Category Archives: Environment

How The Earthplace Garden Grows

Like the perennial plants that bloom, then disappear there, the native garden in the Earthplace atrium has cycled through periods of growth and dormancy.

Designed in 1960 by Eloise Ray — a noted landscape architect — at what was then called the Mid-Fairfield County Youth Museum, the handsome garden was filled with indigenous species.

Eloise Ray, in the natural garden she conceived and designed.

Eloise Ray, in the native garden she conceived and designed.

Over the years — as the name changed to the Nature Center — the garden became a favorite spot. A bronze statue and bench added to its serenity.

In 1977, the Greens Farms Garden Club took over maintenance. They continued until 2011, when the board of trustees changed the courtyard focus. For a few years, the garden fell into disuse.

But in the fall of 2015, the garden club revived it. They weeded vigorously. Working from Ray’s original blueprints, they planted 17 new shrubs, and 42 native plants. Last year, they added 12 more perennials.

Greens Farms Garden Club members (from left) Ann Watkins, Barbara Harman, Wynn Herrmann, Rivers Teske and Donnie Nader take a rare break from their Earthplace work.

Greens Farms Garden Club members (from left) Ann Watkins, Barbara Harman, Wynn Herrmann, Rivers Teske and Donnie Nader take a rare break at Earthplace.

Today the garden is once again a delight. It supports local wildlife like grey tree frogs. Honeybees pollinate the flora. Birds and butterflies abound.

Staff and visitors love it. And, says Greens Farms Garden Club past president Wynn Hermann, members and Earthplace employees enjoy a “wonderful partnership.”

Earthplace's atrium garden blooms again.

Earthplace’s atrium garden blooms again.

On Saturday, March 11, guests will gather there for a Garden Party Gala. There’s great food and music, plus an auction. It’s a fundraiser for Earthplace’s education programs.

The theme of the evening is “Help Our Garden Grow.”

Which makes perfect sense. Whether it’s flowers or the environmental awareness of children, Earthplace plants seeds, nurtures and grows.

(The Garden Party Gala is set for 7-11 p.m. on Saturday, March 11. For information and tickets, click here.)

 

Bradley Stevens Paints Washington’s Interior

Like the rest of President Obama’s cabinet, Sally Jewell is gone.

But — at least in the Department of Interior’s Washington, DC office — she will never be forgotten.

That’s because her portrait now hangs there, alongside her 50 predecessors.

It’s a non-traditional painting. And it’s of “06880” interest because the artist is Staples Class of 1972 graduate Bradley Stevens.

A Wrecker basketball star (and rock guitarist) who earned both a BA and MFA from George Washington University in 1976, Stevens is one of America’s leading realist painters. His work — depicting Vernon Jordan, Allen Iverson, Felix Rohatyn, Senator Mark Warner, and dozens of other politicians, financiers, educators, judges and sports figures — hangs in the Smithsonian, US Capitol, State Department, Mount Vernon and Monticello.

Bradley Stevens, at work in his studio. (Photo/GW Magazine)

Bradley Stevens, at work in his studio. (Photo/GW Magazine)

His Sally Jewell commission came on the recommendation of collectors of his work in Seattle, who knew her. Her previous job was CEO of REI, based in that city.

Last April, Stevens met the secretary at Interior headquarters. Over the next 8 months, as he worked on the portrait, they met many times in his studio.

Stevens hiked with Jewell in the Cascades. “Luckily,” he says, the experienced outdoorswoman — who has climbed Antarctica’s highest peak — “chose a more moderate mountain.”

He posed her on the Manassas battlefield in Virginia — near Stevens’ home — at sunrise, to get the right light.

“It’s not your typical government portrait,” Stevens says. “The landscape plays a prominent role in the composition.”

But, he says, because as head of the National Park Service — and because of her love of the outdoors — he thought it was important to paint her in front of Mt. Rainier. It’s an iconic image of her home town, and she’s reached its summit 7 times.

