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Where We Live by John Silveira and Richard Blunt. Photos and commentary from Oregon and New England.

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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

 

Spring Arrives Late In The Farmington Valley

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

This past winter has been what I consider normal for the New England area. With the exception of one big storm that dumped more than two feet of snow across the region, this winter was rather normal in this part of the world. However, spring appears to have gotten lost while on its way to Connecticut. Below is a photo taken at a spot along the river last April at this time. Below that is another photo taken on April 15 this year near the  river. A close look at the leaf buds on the trees along the river bank indicated very little development since February. The very cool days and freezing night temperatures have kept winter in place into April. Farmington scheduled the community farm to be ready for gardeners on April 15. If the day and night temperatures don’t come up a little, there will be very little planting this month.

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The winter rye crop should be at least a foot high by mid-April. As you can see, it has a long way to go. Unfortunately this crop will plowed under before it reaches normal height.

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The first signs of spring are here at last.

It is the 12th of April and despite the below-normal temperatures, the town has the fields prepared for the surveyors to lay out the 224 garden plots. After taking the above shots, I decided go home and return later in the week. There was rain in the forecast along with warmer weather.

The Farmington River is in great shape and is starting to swell as the snow in the north starts to melt. This is good news. There will be plenty of clean, fresh water for the gardeners when they start planting.

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On this chilly day I did meet a new friend. This was the first sign that spring was not far away. This bird is what I believe to be a Horned Lark.  Every feature of this bird identifies it as a Horned Lark except for a white tuft of feathers over the eyes which is usually black. As I was walking through the freshly-tilled garden soil to check its condition, I heard a familiar caroling sound from a bird flying in circles, about 50 feet over my head. It continued to circle while dropping closer to the ground with each loop. Suddenly, it closed its wings and dropped silently to the ground, making a perfect two-point landing. Immediately I recognized this behavior as the mating dance of a male Horned Lark. As I was setting up my camera, he started to chirp at me, as if to say, “Hey pal, get lost! Can’t you see that  I’m trying to attract a girlfriend here?” I waited for a few minutes, hoping to meet the object of his display, but she didn’t show. Horned Larks display this type of behavior in the early spring then become inconspicuous during the summer. After witnessing this marvelous scene, I knew that spring was close at hand.

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Well, the weather forecast was correct, and we had some much needed rain. The scene along the river and in the fields was very different from a few days earlier. Wildflowers were poking through the ground and some long-time friends were out soaking up some of the warm spring sun.

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Meat Thunderer — the Hawk Power Animal of this section of the Farmington River. According to Native American legend, the Red-tailed Hawk is a messenger that symbolizes Guardianship and Strength. Unlike the Iroquois legend, this Red-Tailed Hawk does not display a mighty bow and flaming arrows, but he is big and tough enough to intimidate the local Bald Eagles and crows that venture too close to his territory. That stern look on his face is him letting me know that I should not come any closer while he was hunting for field mice. I have known this big guy for three years. During the winter he hunts up the river in the next town, but moves to this area in the early spring when the farmers start plowing the fields. He is another harbinger of  spring in this area.

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I call this little guy “Hannibal The Fearless.” We first met last fall while I was sitting on this fallen tree changing the settings in my camera. I heard the leaves move slightly and looked down as this little Garter Snake crawled from under the tree, over my right leg, and into the bushes without even giving me a look. I have several resident Garter Snakes living under my back deck. They have made that spot home for years, so I guessed that this critter lived close by. I marked the log and hoped that I would see him again.  As I had hoped, I spotted him sunning himself on the same tree as I approached on this day. He lifted his head a little as I was lining up the shot and slowly moved, totally ignoring my presence. I think the name fits.

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This week I stopped by my favorite greenhouse at Krell Farm. These are the folk that prepare the soil at Kolp Gardens for planting and also supply many of the gardeners with premium quality seedling plants for their gardens. After this visit, I knew that the gardeners would be in the fields soon.

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This is Tony. He is usually the first gardener on the scene. In this picture he is waiting for the survey team to finish laying out the plots so he can start setting up.

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This is Tony’s garden for this season. He is an energetic planter, and I will be following the progress of his garden all season.

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Below is Master Gardener Ruth and her grandson. Ruth is a professional gardener with more than 40 years of experience. She has volunteered to consult with Cub Scout Pack 170 as they develop this 2500 square foot garden this year. Half of what this garden produces will be donated to the Farmington food share; the other half will be divided among the scouts. This young lady has quite a reputation around town and I am confident that this garden will be a source of pride for her and the scouts. This is another garden that I will follow throughout the season.

