Mike Valletta

Storyteller. Photographer. Traveler.


October 2011

When it Snows in October, Life Becomes Altered

As someone who loves snow, seeing it fall on Saturday made my day. Until of course, the night fell, then it got ugly. As the snow piled up, well over a foot of it, so too did the weight of it on the trees knocking out power to all of Litchfield County. I suddenly regretted loving the snow so much sitting in a cold, dark house all to myself wondering what was happening around me. Was this the only area of town? Was there a car accident that knocked out a power line? So many questions ran through my head.

As the night progressed, it became colder. With no heat and no relief in sight, I turned to my phone to see what was happening. No service is exactly what was happening. The town was down completely and without any connection to the outside world. When you don’t know what’s going on around you, you don’t know how scary that is.

As the sun came up, we saw what the snow delivered. Nearly 17 inches of that white stuff fell from the sky, and a look down the road told me exactly what happened to my power. There were trees down everywhere along with numerous power lines. Saying Torrington was a mess is an understatement. It was a plain old disaster. I shoveled the car out and took it out around town in hopes to find hot food and a hot cup of coffee. Nothing. Not a single place in town was open. Everyone was without power, and everyone was flat out cold.

As I continued to venture out, I drove north to Winsted in hopes to find something open up there. Nada. Just more trees and more closed businesses. It was back to Torrington for me.

So, without power and running water, what was I to do? I decided to park the car and stroll through downtown and start snapping some pictures which you could see below. It was amazing. Trees were down in Coe Memorial Park and around city hall. In my 25 years on this earth, I’ve never seen snow do so much damage, let alone disconnect an entire town from civilization.

I was able to get a hold of my friends who live up by the Litchfield line. It’s always important to check up on friends. They were okay, and without power too. Seemed like the normal, until I got to their house. The road to it was barricaded by downed trees and power lines with no way out. Talk about being trapped.

I spent the night with them since my house was much too cold for me to stay. I was concerned about my mother down in Waterbury but had no service still to connect with her. My friends prepaid phone surprisingly had service and I was able to call out to her finally. She was okay but like us was without power as well.

Hearing the reports on the radio, WZBG, we had found out that all 3 electrical stations to northwestern Connecticut had been knocked out. We were essentially even more remote than we already are.

As the night fell, it only got colder. According to weather reports, it was getting down into the teens, and with fresh snow on the ground, it would feel every bit of it. We started to light some candles and get under as many blankets as possible to keep warm. We could see our breaths. That wasn’t a good thing. We fell asleep early after having a few glasses of wine to keep ourselves warm. It certainly did the trick, for the time.

Shortly after midnight, it got colder, and even under all the blankets, you could feel it. I’m sure we had all hoped the sun would come up soon to warm us. It was one of the longest nights I could remember, but we were riding it out together.

When we woke up, the sun was like heaven, though we could still see our breaths. We warmed up with some hot cocoa boiled from the stove, though we were running low on that so it was time for us to run out to a store. We heard that Target was open on generator. We’ll take what we can get. As we went into Target, it was even cold in there and without many lights at all. In fact, you needed a flashlight to really walk through. We got what we needed and headed back up to the house where I had to depart to go check on my mother south of the county.

As I made my way down to Waterbury, I noticed lower snow accumulations, that’s usually a good thing meaning less of an impact. I had hoped she would have power. After all, I finally found a Dunkin Donuts that was open for business in Wolcott. It was now Monday and after two days without coffee, I needed it. I picked my mom up a coffee and stopped by the house which was still powerless and quite cold. Even worse, today was Halloween, and it’s also her birthday. Some birthday gift. All plans I had now had to be put on hold for a later time.

Returning to Torrington later in the day, I still had no power at home. We were on night three of no heat, no running water, and still no cell phone service. Three nights of darkness. Enough was enough. I could deal with this during the summer, but in the dead of winter? It’s just too much. I was feeling primitive as I grew a beard and was already on my third day of not showering. With still no cell phone service, I sat in the dark at home with just a few candles lit fortunate enough to be able to access my Facebook thanks to a weak Internet connection. It was my only source of connection to the outside world.

As the sun rose Tuesday morning, so too did my spirits of power. Still nothing. I made my way to Scarpelli’s for a hot breakfast, and when I arrived I saw much of the town had the same idea. It was a packed house with everyone looking for a hot meal, though a sense of community was formed as total strangers were willing to sit with each other that way everyone was able to eat.

