Photography by J. Mita Studios

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Where History and Art Meet - Center Cemetery, East Hartford, CT.

    Behind the buildings and sidewalks on Main St. in East Hartford, CT. is an historic cemetery that most would barely notice. As you drive down Main St., watching out for changing traffic lights and cars pulling out from parallel parking spots along the street, it is easy not to notice anything beyond what is right in front of your eyes.
    Center Cemetery at 922 Main St. is a true gem for those seeking some interesting history. Surrounded by apartments and offices, the cemetery offers a natural escape from the pace of urban living. You are transported to a quiet place where traffic is barely heard, and squirrels and deer roam easily and without fear. Being from Tolland, CT. I was surprised to see some connection to my town.

    There was a stone with the name Elisha Benton, and another from the Metcalf family. Whether these are connected to Tolland is anybody's guess, but I found the name appearing in East Hartford as an interesting puzzle. Other names in the cemetery include many familiar East Hartford families such as Roberts, Pitkin and Goodwin.
Note the barrel shaped mausoleum which had to be cement filled to avoid collapse.


   There is a heavy Civil War presence in the cemetery. One of the fascinating offerings of the cemetery is the many graves dedicated to those who served with the Colored Troops during that war. Though the north always denied there was much representation of slavery here, there were still some prejudicial issues that existed. One of the graves had an historic marker to show that those of color were kept in separate units from their other Union brothers. I would bet, though, when faced with a battle out in the fields, the color of your skin had little bearing on who fought next to whom.
    Still, I did note that there was a section below the main cemetery dedicated primarily to graves of those of color. It is a strip in between the oldest part of the cemetery and the more recent graves. Once again, the segregation that was so obvious in the south had a grip on the north as well. I found this interesting and gained some insights into our historical views of black citizens. We have been as guilty as those of the south in keeping this separation. I do wonder if we are so different now. There is still a great deal of suspicions and fears when it comes to our minority population.

                                 The Native American Connection    

A marker explains the history of this location.

The area where the Fort Hill village existed

    Here was my most fascinating find as I strolled up the hill from the back entrance of the cemetery. I saw a marker and wondered what it had to say. Well, on this spot at one time existed a Podunk stronghold called Fort Hill. The Podunks were a peaceful river tribe that hunted and fished along the Hockanum River, which is within a few hundred yards of Center Cemetery. A direct quote from Joseph Goodwin's book from 1879 states:
     "The indigenous native-American tribe, the Podunks, shortly before the settlement of Hartford were one of the small group of so-called River Tribes. Center Cemetery occupied the highest ground above the marshlands along this part of the Hockanum River, the southern boundary of their tribal lands. During its incremental expansion, the cemetery acquired a pasture from the Goodwin family that contained what was called “Fort Hill,” the site of a Podunk stronghold used for refuge and defense of attacks of the aggressive Pequots invading inland from their coastal villages. As stated in Joseph Goodwin’s book (1879) on the history of the town, “traces of such an enclosure still remain in Goodwin’s pasture [unfortunately no longer] … the steep hillside having been its defense and outlook on three sides, and an embankment and palisades upon the north.” Today this would be the southeast corner of the old section of the cemetery. This area “has been found rich in stone and flint relics,” he went on to write. To this day one can still hear of stories of longtime town members finding arrow heads and other artifacts during the digging of graves. This is no longer the case as this part of the cemetery had its last burial sometime ago."

     I thought the name Fort Hill must have been a common one used for such Native American lookouts. Another Fort Hill exists in Eastham, MA. on Cape Cod. The area known as Fort Hill was settled by the Nauset tribe and was a place for councils to be held between tribes. It became a lookout for the tribes, including Wampanoag, as more and more white settlers made their way onto the lands we call the United States.

    I loved the aesthetic appeal of these three graves with bright bittersweet growing on them. I do not know anything about this family called Wing, but it may be worth investigating further.

    This interesting hillside structure attracted my attention as I walked back to my car. I thought it was another mausoleum, but come to find out it used to be where bodies were kept during the winter, because the ground was too frozen to intern the body. It is called a Receiving Vault. Nowadays, our modern refrigeration has done away with the need for these vaults, but you will find them in most historic cemeteries. Our South Cemetery in Tolland is an old cemetery that goes back to Pre-Revolutionary times, and if there was such a vault there it has been removed.

    As I filled my eyes with the lovely yellow border of the cemetery, still in beautiful color, the wind began to blow with a bit of chill on its breath. The leaves floated lazily from the trees, as though they were waving a goodbye to me. I left somewhat sadly because there was so much more to investigate, but now that I know where it is, I will be heading back to see more of the history offerings of this cemetery, and I will bring a pen and paper to absorb and record the urban rhythm of this quiet gem in the middle of a small city.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

My Book Is Out As The Golden Paths of Autumn Embrace New England

    Yes, my exciting news is I have finally published a book of my photography, and poetry. I have always loved the rhythm of verse, and have written many poems, but it has only taken me some 50 years to realize that poetry and photography work very well together.

