This month, one of my cousins had a wedding in Connecticut to which my parents were invited. Naturally, my mother assumed that she could bring us along as well, but she later learned that this wedding was to be “adults only,” with the exception of one dinner. While this was rather off-putting to her, she decided to attend anyway and bring us along for the dinner, and a vacation. Here I will provide a review of our trip to Connecticut.
We, with the excepted of my older brother and sister who were tethered to summer jobs at home, left early on Monday the 15th, two days after my chess tournament in Beckley. We had packed our suitcases the night before, so we embarked on the nine-hour drive without too much delay. As we passed from state to state, we passed the time by reading, playing hangman and twenty questions, and listening to music. We stayed on I-81 for most of the trip and arrived at our rented yellow beach house at around 8:00 PM, whereupon we supped on pizza that our grandmother, who had arrived prior to us, had purchased. Including lunch and rest stops, the trip had taken about 12 hours. We spent our first evening in Connecticut playing a card game called hearts.
We awoke late on the morn of the second day, during which we were each disposed to our own activities. I began the day as usual with a volitional gymnastics routine before breakfast. Then my sister and I decided to go for a swim while my mother went to meet an online friend and Connecticut resident. The first beach we came across was private and the second one only for local residents. With the justification, “well we are temporary residents,” we entered the “beach,” a stony, 10-foot-wide patch of sand in between buildings. I dove in and swam out to a small granite outcrop while my sister hung back on shore, hesitantly dabbing her toes in the water. At first, she was simply reluctant to submerge herself in the cool water, but then she started feeling sick and lay down on a bench. At this point, I swam back to shore and we walked home. As soon as we reached the house, my sister vomited in the toilet. I wanted to call our mother, but she had not her phone. Fortunately, my sister soon felt better, and when our mother returned, we went to swim at real beach at a place called Branford Point. When we arrived, we saw a large, mostly empty parking lot, seemingly the perfect place to stop- except for the, “residents only” sign. A little further down the road, we came to a tiny, chock-full parking lot for tourists. Fortunately, two people appeared to be leaving as we arrived, but they tarried longer than we expected. While we waited for a spot to clear, other cars pulled up behind us and one angry driver beeped at us. Thankfully, however, the slow-to-go people left eventually and we were able to begin our exploration of the beach.
I began by following a path up onto a granite outcrop and snapping some photographs of the interesting flora, the most prominent of which was the bladderwrack forming a thick, slimy carpet over the entire tidal zone of the outcrop. Bladderwrack is named for its most striking feature: the air sacks embedded in the leaves. These are also the source of its scientific name, Fucus vesiculolus. Fucus, the genus, means seaweed and vesiculosus, the species, mean having vesicles, in this case, the air sacks. This feature alone makes bladderwrack a unique plant, but its alternative names reveal even more interesting characteristics: it is also known as dyers fucus and red fucus, and an alternative definition for the Latin word fucus is red paint. From a blog called Helen’s Herbals, I know that bladderwrack can dye sheep yarn a, “pleasing fawn” color, so it is a dyer’s fucus. However, I am not so sure what the connection is to red; I know that multiple pigments can be derived from a single plant with the use of different pH modifiers and fixatives and on different mediums, so perhaps bladderwrack can yield a red dye under different conditions? Anyway, two other names that point to obvious characteristics of the plant are seas oak, referring to the resemblance of its leaves to those of oak, and rock rack, referring to its affinity for stones. It also has several medicinal uses.
After photographing the bladderwrack, I moved on to other prominent plants and interesting geological and topographical features of the tidal environment. To obtain some of the above images I had to clamber along the uneven granite outcrop, slowly making my way to the beach. I enjoyed the clambering, of course, but when I finally reached the place on the beach where the others had settled and deposited my burden of towel and chair, my siblings pointed out a sign saying, “KEEP OFF ROCKS.” The granite outcrop had been so intriguing, however, that I was more than happy with my unconscious decision to seek forgiveness later rather than permission in the moment, i.e. when I saw the path leading off the road and up the outcrop. For on the unique ecology of granite outcrops, check out this article.
After photographically documenting a small sliver of beach ecology, i.e. seagulls, barnacles, and sea glass, I finally waded into the Atlantic ocean for a swim. I enjoyed diving and swimming close to the sea floor to spy on the hermit crabs, clams, and other gastropods. The sea floor was unique to me in that it was not sandy but instead comprised of a soft, clayey mud. I was also surprised by one inhabitant of said mud: a long, white living tube that zipped back into its subterranean home the moment I touched its smooth, slimy skin. Aside from the ecology, I also enjoyed playing games with my sister, such as throwing a unique object into the water and seeing who can find it first.