Jewell — who as secretary helped expose underprivileged young people to the environment — asked Stevens to include Youth Conservation Corps volunteers on the trail behind her.

In the portrait, she wears silver tribal jewelry. That symbolizes her efforts to protect Native American sacred lands.

Sally Jewell's official portrait, by Bradley Stevens.

Sally Jewell’s official portrait, by Bradley Stevens.

The painting was unveiled at the Department of the Interior on January 13. There was a big ceremony, with many speakers.

Stevens says, “It was an honor to get to know Secretary Jewell. She is passionate and driven about her work protecting our nation’s lands.”

She is also “a humble and self-effacing public servant. It was never about attracting attention to herself. Her focus was solely on doing the right things for the environment. This experience restored my faith in government.”

President Trump has nominated Montana congressman Ryan Zinke to replace Jewell. A frequent voter against environmentalists on issues ranging from coal extraction to oil and gas drilling, he received a 3 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters.

 

Wired!

Yesterday, “06880” posted Jennifer Johnson’s gorgeous photo of Bedford Square.

Sitting outside SoNo bakery, an alert “06880” reader noticed how lovely Seabury Center — across from the new construction — looked in the afternoon light.

She snapped this photo:

seabury-center

Gazing down Church Lane toward Christ & Holy Trinity Church, she shot another:

christ-holy-trinity-church

But as she peered closer, she saw what she believes is a new utility pole.

Suddenly, she wondered: Will this lovely scene soon become a jumble of overhead power and cable lines?

She looked back toward Elm Street, and saw this cluttered mess:

elm-street

Last summer, she thought that all the work on Church Lane meant that utility wires would be buried underground.

Now she’s unsure.

And very, very worried.

If A Tree Falls…

Because he’s our tree warden, many Westporters assume Bruce Lindsay controls every tree in town.

Nope. According to state statute, tree wardens control only “trees (and shrubs) on public road or grounds.”

So Lindsay oversees approximately 120 miles of town-owned roads and rights of way. He also works with Parks and Rec and the Board of Education on their properties as needed.

Lindsay does not manage trees on private property, private roads and driveways, state roads, state parks, commercial property or non-profit private lands.

So what happens when a tree falls from one private property onto another? Who’s responsible for clean-up and damage?

Negligence? Or act of God?

Negligence? Or act of God?

Lindsay says that’s usually a matter of common law (case law), not statute. The process falls under the “act of God” rules. The affected neighbor pays for his own property damage — including tree removal, clean-up and related expenses.

Lindsay emphasizes: “The homeowner has no duty to his neighbors for property damage resulting from trees and branches falling from the homeowner’s property, especially when due to a true ‘act of God’ such as a severe wind, rain or snow.”

However, he adds — citing the state Office of Legislative Research — “as a general rule under the common law, a property owner has a duty to maintain the trees on his or her property in a way that prevents them from harming a neighbor’s property.

“If the property owner knows, or reasonably should know, that a defect in the trees (e.g., rot) poses an unreasonable danger to others, the owner must eliminate the danger. If the owner does not, he or she may be liable for the damage the tree causes.”

A well-maintained tree is a beautiful thing.

A well-maintained tree is a beautiful thing.

Lindsay often fields calls from residents who say that a neighbor’s dead trees hang over their yard, yet nothing is being done about them. That’s when it’s time to send a certified letter, and ask for relief in 30 days.

However, Lindsay emphasizes that no law requires this. Still, he says, it helps to have your complaint in writing.

Lindsay recommends that a homeowner hire an arborist to perform a ground-level assessment of surrounding trees, and issue a report of the findings. There may be a small fee associated with this assessment, depending on the company and intent to perform work.

But it’s the right — and neighborly — thing to do.

New Pharmacy Fills Old-Fashioned Need

Phil Hein’s story resembles many Westporters’.

He and his wife Karen lived in New York. They had a baby, then moved to the suburbs. He worked for a big company. He’d get home late, mentally spent. He’d hang out with his kids, get up in the morning, and do it all again.

