Welcome to Nutmeg Country
Aside from hearing stories of David Letterman collecting speeding tickets along the highways, I never thought much about Connecticut. I did know that it’s directly above New York City, and, as compared to New Jersey that it was considered the better of the two neighbor states. Better, of course, is a matter of personal opinion.
The other thing was that the nights I spent watching the Late Show pre-dated the invention of the Information Superhighway so I couldn’t Google Connecticut it because Google wasn’t invented. And I was also living on the West Coast, and everything East of the Mississippi was a total blur.
However, here we are, my husband and I, spending on and off almost a month in this unknown territory, and, to our surprise, we have become quite charmed by the place. Because we have friends (from the internet no less) who live here, Connecticut has been a great home base for all points in the New England area. Also, we are very lucky that our friends have graciously allowed us to park our Airstream in their driveway. Come to think of it, Troy and Jen are really great hosts and tour guides, and we have enjoyed many wonderful shared dinners and super fun movie nights with them. Cheers!
We have mostly been staying in Essex in a little “Hamlet” called Centerbrook. Yes, Hamlet, like Shakespeare, that’s what they call towns here because most of this state was settled back when Shakespeare’s grave was still warm. The towns are very small and they all seem to look alike. At first, it seems confusing and weird, but then you start to notice some subtle nuances. And you will soon come to find that the locals definitely have opinions of their own.
Jen’s parents live a few towns over in Madison, a mere nine miles away, and, apparently, a much better town. However, it looks just the same as the rest of the charming towns around here, except the houses are slightly bigger. Thusly, Madison is more expensive. Since I live in 190 square feet, the thought of a bigger house seems ridiculous and unnecessary. On a side note, I have also noticed that most of the houses in the Northeast are at least two stories, which is interesting because there is a lot more space out here than in the West.
Centerbrook is right near Deep River, the hippie town. That is, if you can call it that. It’s a little more swampy and a little less expensive. Somebody there makes a brand of potato chips called Deep River which have a lot of the same flavors as the chips we have in Seattle called “Tim’s Cascade”. However, my husband, a self appointed chip connoisseur, thinks Tim’s are better even though he knows he’s risking offending his friends by saying it out loud.
Also in Deep River and confirming the boho vibe, there is a great breakfast spot called the Whistle Stop and they serve cool hippie teas that call out the healing benefits of each of them like “Heart, Lungs” or “Libido, Digestion”. They also serve many varieties of eggs benedict which is always my go to when it’s on the menu. It’s a real casual place with sticky vinyl tablecloths and great wait staff. There’s also a quaint little breakfast place we went to yesterday called Susan’s Kitchen which was located in an aged wood barn like jobbie with 1970s vibe vinyl and metal olive drab mish-moshed chairs, a display case filled with various pre-wrapped-not-so-fresh-looking baked goods, and an old lady with haggard hair who pointed to where the menus were. The coffee was rich and bold, and the locals and semi-regulars were ample enough to prove they’re making a good go of the place. Too bad it’s not very visible from the street because it is cute and I think a little more traffic would help them sell those pastries instead of having to wrap all those brownies for the next day.
Did I mention that in Essex (like right around the bend in the road) there’s a really really cute steam train that goes "whooh! whooh!" every now and again. Check it out here. The heritage train takes you on a ride that connects to an historic ferry where it’s a quick trip across the river to a picturesque castle. But be warned, from their web site they note that “Open Car is available seasonally. You may be exposed to airborne soot, cinders, and dust from our authentic Coal Burning Steam Locomotive.”
Connecticut, at least where we are, is filled with rolling hills and beautiful barns. The scenes are like calendar ready pictures. I think if we were to trek a little bit further North along the Connecticut River, it would get even more glorious, filled with very productive farmlands, my very favorite type of landscape. Trail running here is very fun as many of the trails are the right amount of hilly and the right amount of rocks and roots. As my friend Jen says, “we grow rocks here.”
Most of Connecticut was settled in the first part of the 1600s, which is so hard for us West Coasters to comprehend. I’m mostly from San Francisco and Seattle, and most of the stuff there happened after 1900. There is so much history in New England. In Essex, the Griswold Inn is the oldest continuously run tavern in the United States dating back to the 1700s. Of course, during prohibition, they didn’t sling booze, rather they sang songs, a tradition that continues this day with a very lively and entertaining sea shanty singalong they host on Monday nights. The locals really get into it and know all the songs and hold each other while swaying left and right.
