Saturday, May 29, 2010

In Dog Years

I received terrible news Friday night from my sister; a highly loved and esteemed aunt in my family was suddenly stricken very ill.

She is the oldest sister of my mother who recently passed away. Our coping with life in my mother's absence was only now beginning to approach something resembling normalcy. This new tragedy refreshed my sorrows and weighed heavy on my mind over the night and throughout most of the day Saturday. It was only late in the afternoon that Kelly was able to roust me up and out.

We took a short drive past some fresh-cut, rolling farmland in Granby... the relatively close-by, greener Dufresne Park. Kelly had heard there was a dog park there where we could let our little four legged critter run free, and a playground where we could let our little two legged critter run free.

The dog was going bonkers as soon as we pulled into the park, which for some reason was crowded with RV's and pitched tents. The dog's excitement continued to ratchet upwards as we searched for a spot in the crowded parking area and we soon saw why; everybody there seemed to have a dog with them.

We had stumbled upon the LEAP Agility Club's weekend-long dog trials. It looked like they were done for the day when we arrived, but a member informed us that there were plenty of events going on Sunday and Monday, and to come on by.

We circled around the pond and headed for the fenced in dog park section Kelly had heard about. It was an adequately sized, fully fenced bit of land, where we were able to safely unleash the canine and let him run to his heart's content. His energy levels were so peaked that another lady's dog, who was already there, couldn't help but be swept up in the fervor and engage in like behavior...

...soon enough yet another mammal in the fenced in area caught the high-energy bug.

After a good jaunt in the increasingly humid twilight, the dog was finally spent and panting, with the other dog and Kelly in a similar way. It was the bloggerette's turn for fun and we made our way back to the playground.

Dufresne Park has a very new, very well designed children's play scape. All kinds of interestingly and ingeniously designed structures and obstacles are set up, with some of them challenging enough that an adult can't help but give a try.

Things that slide, things that spin, things that bounce and things that spring.

Not really in the mood for fun, I was content to hang back on a bench and watch woman, dog and baby.

Sitting there with half my mind on them, the other half drifted off with memories of my childhood, my family, my mother. How my aunt and her family had touched our lives through the years. How I had selfishly and ignorantly grown out of touch with them and with others, how there's never enough time to reunite and regain what is lost. How there's never enough time for everything.

We're all here and gone in the blink of an eye.

I wish I had understood that earlier.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

South By SouthWick

We tried finding it a couple of years ago. A trail legend said it would carry us far over the state line, and deliver us into the mystical, mythical, waiting ribbon of asphalt layed through one of the greenest, lushest valleys of far off Connecticut; a path known by some as the Farmington Valley Trail system. We followed clues, took directions from locals, and pored over maps. But we just couldn't find it.

We couldn't find it because at the time, it didn't exist.

Not so today, we have since learned. They've been hard at work, and the connection is almost a reality.

But rather than ride along the uncompleted dirt path, as we saw many doing, you can meet up with the Farmington trail system at a Southwick package store called the Oak and Keg. Across the street there is a parking lot, and just below, a fresh section of connector trail.

It's still a couple miles to the border from here, and the going is lush and easy.

It's all a freshly paved, nicely built biking way.

Much of the Farmington trail runs alongside the short lived, early 19th century canal that stretched from Northampton to New Haven. Completed in three short years, they got about the same amount of time usuing it before the railroad age really kicked in, pretty much putting the new but slower canal system out of business. In many spots, evidence of the old canal is still visible.

I had no idea the Farmington valley was so lush, green and farmy. On both sides were tobacco fields...


...and lush forest.

All of it hardly interupted by the blaring aesthetic burdens of modern man. A couple small neighborhoods or the oddball house in the distance here or there, but seemingly not a highway or subdivision in sight. Anywhere.

Quiet, green and clean seems to be the mantra of this trail system. Or at least the section of it we did.

The trail system goes on from the border for a good 27 miles, through the valley into Simsbury. Thereabout it branches off into other sub-trails and connectors for many miles more.

And all along the stretch are off shoots of dirt trails and walking paths, veering off on tangents into woods or over hills. Really beautiful stuff.

We only had time to check out about 7 miles of it before having to turn back. We made it to the Newgate wildlife preserve, which the trail cuts through in dramatic woodsy fashion.

Near there we took a little break before the turnaround, and rolled around a little in a field by a rest area, checking out robins and buttercups, with my buttercups.

Kelly had to work later that afternoon: the bane of my Sunday afternoons now that spring has arrived. But turn around we must. But we'll be back. The plan is to return to this trail in three or so visits; each time driving to where we left off biking the previous time, until we cover the whole 27 miles.

