Tag Archives: Scott Smith

Down Upon The Swan-ee River

Yesterday — while watching the Memorial Day parade on Riverside Avenue — alert “06880” reader Scott Smith decided to explore the “secret” boardwalk along the Saugatuck River behind the offices near Rive Bistro.

He was surprised to find a mother swan sitting on her nest, protecting a just-hatched cygnet. The father swan stood guard, a few feet away.

Swan 2

Scott and the new dad watched as the mama tended to her 1st-born, and turned the rest of the eggs. They were a cool shade of green, Scott says, and larger than he expected.

(Photos/Scott Smith)

(Photos/Scott Smith)

“I never thought I’d get so close to a swan nest without causing a ruckus,” he says. “Or have the chance to use the word ‘cygnet’ outside of a Scrabble board.”


Piling On

Former Bridgeport mayor Jasper McLevy once said: “God put the snow there. Let him take it away.”

Fortunately, Westport has a fantastic public works crew that manages to clear roads quickly and efficiently, then cart all the snow off to — well, God knows where.

So, looking at this photo just sent by alert “06880” reader Scott Smith —

Snow on Main Street

— the question is: Which snow will disappear first? This pile, or the ones on the sidewalks?

I bet this one.

Burying Hill Beach: Unburied

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith writes:

The backwash of Superstorm Sandy lingers in our community — personally now in beachfront neighborhoods, in fuller view at Compo and along Main Street where, surprisingly, some shops are still shuttered a month after the fact.

Then there are places around town caught somewhere in the middle of our public/private introspection of what Sandy wrought.  Burying Hill is one of them. The pocket park and beach remained closed until this week, its entrance along a curve of Beachside Avenue gated shut.

Last weekend — while it was still closed — I parked near Green’s Farms railroad station and hiked up the low-lying road along New Creek that leads to the beach. It was my 2nd furtive trip to Burying Hill since the storm.

Burying Hill Beach shows extensive post-Sandy damage.

I can happily report that a Kowalsky bulldozer has scraped away the 2 feet of sand that washed over the parking lot. But a much bigger, longer and costlier job remains: repairing the seawall at the base of what I’ve always figured is the actual Burying Hill.

Sandy gouged deep into the hillock, nearly taking with it the tidy little bathroom building on top of the seawall.

Though a chain link fence and lots of orange ribbon surrounding the ugly gash is now gone, who knows when the park will be be repaired.

Westport is so blessed with public amenities, Burying Hill hardly ever enters into the conversation of “town jewels.” Fine by me, because being the least trammeled shoreline around makes it a particularly good place for impromptu wave-watching, private sunsets, unfettered jaunts with the dog in winter, rock-turning for crabs in summer and, especially, beachcombing.

Burying Hill, before the storm.

People mull over the sand in all seasons and for all kinds of reasons. I seek beach brick, polished by the surf and sand into streamlined pieces of all shapes and sizes. Over the past few years I’ve taken home enough pieces of beach brick to fill a pathway in my garden. I like how the ocher hues contrast with the dirt. The bricks soak up water like a sponge yet drain like gravel, and they will last forever, more or less. Plus, it’s free –though I do have some guilt for choosing salvage rights over a more altruistic “leave things be.”

As an architectural artifact, beach brick marks our progress as New World residents along this shore of the Sound. My favorite find is a pale yellow-orange variety flecked with bits of shell and straw. Surely these pieces date from the pre-Industrial Era, when brick was formed of hand-dug clay and any old beach sand, and padded with salt marsh grass.

Much of the brick I find no doubt derives from seawalls or steps leading down to the beach that failed to stand the test of time. But who knows how long or far each piece has been tumbled by each tide, how whole it was before being ground down to a pebble, or from what man-made thing it came from?

Scott Smith’s “beach bricks.”

Some of the brick I find is charred on one side — the chimney from an old settler’s cabin? Is it from some swanky seaside patio that got sucked into the sea? Or is it just detritus from a load of fill dumped at the water’s edge back when we valued our beaches differently?

And why is it called Burying Hill Beach, anyway?

One thing’s for sure: Each storm uncovers a fresh haul of sea-burnished brick that catches my eye and fills my coat pockets, and Sandy upheaved a mother lode. And who knows where all that brick from Compo’s bathhouses will wash up…

But I digress. And that’s the best thing about beachcombing at Burying Hill. It invites stray thoughts as I work my way down the beach, feeling like a peasant with privileges as I pass along the high seawalls of the Beachside Avenue estates. However grateful I am for this public access to our shoreline, I never quite overcome the feeling that I’m a trespasser, sneaking across someone’s own private horizon.

I’ve gone as far as the point to the east on the far side of the public beach, but only at the lowest of tides, scooting through and around the old pilings that jut out into the sea. Like boating on the Sound, to enjoy Burying Hill Beach one must abide by the tidal charts. In any event, it’s a good long walk to the far point and back, especially with beach brick weighing you down. I will miss those walks this winter, I suppose.