When I arrived home, I had my doubts about the power still but I tried it just the same. Lights. What was this? The lights actually turned on! Here I was now on day four saying every prayer possible and thanking those that have come to restore my power. The feeling of heat through my house never felt so good, and so too did a hot shower and a good old fashion shave.

I learned a lot from this week. I learned that we cannot rely heavily on modern technology for starters. I felt trapped. Cut off from the modern world. I owe an extreme gratitude of thanks to those over at WZBG in Litchfield who broadcasted through it all and kept us all updated on the radio. Without them, we would have certainly been even more in the dark than we already were.

For those of you still in the dark here in the Litchfield Hills, you’re in my thoughts. It’s been rough, and I couldn’t imagine going one day longer. I hope everyone continues to be strong through it all. We’ll get through this.

Travels in Northern New England

I know this blog is mainly about the Litchfield Hills, and for the most part, it is. Every now and then, I try to sneak in what I like to call a little taste of my life outside of these hills, just to let you all know that I’m not trapped in here like some monkey at a zoo. Honest, I really do have a life outside of Litchfield County! I know, hard to believe.

In my previous column, I elaborated briefly on how I have been spending a tremendous amount of time in northern New England, and this weekend was no different by any means. I again ventured up to New Hampshire and Vermont for a little R&R. It’s nice to get away. When you’re in retail management, getting away from it all is a dream, as well as a stress reliever!

My first stop was to see my friends who had been honeymooning in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. They drove up from Torrington about a week ago and have been enjoying this scenic part of New England all week long. I was invited up by them earlier in the week, and since I love that region so much, I couldn’t resist. I just had to take the drive up to see them. Once I arrived, I was in heaven. The scenery of the Mount Washington Valley is unlike anything else in our region. While the foliage was minimal on this rather dreary day, it was no where’s far from stunning.

We stopped off at a Hillbilly restaurant for lunch. Down home food you just couldn’t resist. I had a blue cheese cheeseburger that had the blue cheese baked right inside of the burger. Amazing? Heck yeah! It was mouth watering good. Over lunch, we got to talking about all the things we enjoyed about the White Mountains, as I recalled some memories of coming to this area growing up. They seem so distant now, but the memories I will cherish forever. Some of the best ones exists skiing at Attitash Resort in Bartlett or sliding down the rocks at the falls on the Kangamangus Highway.

After lunch, we decided to take a day trip and wander about the towns. We started things off with a nice train ride through scenic North Conway then made our way to the little stores on Main Street, including an old world country store called Zebs and an old Five and Dime. Later, it was time to get my car in gear as we headed north towards Crawford Notch and on up into Bretton Woods. We stopped off at a duck pond and played with a few ducks who, after feeding, wouldn’t leave us alone. Lesson learned! Don’t feed the wildlife. Check.

As we continued our journey north we made our way past little villages I remember spending time at as a kid. The memories hurt. Sometimes, when you’re growing up, you don’t realize how good you have it, and when you do grow up, you want it all back! I’m comfortable knowing, however, that I am now making new memories with great people. It’s part of life, right?

We finished the day off with a brisk hike at a place called The Basin in Franconia Notch by Loon Mountain. The Basin is a fascinating place where the rocks literally look like jacuzzis! Unlike something many people have ever seen before, at least naturally anyways. It’s amazing what’s on this earth, and you could see it all just by taking a drive, and we certainly saw it all on our next drive; The Kangamangus Highway. It was the only way back to the North Conway area. It’s tricky travel climbing and descending mountains as you travel through different weather conditions along the way. The views from the peaks are stunning, but unfortunately for us, today was not a day for views as a cold, hard rain fell upon us at the top elevations. There’s always next time!

After spending a great day in New Hampshire with my friends, it was time for us to part ways until they returned home to Connecticut. I couldn’t help but to figure out where I should go next. I had a whole weekend still in front of me. Where oh where could Mike end up? Why, Vermont of course!