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This is the diagram of the garden-to-be that Ruth created for the scouts. It outlines each bed along with a planting schedule for that bed. She also set aside a bed for any of scouts that want to be creative and experiment with unusual fruits, flowers or vegetables.

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And back for another season of creative gardening is Master Gardener, Terry. With all of this talent, I know that this is going to be an exceptional growing year at Kolp Gardens in Farmington, Connecticut.

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Boston Public Garden–An annual family visit to Mrs Mallard and her Ducklings

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Public Garden – The Original Plan

This is a draft of the original  plan for development of the Boston Public Garden. With the exception of some minor changes made to the Duck Pond over the years, this original plan remains relatively unchanged. In the lower right hand corner of the of the picture is the Beacon street/Charles street gate Mrs Mallard and her ducklings are just a few yards inside this gate on the left.

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In Colonial times the 24 acres of sculpture, fountains, elaborate flower beds, and notable trees known, world wide, as the Boston Public Garden, was a malodorous salt marsh, and sewage dumping ground known as Round Marsh. In 1837 the city of Boston leased this patch of uninviting ground to a  group headed by Horace Gray, a wealthy Boston business man, and avid gardener. Gray petitioned the City for permission to transform the site into a this country’s first botanical garden. The  petition quickly became a political football and was kicked back and forth between the Garden proprietors and the City Council for nearly 20 years. It is recorded that private investors and city politicians wanted to carve the land into house lots. In 1856 the state intervened and appointed a legislative commission to resolve the dispute. The Public Garden act, a bill that proposed the land be devoted, forever, to public use and no other building other than a city hall be erected on it, unless it would support the Garden’s  horticultural purpose.   Before the bill could become law it had to be ratified by the citizens of Boston. So, the Act was submitted to Boston voters on April 26, 1856, and was passed by a margin of sixty to one. This was a mandate from the citizens of Boston binding city government to maintain the Garden as a botanical park—forever.

The final design of the Garden was done by George Meacham, a local architect. His plan was the only landscape design submitted in a blind competition conducted by the city. As the winner, Meacham was paid 100 dollars for his effort.  The various paths and flower beds were laid out by James Slade (Boston City Engineer) and the city forester, John Galvin. They also erected statues, and fountains at selected locations around the gardens. The first was a statue of Edward Everett Hale, son of Nathan Hail, best known for his Civil War novel “Man Without a Country.” On July 3, 1869 a bronze equestrian statue of George Washington was unveiled. This was a proud event for the city. A poor boy from Charlestown had sculpted the statue, the Boston Masons had constructed and raised the granite base, and a Boston foundry had performed the bronze casting of this magnificent work. Today it is acknowledged one of the finest equestrian statues in America.

Photo visits for Public Garden and the Boston Common are on  my schedule for early spring.   Botanical gardens are best photographed in the spring and summer when their flower plantings and trees are in glorious bloom, and the sun is shining. This gray, overcast,  morning was not going to reward me with that kind of setting. This visit is the Blunt family yearly pilgrimage to spend some time with my wife’s family–Mrs Mallard and her eight ducklings. We do this every year in rain, snow, or national disaster. From here we also planned to visit a long time friend and Backwoods Home associate, Ollie Del Signore for lunch. Finally, we would return our son, Michael to Salem State University for his final semester before he graduates.

Fascination with Mrs Mallard began long before my wife and I met. On her third birthday, Tricia’s grandmother gave her a copy of Robert McCloskey’s popular children’s book, Make Way For Ducklings. Published in 1941, the book tells the story of a pair of Mallard ducks who raised a family on an island in the middle of a pond at the Public Garden. Like most Bostonians, the various parks the Emerald Necklace are among our favorite places to visit. The Public Garden with its famous Swan boats, and bronze statues of Mrs Mallard quickly became Tricia’s favorite, and remains so today. Our first visit to this popular exhibit was shortly after it was set in place, in 1987.

 As we approached the Garden, Tricia, spotted  a young family crossing the foot bridge that spans the pond were the Swan boats are kept.”Let’s park the car and follow them,” she said. “They may be going to visit Mrs Mallard also.” I parked the car, grabbed my camera. and off we went to visit this famous duck family.