Eventually, we tired of frolicking in the ocean and began moving shore-ward. Just before we reached the edge of the water, we stumbled across a horseshoe crab carcass that consisted of only the exoskeleton and legs. Pausing at the boundary between ocean and sand, we noticed all of the pretty pebbles peopling this area. I took to balancing small stones while my sister searched for the prettiest specimens.
After I finally managed to balance three small stones on top of each other and photograph them before they were toppled by the tide, we finally gravitated towards the proximate park. It was equipped with a very tall swing set with a built-in pull-up bar. For a while we satisfied ourselves with the conventional uses for this equipment, but then we realized its full potential unforeseen by the designers: the pull up bar doubled as a balance beam and the swing set a jungle gym. We also noticed another piece of playground equipment: a balance beam, otherwise known as a bike parking area.
After making full use of the man-made amusement facilities, we out into nature to climb outcrops and trees, roll down hills, and eat wine berries. There was another individual partaking in similar activities: a raccoon that attracted quite a lot of attention, including that of park officials who contacted pest control. While rolling down one hill, we noticed that our footfalls elicited a hollow-sounding “thunk” from the hill. We never figured out the cause of this strange phenomenon, of course, but it was a noteworthy aspect of the experience.
When we finally returned to our temporary residence, I participated in three activities that would dominate my evenings for the remainder of the trip. First, I worked on a post about my experience at the chess tournament in Beckley for my blog on chess.com. Then I discovered an electronic toy called the Flash Pad 2.0 that was basically an 8”X8” white plastic square with sixteen different symbols arranged in a 4X4 grid on the top face. Each symbol was nested inside a circle. Their were five different games that could be played on the Flash Pad 2.0: Sieze Me, Remember Me, Twist Me, Chase Me, and Find Me. Each game was based on the circles lighting up red or green and the goal of each was to touch the red ones. In Sieze Me, a moving pattern of green lights would appear and you would wait until one of the circles momentarily flashed red and you had to touch that circle. In Remember Me, first a single red light would appear and then the same red light plus another one, and so on in an ever lengthening pattern. In twist me, each round would consist of circles lighting up and you would have to press all of the circles at once, one at a time without releasing them. Chase me consisted of progressively larger numbers of circles lighting up, some red some green, and the goal was to touch all of the red circles in a certain time without touching any others. Finally, in Find Me, all of the circles would light up red and you would have to press them until only one was left, the right one. My siblings and I mainly focused on Chase Me, the fastest paced game, and competed for the highest score. As the week went on, we all got better, and eventually my brother beat the high score of the previous owner. In the end, my brother won by going for so long that all of the lights were lit and after a few rounds of this, the game simply ended. I almost achieved this as well, but never quite got there. The final activity was watching TV. For the first couple of nights, we watched a National Geographic series called “When Sharks Attack” (fitting for a beach vacation, I know :)) and then watching a variety of things including The Simpsons and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Most of the channels required subscriptions, though, and advertisements were displayed for at least half the time, reminding us all how awful TV is.
Having covered what we did in our free time, I’ll only describe the main events of each day from now on.
On the third day, we went on a tour of Yale University and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. At Yale, I really liked the large, Gothic collegiate buildings, especially surrounding the tree-filled courtyard with the statue of Elihu Yale, a rich associate of the Brittish East India company who made a sizable donation to Yale, then known as the Collegiate School, early on. The most interesting part of the tour came with the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. I was impressed by the diaphanous marble walls, the sheer size of the book collection (and the building itself), and the fact that the entire building rests on four pillars positioned at the four corners.
After the Yale tour, we briefly returned to the house to drop off my brother, who was “feeling sick,” before heading on to the natural history museum. It was truly an amazing experience. My favorite part was the mineral section and I am very sorry we did not get more pictures of it. The sections on Mesopotamia, the dinosaurs, and life animals were also very interesting and enjoyable. I wish we could have spent more time there, but we had planned to meet up with our grandparents for a tour of the Thimble Islands, so our walk through the mineral department was hurried and cut short. To add insult to injury, we learned that the island tour was cancelled due to bad weather when we were halfway there.
On the fourth day we patronized the It Adventure Ropes Course at Jordan’s Furniture in New Haven. We had seen its prominent size on the way to our house in Branford on the first day and decided to check it out at some point after visiting their website. After wading through a sea of expensive furniture, we made it the registration desk where my mother paid the large fee of 30 dollars per person. As we had been warned that once we came down from the course our ticket expired, my sister and I (my brother had stayed home again) used the bathroom before we harnessed up and ascended the course. All of the obstacles, or “elements,” were basically balance exercises, but not very difficult ones. For a challenge, I tried to only use my feet and not hold on to my harness or any extra ropes provided for stabilization. For the most part, I succeeded in completing all of the obstacles without the use of my hands, except for obstacles where I had to walk along a single rope. The only non-balance elements were the zip lines going back and forth across the room connecting two separate courses. When my sister and I got tired of the somewhat repetitive obstacles, we spent our time going back and forth on the zip lines. We were both moistened by the water fountain that one of the zip lines was suspended over. After two and a half hours of this, we decided to “Jump It” and leave the course, if only for the sake of our mother who awaited us below. We made our way to the very top of the course where an attendant reattached our harnesses to a cable on a spool and opened the gate to a short plank fifty feet above the floor that we were to step off of. As a challenge to myself, I decided to walk the plank with my eyes closed.