The book, called Facets: Homespun Poetry and Photography of New England, is a labor of love that has been a dream for many years. With the onset of websites like Create Space, and the availability of purchasing your own ISBN code through Bowker, self publishing has become a relatively inexpensive project.
    I am tickled to finally call myself an author, though it is published through my family name of Pride. I believe the death of my kid sister, Melanie, in 2014 had a great deal to do with giving me the incentive to write the book. One poem in the book, called Sisters, came about in the winter of 2014-2015. I cannot say how many crying jags I had over her passing from cancer, and on one of those wicked snowy days in March of 2015, the poem pretty much wrote itself. The book may be purchased through Amazon or through Barnes and Noble.

Facets on Amazon
Facets on Barnes and Noble

Melanie and me Fort Hill, MA. ca 2012

Long and deep a winter to sleep
Frozen and encased,
The first without her sister. 
Ice gives way with a crash
To a glacier crevice.
Her heart begins to renew,
Beats with the warming March sun.

Whispers of snowdrift glitter
Carry on a hyacinth breeze -
Gentle words shared of growing old.
Companions in winter they skated fast.
Their hoar-crusted blades debated
Who was the best.
They laughed at ice laden roads
Confident they had more to share.

Waltz to the invisible tune
Melanie at The Purple Feather, 2012
That sisters only sing.
Link arms, squeeze stooping shoulders.
Lament of children's foibles and trials.
Watch as the red fox nurses her young
Wise and aware of her mortality -
The riddle of her time unknown.

Snow covered ground gives way
To fuzzy gray willows.
Shy purple crocus
Gladly reach out of white tears.
Against frozen clouds above
Two rainbows appear
On each side of the sun.
She remembers the same
On their last trip together.
The heart melts and she breathes.
Sisters never end.

   As I saw my book appear for sale on September 18, the leaves of autumn began to show their early colors. It has been a dry year, and I had fears that the colors would be very dull. As the days passed, it seemed my prediction was correct. However, we received vast amounts of rain during the first week of October, and the next day I saw bright yellows, reds and oranges. Our fall in Connecticut has been a lovely one, with lots of warm days to enjoy the change of seasons.

                The Quiet Corner - Mansfield, Ashford and Union, CT. 

    I finally got to take a foliage tour of the eastern part of the state around Oct. 15. I had been doing a major revision on Facets due to some errors in the submitted file, and thought I would have no chance to actually breathe our fresh autumn air. When I finished the revision on Oct. 13, I broke out of the confining airless walls of my studio, and just took off for the day. 
     One of my first stops on my drive was  Merrow Meadow Park in Mansfield, CT. The park has a trail that follows the Willimantic River. It is one of my favorite local parks to take a walk. The spring offers massive amounts of trout lilies, and the summer offer cooling woodland paths. Autumn, though, is when the park is at its best. The trail is not a loop trail, so you have to retrace your steps back to the parking lot, but either way the walk is nice.

    One of the features of the park, is a second trail across the street from the parking lot, beyond this bridge. The trail is part of the Willimantic River Greenway, and for bird watchers or seekers of history, there is a bit of both. At one time there was a mill on the north side of the park. This is what the website states regarding the historical aspect of Merrow Meadow

Merrow Village

The Merrow family donated this park to the Town in 1990. The meadow provided hay for the family farm, which extended along the south side of Merrow Road up to the former farm's house and barn on Route 32. The north side of Merrow Road was developed as a mill village. The former Merrow mill was upstream on a bluff above the river. This mill began as a gunpowder mill in 1811. After several explosions, the Merrows turned to a safer product in 1832 - knitted underwear. Although the mill was destroyed by fire in 1887, and a subsequent sawmill was also destroyed, the village still remains. Look for the former boarding house by the railroad tracks, a former home and store (converted to a restaurant), and more mill houses as you drive back to Route 32.

    So if you haven't investigated this park yet, head over before the snow begins to fly. You will be pleased at this hidden gem in the quiet corner.

    My next stop was a hill off of Rt. 44. The hill is part of a farm that lays behind a stone wall as you
head toward Ashford from Tolland. Many years ago I saw this beautiful hill, and did not have a camera to snap it. However, from memory I tried to create a pastel. I am not the greatest artist, but I was good enough in my rendering to be able to recognize the hill every time I pass by it.
    I took a chance and stopped on the opposite side of the street, then crossed to the field. Of course, there were no trespassing signs everywhere, and I could see the path that lead to the farmhouse, but decided to give it a chance anyway.

