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|The Devil You Know
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The weather in New England, from the middle of January until now, can be summed up in two words — snow and cold. A lot of both. We are starting to measure snow in feet instead of inches. There have also been days when cold is measured by the Alaskan standard of “seconds to frostbite” instead of degrees. Winter weather patterns like this are not new in this area, but once this type of weather cycle sets in, it is slow to move on. There are only two ways to deal with this weather — complain about it or embrace it. In past years, my wife, Tricia, and I often would take a two week vacation from all of this and drive south to Louisiana to visit friends and embrace Mardi Gras and the warm weather. This year, however, we decided to embrace the cold and snow. This is the time of year when I begin interviewing the professional farmers and the gardeners that work the soil on the “flats” to get an idea of what varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers will be planted come spring. If weather permits, I first take a walk along the river and around the fields before talking to anyone. Unfortunately, the first snowstorm turned to freezing rain before it ended, and coated all of the trails with a sheet of ice. Since I don’t own ice cleats, I had to wait for more snow to cover the ice. I didn’t have to wait long. A week later, another large storm moved across the country and dumped as much as 30 inches on the East Coast. The Farmington area only got about 12 inches. This was enough to cover the ice sheet and make my 5-mile hike possible.
In the warm weather months, I hike this trail every day, and collect mental images of what I see and experience during the hikes. I have included some of my favorite warm weather images along with the snowy photos that I shot during this winter hike.
Below are photos of two of my favorite fishing spots, taken during fishing season, followed by some recent shots of the same areas as winter settled in.
Here are two photos of Kolp Gardens at the beginning of the gardening season and later as the gardens flourish.
Below: The snow-covered back path along the gardens, looking east.
As I continue walking east, the gardeners’ rest area comes into view.
I have reached the east end of the gardens and head back to the west and into the woods along the river.
There were folks ice fishing on this day.
This pudgy little sparrow landed in front of me several times as I walked along the river path. I think he was gathering animal hairs for a nest.
This bridge crosses a drainage canal then empties into the river. In the back, on the right, is a boat house used by the crew teams of Farmington High School and Miss Porter’s School, a private school. From here I turn around and head back to the parking area.
Leaving the river path back onto the flats and down the path to the parking area.
Walking at my usual pace, I can cover a mile in about 15 minutes. On this day it took at least 30 minutes to travel that distance.
Located on the waterfront of the scenic and historic town of Essex, the Connecticut River Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in exploring the heritage of New England’s longest river. The Connecticut River’s 410-mile course begins in northern New Hampshire and flows to the Long Island Sound. The museum is open all year and features a variety of interesting programs, lectures, and exhibits that showcase the incredible diversity of this remarkable river, past and present.
One of my favorite exhibits is the annual Holiday Train Show, presented by local artist Steve Cryan. This locomotive extravaganza is constructed on a fully functional 26-foot-long by 8-foot-wide model train platform, and features thousands of model vehicles, people, and buildings in addition to 12 trains running at all times. This master model builder and maritime artist has created, in intricate detail, Connecticut towns and villages circa 1930-1940, detailed with shops, restaurants, boats, and wrecks.
The train show engineers: Steve Cryan on the right, and Tim Ryan, his friend and back-up engineer on the left.
Tim is no rookie to railroads and steam locomotives. For years he was an engineer working for the Valley Railroad Company piloting locomotives like the one shown below. This big-steamer, known as the Essex Steam Train, carries passengers on scenic rides along the Connecticut River.
The photo below is an American Flyer/Lionel Train layout designed for young visitors to get hands-on railroading experience.
The Grand Street and Three Rivers Railroad
This Rod Stewart poster was a pleasant surprise for me. This magnificent model railroad and cityscape was created by Rod Stewart over a period of 12 years. When he is on tour he takes seven large cases of model kits and tools with him, and rents an extra hotel room to set up a model train workshop.
Stewart is not the only celebrity to love model trains. Frank Sinatra was an avid railroad enthusiast and actor-singer Mandy Patinkin has also built a large train layout in his barn. Singer Neil Young has been part owner of model train maker Lionel LLC for years.
The 26-foot-long, 8-foot-wide main layout has thousands of model buildings, vehicles, and people. There are at least 12 trains that are in constant motion on this layout. The HO-scale trains wind their way through 1930 villages and towns containing intricately detailed shops, restaurants, and boats. I also spotted a bar and a brothel in the layout. All visitors are invited to complete the “I SPY” scavenger hunt for various objects hidden within the settings. A visit to the museum during the train show is a perfect outing for all model train fans.
Every visit to the Connecticut River Museum reveals exhibits overlooked on the previous one. Below are two that I discovered when leaving the Holiday Train Show.
