Photography by J. Mita Studios

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Trip To Historic Talcottville, CT. - Mt. Hope Cemetery and Pokemon Go

A trip to Historic Talcottville, CT.  – Mt. Hope Cemetery and Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go is all the rage since its release in July, 2016. As a Pokemon hunter, I am always looking for great spots to find many Pokestops in a concentrated area. Of course our Connecticut college campuses have much activity and Uconn alone must have about 100 Pokestops in a few miles.

It is not always convenient to be walking side by side with college students, since I am pushing 60 and am a little self conscious of my fascination with this game. However, the next best place to go that is nearby is an historic mill site called Talcottville. It is located near the intersections of Rt. 30 and Rt. 83 in Vernon, CT. The entire street is perhaps ¾ mile long, and is quite easy to walk in a short time.

The many landscapes of the area, from old mills to churches to a large pond all seem conducive to finding a variety of Pokemon, as well as collecting 10 K eggs to hatch. There is an iron bridge near the top of the road that has a few Pokestops around it, and I am usually able to procure my 10K eggs from that area. So far I have hatched 2, a Lapras and an Electrobuzz, both 10K eggs from that area. I procured one more today as I tried gathering as many poke balls and great balls as I could for a planned trip to Niantic, CT tomorrow. My hope is since that town shares the same name as the company that created Pokemon Go, perhaps there will be unusual and rare Pokemon there. But back to Talcottville.

The amount of Pokestops on the street number about 12. When you walk down to the bottom, then back, most of the Pokestops you have spun will be ready for another spin. However, as I viewed my map screen, I saw someplace between a few roads that had another 8 stops. It appeared to be wedged between private homes, with no access to the public. What was this mystery spot and why would Niantic have placed it in the game when there seemed to be no public access?

I walked up Elm Hill Rd off of Main St, past the church up to the rails to trails dirt road. I walked up it, seeing the blue pokestops off to my right, but seeing only houses between myself and my quest. I went back to the road, and found the marker for Mt. Hope Cemetery. So there was a cemetery back there, only this was a private drive with signs that said No Trespassing and No Soliciting. There was a banner of orange plastic flags flapping at the obvious entry into the cemetery, blocking any possible way in.

The marker itself is a Pokestop, and I was able to find a charmander hanging out around the sign, so I captured this new Pokemon to gain 500 more experience points. I was not satisfied, however. I really wanted to find the cemetery.

I left in a poor mood, wondering if I should knock on the door of the houses on either side of the private drive to see if they might let me pass. I was about to call the Vernon Historical Society to ask why they had a marker for this cemetery, without a way to pass into it. Perhaps I could grab my digital SLR, tell the folks along this road that I was photographing old cemeteries and had just discovered this one and would they please let me walk the road to get to it. I puzzled over my dilemma, looking at surrounding woods just to see if I might sneak into the cemetery. All areas seemed locked by private property, and there was no large wooded expanse to hide myself in as I tried to stumble through to find my elusive target. To what length would I go to gain access to this spot?

I remembered another time I had been urban exploring down in Norwich. I walked on the street photographing the visible buildings of Norwich State Hospital,, but wanted to get into the grounds for a closer look. The state had signs and fences and its own security crew that drove through the grounds 24/7. I found a wooded trail off the main road, didn't see any signs, and followed it right down to the river. To my left was a hill that went straight up, with no fence or signs. I climbed it, camera dangling around my neck, and came to a nurses cabin. I photographed through the windows eyeing the first few buildings to my left, so close, but so open to security cars.

I continued my reconnaissance of the cabin, when indeed a security car came down the road, spotting me. I dashed off in the direction I had come, but with squealing tires, the car pulled up beside me ready to handcuff me for trespassing. From the back I looked like a teen, but when I turned toward the oldish man driving the car, he realized I was past 50. He scolded me and let me go, telling me never to come back and he would report me if he caught me there again.