For now it's 7 down, 20 to go.

But who's counting.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pancakes, Dogs And Primates

Sometimes we drive the blog, sometimes the blog drives us. Usually its a mixture of both. So it was last Saturday when carefully timed, we made it out for not one, not two, but THREE area events for some fun and blog fodder. We were up early, the weather was windy but perfect...

...and we made our first stop: the annual humongous Pancake Breakfast in downtown Springfield.

This was very well attended when we got there about 9:30ish, although the lines for pancakes were loonnnng, long long.

It appeared more people were waiting for their pancakes than eating them. So we forwent breakfast and walked up and down the street for a good bout of people watching.

All types and walks of local life were mixed and mingled together, waiting, eating or watching shows of which there were many; several kids were performing at three or four different stage areas along the street.

We hung out and watched a couple shows, listened to Mayor Sarno give a rousing speech, and let the bloggerette take in all the sights and sounds, until 11 o'clock rolled around and it was time to move on to the next stop:

The first annual Dakin Shelter sponsored Bark in the Park, in Springfield's Forest Park. We got there right at it's commencement, and most of the people (and dogs) were just filtering in.

Several booths were selling assorted animal and pet related items, a band was playing on stage, and dog acrobatics and feats of skill were being performed by the baseball field.

Not to mention some of the friendliest volunteers you could hope to meet...

...and the League of Dog Owners, as I call them: a close knit club, of people who have never met yet apparently share some inherent genome that allows them to get along surprisingly well.

Moving on from there, it was a quick lunch break/ picnic over at Mt. Tom state park...

...on our way up to the hills and the Cummington fairgrounds; where the Hilltown Spring Festival, or 'Spring Fling' was already in high gear.

There was some of the traditional hilltown festival fare...

But mostly people were dancing, people were swaying, to the rhythms of bands and singing troupes performing one after the other on two stages.

From what we witnessed, they were grooving to:

This oddly great sounding bagpipe and string duo:

...who were followed on another stage by the young and very talented Freight Shakers:

...who were followed by the locally famous and unique sounds of the Primate Fiasco.

Go ahead, try to get this tune out of your head, (once they got tuba levels right, of course...)

A long full day. Much travel, much to see and hear. The valley is brimming with this sort of thing any given weekend; just have to poke around. Maybe some kind of local events calender would fit on this blog...

Now, time to get home again.

We were whooped.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Small Wonders

With the return of the return of the spring on Friday, and in keeping with the beginning of Bike Week around these parts, we made a run down to Ashley Reservoir in Holyoke for a quick bike ride before the sunset.

We hadn't biked here in over a year, and pleased to see it was just as beautiful as we had left it.

Especially during the golden hour right before twilight.

I had forgotten this, but early May is high gossling time around this reservoir.

We encountered probably over two dozen large geese families on our bike run, spread out along the trails and coasting about in the water.

While some of them had pretty sizable broods, keeping their parents' on their webbed toes...

...others not so much. For whatever reason nature, luck, fate, what have you; delt some of the couples only one or two young'un to care for.

Such is life and who knows, maybe less hungry beaks just makes matters easier for everyone.

All I know is... we usually have our hands full back at the ranch.

The cooling, late afternoon temps were refreshingly perfect, and we made such good time that we decided to go around the 3.5 mile loop twice.

The sun was getting really low, the light was starting to fade and we were cruising along the shady back stretch of the track at about 10 miles an hour when Hawk-Eye-Freakin'-Sacajawea-Kelly done it again: spotting this tiny critter sitting right in the middle of the darkening path, and came to an abrupt stop.

She immediately identified it as a newt of some sort.

Not a salamander, as I challenged her on it, but a newt. Whatever it was, I don't know how she does it. This guy was smaller than a piece of gum.

But reading up on it later, I found that it was indeed a Red Spotted Newt. Or more precisely an Eft. Probably pretty young considering it's small stature, even as newts go. We checked it out for a few minutes and with some straggling joggers and another group of bikers still tromping by on the path, we decided we'd better help fate and nature along. Kelly gingerly picked it up...

...gave the enchanted bloggerette a quick eyeful...

...before setting it down again in the grass, path-side.

Good luck little guy.

...and watch out for predators, it's a hungry world out there.

We finished out the loop discussing differences between salamanders and newts and the occasional ability of the tiny creatures to make news by up-ending entire subdivisions and box store developments. Eventually we coasted down the final stretch to the car settled into a cooled breezy satisfied silence. Listening to the sound of bicycle tires running over gravel, and the occasional honk of geese...

The sun had by now just about set.

Time to get our own gossling home.