    My main destination for this drive was the Yale Forest. It covers a number of towns in eastern Connecticut, including Union and Eastford. I stumbled on the forest about 5 years ago as my husband and I drove out to Buell Orchards in Eastford, CT. We took a wrong turn onto Rt. 89, and ended up driving through the forest. I was so impressed that I have visited the forest a number of times since.

    The road bypasses an old cemetery that I promised myself I would visit and photograph one day. The Westford Village Cemetery has many historical markers with carvings that depict various religious meanings. It is a great cemetery to do some rubbings. Rubbings are done on gravestones that are difficult to make out, but when you do a rubbing you will see the information.

    After spending a good 45 minutes exploring the cemetery, it was time to enter the forest. The road that passes the cemetery becomes the Yale Forest. There are a few different roads you can follow, and there are plenty of side trails that you can hike.

    Curled up beside a lightly rippling pond with no sound but the wind is a marvelous way to come back to yourself. Within the forest, much of the roadside is devoid of wires and telephone poles. Occasionally you will hear in the far distance the rumbling of a logging truck as it drives through the forest, but in the world of Yale Forest there is little representation of modern life. The trees rise high into the sky, and you can crane your neck up and up and wonder at the height of some of these trees.
    There is quite a few little marshes, brooks, ponds and rivers that flow through the forest. As you trek down the byways, you could almost believe you were in Colorado, it is so unlike what you normally see in Connecticut. The air feels crisp and clean, and you can't help but be renewed after spending a few hours knocking around the area. 

     Sitting beside one of the ponds, I closed my eyes and listened to twittering titmouses, raucous red bellied woodpeckers and angry bluejays. The sun broke through the clouds and settled on my cold face and the warmth came over me as though a hearth with a crackling fire sat before me. As I opened my eyes, the lit up colors through the tunnel of dark pines filled my view. The forest had finally revealed to me its intense beauty.  I was awed by the brilliance. 
    The hills beyond the marshes were beginning to color, but the trees right next to the water had all but lost all their leaves. That is the one drawback to fall in New England. We never get perfect color from lowland to mountains. Marshes and lakes color up first, usually by the last week of September in my area of Tolland, CT. By the time our roadsides are awash in color, the marshy land has already dropped its jewels.  When our hills and mountains are in full peak color, the roadsides show signs of leaf loss or very dark color. To me, it would be heavenly to have all the color even on all levels. This photo shows that quality of the in between color. At this point the roadsides were at peak, but the hills were still largely green.

Even with the uneven leaf cover, my trip out to Yale Forest was relaxing with plenty of eye candy. Looking down below the roadbed, you could see little copses of colorful ferns and shining grasses. When you begin to peer at the scenes right in front of your eyes, that is when you will see purpling asters, drying goldenrods and burnished cinnamon ferns.

The scent of ferns in the fall is sweet and pungent at the same time. There is no doubt when you have arrived at a hidden alcove filled with ferns. They offer year round pleasure. In the spring you can collect the unopened ferns as fiddleheads, and saute them up as an early fresh treat. In the summer, they brush your legs sensually as you seek to find comfort in the woodland shade. In the winter, evergreen ferns form a summer like color against the stark white of snow.
    The day was growing late. I had to head back to the confining four walls of home to get back to tasks such as laundry, cooking, and of course writing. We are not allowed to become gypsies every moment, as much as it sounds attractive when we are just done in by the rush of work and chores. It is all about balance, really. If we were to do nothing else but hop from trail to trail, or river to river it would become just as trying and unexciting as having to work all the time. We have to dapple our lives with both so we can appreciate the precious moments of a golden fall day during Indian summer. 

                                                             The Golden Path       

Marvel at the yellow woods,
Let me be near to your nature's heart.
Inspired, we walk even higher
Along an enchanted rock strewn path.
Sol's warmth assured we hear
A twittering bird's song.
Soft air clings, breath of life,
And freely we walk
As God's voice drifts in to our quiet thoughts.

Passing of deer and time
Have hewn this golden path.
Oak roots rise in sublime
Disarray along the unsteady ground.
We are children again,
Hands clasped with Autumn love.
A chest filled with pieces of eight
 We congregate with the falling leaves
That cling to our hair and crunch under our feet.

We leave behind the motors and rush                                  
And embrace our silent company
In the midst of this golden afternoon,
Free to any who seek to be
Dancing with beeches and flitting chickadees.
Riches in rings and artifacts,
Luxuries and desires of the modern world
Cannot compare to nature's gold.
The purpling asters and goldenrod
Dripping with bees and their nectar,
Put hard gold coins to shame.