I often trespass where I shouldn’t, disregarding posted signs or fences. I have been doing this all my life. It is wrong, of course, but I am not harming anything, I simply want to photograph the area or write about it, or in the case of Talcottville, look for Pokemon and collect balls from Pokestops. Still, my record is clean, I have never been arrested, and I am a little old to start. This was not helping me with my elusive cemetery.

I went off to do my chores in Manchester, the whole time my lack of access to this rich area of Pokestops eating at me. I had to find a way in. Maybe there was another way, perhaps a little used trail closer to Rt. 83, or maybe another road in. Most cemeteries do have two ways in and out, even the oldest ones.

I went back to Talcottville, slowly following Main St back up to the top. Just past 106 Main St which was an old white clapboard house built around 1870, I saw a narrow road between 106 and 102. Was it a private driveway? I could not see how far it went, or if there was a house nestled beyond the tree lined road. I decided to chance it.

As I drove over a hill on the road and rounded a bend, there before me was the other way in to the cemetery. It was a private road, but open from sunrise to sunset as most cemeteries are. The banner of orange flags blocking the road that went into the cemetery was not a problem. I parked off to the side and walked in, at last finding my quest.

If you look at this map, the oval in the center is the cemetery. The road from Elm Hill Rd. Is a private drive without access, but the second road just about 8 houses up from the turn onto Main St is the way in to this rich area of Pokestops.

The cemetery is very secluded. If there is a spooky cemetery, this is it. The hillocks with grave markers on them are overgrown with tall grasses. You can’t help but catch a smell that is usually saved for wakes and funerals at funeral homes. It is the smell I always connect to death, a sweetish smell that reminds me of how skin must smell in the first few days of passing. Perhaps it is the smell of embalming fluid, or maybe the flowers, but the smell is unmistakeable. I could not understand why I could smell death. There were no new graves that had been dug, and there was no mausoleum. I scanned the cemetery and could only attribute it to an old fashioned hydrangea tree growing on the far side of the area.

I could imagine ghosts and disembodied spirits rising from these graves at night in the moonlight. I shuddered as I spun my first Pokestop at the entrance of the cemetery.

I walked toward the hydrangea eyeing the very old gravestones, then started toward the other side, spinning two more Pokestops.

The smell changed to an earth scent, as if I was crossing over a deep unmarked grave filled with old decayed bones that had been coated with moss. I started looking over my shoulder, at the woods, hearing a singing somewhere off of the road leading up to it. It was a drifty, eerie kind of song in a language I could not understand.  The neck hairs began to lift below my long hair, and I wanted to get all the Pokestops as fast as I could. I twirled two more stops, then crossed through some shaggy looking cedar type trees.

The smell changed to distinctive peppermint, another smell that I relate to solemn occasions in churches. As a child, when I had to attend my first funeral, my uncle gave me peppermint to settle my stomach. The scent was in his clothes as well. The peppermint smell lasted as I spun my last few Pokestops, then I rapidly went back to the car. The singing had stopped, I had gotten another 10K egg from this area, and I was mixed with my accomplishment of finding the cemetery and the cloud of death that hung over it. I have never smelled these smells at any other old cemetery I have visited, and I explore many.

If you decide to approach this area as you play Pokemon Go, do not go alone and do not go at night. You may find Haunters and Ghastly’s drifting above the graves, and perhaps even a few ghostly spirits from the past as they do a walk about in the moonlight.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Messy Yard Corners - A Lazy Gardener's Natural Approach