Beachside Avenue got pounded by Hurricane Sandy. (Photo courtesy of Fine Shell Art Blog)

Big Holes To Fill

Scott Smith is a longtime, and very alert, “06880” reader. As communications director of the Westport Y, he also spends a lot of time downtown. Last week he sent this photo of a huge hole in the parking lot behind the new building going up at 100 Post Road East, next to the old Town Hall (now Spruce).

As a self-described “Touch-a-Truck kind of dad,” Scott has followed the construction of the building — the 1st new one downtown in 40 years — with interest. He says:

Like most job sites around town, they had to pound away for days through solid rock ledge to dig the foundation. I’m always amazed to see the guys working the machinery, how dexterous they are and how oblivious they seem to be to all that jarring noise. I’d last about two hours on the job.

So that’s why I was intrigued to see that in the parking lot just a few feet away, when they had to dig another hole through the pavement, there was 10 feet of garden-variety dirt with loose river rock, then another 10 or 12 feet of pure gray sand. It was very cool-looking, and a classic study in our curious local geology.

The sinkhole was filled in the next day or so; end of lesson. But it got me thinking about other places around town with big holes in the ground, or just filled in, or new plans to dig big. My son and I have ridden our bikes to the top part of Gault’s new development in Saugatuck – that’s a lot of rock! The Gaults have done such a nice job so far. I can’t wait to see how the next phase of the development goes.

And last week I attended the opening ceremony of Cliff’s Place, the new halfway house at Longshore. That modest little project turned out very well, and is just the first of some even bigger privately funded construction projects in the works that will serve a public purpose.

There’s the swanky new Levitt Pavilion, which just received town approval (and some public funding), and, of course our new Y, which will break ground in December. (I’m a member of the Golf Advisory Committee, and work at the Y – a partner/sponsor of some Levitt children’s performances — full disclosure!)

The brick buildings at Compo may get some work.

As “06880” well documents, and as WestportNow.com’s “Teardown of the Day” shows us, virtually every day there are new (big) homes going up all over town. Combine that with some other projects in the planning stages downtown (the movie theater, the remaking of our own old Y) and what I hear may be an ambitious renovation of Compo Beach’s dilapidated brick buildings, all this work gives me a good feeling that we really are “rebuilding America” (at least our small part of it).

Think how many guys are working these days, or will be, on job sites locally. And once they pack up for other sites and leave the ribbon-cutting for those in shiny shoes and nice ties, think how our community will be the better for it.

I think we’re making good progress these days. Don’t you?

Rockin’ Around The camtsirhC eerT

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith read the recent post about our 1st-ever Christmas decorations contest, and sends this along:

At least in our humble neighborhood, the season seems to be proceeding as usual, which is always a welcome sight.

My across-the-street neighbors decorate for all the holidays, and this year as before Jean Luc and Claire have all the trimmings, from candles, wreaths and strings of lights, to the dogwood tree decked out with glass ornaments.

Across the way, as usual my neighbor Craig set out his pair of lit-up deer fashioned from wicker frames (as if we need any more deer on our lawns). Only this year, he couldn’t find the ears that attach to the deer; I told him now they look more like Christmas goats.

I set my own front porch ablaze with a row of those white dangling lights that drop down like so many icicles. More bang for the square foot, I figure.

So, situation normal, seems to me. Except for one change inside our house. This year we have an upside-down Christmas tree.

Scott Smith's Christmas tree

It was just a thought a December ago — our living room is so small, I recall musing, we should have a tree that’s wide at the ceiling and narrow at the floor. That way we wouldn’t have to move the sofa to see the TV.

Or maybe I got the idea after the puppy we got for last Christmas chased one of our cats up into the tree, with predictable results. Most of the subsequent joking was directed at me, for even thinking of such a topsy-turvy notion.

Next year, I said. Further musings foundered on the sticky problems associated with actually hanging a tree from the ceiling.

Then a couple weeks ago my son came home from middle school and told me, “We’re doing the upside-down tree this year, right, Dad? ‘Cause I kinda told people at school we were doing it…” As I’m already a total embarrassment to him, that settled it. “For sure,” I said.

This year's Christmas visitor to the Smith home.

I’ll leave out the particulars — though I will mention they involve hole drilling, much consultations with neighbors, toggle bolts, eye hooks and an as-yet-to-be-patented water-drip system that mostly waters the floor. But the tree is up, I mean down — and it is a delight.

For one, it turned out to be surprisingly easy to decorate. You can spin it, which made stringing the lights a breeze, and the ornaments dangle nicely from up under the branches, giving the tree the feel of a cocoon. In truth, it’s like one big ornament itself.

The tree, a rangy white spruce, was fresh cut from the CT Audubon Society’s Christmas Tree Farm off Sasco Creek Road, which is one of the town’s best little-known places. Selecting and sawing down a tree that’s just right is a big part of any holiday, and this year more than ever. To be truthful, most trees don’t look so good upside down, especially those that have been groomed like a poodle and trussed up in a plastic fir-net for a few weeks.

How ours looks depends on your perspective. One of my son’s neighborhood chums asked very earnestly, “So, how are you going to get the presents to stick on the ceiling?”

