Last Wednesday the sun rose at 5:53 a.m. in Old Saybrook, CT. Our bedroom window faced east, though, so we were probably aware of the approaching day before then, “first light” being at 5:23. Time enough to roll over and snooze a bit more before breakfast. Then a walk along the shore road to get muscles loose and blood flowing.
I sat for a bit of a rest on a bench looking out over Long Island Sound, as the tide continued its slow surge in. Not more than five feet offshore, a cormorant dove and surfaced, dove and surfaced, submerging for just a few seconds. Every time he came up with another bite-sized fish. Often it shimmered silver in his beak for a second before he swallowed. After about thirty or forty such bites, the bird made its way at a more purposeful pace, swimming toward the pointed rock where he and some of his friends hung out, drying feathers, scouting for food, and adding another layer of “whitewash” to their perch. One of the ospreys from South Cove soared overhead, coming from behind my right shoulder, hanging a left over the shoreline, and winging away to the east. It circled a couple of times, but did not do the hell-bent freefall dive of a fish hawk that has spotted prey. Gulls and terns glided, wheeled, squawked; swallows silently pursued insects invisible to me. The water was nearly calm close to shore, and just slightly rippled further out. Later there would be whitecaps, as the almost-still wind freshened to a brisk onshore breeze and the flag on the pole by Seacrest Road rippled out due north.
By midmorning we were on a tour of the scenic area around Essex, Haddam, and other nearby towns along the Connecticut River. Essex is one of the most beautiful river ports I’ve ever seen, with its shady old clapboard houses and their large trim lawns, jam-packed marina, and picture-perfect waterfront views. We were glad of the lighter midweek traffic; apparently it’s hard to navigate on summer weekends. Cruising on through small towns and rustic scenery, I got the sense I’ve often had that these landscapes are distinctively recognizable as New England. Partly it’s the authentic Colonial architecture: wooden siding (not plastic or aluminum), with the boards laid close together (not 10” or 12” wide) to keep out wet and cold, shutters that still work or at least simulate that function, brick or stone chimneys atop functional fireplaces. There are more evergreens and different deciduous trees from those where I live in Virginia. I’m not sure what else goes into it, but the difference is unmistakable.
We stopped to stretch our legs near the East Haddam Swing Bridge, a truss structure over the Connecticut between East Haddam and Haddam. From the shore we could see the osprey nest atop one of the bridge towers. That pair has an unparalleled view up and down the river, and easy fishing. The lot we parked in serves the Goodspeed Musicals building, an elegant early Victorian ex-opera house, which does a brisk summer business.
At lunch time we went to the Pizza Palace Restaurant, an exception to the excellent cooking offered by our hosts, Henry and Anne. But I was in pursuit of fried clams, and they said this was the place. It was! Anne and I shared a heaping plate of fried whole clams, with French fries and a mound of the best fried onion rings ever. (Do you catch a “fried” theme here?) Henry and Jane shared a pizza. All of us left full and happy.
A lazy summer afternoon, with sun and sea breeze, led to another treat: a concert on the Old Saybrook Town Green. We ate at home for convenience, but took some wine to sip. It was a family event, starting at 6:30. When we arrived, a number of families were already there. Some were picnicking, others just talking. Toddlers visited each other between family groups. Two girls shot baskets on a court behind the green (and would still be doing it when we left). Kids ran, walked, or rode tricycles on a paved path around war memorials, one for the “War of the Rebellion,” the other for the wars of the 20th century. (It is to be noted that most French hamlets lost double or triple as many men in WW I as Old Saybrook has lost in all wars put together.) In a large gazebo a three-man band warmed up. Evening sun glowed warmly on a huge old butternut tree that presided over all. The musicians were headed by a performer well versed in the rock-and-roll of the ‘50s and ‘60s. We heard the songs of such artists as Chuck Berry, Elvis, and Del Shannon, whose hit “Runaway” opened the show and set the tone for the evening. The lead man had an excellent voice for this kind of music, and his guitar work was impressively professional. The music echoed through our youthful memories, and got my toes tapping. Others, one couple in particular, went literally a few steps farther and danced in front of the stage. The show went on, the kids quieted down and slept, the sunlight on the butternut tree faded.
When it was almost 8 o’clock, we picked up to head home for a nightcap. We’d had fair weather and an excellent summer day. The sun set in Old Saybrook at 7:56 p.m.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017