Vermont is home to me as I had previously mentioned. It’s where I feel most at home, and over the past few weeks, I have been looking to make a move up, though I know it will come over time. I traveled up scenic Route 9 that travels through the southern part of the Green Mountain National Forest up in through Brattleboro and down into Bennington. It’s a nice ride, and if you enjoy roller coasters, this route calls your name. I stopped off at a favorite destination of mine called Hogback Mountain. The winds really know how to whip you around up here. This is where plenty of people stop off to get a load of the 100 mile view, which obviously gives you a panoramic 100 mile view of the Green Mountains and the Berkshires of Massachusetts. It’s complete with a little store where you could get all your favorite Vermont gifts like Maple Syrup and Green Mountain Coffee, just to name a few.

After I had taken half a dozen pictures of the place, it was time to continue my journey north as I was desperately making my way to the stunning Queechee Gorge, another favorite Vermont destination of mine located right by Killington Resort, and when I arrived, I immediately hopped out of my car and ran running with my iPhone ready to snap away with the camera. I’m a photo bug! I can’t resist. I took a hike down the gorge but due to this summers rain, I was only able to half way as the rest of the land was washed away. Hard for my Vermont heart to see, but I enjoyed the scenery none the less. It’s majestic and the force of the water rushing through the gorge really sets the tone. I could imagine pitching a tent and sleeping here, though I am also deathly afraid of bears so let’s scratch that idea!

Making my way back up the gorge and into my car I couldn’t help feeling so at ease. It was a marvelous weekend. A marvelous journey to places I have come to know so well. So see, I’m not always trapped in Litchfield County, and when I do get out of town, I venture pretty far out. Hey, life is too short to sit around and look at four walls, or in my case, the same hills.

Daytripping in Litchfield County

The past few months I have been traveling a lot, mainly out to the other New England states. I’ve been cheating on Connecticut as my first love has always been Vermont. I’m a Vermonter at heart, what could I say! I live for simple days, and an era that has gone by. I live for those enjoyable days spent in the great outdoors as well as exploring new sights. It’s been a while since I spent any time at all traveling around Connecticut, even Litchfield County for that matter. Any tine spent, has been minimal at best.

Today, I decided to do something about it once and for all. Like Occupy Wall Street, I decided to Occupy Litchfield County. After all, this is my home and it’s always great to see the ever changing landscape. After seeing Geoff Fox post a blog yesterday about Kent, I decided to take a drive down and see what has been happening in my absence. Come to find out, so many glorious things! For starters, Kent has again been named the number one foliage town in all of New England by the readers of Yankee Magazine. If you peek through some of the pictures in this column, you’ll have every idea as to why! Kent is a favorite small town here in Connecticut. It’s old world charm has certainly tied in well with the new world. It’s a destination where you could easily lose your sense of time as you explore the unique shops and eateries, and don’t forget about Belisque Chocolatiers. It’s home to the best hot cocoa in all of Litchfield County. Chocolate straight from Belgium. It’s like chocolate heaven! Trust me, I’ve tried it and ended up on cloud nine. Can someone deliver that chocolate to Torrington?

As I made my way through the shops of Kent, I decided I should continue my journey up through Route 7. It’s a scenic road traveling through western Litchfield County and up through the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. It snakes it’s way around the Housatonic River passing an old covered bridge in Cornwall and on up through Canaan. I ended up veering off towards Lakeville passing Lime Rock Park and making my way up to Salisbury, home of the great American Ski Jumps. Is it ski season yet?

Salisbury is another town I have fallen in love with over the years. It’s quaint and it’s home to the highest elevations in the state. It is this part of northwestern Connecticut where the scenery really gets interesting and the way of life is majestically different. It’s called Berkshire Time. For those of us who live in northern Litchfield County, we’re fortunate enough to know about this time. It’s not only a little bit backwards from the hustle and bustle of the world today, but it’s also a sense of place. A time that just makes you sit back and unwind. Take a load off. Unplug. Unschedule yourself! Berkshire Time is a time out from the rest of the world, and I love every minute of it.

As I strolled through Salisbury, I couldn’t help but get a kick out of the scarecrows scattered around town. They were just too cool! So many creative people helped to put these on display for all to see, and the tourists up from New York and the like seemed to get a real kick out of them too as they snapped away with their cameras.

