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|Danielle Kidnapped: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Ice Age
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|The Devil You Know
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In the late 1980s a local airport located in Plainville, Connecticut decided to expand its runway. Building the extension required the filling of four acres of wetlands along the Pequabuck River, which runs through several towns in the area, including Farmington. This, unfortunately, would destroy a major portion of a vital wetland area. To mitigate the loss of the wetlands, the town of Plainville turned an adjacent sand pit into a four-acre wetland by meticulously removing the wetland soil, vegetation, and animals from the construction site and transporting them to the current location in the nature park. To say that the area survived all of this and thrives to this day would be an understatement.
There is an abundance of wildlife living in Tomasso Nature Park: the eastern painted turtle, common snapping turtle, northern water snake, great blue heron, Canada goose, northern rough-winged swallow, raccoon, white-tailed deer, muskrat, and more. The park is also filled with a wide variety of vegetation common to a healthy wetland area. Footbridges were built to help visitors cross streams and wet areas. Plenty of benches and large rocks are available to visitors while exploring the park.
My first visit to this park was in November last year, two days after the park had been closed for the winter. I returned early in March when it reopened, but the snow and cold of Connecticut’s long winter made exploration difficult. Also, to reach the park I had to walk down a paved path alongside a fenced hazardous waste area on one side and a housing complex on the other. This short walk made me wonder if a nature park could really exist in an area like this. However, I returned in warmer weather a few weeks later to find high grasses and wildflowers swaying in a gentle breeze and dozens of painted turtles sunning themselves on rocks, lily pads, and stumps in man-made ponds. As I walked down the short entry road, several swift-flying birds caught my eye, as they as they seemed to vanish into a sand-like embankment near the waste dump. Later I discovered that they are rough-winged swallows tending their nests dug tunneled into the sand bank. I knew then that this park was going to be a rewarding discovery.
After entering Tomasso Nature Park, it took me only 20 minutes walking at a comfortable pace to go completely around the park. But this walk could have easily taken much longer had I paused to enjoy the many varieties of birds and other wildlife moving freely around the park. Another feature that I liked was the absence of crowds that I often find in other nature areas. I could actually hear and identify several different bird calls during my short walk.
When I returned home after my last visit to the park, I called my daughter Sarah and shared my experience with her. She suggested that we visit the park with Mom on Mother’s Day if the weather was nice. My wife, Tricia, has an arthritic condition that is sometimes aggravated in cold weather, and this past winter made some days very uncomfortable her. She likes to walk with me when I visit parks, but not during the winter cold. The visit to Tomasso Nature Park would be her first of the warm weather season.
Below: Sarah and Mom enjoying the scenery and warmth of the sun.
Tomasso Park’s crab apple trees were in bloom.
Below: the largest pond in the park
All of the interesting or unusual trees in the park have identification tags.
This Tree-of-Heaven is our favorite.
Below is the swallow nesting area located near the entrance to the park.
Rough-winged swallows were tending their nests.
It would not be a wetland area without Canada geese.
Sarah and Mom are both teachers in a local school system. As we left the park, they promised to return again and bring some of their students back on a nature walk. This year, Mother’s Day was a huge success.
Several month ago, thanks to the generosity of my “Where We Live” associate and long-time friend, John Silveira, I became the proud owner of a Canon 400 millimeter prime telephoto lens. I think he was weary of listening to me weep and moan about the difficulty I have photographing birds on the wing without a telephoto lens. However, with the weight of this lens (about 8 pounds) and its specific light requirements, it took two weeks and about 200 practice shots for me to learn how to use it. Unfortunately, after completing this learning period, winter settled in on the East Coast, grabbed it by the throat and held tight. We are approaching the end of March, and the beginning of spring while in the grip of record-breaking cold and snow.
Photographing bald eagles as they breed and hunt along the banks of the lower Connecticut River is prime during the month of March. Twenty-one inches of ice and a three-foot snowpack made getting close enough to snap photos impossible, even with a telephoto lens. So last week I hit the road looking for signs of spring and a bald eagle to photograph.
I found what I was looking for while driving along Route 66 in central Connecticut. This eagle has been sitting proudly on the eastbound side of the road since 1989. The rock was given a facelift in 2001, and reflective paint was used for the eagle’s eyes.When driving by at night, motorists are greeted by a glistening eagle eye peering at them from the side of the road. On the day of my visit in late March, winter was very much in evidence, marked by the snow cap on the eagle’s head.
The owner and publisher of Backwoods Home visits frigid Connecticut.
Dave Duffy and his wife Ilene drove cross-country visiting friends and family this past month, and decided to spend a weekend in Connecticut. He and I grew up in Boston, and he was also at a loss for why this winter was still so much in evidence. As we walked along the Farmington River near Kolp Gardens it started snowing. The somewhat milder weather in Oregon has softened him up a little, so we headed back to the car.
Visiting friends who know how to survive a long winter
My friends Tom and Debbie Fausel live in a large house and have been refinishing it for several years. The house sits in an open area surrounded by 22 acres of woods. Heating costs, even during a normal winter, can be painful. Tom read a Central Boiler advertisement in Backwoods Home Magazine and decided that it was the answer to his heating problem. He ordered a unit and installed it himself. The unit supplies all of their heat and hot water. It also heats a large in-ground swimming pool. This winter has proven the wisdom of his decision. Dave and Ilene were impressed with the precision of Tom’s work.