That’s my Christmas story. I’m not trying to make a statement, at least one that I know of. I like tradition as much as most Westporters, and like seeing things in this season of lights and glad tidings as they always are. Saugatuck Bridge; that tree on North Avenue. All the personal little statements of faith and community you see driving around town.

Only sometimes I guess  it’s nice to change things up. Or down. Or whatever.

All the same, happy holidays!

Finding Bald Mountain

As a lifelong Westporter, I thought I knew every place in town.

I’ve never heard of Bald Mountain — but Google Maps has.

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith spotted the elusive mountain — not far from the Saugatuck River shore, just across Imperial Avenue near Baker Avenue.  It’s now part of the Gault housing development (Google Maps puts it smack at the end of Wheeler Gate, which is not actually a gate but a road).  Presumably back in the day it was a true mountain (or at least more than a molehill).

“Perhaps it was used by ship and barge captains as a navigational aid long ago,” Scott says.

“But just think of the mental picture it gives non-Westporters when they see this big, mysterious ‘Bald Mountain’ situated between downtown and Saugatuck.  Who knew?”

Google Maps knew.

Then again, they know everything.

Hale Yeah!

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith joins many Westporters in hailing the reopening of the Hales Road bridge, after 2 years of construction.  Scott writes:

The Hales Road Bridge is now open for business!  My son Cole Prowitt-Smith and I took our new puppy for his 1st walk around the neighborhood this morning.  He and Cole navigated the new bridge just fine; it’s our go-to shortcut from Valley Road to the beach.

I would say that although Westport’s streets have a surfeit of signs, one that will be needed on at least the railroad part of the span is the classic “Bridge freezes before roadway,” as the surface was slick with a thin coating of ice.

In addition, the new Hales Court neighborhood is coming along just fine, it seems.  I’m sure the residents there are thrilled that the construction is finally complete, as are the joggers and walkers and bicyclists who use this obscure little roadway as Cole and I do.

A sight not seen in 2 years.

Father, Son And Cockenoe Island

The other day, Scott Smith enjoyed the glorious Indian Native American weather to kayak out to Cockenoe Island.  It was his 2nd trip in recent months.  Here’s his report:

I was following up on a discovery I had made with my young son early this summer.  Traipsing along the shore, we spotted a narrow footpath leading up a small slope into the island’s hinterlands.  Sidestepping the ubiquitous poison ivy vines we ducked under a tangled canopy of small trees, raising a ruckus among the herons, egrets and cormorants that roost among the branches.

It was cool – like being embedded in an episode of “Survivorman.”  There were a dozen boats anchored in the shallow waters of the bay still within earshot. But just into the shadows of the poop-flecked trees, we had the island to ourselves.  Who knew that so close to Compo you could feel like Robinson Crusoe?

As the birds above us took flight, my little man Friday looked to the ground.  Littered among the bits of broken eggshells, musty bird droppings and stray feathers were scores of rusty cans and broken bottles.  The sight of so much human detritus mystified and slightly spooked my son, but I recognized it right away as a scene out of my own now-distant past – a secret place for what looked like generations of underage partying.

As we gingerly poked among the evidence, I tried to answer as best I could the innocent and inevitable questions:  Where did all these beer cans come from?  Who drank them?  When?  Why?  And why did they just leave them here?  I knew but wasn’t saying — at least not too much.

No, there were no hobos living on Cockenoe Island.  Yes, people drink lots of beer, and have for a long time.  I don’t know – maybe they didn’t have enough room on their boats…

We left the hidden campsite on Cockenoe as we found it, me bemused by a blast from the past, my boy a bit closer to reaching that time in his teens when adventure is less about paddling around on a kayak with your old man and more about discovering where best to go with the booze smuggled out of the convenience store or parents’ liquor cabinets.

He declined my invite to paddle back out to the island for garbage detail the other day.  Too much like work, I suppose, so I had the island all to myself.  The nesting birds were long gone, though the goldenrod blooming across the island’s rocky shoals were lit up with scads of monarch butterflies.  (That solves a puzzle that probably goes unnoticed by power boaters but not  kayakers – the curious sight of butterflies flitting across the open Sound).

But my son was on my mind as I dutifully filled up a large black plastic bag with the remains of all those years of partying.  For every can of freshly chucked Coors Light on top of the leaves was a rusted old pull-tab can, half-buried.  When did anyone last pop open one of those?  The ‘70s?

There were tall green wine bottles of the Boone’s Farm variety, cans of Budweiser faded bright red to mellow yellow, glass jugs of Gallo half-filled with scum, and squat brown bottles of some obscure brew long gone from local shelves.

My plastic bag already tearing from the glass shards and cans with muck, I left many of the more rusty hulks behind.  I felt like I was disturbing a kind of archeology site — our disposable era’s equivalent of an ancient shell mound.  I set a few of the more curious finds on a rock and took a photo. I didn’t come of age around here, but some local reader might recognize their provenance.

I dallied long enough to contribute a fresh empty to the Hefty bag, then heaved it all into the front seat of the kayak.  On the voyage back home to Compo, it rode better that way.  Just like when my son is in the bow, up in front of me.