    Yes, I have a messy corner. It is the spot where we throw all our garden refuse, leaves, branches, and Christmas trees. It is in the southwest corner of my yard, where three other neighbors also throw their garden refuse. We have an unspoken agreement that this is where we all will place our yard waste.
    My yard slopes up, so the area is quite obvious. It does have a few nice points, however. It is the place where the largest white ash tree in the neighborhood grows. It is also the place where maple leaved viburnum has found a friendly place to call home.
    It wasn't always so messy, so back in 2001 I began a natural woodland garden, with the intention of having a variety of native plants well kept and neat, with paths and statuary. The neighbors were quite happy to watch my garden grow, as they continued to place their garden waste at the very edges of where I began the garden.
     I started the garden with a trip to Garden In The Woods in Framingham, MA, better known as New England Wildflower Society. I began with two mayapple plants and one bloodroot.  My darling husband could not see my vision, and started piling tree trunks and branches two years after I started my woodland patch. All the ideas of slate paths statues, and maybe a stream bubbling out of the side of the hill into a waterfall soon were abandoned. I decided what grew there would do so on its own, and die or live as it saw fit.
    Apparently the mayapples love the whole garden idea of piling leaves, branches and trunks,because they have expanded to fill nearly the entire area. The bloodroot has grown into five plants without any intervention from me.

Current mayapple Stand in my yard
Mayapple forming

Bloodroot Leaf

Looking down into my yard

    I would not be entirely defeated, however.  I went and did a bad thing. I decided I wanted to add a purple trillium near the intersection of our four yards, under a barberry bush that had planted itself in the area. Rather than purchase one from a reputable wild flower dealer, which is the correct way to add a specimen, I dug one up from the side of the road. Well, it was just nodding there, year after year, collecting salt and dirt and leaves. I didn't feel taking one would harm anything. Good thing so few feel the need to plant trilliums in their yard. Most of the wild species are quite safe from overharvesting.

    It has taken almost 7 years, but finally I have a second trillium growing next to the the first one I dug up and planted. I did notice some damage on this years blooms. As I photographed my specimens this year, I saw the culprits. Apparently the area is perfect for slugs to live, and they have been devastating my plants this year. I blame it on a very warm and mild winter.
 Some of the natural plants that have added themselves to my woodland corner are celandine and jewelweed. I have used celandine juice to treat occasional warts growing on my fingers. It actually works.


As to jewelweed, since I also have poison ivy growing nearby, I frequently rub the leaves on my
hands and feet when I think I might have touched poison ivy. It may be an old wives tale, but I haven't gotten the dreaded itch for years.

    Through the years, people have given me pieces of their plants when they thin them out. Some of those plants began as one small tuft. Two such plants are European Ginger and Sweet Woodruff. I had no place to put them, so I put them up in that woodland mess in the corner. Now I have a huge amount of the delightful woodruff which serves as a groundcover, and is great for making May Wine. It also makes a very sweet filling for scented pillows and sachets to put in your drawers or closets.
    The ginger is nothing more than just a plant of interest, but it has also spread quite nicely as it grows unchecked by any meticulous gardener.

    Other species that I have thrown back in the area include Jacobs Ladder and Lemon Balm.  Both are spreading and adding their own touch to this once planned garden that is now a naturalized area. There are ferns growing naturally, along with False Solomon's Seal, True Solomon's Seal, and of course the spring favorite of many people, Jack-In-The-Pulpit.
                    Jacob's Ladder                           

Lady Fern

False Solomon's Seal
Jack In The Pulpit


    A patch of Grape Hyacinths poke up amongst the piles of cut stumps in a little depression that was formed when I removed a very large rock. They finish off my spring display of woodland plants, and this year I even discovered a new neighbor has moved into the rich dirt of this woodland corner, my favorite fruit of all, black raspberries. I don't know if I will ever get any berries from them, but I will let them grow as they will, which is the kind of gardening that I find suits me best.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Birthing Cave

    Second time in the cave at Bolton Notch State Park in Bolton, CT. It goes farther back than I thought. The passage is squirrel sized but it is THERE!!! I know it goes far deeper into the soft marble. This is a young cave. In the time of Wunnee of the Podunks, I believe the cave was smaller. The water is enlarging the soft marble walls. Caves on the other side of this ridge will eventually connect, if they haven't already.

    I believe this was a birthing cave. It has seen joy and it has seen death. The women came during storms. They came during deep snow. I can sense the pain and the blood. It is here in the dirt. Buried under layers of leaf mold. It was a rock floor. Now it is dirt.

