Accentuate the Positive

The editor of The Litchfield County Times, a 2010 SNA Newspaper of the Year, the national award-winning glossy magazine Passport and other publications, celebrates the best of what Northwest Connecticut and beyond has to offer.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Washington State of Mind

I can say that Washington, Conn., is the only place I've ever been attacked by a northern goshawk (though that's not what this blog is about, so hang in for a bit before being persuaded of the town's charms).

Goshawks are accipiters, or hawks built for bursts of speed and agility as they navigate dense forests; they're also among the larger hawks in Connecticut, and are described as powerful hunters. It was eight years ago, around this time of year or maybe in early June that I had my encounter. Of course I knew these hawks were nesting in the Hidden Valley Preserve of the Steep Rock Association ( Signs were posted warning those walking in the lush, beautiful woods bisected by the Shepaug River not to use a trail that came close to a nesting area---and that, when nesting, the hawks would attack.

I heeded the warnings, but ended up "outsmarting" them by taking a series of other trails that brought me near the nesting grounds, a fact that didn't sink in as I followed this self-choreographed route more than once without incident. Then, one Friday afternoon, I entered the preserve from a different parking area on the other side of the river, at a point that contained no warning signs. I followed a trail alongside the river, and eventually crossed a footbridge to the other side and started up a series of switchbacks to pick up the outer loop trail I had been tracing.

Only a few hundred feet down the trail at the top of the hill I was startled into crisis mode first by a loud piercing cry and then the site of a very large dark object coming toward me. I turned around, began to run and, out of pure instinct, dove under the fence and rolled down the hill when I came to the hairpin turn of the first switchback; I figured the hawk was close and that slowing down to make the turn would result in talons piercing my scalp.

With no time to look back for the goshawk, I repeated the run, dive and roll maneuver at each switchback all the way down the hill. Finally, back down on the trail just above the footbridge, I turned to look and saw nothing. I thought I may have gotten far enough away from the nest, but immediately heard the cry and saw the hawk coming for me again. This time, I threw myself down the last hill between me and the river, ran along the rocks and hid underneath the footbridge for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, I climbed up onto the bridge and made haste back the way I had come and out of the preserve.

Despite my run-in, which serves as an unusual nature lover's badge of honor, given that I successfully escaped, the presence of goshawks in the landmark preserves of Steep Rock is a good thing. Though it means taking care in communing with nature during nesting season, it also means that the town is still so unspoiled and wild that one of the least seen and most private hawks lives here.

It's symbolic, really, of Washington's rarefied demographics. The humans who live here are, almost without exception, highly successful, affluent, sophisticated, discerning and, often, tied meaningfully to New York City. Houses are grand, and parties and benefits lavish.

In fact, the very existence of the natural riches preserved by Steep Rock come thanks to the architect Ehrick Rossiter, who designed the signature shingle-style manses of Washington, and whose reverence for the environment that helped gild his career prompted him to establish the preserve that now forms the core of Steep Rock's holdings.

Another accomplishment for Rossiter was designing a cultural gem in town, the Gunn Memorial Library. It's the pinnacle of small-town Connecticut libraries, and every year, as spring blossoms into the summer, the library holds a unique fund-raiser called Library Luminaries.

Here's a piece we published recently in The Litchfield County Times on the upcoming event: The 2011 Library Luminaries event to raise funds for the Gunn Memorial Library and Museum is taking a slightly different approach this year, its 16th. Traditionalists shouldn’t worry, though, as the spirit and structure of the event remains intact.
Fourteen separate dinner parties will each feature at least one "luminary," or a distinguished person of note, and each party will be hosted by an area resident. That much is unchanged.
But during the event’s past decade and a half, a flat donation allowed guests to choose which dinner to attend, in addition to alternatives in case of a sell-out, with an adjunct pre-dinner cocktail party at library. The package fee this year begins at $150. But the 2011 Library Luminaries Committee will also open up the cocktail party to those who may not attend, and do so for a contribution of $50.
"In prior years, people had to [sign up for] the dinner," said co-chair Bill Fore. "But this year you do not need to go the dinner, you can just go to the cocktail party."
The annual event is one of the primary fund-raisers for the town’s library and historical museum, which largely depends upon private contributions rather than taxpayer dollars. According to a release, recent Connecticut statistics reveal that the Gunn Memorial Library boasts double the number of visits per capita of libaries in towns of its size, and performs at the top of every measure of libraries statewide.
Just a few of the guest luminaries this year include: designer Robert Couturier and historical architect Jeffrey Morgan, hosted by Philippa Feigen Malkin and Jonathan Malkin; chef Wayne Nish, hosted by Susan and Lawrence Kessler; "Sex and the City" author Candace Bushnell, hosted by realtor Carolyn Klemm; author and radio host Ann Leary, hosted by Christina and Peter Klemm; and author and memoirist Dani Shapiro, hosted by Linda and Arthur Carter, the founder of The Litchfield County Times who is now a sculptor.
And in another departure from previous years, singer-songwriter Christine Ohlman and Rebel Montez will perform a concert, hosted by Susan Bishop-Wrabel and Gene Wrabel, Cynthia Oneglia and Dan Whalen, Susan and Craig Schoon, Chris and Marlene Smith, along with Mr. Fore and Joe Loose. Ms. Ohlman, best known from the Saturday Night Live Band, will conduct her show at the Washington Club Hall adjacent to the library.
"We’ve never had a luminary dinner that was also a concert," said Mr. Fore. "If your heart is beating, your hips will be shaking."
The event is scheduled for Saturday, June 4. For information on how to partake, visit the library’s Web site at or call 860-868-7586.

If a library's fund-raiser, however lofty, doesn't hold appeal, seeking out and discovering Washington certainly is in order. In addition to connecting with Steep Rock's preserves, zero in on Washington Depot to get acclimated. Clustered within a small area are plenty of shops worth discovering, including the landmark Hickory Stick Bookshop (

The Hickory Stick Bookshop.
There's also good places to eat, including the G.W. Tavern ( and the upscale Mayflower Inn & Spa (

One of the central spots in town, only established in recent years, is Marty's Cafe, a stylish coffee shop with yummy baked goods and rotating art exhibits. (

Marty's Cafe
Marty's is on one end of a small plaza that has another (locally) legendary food establishment on the far end, across the parking lot. The Pantry is a popular lunch-spot, and even more popular for its take-out delicacies, sandwiches, baked goods and more. (860-868-0258)

Once fueled up, visitors can't miss the Washington Art Association at the rear of the plaza that's home to town hall. See the Web site at

To learn more about Washington Depot, see the Web site of the Washington Business Association (, which, in fact, is holding a community day for the villages of Washington on Saturday, May 28.

Beyond Washington Depot is New Preston village, a rich little stop for visitors, Marbledale and more. Find this town and fall in love---just watch out for the goshawks.


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Executive Editor of a national award-winning publishing group with newspapers and glossy magazines: The Litchfield County Times, LCT magazine, Passport magazine, Fairfield County Life, etc. Contact me at

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