Impressions of Oswegatchie show flyer

A place can be many things – somewhere you go in your own mind to remember, revisit or relax, or a physical place you experience in person. I go to many places near and far, both in my mind and on my feet. I prefer natural places and get outside as often as I can, to experience and soak in all the impressions of a place.

Conservation in my own back yard

I had been looking for a conservation minded project that would have a more personal meaning to me than say, rhinoceros conservation. Not that saving critically endangered rhinos isn’t vitally important, but I wanted to find something closer to home and heart. Hiking around my hometown of Columbia, CT  is one of my favorite things to do but I am always open to exploring new places. I was made aware of Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve (OHNP) in East Lyme, CT and Save the River-Save the Hills, Inc. by my friend and gallery owner Denise Thompson of Artisan Gallery & Framing in Niantic, CT. She asked if I would be willing to donate something to Save the River-Save the Hills annual fundraiser.

Great blue heron, after defending its territory from two other herons.

Great blue heron, after defending its territory from two other herons.

Save the River-Save the Hills, Inc. is dedicated to preserving the health of the Niantic River estuary, its watershed and the natural beauty of the Oswegatchie Hills. For the past 15 years Save the River-Save the Hills has been involved in a fight against the threat of a development of an 1700+ unit condominium complex within the Oswegatchie Hills and right on the river. I knew I had found a conservation project to believe in and support. The river is a tidal estuary that empties directly into Long Island sound carrying with it all of the runoff from its entire watershed. The ecosystems they are fighting hard to protect encompass granite outcrops, woodlands, inner wetlands, including vernal pools and coastal areas; a macrocosm of the flora and fauna of my home state, Connecticut. I needed to visit the Hills.

A bright, blue and blustery January day

My first hike in Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve was on a cold winter’s day in January of 2015. One of those gloriously blue-sky New England winter days. My first impression was ‘Wow, they’re not kidding, hills indeed!’. My second impression; vast tracks of dormant mountain laurels, massive granite boulders and out- croppings, and a private little pond hidden amongst the ridges. I could imagine what the mountain laurel groves would look like at their peak bloom time in June, I wondered what bird life would be utilizing the pond throughout the year and an idea bloomed.

What if I visited the Preserve once every month for a year and recorded my impressions of the place. What if Denise & I could put together a show based upon my time there and have it benefit Save the River, Save the Hills, Inc. We talked about it trying to do it that year but it didn’t work with my schedule so we decided to try for it in 2016. I actually started going this year in February, but since my first visit was in the month of January, I figured I wasn’t already cheating on my concept!

A familiar winter character in the woods, a white-breasted nuthatch.

A familiar winter character in the woods, a white-breasted nuthatch.

Unexpected treasures

There are certain truths I have come to understand about visiting a place both new and familiar, never go with pre-conceived notions of what you will encounter or experience. And always go with your mind and all of your senses wide open. I decided to wait until Leap Day, why not?

I asked my best friend and hiking buddy Diane Fernandez to go with me and we headed up the trail to the old granite quarry. We had been having a very mild stretch of weather and everyone was concerned about the fact that plant life seemed to be thinking it was spring. We all know what a turn for the worse the weather can take in New England at the end of winter! The temperature was 47 ̊and it was late afternoon and slightly breezy. At one bend of the trail Diane stops and calls out softly–do you hear that? Woodfrogs! Sure enough, the wood frog chorus was deafening– in February?!! Even for this crazy weather season, that was early. We snuck up on their vernal pond and quietly observed and photographed the wood frogs doing what wood frogs do in the spring!

Wood frog! on Leap Day!

Wood frog! on Leap Day!

Impressions of a place

I still fall into the trap of expectations both hopeful and disappointing though. However, there are experiences and encounters right in front of us everyday. We only need to remember to observe the world around us closely, seeing with all of our senses and not just looking past our noses. I strive to embrace both types of encounters; the chance ones and the ones I experience by observing and really seeing my surroundings. I gather up and collect impressions just as sure as I gather up bits of flora and fauna to line my pockets.

princess pine, birch, casein, pastel

Study of the forest floor in early winter.

I hope you will enjoy my collection of drawings, study paintings, paintings and photographs based upon my observations at Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve and the Niantic River and that you will share in my impressions of the place. A place that deserves to be preserved, a very special place that I will continue to visit both in my mind, my art and on the trail.