    I dig down with a shovel shaped rock and the coating of dirt is only perhaps 2 1/2 inches. The cave was carefully prepared for the next birth. There was always a basket with a fur blanket inside. There was always firewood and flint. There were always birch pots. There was always dried corn, beans and squash. There was always a deer bladder to haul water from the nearby brook. Piled deeper inside were soft tanned blankets to lay on the floor.

    The entry was not as steep 400 years ago. It was a much gentler slope, one that a squaw in labor could climb. I sit on one of the flat, slanted rocks near the entry of the cave. It was the perfect tilt and size for a woman to sit on to give birth. I am certain that is why it was called Squaw Cave. I wish I knew the Podunk name of the cave.

    I can see it perfectly. She comes up the slope, heavy with a child. She know by the moon cycle her time is very near. Soon the New Moon will be in the sky. Now it is the third quarter of the moon. It is the dark time up to midnight, then the moon finally rises to be seen. It is the time when most babies are born.
    The cave is the womb of the earth. It is the underworld, where her ancestors came from and where they go in the end. To bring forth a child from the underground is sacred. The rock is strong and safe.

    As she stands at the entry, it is shaped like a woman's vulva. The dark place beyond is like the birth canal. She returns to the womb to bring forth life from her womb. It is a mirror. She gives her offering of the umbilical cord from the last birth in the cave, presents it to the four directions, then drops it into on of the many small openings at the mouth of the cave.

    The waiting is hard. She does not know when the time will be. Perhaps by sunset of that day, or maybe in 3 sunrises.
    There is plenty of food to eat if she needs to, but she is not hungry. She has been fasting for 2 days. She notices that dirt has collected on the stone floor. She finds a sweet grass broom on the side of the cave and sweeps away the dirt and leaves. She rests on the birthing stone, spreads open her legs and slides down. Yes, it is the right place to be.

    She feels the first pain, and knows the new warrior will be coming soon. There are several deerskin blankets on a rock shelf. She places them on the floor below the birthing stone and once again sits on the rock.
    The sun sinks lower. The cave grows darker. The pains are much closer, the distance between two dragonflies. She brings out a piece of birthroot and chews on it. The sharp taste that smells like bear fat in the mouth eases some of her pain.

    Darkness comes. She begins singing lullabies and songs of triumph, songs of her tribe, songs of great deeds. At last a pool of water comes out of her. Her need to push is overwhelming but she needs to wait. The dark sky has only starlight to show the outside landscape.

    At last she feels the new body nearing the exit of her womb. She squats on the rock with her feet on the rock floor. She pushes once, twice, three times and the baby slides out. She eases him onto the blankets, and as the afterbirth comes out she carefully catches it, gives thanks, then eats it for better milk and joy of the birth, and for preparing her body for food again. With a sharp deer hoof knife, she cuts the cord between her and the baby. He takes his first breath and she knows he will be strong and grow straight and tall.

    As she wraps him in a blanket, the moon breaks through the dark sky. It lights the path down to the brook. She cradles him in her arms, and goes to the water and dips him several times in the cold night water. He struggles, but she knows it will prepare him to be healthy and strong.

    She goes back to the cave, places him in the waiting basket that lies in an alcove across from the birthing stone. She lights a fire, gives thanks for the birth, sings a prayer song to the cave, then lays down next to the fire in full view of the new life nestled under the protective low wall, and finds sleep.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Winter Beaches - Hammonassett State Beach, Madison, CT.

Against The Wind

    At last, the beaches of Connecticut belong to hardy Nutmeggers. We in Connecticut are very lucky to have much more natural beach available than many of the overbuilt, hotel ridden shores of other states. Of course, in the summer the beaches of Connecticut are overrun with sun worshipers, and on any given day over 80 degrees, to find a spot to lay your blanket is often difficult. If you head toward the shore after the season is done, it is at times as if you own the beach alone. You may find an occasional family fishing or sailing, but the open sand, the gentle surf and the voices of seagulls rather than screams of people are a pleasant and calming experience.