Oh, and most of the main parts of the towns in New England are lined with American flags. I’ve never been much of a flag person, especially these days with old flabby cheeks up in the white house, but for some reason the flags are a really nice touch. And because of the deep history of the area, the flags seem to mean something different to me than they did before. Hard to describe, but the pride doesn’t seem like they’re rubbing your nose in it, it just makes sense that the flags are there, like they’ve been there all along.
On my friend Troy’s birthday, we went to a town about an hour away called New London, an old whaling and manufacturing town that has slowly faded almost into oblivion. The architecture and general layout of the town is quite scenic and very interesting. There is a tiny glimmer of hope with some revitalization, but in a way I hate to see a viable town have to resort to tourism in order to regain it’s steam. There are still quite a few empty store fronts. Oh, the down side of free enterprise and desire for less expensive stuff. I don’t know much about the global economy, but if we could just buy American...
Even Frye Boots, which I thought were one of the last holdouts of the American Frontier, are no longer hand crafted in the USA. And this happened as recently as 2014. Seriously!
Speaking of American icons, the ladies of Connecticut all dress and look a little bit like Martha Stewart. Most of them have blond hair, or, in many cases, had blond hair. Lots of khakis and salmon colored shorts abound. Lots of boat-necked striped shirts. And yes, Sperry Topsiders never quite went out of style here. The median age is about 40, which was a surprise for me. To be fair however, I have been spending much of my free time doing research in various libraries around town which has been a great way to hear the town gossip. There is definitely a lot of discussion about where people do their grocery shopping.
We decided to take a day trip to New Haven. I had to look it up. Haven means harbor or port. It also means any place of shelter and safety. Compared to the rest of Connecticut, I disagree. New Haven was crumbly, crusty, stinky and chewed up. Of course, we did ride our bikes into town through the Industrial side passing big heaps of recycled metal. But all in all, the people were a little bit grumpy and most of the homes were in a bit of disrepair. This, I can also say for the roads.
While we were in New Haven we visited Yale University Art Gallery and I did an Instagram stunt and tricked a bunch of people into thinking I was going to attend Yale. Fooled them. Actually over 20 years ago before I was accepted at the University of Washington for my photography MFA, I did apply to Yale, but the competition was steep, about 200 applicants for 5 spots.
Nonetheless, in general Connecticut definitely has it’s share of Puritan sensibility. The people are very subdued, the houses are very plain and similar, and we rarely get a wave back. Except for New Haven, diversity is almost non-existent. It’s definitely not Memphis. Which makes it so strange that our friends Benedict and Namz live there because one of them ain’t white and one doesn’t cut his hair.
I guess you may be wondering why I called this post Nutmeg country. As the unofficial nick name for the state, Nutmeg Country is Connecticut’s dark underbelly. The story harkens back to when those swindling Yankees would try to pass off barrels of carved bits of wood topped with a few nutmeg seeds as a full barrel of nutmeg. Kind of makes you wonder what dark secrets these relatively quiet subdued people are holding underneath. And deep in the heart of Nutmeg country, the lives of cyclists are haunted by the tall tale of the Cedar Swamp Witch. And from my friend Benedict, aka UltraRomance, I quote his charmed passage.
The Cedar Swamp Witch is the forlorn gypsy bride of 1638 settler Lion Gardner. She is said to have been banished to the swamps of present day Killingworth, CT where she was later captured by the Hamonasset Indians. Lore has it that Chief Matabassek felt a cold chill in her presence, and suffered from painful ocular hemorrhaging whenever he glanced in her direction. In a squall of eye bleeding, she made her demonic escape back into the cedar swamp that she continues to haunt this very day/night. So when in #nutmegcountry, if you get a flat tyre in cedar swamp, you know who did it.
Did you notice the olde English spelling of “tyre”? Benedict and his gang ride their bikes through the Cedar Swamp every week doing what they call “the pizza ride”. The way I see it, while the old folks are busy thinking about who’s going where for what groceries that maybe, just maybe, there is an uprising in the making. It might be just a tiny coup, but it’s definitely there because Troy did get a flat the other night in the Cedar Swamp. I guess it’s not such a bad thing that witches are lurking in the underbelly, because otherwise, Connecticut would just be another pretty face.