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A TRIP TO THE COUNTRY TO INVIGORATE THE SPIRIT
by Doretta Wildes, ©2012, blogging at DorettaWildes
(Mar. 25, 2012) — I took a day off on Friday to visit the “Quiet Corner” of Connecticut. (This is the northeastern shoulder of the state.) We got lost in Norwich, where we saw a man standing at a bus stop holding the sign of our times: “NEED WORK.” People in the nearby strip mall appeared sad and worn. It underscored the fact that, for many people seldom interviewed or even acknowledged, this is an economic Depression, which means depression in collusion with stark poverty. We bought drinks at the local Subway and continued our drive, as most people would, feeling guilty to be among the employed with time off, yet relieved, too, glad to find the exit sign. After miles of countryside on the very straight and narrow Highway 169, we happened to find Burgis Brook, an alpaca farm in Canterbury where Alisa Mierzejewski spins the most delicate yarns, then knits or weaves them into lacy creations. A welcome change from the gridlock of technology. I bought some roving, some pale yarns and alpaca teddy bears and Steve did the same, with the addition of a llama puppet head. (Not a real head, of course, but a very convincing fabrication.) After that, we did a brief review of several haughty private schools up the road and the famous “Roseland Cottage,” pink as a flamingo, which Steve really can’t stand looking at for very long. A far cry from the Norwich man with his sign, who was much less visible and even more difficult to face. This excursion took us to Woodstock. We had to circle back to find our destination: the Vanilla Bean Café in Pomfret, a favorite spot for talented singer/songwriters in New England. We were charmed by some goldfish in a tank there, who mugged for us repeatedly. The one shown here was the jowliest of them.
Passing various rolling meadows and pastures, we could make out the distant sound of dogs, and Steve discovered that “Woof, woof!” is a poor translation of “Wool, wool!” The dogs are actually counting sheep! We passed an orchard with rows of wizened-looking fruit trees. Before leaves and fruit, they always look particularly stunted and miserable. We decided to call them poet-trees, since poets suffer to produce good fruit, too, and suddenly we could see the postures and gaunt figures of various famous dead poets in the trees—Auden, Dickinson, Whitman, Moore, Frost, etc.
On our way back, I was intrigued by the happy yellow dollhouse on the green at Windham, which turned out to be the tiny office of the town sheriff in 1790, later purchased by “Dr. Chester Hunt.” It seemed odd that such a diminutive place was once the station of a law enforcement official, since current-day police stations command whole city blocks. The house was stuffed with boxes and locked, so we weren’t able to see the interior. We passed through Willimantic and its historic mill buildings, noting the leggy frogs on giant spools that are sentries to the bridge and duplicated on almost every storefront in the town center. The frogs pay tribute to town apocrypha: a “war” between bullfrogs in the 18th century that woke up the townspeople and left a lot of froggy carcasses for them to clean up afterward. After this bit of town history come the usual elongated strips dedicated to big box discount stores, fast food and a Bank of America branch. The juxtaposition is jarring and doesn’t do much to convince me that things are looking up. But Willimantic is trying so hard, like a dissipated Dickens character, to be respectable, you can’t help liking it. And hoping it will grow a new, beautiful, enduring skin to go with its real, tough character.
I guess you just can’t escape certain truths. But I was glad to have a day that presented a few reminders of what nature and the human hand can design on a scale that welcomes and seldom lies once it becomes real.