Searching For A Scrap

    I discovered the joys of winter beaching many years ago when I began bird watching. All my sun loving friends thought I was crazy to head to the beach in January, but if you bundle up with layers and put on your thermal wear, you don't feel the biting wind or the invisible coldness that settles on boardwalks or across jetties. The constant lull of the waves make you sleepy as you walk along the littered shore.


It is a great time to collect the rare sea glass that we all try to find while beachcombing in the summer. There are many whole shells to find because there is no competition from hundreds of summer residents. Though the bird population isn't nearly as varied as in April or October, you may find an occasional crossbill or perhaps an eagle flying by.

Icy Pools - A Giant's Footpritns

    Waves can be heard far off in the parking lot of Hammonassett. The strong briny scent of the sea is minimal at this time of year. Perhaps it is because our noses become numb with cold, and our sense of smell is dulled. There is a clean, pure feel to the air, however. As storms blast the coast, they whisk away the remnants of human presence so that all that is left is the grasses and the flotsam thrown from the sea itself.

    On top of the dunes, you can lay a blanket. On a bright winter day, the wind seems to pass over you and the warm sand seeps into your body. There is a constant rustle from the brittle grasses as they whip about in the billowing breezes. Even though the grasses sound as if they could easily be snapped, their tough stems cannot be broken by hand. You would need to cut them with a knife to break them. It is the nature of sea grasses. They grow strong to hold up against any tempest that comes along.

    The solitary nature of winter beaches is why I go so often. I will go to the beach more often in the winter than in the summer. Not only is it free, but there is the beauty of finding quiet and peace, especially after the rush of the holidays. As a stolid New Englander, I come from hardy stock and the brief cold that drops my inner body temperature is just that, brief. It is a delight to come home to a warm fire after a trip to the beach. You can appreciate the coziness of being inside after a trek outside.

    Wildlife seems more prone to making a visit in the winter. I have had hawks fly right in front of me and rest on the posts of the boardwalks. They are so bold that I can nearly go right up to them and touch them. January is also a great time to see snowy owls. Their presence is quite common during the winter months. I have not been so lucky to see one, but I also am so drawn to the churning surf that I rarely get beyond the water and the beach to explore the interior of the park.

    One of the best findings on one of my winter treks was that of a horned lark. I was tickled to see an entire flock near the Meig's Point parking lot. They are not the rarest birds for Connecticut, but it was the only time I have ever seen one. I still want to capture a snowy owl, though.

    The Yellow rumped warbler is another common bird that you will find at the shore, usually closer to March. This tiny bird is difficult to see unless you notice in the distance a flittering bird jumping from branch to ground to branch. They are constant motion, perhaps the ADHD of the birding community. They are also rather bold, and will tolerate a photographer with a camera, and you can usually get a nice photo of this little warbler.

    Hammonassett does have its resident Mute Swan couple. They are year round residents of the park, and in the winter you will see them bobbing and floating out in the water, close to shore. If you are lucky, you may sight the much rarer Trumpeter Swan. The main way to tell the difference is by the beak. The Mute Swan has an orange beak, and the Trumpeter has a black beak.

    Take a trip to the shore in the winter for a peaceful time to collect yourself and to blow away the cobwebs that settle on our winter brains.  The wind, the sea, the surf, the wildlife will revitalize you. Head to a dune, lay your blanket, and take your shoes off. They will stay relatively warm on a sunny day, and your body will rebuild some of the Vitamin D loss that occurs in the winter. It is a great way to ward off the affects of SAD ,more commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
    Winter depression can settle in on even the jolliest person. We all know about cabin fever, when the snow piles up, the skies are gray, and the cold never seems to end. You can't escape the cold with a winter trip to the beach, but you will find yourself feeling much more chipper and alive after a trip to the shore. Try it out if you haven't yet. It is one of the joys of living in Connecticut, where a trip to the beach from almost any point takes only about 1 1/2 hours by car. Besides, it is one of the best times to sample some of the beaches that are generally off limits to the public from April to October.