When we returned to the house, it was time to spiff up and don our nice clothes in anticipation of the pre-wedding dinner that was the impetus behind the entire trip. The dinner took place in rented room right next to a brewery. We were one of the first families to arrive and we met with the groom’s father. Our grand parents and great uncles showed up later. My brother and I chatted about radio astronomy and physics with our step-grandfather who is currently a neuro-pathologist but originally studied physics. We talked with our great uncles as well. One of them showed us a pamphlet about a museum that displays real human bodies preserved and dissected in such a way as to emphasize different body systems. He is a lawyer. The other uncle is a travelling musician who helps poor people in Haiti. They were both good company and the food was decent (in my opinion), so the dinner went over well in general. At the end met briefly with our cousin, the bride.
On the fifth day, we finally got our tour of the Thimble Islands. The tour guide focused mainly on the expensive homes of some of the owners of the larger islands. Despite this, the Thimble Islands were very beautiful and have an interesting geological history: apparently, they were formed when sea levels rose to engulf part of the Appalachian mountain range and they are the foothills that stuck up above the water. Another interesting fact we learned was that all of the pink granite used in our national monuments was quarried in Connecticut around where we were staying.
After the tour, we stopped momentarily at the house for lunch and then proceeded to the long-awaited trampoline park. This one of the most fun aspects of our trip. I especially enjoyed the ninja challenge course, which I completed three times, and the “X beam” arena which consisted of a balance beam over a foam pit and the goal was to knock your opponent into the pit with foam bludgeons. I faced a variety of my opponents, but my sister was the fiercest and came the closest to knocking me off. I learned a couple of new trampoline tricks by watching talented kids; one was a sort of front hand spring and the other was similar but involved jumping to the side. I was able to perform these tricks with a little practice, but what I really wanted to try was the back flip. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to work up enough courage to try it before I saw a sign saying “no back flips” at the giant airbag with trampolines in front it where I wanted to perform my attempt. As we were leaving, I saw a young boy performing perfect back flips at the main trampoline area; I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. To cool off from the ecstatic exertions at the trampoline park, we went swimming at Branford Point again in the evening, and this time we were able to park without incident.
On the sixth day, we packed up all of our clothes, extra food and accessories and went on our way back home. Unlike on the way their, we decided to head through New York City to perhaps catch a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. Our plan was to use GPS to lead us as close to the statue as possible, but it did not work out as we had envisioned; I searched “statue of liberty” on Google Maps and came up with many results ranging from museums to gift shops, but then I saw one that read, “Statue of Liberty Ellis Island,” and I thought,”well, this must be it.” But after suffering through a long time in traffic, we came to a place in the middle of downtown New York City with no statue in sight. Then we switched to my brother’s phone’s GPS and he found the actual statue, but it lead us to a horrendous traffic jam and we still could not see the statue. Exasperated, we gave up and continued the route back home, but my Mother decided to stay as close to shore as possible to maximize our chances of sighting the Statue. Then, lo’ and behold, our efforts paid off and we managed to glimpse the Statue not once but two times at different angles and distances. As an added bonus, we got ample view of the One World Trade Center.
Our first stop of the returning home trip, excluding bathroom breaks, was a fireworks store. Earlier, my Mothers adult male cohabitant had bought some fireworks to set off at the Fourth of July, which we did. But we did it while he wasn’t around, so we decided to make up for it by buying “nuclear warhead” and “mind bender” fireworks kits, which we have yet to set off.
For the majority of the trip, my Mother and I played a word game the goal of which was to come up with as many words beginning with the letter combination “pr.” My younger siblings also participated in this game, but they ran out words relatively quickly. My mother and I competed until she got tired of it or, as I see it, ran out of words. We also played hangman and twenty questions. My mother and siblings were able to guess the words “harrumph” and “psoriasis,” but not “eyot” (which not even Word Press recognizes) before the man was hung.
Our second and final stop before we reached home was at a place in West Virignia called Dan Ingles’ Overlook which has always been a favorite stop of ours when we go on long trips that pass it by. It consists of a parking lot with a stone wall on one side and benches with a steep, grassy hill beyond the wall- perfect for somersaults- and a stunning mountain vista beyond that.
Overall, we had a wonderful trip to Connecticut and were glad to have connections there who might, someday, call us back.