My search for spring continues in Boston
Dave and Ilene were leaving Connecticut for Boston the next day. Dave suggested that since the weather would probably improve later in the week, Tricia and I could join them and pay a visit to our Webmaster Ollie.
No spring in Boston
The mountains of snow that were deposited on Boston this winter were gone, but cold and wind were still there. The wind was blowing so hard that it caused an eerie and very loud howling sound from the Prudential building, shown below. The cold winter weather also lingered over the drained Duck Pond in the Public Gardens.
A beer and a good lunch in Copley Square saved the day.
The search continues back at home — the first signs of spring arrive in my favorite place
My friend Carl, the professional farmer at Krell Farms, conditions the soil of the Community Gardens for spring planting. The day after we returned from Boston, Carl called to inform me that he was on his way to Kolp Gardens to plow, lime, and fertilize the soil in preparation for spring planting. This was my first sign that, in spite of the cold weather, spring was not far away.
The plowed fields are ready for the town surveyors, who will map the individual plots.
Below is a couple that have walked these fields for over 70 years in search of artifacts left by the Tunxis tribe that lived in this area during the 1700s. They systematically explore nearly every inch of the fields every spring and fall after the farmers plow. They are a welcome assurance that spring is close.
Spring is alive at Krell Farms. Below, Carl shows us a small section of his seed cultivator that will produce the vegetables, fruits, and other plants that he cultivates in the many fields under his care.
A healthy and thriving greenhouse at Krell Farms
Carl is not a part-time farmer. Farming provides a living for him and his family. Now that spring is showing signs of visiting the Farmington Valley, I will be following Carl to learn how he and his family make this farm a success every year. If all goes as planned, I will share what I learn with the readers of Backwoods Home Magazine.
Hartford is the capital city of Connecticut. It houses many insurance company headquarters, and is considered the insurance capital of this country. Named in 1637, it is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. Mark Twain lived in Hartford in an impressive 19-room Victorian Gothic home from 1873 until 1891. In 1962 the house was declared a National Historic Landmark, and is one of Hartford’s most popular museum attractions. About the city, Twain wrote, “of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see, this is the chief.” Over the years Hartford has experienced many of the same problems that have affected many eastern cities. However, like other great cities in this part of the world, Hartford is healing itself and slowly returning to the richness and prosperity that it held after the Civil War. It is the home of this nation’s oldest public art museum — the Wadsworth Atheneum; the oldest continually published newspaper, The Hartford Courant; and the oldest public park, Bushnell Park. My mother often spoke of a brownstone Civil War memorial that she visited while on leave in the Army in 1940. She was returning to Fort Devens Army Base in Massachusetts from New York, and was delayed for several hours in Hartford. One of the people that she was traveling with grew up in Hartford and suggested a visit to Bushnell Park to see the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. The park was within walking distance on this warm spring day, so my mom agreed. To this day I am not quite sure why my mother was fascinated by this brownstone arch, but whenever she would reminisce about her years in the Army she would describe her visit to the Memorial in detail. My first visit to the Memorial Arch was in 1971 while on a cross-country motorcycle trip. Since relocating to Connecticut 25 years ago, I have frequently visited Bushnell Park and the Memorial Arch. Each time, I tour the area while recalling my mother’s story of her visit so many years ago. Unfortunately, there was too much snow and ice to comfortably walk through the park, so I parked in the State House visitors’ parking lot and walked to the Arch.
The Mark Twain House — another classic museum in Hartford
The Connecticut State House
A view of Bushnell Park with downtown Hartford in the background
The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial was was dedicated on September 17, 1886. It was the first triumphal arch in America. Unlike many other war memorials in this country, it does not list the names of the individuals that fought and died in the war. There are two terracotta tablets crafted on the Memorial: one on the southeast tower and one on the southwest tower. Both tablets honor the 4,000 Hartford citizens who served in the war, and the 400 who died fighting. The arch was designed by one of Hartford’s leading architects, George Keller. It is made of brownstone from Portland, Connecticut, and is crafted in Gothic Revival style. The terracotta friezes are positioned 40 feet above the road and are 7 feet high.
The frieze on the southern side of the arch (in the photo below) was crafted by Casper Buberl and tells the story of peace, with a central female allegorical figure welcoming soldiers home with laurel wreaths. Spandrel symbols located on the north and south face of the arch identify the four military services: the anchor for the Navy, the crossed cannon for the Artillery, crossed sabers for the Cavalry, and crossed rifles for the Infantry. Six 8-foot-tall sculptural figures adorn the two towers — a farmer, a blacksmith, a student, a carpenter, a mason, and a freed slave breaking the chains of bondage.
The towers are topped with two bronze angels: one playing a trumpet and the other playing the cymbals. The ashes of the Arch designer George Keller and his wife are entombed in the east tower.
On September 17, 2011, I attended a re-dedication of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. The ceremony was held 125 years after the original dedication, which coincided with the 24th anniversary of the battle of Antietam. The event was climaxed with a 21-gun-salute by Civil War re-enactors.
The Southern Frieze
The Northern Frieze
The dedication tablet on the Southwest tower
The dedication tablet on the Southeast tower
Angels at the top
Two military symbols — Cavalry on the left, Infantry on the right