The Foot Bridge

Designed by Boston architect William Preston, this bridge was originally designed and built as a suspension bridge. Completed in 1867, the bridge was considered somewhat overbuilt by many Bostonians. The often referred to as “the smallest suspension bridge in the world. As reinforcements and repairs were made over the years, the Foot Bridge was transformed, and is now technically a girder bridge. The remaining spider-web cables are decorations. When we got to this point, the young family were leaving the bridge and heading for the Swan Boat docking area to feed a small flock of ducks that winter over on the pond.

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The Book

Tricia, was given a copy of this popular book, by her grandmother on her third birthday. Since then the book has become a must have for every child born into her family. The book pictured below was given to my daughter Sarah on her first birthday by my wife’s mother and father. Over the past 25 years, a hard copy of this book  has been given to all of her nieces, nephews, grand nieces and nephews, and our sons Jason and Michael. Not counting children born into other families, my last count was twenty copies.

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The Lagoon (Duck Pond)

Lagoon is a modern name. Many Bostonians still call it “The Duck Pond.” The pond’s original design called for a fountain in the middle, on the Boylston St side, and a point projecting from the Charles Street side. Both have disappeared over the years. This artificial pond was completed in the summer of 1861. It is about 4 feet deep with a clay base covered with gravel. It is interesting to note that pond still retains a relationship with it’s tidal origins. The water level rises and falls slightly, but noticeably, with the tides. The pond is drained and refilled twice a year with water from the Boston municipal system.

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Mrs Mallard and her most Devoted Admirers.

Created by renowned sculptor, Nancy Schon  and placed along the path between the Duck Pond and the Beacon-Charles gate, this group of duckling statues has been a continuing success, and a special attraction for children. In 1991, Barbara Bush gave a duplicate of this sculpture to Raisa Gorbachev as a part of the START treaty. Scenes like the one pictured below are a, year around, daily event at this exhibit.

Meet Colby and Cooper

The two, Mrs Mallard, admirers in this photo are Tricia’s grandnephews. The little guy hugging Mrs Mallard is Colby, the oldest They are the sons of Tricia’s niece, Jennifer. The boys and their mother have their own copies of Make Way For Ducklings.  If you look closely at the love on Colby’s face you will understand why our family tradition will live on for many years.

High Five Mom.

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Pictured below is the seven Mrs Mallard admirers that we followed into the Garden. This scene is repeated over and over every day, by many families with children . Often, it is difficult to tell who is having the most fun, the kids of the adults.

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After spending an hour playing with Mrs Mallard and her ducklings, these children convinced the parents to take them to the boat landing to feed some real ducks

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Equestrian Bronze Of George Washington by Thomas Ball

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Bronze of Edward Everett Hale by Bela Lyon Pratt 

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The Bottom Line.

The plantings and the statuary, in the Boston Public Garden, evoke a Victorian heritage. But the outstanding character for this garden, and the other parks in the Emerald Necklace is “public.” Their public character is not merely in their accessibility, but in the extraordinary role that Bostonians and the residents of surrounding towns play in their protection and preservation.

 

Christmas Day Snow in the Farmington Valley

Monday, January 7th, 2013

When nature is kind to us living in the Farmington Valley, it announces itself in late December with a gentle snow fall.  Well, this year, so far, we are experiencing a textbook winter. In fact, most of New England woke up  Christmas morning to discover, on average, three inches of snow on the ground. Two days later we were gifted with several more inches. Christmas day snow for southern New England is not as common as we would like it to be. When it does snow, we do our best to take advantage of this rare happening. The last significant snow on Christmas day, that I can remember, was the winter of 2004. That storm deposited seven inches of snow in the Farmington valley. Sever other states including: Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, North and South Carolina, and most of New England also woke up to a White Christmas.

Since I have no photos of the 2004 storm, I decided to get out and visit some of my favorite places to photograph this Christmas Day event .

The River

The following three photos were taken near my favorite trout fishing spots on the Farmington River

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The Tower

Unfortunately, I was not able to get up to the Heublein Tower, because of the snow, and had to be content with a shot from the valley.

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Kolp Gardens

To the local farmers an early winter snow fall represents more than a scenic view. I also provides a protective blanket for the fall cover crop of winter rye.  This vital crop keeps the the soil in place when the Valley is assaulted by frequent high winds from the northeast  during the winter, and drenching rain in the early spring. This early snow cover will ensure a productive warm weather growing season.

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The High School

This hillside will remain busy as long as there is snow on the ground.

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Stone Will at The Hill-stead Museum

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A winter view of the Lourdes Of Litchfield grotto.

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