The Sound of Spring on the Connecticut Shoreline
But before I take on anything as drastic as a major life change, I’m headed a few miles west to historic Guilford Green, which unfurls like a flying carpet, a poster child for town commons. I’m unprepared for this spectacle, this Roman Forum of greens, a stupendous expanse of lawn and trees that commands attention and surrender.Happily, everyone here seems to recognize this, because you’d swear the whole town has turned out to film It’s a Wonderful Life: 2012. On this spring day, teenagers are hanging out, children are screaming and running around on the sprouting grass, clusters of every-age folks are meeting and greeting, and there’s a pickup soccer game in progress. The dogs are smiling.
It’s also a green ringed by an assortment of cafes (Cilantro for freshly roasted coffee), shops (creamy fudge at The Village Chocolatier), and Impressionistic paintings of splashy sunflowers on doorways and fences, courtesy of Brendan Loughlin, the community’s resident Van Gogh.
A short walk from town, I’m at the oldest stone house in New England, the 1639 Henry Whitfield State Museum–a little piece of lovely history dropped among a scattering of apple trees. Still more stone buildings crop up farther along the Guilford Town Marina, with its enclave of edifices that look as though they’ve risen from the ground to cluster around the water, plus a lobster shack that was seemingly dropped in from Maine.
Leaving town on Water Street, I pass marshes waking up with peepers and wide breaks of tall, feathery grass. A quiet stretch of road, it winds under bridges, past handsome Colonials. A discreet sign directs me toward Stony Creek, and I make a quick detour, stopping in front of a magical scattering of houses rising from water.
The Thimble Islands are an archipelago of some 365 islands, depending on the tides and how you define an island. (Does a rock count?) Rest stops for migrating seals and landlubbers of means, they’re mostly private, some barely big enough to hold the houses that sit on them. If you’d like to thread your way through these Thimbles–places like Hen, Potato, and Little Pumpkin islands–past Jane Pauley and Garry Trudeau’s house, or the spot where Captain Kidd supposedly buried his treasure, you can hop a local boat for a 45-minute narrated tour.
But evening is coming, and I push on toward Branford, the last stop on my shoreline sojourn. There’s a decent-size town green here, but what really knocks me out is the veritable United Nations of restaurants surrounding it: French, American, Chinese, Indian, Italian, and Japanese, plus gourmet coffee, ice cream, vegan, and bagel cafés. Once again, I’ve worked up an appetite, and it seems I’ve come to the right place. In fact, my appetite for relaxation has been satisfied over and over in this friendly, off-season haven. An image comes back to me: I’m sitting in Willoughby’s in Madison, having my morning cappuccino. The door opens, and Belle walks in, carrying a tray. She’s 96, a wisp of a woman, and she’s wearing a jaunty faux-fur beret and a bright-red scarf. Her makeup is impeccable. “She does this every morning,” the woman sitting next to me whispers. “Last week we had a birthday party here for her.”
Belle walks over to my table, holding the tray in front of her. “Would you like a cookie?” she asks. “Or a grape? The Kit Kats are all gone.” I pick up a few grapes, and she gifts me with a smile. As I step back onto the street, the last thing I see is Belle, blowing me kisses.
For a slide show and an aerial tour of the Connecticut shoreline, go to: YankeeMagazine.com/more