A Bend on the Pomperaug

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“Bergamot Sunrise”
Bent of the River Audubon Sanctuary, Southbury, Connecticut
© 2013 J. G. Coleman

“Be like the sun and meadow, which are not in the least concerned about the coming winter.”

-George Bernard Shaw

Wildflowers are something of a staple subject for landscape photographers, not only for their vibrant color, but also for their exquisite structure. For while we can certainly find exceptional colors in a sunset sky or an autumn forest, neither can offer quite the same delicate complexity as wildflowers. However, incorporating wildflowers into an effective landscape photograph can be challenging. Timing is everything. Not only must a landscape photographer seek out conditions that are universally important for aesthetics, but he must also be especially attentive to the season in which certain species bloom. The trick is to seize those rare moments when weather, lighting, location and seasonal blooms intersect; that sweet spot is elusive, but it can potentially yield idyllic scenery.

Such was the case when I stepped out into the verdant meadows of Bent of the River Audubon Sanctuary earlier this year on a warm, humid morning in mid-July. Here, along the serpentine course of the Pomperaug River in Southbury, Connecticut, an exquisite wildflower known as wild bergamot had sprung forth in full bloom, dotting the fields with conspicuous sprays of blue. In one of the pieces I produced that morning, titled Bergamot Sunrise (at top), we can feel the warmth of the freshly-risen sun over our shoulder as it paints a lush green landscape with the bold light of dawn. But within this wonderland of lively foliage, it is the subtle, dew-kissed bergamot flowers that seem to invite us into the scene, only afterwards directing our eyes to travel elsewhere: to the curled leaves of milkweed at their side, then to the illumined edifice of the nearby forest and finally to the lone pasture tree in the distance, its trunk enshrouded in mist.

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“Pomperaug Summer”
Bent of the River Audubon Sanctuary, Southbury, Connecticut
© 2013 J. G. Coleman

Similar elements come together in a much different composition in Pomperaug Summer (at right), in which clusters of bergamot extend deeply into a meadow, mirroring in small scale the crown of the solitary, whimsical pasture tree that stands silhouetted against the distant, fog-laden forest.

Encompassing roughly a square mile of territory beside the Pomperaug River in Southbury and criss-crossed with some 15 miles of trails, Bent of the River Audubon Sanctuary is actually larger than many of Connecticut’s state parks! Quiet, forested hills cover most of the expansive property, while the area nearby the visitor center consists of the broad, open meadowlands portrayed here in my work. But if the scenic qualities of this place are readily evident, what is not so obvious is the story behind it’s perplexing name.

For nearly six decades prior to its ownership by the Audubon Society, much of the land was the private estate of Howard and Althea Clark. At some point, while perusing the old land records associated with property, they discovered an early 1702 deed that referred to a sharp turn of the Pomperaug River beside their driveway as “ye bent of ye river”. Passionate as the two were about living out in the countryside, surrounded by hundreds of acres of serene seclusion, it may well be that the Clarks found something romantic and nostalgic in this old-fashioned language, suggestive as it is of colonial-era New England. The novel reference made enough of an impression upon the couple that, when Althea passed away in 1992 and left the full extent of the property to the Audubon Society, one of her posthumous demands was that it should be called “Bent of the River”.

Although the Clarks were indeed wealthy, they seem to have accumulated this wealth early in life and were subsequently able to indulge in various artistic and literary pursuits. Howard managed to become a novelist and published at least a few books. For her own part, Althea enthusiastically took to photography, an art at which she is said to have excelled. Try as I may, I was unable to find any example of her work online. But given the bucolic surroundings in which she and Howard chose to live, it isn’t unreasonable to imagine that landscapes factored into her subject matter quite frequently. Indeed, I wonder if one day I might finally happen upon some of her old black-and-white prints and maybe… just maybe… I might find among them some vista of a broad, open meadow, sprinkled ever so delicately with sprays of wild bergamot.

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