After 25 years — sitting in a boardroom, working on his computer, sitting in traffic on the Merritt Parkway — he thought to himself, “I have to do more.”

Hein recalled the active lifestyle he’d had when he was younger (including a stint as a Colorado ski bum). A couple of years ago, he said: “I will do more.”

Then — unlike many suburbanites — he made a radical move.

Phil and Karen Hein.

Phil and Karen Hein.

Hein spent the first half of 2016 figuring out what to do. He talked to as many people as he could, from franchisees to small business owners. He explored different ideas.

A friend who owned a pharmacy outside Washington, DC seemed very happy. He enjoyed his work; he knew everyone in the community; customers brought him presents.

Hein — who had a background in retail, and by then had moved from Westport to Weston — had an “aha!” moment. What our towns need, he thought, was an old-fashioned pharmacy: a place where people could hang out, buy what they needed, and feel both embraced and educated in the process.

But he added a modern twist to the figurative pot-bellied stove. He wanted natural options, to enhance the store’s “natural” feeling.

Which is exactly what you’ll find, in the newly opened Shoreline Pharmacy.

shoreline-logoIt’s not exactly on the shore — in fact, it’s on the Post Road next to Shake Shack and Fjord Fisheries, across from Home Goods near the Southport line — but Hein has tried to create a “beach” vibe inside.

It’s bright, inviting, feel-good, with natural wood shelving. Comfortable sofas invite lounging. Surf and reggae music plays.

There’s a conventional pharmacy. But Hein’s philosophy of integrative medicine includes wellness and lifestyle. So he stocked his store with natural supplements and remedies. He added a “living room,” where nutritionists, chefs and others give informative talks.

shoreline-pharmacy-1

Part of the Shoreline Pharmacy interior.

An important step on Hein’s journey was finding the right pharmacist. He hired a woman who — like he — felt burned out working for a big firm. She looks forward to really getting to know her customers, and helping solve their problems.

Shoreline Pharmacy opened a few days ago. Feedback has been exactly what Hein hoped for.

Then at closing time he drives a few minutes home, spends quality time with his wife and kids — and knows he did the right thing.

For himself, and his community.

Only 39 Days Until Spring…

…but this blue jay can’t wait.

(Photo/Irene Penny)

(Photo/Irene Penny)

Today’s snowstorm was just as predicted: quick and heavy. Already, it seems to be winding down.

But it left plenty of cancellations in its wake.

Among them: tonight’s discussion on alternatives to coyote trapping and killing. It’s been rescheduled for Monday (February 13), 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

Handsome Visitor

Tricia Freeman spotted this bald eagle yesterday, enjoying a pre-Super Bowl meal at Nash’s Pond.

bald-eagle-nashs-pond-tricia-freeman

Fun fact: America’s national bird is not actually “bald.” The name comes from an older meaning of the word: “white-headed.”

Coyote Meeting Set For Thursday

A few days ago, I posted a story about a deadly coyote attack on a Westporter’s beloved dog.

Many “06880” readers responded with comments.

Third selectman Helen Garten responded by contacting colleagues on the Connecticut Council of the Humane Society of the United States. She wondered if there are ways to prevent coyote conflicts without resorting to hunting or trapping — both of which have limited effectiveness in a suburb like Westport.

Laura Simon — a wildlife ecologist who has helped other communities, and whose work has been featured in the New York Times, on NPR and the Ellen DeGeneres Show — volunteered to come here. On Thursday.

So on February 9 (7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), she’ll answer questions about coyote behavior, and provide alternative solutions.

The meeting will also include information on current state legislative efforts to ban trapping.

“Before we make decisions with lasting consequences, we owe it to ourselves to understand all options,” Garten says.

The public is invited to attend.

Coyotes may look harmless. They're not.

Coyotes may look harmless. They’re not.

