Favorite places for “alone time” in The Last Green Valley

By the time this column is printed in the Bulletin, I will be on vacation. Most of my vacation will be spent with family and friends, but a good portion will also be spent alone. The prospect of thoughtful, quiet moments of solitude has me thinking about my favorite places for being alone here in The Last Green Valley.

There is no better place to seek solitude than in the woods. I always enjoy exploring a woods trail with friends, family and colleagues, but the observant and trained eye is distracted by hikers’ chatter. The fauna slips from view and the flora is passed unseen — secret blooms missed by tromping feet.

When alone in the woods, it is best to sit quietly and wait for nature to come to you. The truth is, you’re never alone in the woods. Countless living creatures are much closer at hand than we realize — that is, until an owl alights from a hidden perch, a doe suddenly appears in a clearing or a red and orange eft of the eastern newt emerges from under forest leaves and duff.

Any one of our state forests and parks is a perfect woodsy location for experiencing alone time. We are lucky to have the Nipmuck, Natchaug and Pachaug forests all within the boundaries of our National Heritage Corridor. Each has trails and plenty of forest habitat to explore.

It may be surprising, but some of the locations I like to visit for quality time spent with me, myself and I are very public places — museums. Our region has excellent museums that provide the perfect opportunity for quiet contemplation. You’d be surprised how rejuvenating a slow stroll through a museum gallery can be.

The Slater Memorial Museum in Norwich has an excellent collection of paintings, historical objects and plaster casts of Greek, Roman and Italian Renaissance sculptures. Another of my favorite local museums is the William Benton Museum of Art at UConn. I am always surprised and impressed by the exhibitions at both museums.

When I visit an art museum I try to slow down. Most gallery rooms have benches for sitting, and taking extra time to look at the art work is a good way to explore the subject matter and the artist’s intentions more deeply. I suggest planning your solo visit on a weekday afternoon — preferably after the school groups have left and the galleries are less noisy. Quiet contemplation and works of art — a perfect afternoon of solitude.

I admit I don’t really like shopping, but when I must, I prefer to be by myself. My favorite shops are antique stores, and living in Putnam I have plenty to explore for that special treasure. I enjoy the countless objects of the past stacked in dusty corners or carefully displayed in glass cases. Usually I am not looking for a specific type of antique, and that’s when I’m more apt to discover an unusual find.

What I really like about visiting antique shops is the chance to touch and handle some of the objects. You can’t purchase an antique tool without hefting it in your hand and running your fingers over the dark patina of the wood handle. To look at an old bureau or chest of drawers you need to open each drawer, check for wear on the runners, examine how carefully the dovetail joints were carved, and examine it for replacement parts that may betray flaws or faulty repairs.

I know a respected Smithsonian Institute curator who at one time vividly exclaimed to me that objects of the past resonate; they emit energy and can speak if you listen hard enough. She told me this while handing me a 19th-century, hand-turned pottery jug made of earthenware or redware. “Turn it over” she said to me. “There, do you see the thumb print in the unglazed bottom? That’s the actual thumbprint of the man who made this pot more than 150 years ago. If that doesn’t give you a thrill, nothing will.” If you see me in a local antique shop I may be looking at the bottom of old redware pottery. I am still looking for another thumbprint.

The Last Green Valley has many quiet country roads. My favorite drive for tranquil contemplation is Route 169, which runs the length of The Last Green Valley from Southbridge to Norwich. A 32-mile stretch of Route 169 has been designated a National Scenic Byway and is certainly one of the most beautiful and scenic roads in our region.

Route 169 winds through picturesque hill towns, past farms and farm stands, antique shops, small stores and beautiful vistas. There are plenty of quiet places to stop along the way. If you’re looking to get out and discover what lies just around the corner, Route 169 is full of surprises.

Our region also has some of the most beautiful rivers in southern New England. For a leisurely day on the water, nothing beats a float on the Quinebaug, Willimantic or Shetucket Rivers. Paddling to a secluded pullout location is always a great opportunity to sit, watch the water slip by, perhaps wet a line for fish, or just soak up the river sounds and peaceful ambiance. Be sure to wear your lifejacket, and bring along a similarly-contemplative friend rather than paddling alone.

We also have scenic overlooks and viewpoints along our rivers where the placid and sometimes musical waters flow by on their way to Norwich Harbor, the Thames River and out to Long Island Sound. Perfect quiet time can be found on one of many benches along the 2-mile Putnam River Trail, on the banks of the Quinebaug River. Even better is the view of rushing Cargill Falls from Rotary Park.

I hope you’ll make some alone time soon. We live such busy, hectic lives that too often we forget to stop, sit a spell, listen, look about and contemplate this beautiful place we call The Last Green Valley.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 30 years. He can be reached at bill@tlgv.org

The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the preceding article. The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.