sheet. Jill assures me I can have one and, if it’s good, she’ll put it on the wall.

Brandy-new menus, we notice when we sit! Likely the prices have increased but these now include calories next to each item. Cherry is judicious and chooses a turkey BLT but I go for the Philly Cheesesteak on a brioche roll. We forget to change our French fries to something healthy and Jill doesn’t ask. We are both secretly pleased to see fries on our plates when they arrive. Meanwhile, I’ve enjoyed coloring my T-shirt that demonstrates the Good Life.

Jill is lovely, constantly smiling, cooing with a nearby baby, and calling us “girls.” Cherry comments that in her forties, she’d find that annoying. “But now,” she laughs as we relish our forbidden chocolate with hot fudge sundaes, “I love it!” Cherry pleads to let Jill in on our mission and I relent, as we are almost ready to leave. Jill thinks it’s awesome that we are hiking to Friendly’s and says she’ll look for the website. She asks how long we’ve been at this and how many we still need to visit.

We have to look it up. We started June 2015. Two years… wow! And it looks as though Naugatuck is our twelfth Friendly’s out of the twenty-two in Connecticut. I guess we will have our work cut out for us – eating more sundaes!

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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.”