A Semi-Shoutout For Starbucks

Recently, Starbucks moved across the Post Road. It exchanged comfy, friendly digs with limited parking near the diner for cold, unfriendly digs with equally limited parking — but a drive-thru! — near Bank of America.

Fairly quickly, customers noticed that the coffee chain with the green logo was anything but environmentally green. The outside was a mess — though that’s been cleaned up a bit.

starbucks-garbage

The new Starbucks, a few days after opening.

Meanwhile, inside there was no way for customers to separate paper and plastic goods from everything else.

Robie Spector had spent years trying to get managers at the previous Starbucks location to recycle. Facing defensiveness and obfuscation, she stopped going there.

Robie gave the new place a try. She was distressed to see no recycling.

She tried again. Again, she got the same lack of answers and “a dash of odd vibe.”

She contacted Starbucks corporate. A district manager called back, blaming the landlord.

Robie contacted the first selectman’s office, who told her to call Public Works. They had good news: State law mandates that businesses recycle.

However, there are no inspectors. So companies do what they want, unchecked.

As they chatted, Robie and Scott Sullivan of Public Works realized that Panera by Home Goods does a great job of recycling. Robie set up a meeting with Sharon, the general manager, who was quite helpful. She emboldened Robie to keep pressing Starbucks’ district manager.

She did. Finally, Robie says, Starbucks is recycling.

starbucks-recycle

At least, it seems that way. Of course, it could all end up in the same place out back. (Thankfully though, that trash has been cleaned up.)

As Thomas Jefferson sort of said, eternal vigilance is the price of a grande iced sugar-free vanilla latte with soy milk.

Coyotes!

Alert, angry and saddened “06880” reader Peter Mackey writes:

The other day we said goodbye to our dear friend Murphy. We rescued our snaggle-toothed mixed breed dog a dozen years ago. He was a childhood companion to our kids, and the inseparable buddy of our other dog, Leilah.

Murphy did not die of old age. He died from a vicious, brutal attack by coyotes in our front yard, on Charcoal Hill Road.

It was a quiet Saturday evening. As usual, I let our dogs out at dusk, to do their final duties. But I’ll never forget that night.

Murphy

Murphy

Murphy had 27 puncture wounds, his muscles ripped from his spinal cord, and internal damage he would never recover from. I apologize for the graphic description, but it’s important we all are aware of how deadly these animals are.

As harrowing as that evening and the next day were, it’s the experience we had afterward that prompts this note. In the process of dealing with this, I’ve discovered that Westport is the only town in Connecticut that has an ordinance against trapping or killing wild animals on private property. Even predators as cruel and ferocious as coyotes.

Officer Gina Gambino of Westport Animal Control told us that Westport Code of Ordinance 10-1 and 10-2 forbid trapping or hunting  coyotes in this town. She said there is nothing that she or her department can do to protect our neighborhood from predators.

“I don’t make the laws. I just enforce them,” was the general response.

Coyotes are now at the top of the Westport food chain. Because surrounding towns allow trapping, they’re proliferating here.

All pets, and even small children are at risk. Murphy was a medium-sized dog weighing 40 pounds. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection warns owners of pets under 25 pounds to be aware of coyotes. That’s an outdated standard.

As our climate warms, coyotes who would normally be in their dens are roaming our yards, looking for food wherever they can find it. With their proliferation comes increased adaptation to human environments. The longer they’re here, the more comfortable they become.

The Mackey family (minus Peter) and their dogs.

The Mackey family (minus Peter) and their dogs.

I hope this letter increases awareness of this clear and present danger; opens dialogue between residents and the RTM about this ordinance, and encourages Westport Animal Control to take some responsibility for helping citizens deal with this issue, ordinance or no ordinance.

If you recently sighted a coyote on your property, report it to the police. Get your RTM members involved.

I can’t imagine I live in the only Connecticut town that places the safety of its predator population above its citizens and their pets.

Last night the coyotes were back in our yard, howling 10 feet outside our bedroom window. Fortunately, Leilah was inside.