On the wall, between the ivory tusks, is a photo of the Comstock, Cheney & Company ivory processing plant, located in Ivoryton, one of three villages in Essex. At one time this plant and the Julius Pratt & Co. plant, located in the lower river town of Deep River, processed about 90% of the ivory imported into the United States.
Below is a period photo of the original Colt East Armory, which was built in 1855. This building was almost completely destroyed by a disastrous fire in 1864.
Below is a recent photo of the building capped with a distinctive onion-shaped sheet metal dome that resembles the one that topped the 1855 armory. On December 12, 2014 final congressional approval came for the creation of Coltsville Natural Historical Park on this site. The park will be dedicated to the accomplishments of Samuel Colt and the role this factory played in the Industrial Revolution.
The photo below shows what I believe is a Colt Army Model 1860 single-action .44 cal revolver that fired a paper-wrapped round ball. This gun was used by both sides during the Civil War and during the American Indian Wars. However, at first glance it looked very much like Navy Single Action 1850 .38 revolver. The two guns are almost identical, but after some research I found this revolver is the Army Revolver. This case also contained several ivory pieces. In the right rear is an ivory billiard ball along with several ivory chess pieces.
Below is photo from the Colt web site. The Navy 1850 model is on top, the Army 1860 is on the bottom.
Many of the exhibits on the display at the museum show the banks of the Lower Connecticut River, a 36-mile section between Middletown and Long Island sound. The Cold Building is in Hartford, a short distance to the north.
If you are lucky enough to visit Connecticut, the Connecticut River Museum and the Town of Essex will be rewarding, educational, and entertaining places to spend a day or two.
Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Connection
Essex Station, home of the Essex Steam Train, is only a short distance from the River Museum. The Riverboat Connection is only one of the popular features offered. The photos below were taken this past summer.
The Connecticut River near the museum
The popular Goodspeed Opera House
Gillette Castle, built by William Gillette — aka Sherlock Holmes
On Labor Day weekend my wife, Tricia, and I headed for northeast Connecticut to explore a seasonal favorite, The Woodstock Fair. Unfortunately, we had a late start. By the time we arrived at the fairgrounds, the line of cars waiting to park was over a mile long. Down the road from the fairgrounds is a popular farm winery that we had planned to visit on the way home. Fortunately, Taylor Brooke Winery was open and their parking lot was invitingly empty.
The owners of this winery, Dick and Linda Auger, began making wine as a hobby in 1993. Their love of the craft led to the official establishment of this winery in 1999, after hand-planting their first 300 vines. They have continued planting additional vines every year since then. Today, I estimate that they have over 2000 vines contributing to at least half of their wine production. During my visit I photographed a large field of new vines, which I believe will significantly increase my estimate of that number.
They received a Connecticut Farm Winery permit in November of 1999, and opened the tasting room (pictured below) in June of 1994. Currently, Taylor Brooke produces 16 small batch wines, which include dry estate-grown whites and reds, fruit-infused Rieslings and dessert wines.
Dick and Linda have transformed one of the largest and oldest farms in this area into one of Connecticut’s most popular and respected farm wineries.
Dick enjoys greeting visitors during tasting sessions. At these meet and greet sessions, he enthusiastically shares his extensive knowledge of every aspect of wine, from planting vines to producing quality wines from the grapes. As the winemaker, he manages the production of about 2500 cases of wine a year.
There are two outside tasting areas for guests to enjoy their wine when the weather permits.
The bottle of wine in the photo below is a Riesling infused with a natural raspberry essence. I usually prefer the crisp, clean brightness of Sauvignon Blanc when I drink or cook with a white wine. However, after a brief conversation with another visitor in the tasting room, I decided to try this seasonal wine. I was surprised to discover an intense brightness in this wine without the cloying sweetness found in other wines of this type. After tasting it and preparing two of my favorite braised chicken and herb recipes, I used this wine in the reduction sauce, with great success. I am now curious to see how it will pair with some of my favorite Asian recipes.
The grapes in the background are Cayuga White; a hardy hybrid grape developed at Cornell University. This grape is one of the mainstays of wineries in Connecticut.
Pictured below are several mature Cayuga White vines producing an impressive yield. This grape variety answers the question, “Which hybrid grape is easy to grow and make quality wine from?”
This spacious vineyard allows visitors to take unguided tours of the various fields, and also provides comfortable areas to relax and enjoy the view.
Below is what I believe is the latest field being prepared for planting in the spring.
Passing up a large and very popular fair to take a relaxing and informative tour of a first class vineyard like Taylor Brooke was time well spent.