There was something on my mind as I walked around Salisbury, however. It was a bit of confusion. In my travels in Vermont and New Hampshire, I noticed that many of the local stores had cool gifts that promoted the area. Everything from bumper stickers to apparel. The states in northern New England really seem to promote their tourism industry. I wondered, shouldn’t we be doing the same thing here in Litchfield County? We do, of course, have little odds and ends here and there, but it’s not well enough defined. We have plenty of tourists who visit the area per year, and it’s certainly a profitable industry for us here in bucolic northwestern Connecticut. It remains to be seen what the future may hold, but it’s certainly worth looking into.

Making my way out of Salisbury and up past the farms in Canaan, I made my way to Norfolk, the last stop on my journey. What a beautiful place. It’s referred to the icebox of Connecticut, and when I got out of the car, I could feel that icebox! Just a tad cooler than the rest of the places I had been to. I got out of the car and strolled on into a place called The Artisans Guild, a place where local meets mainstream. Much of what is in here is made by local artisans, and wouldn’t you know, I ended up finding something to promote the land I live in! I purchased a sweatshirt made by my friend Rachel Hannon Harrell who is the maker behind the brand Quallies Kids Apparel. Don’t let the name fool you, she does make adult apparel and it is readily available. The sweatshirt I purchased had the famous Norfolk directory on the town green on it. I couldn’t resist purchasing it. I knew Rachel well, and I knew that supporting the local economy is important, now more than ever.

As I made my way back to Torrington, passing down rural Norfolk Road viewing the foliage that was about, I couldn’t help but to think what a wonderful place I live in. I’m blessed. It’s a world filled with good people, and even better scenery to go along with it all. If there was a time in your life that you were truly happy, I think I reached the pinnacle after this weekend. An amazing weekend capped off with a beautiful day trip through scenic Litchfield County, CT.

Peak Foliage Week in Litchfield County

At last, we have made our way past Columbus Day here in Litchfield County and by all accounts, we know exactly what that means; the foliage is ready to peak. What seemed to have started out as a dull season thanks to the wet weather we have enjoyed this summer, has actually turned out to an ambient festival of colors, especially in northern Litchfield County in towns like Norfolk, Torrington, and Salisbury where the colors have popped tremendously over the past week.

This fall has been nothing short of boring. The farmers markets, the hayrides, the apple picking, the hot apple cider, and the weekend foliage tours have all made this an autumn to remember no matter what the foliage looks like. As New Englander’s, autumn is by far one of our most adored seasons. It signals change. Some much rather not see what comes after autumn, but others like myself are counting down the weeks until ski season arrives, and with the foliage peaking, it’s only a matter of time now.

If you’re wondering where some of the best spots for viewing are, take a tour along some of the back roads of Colebrook and Goshen, you’ll be impressed by what you see. Many of the secondary roads bring back memories of Vermont. There are plenty of dirt roads to keep you busy, and don’t worry about getting lost, that’s just half the fun. Grab a cup of hot apple cider and enjoy the sights with the family this weekend. You may not get to see sights like this again until next year as autumn draws closer to a close here in the northern hills. For the southern hills, in towns such as Watertown, Kent, and Thomaston, there’s still an ample amount of time left and expect a peak foliage in the southern part of the county by October 21st. This is New England, however, and nothing is ever set in stone. We’re full of surprises! Won’t you join us?

The pictures in this column are from a short foliage drive around the Colebrook and Norfolk areas.

Biking Litchfield County

What is it about a bike that just entices you to go anywhere on a moments notice and discover things you might otherwise not be able to see? Maybe it’s the feeling of the open road, or the wind in your face, or maybe it’s the pure joy of feeling like a kid again. Whatever it is, I’m a huge fan of riding my mountain bike, everywhere and anywhere, and the Litchfield Hills are no exception.

The moment the snow starts to melt, I transition my ski legs to bike legs. All spring and summer, I get out as much as I can as I load my bike onto my car rack. I never really have anything specific in mind, it’s pretty much wherever I end up, and sometimes I often wonder about the places I bring myself. This one time, I ended up in the middle of a dairy farm! Manure anyone?

Though the spring and summer are great seasons to get out and ride, there’s really no season quite like autumn, and here in the hills it makes riding a pure joy, despite the constant nuts hitting you in the head from the trees and leaves slapping you silly in the face every time the window blows. Yes, it’s really that entertaining sometimes.

The past few weeks I have really been enjoying myself. Every chance I’ve gotten I’ve been out on the bike. So far, I must have biked a combined 400 miles or so. At this rate, I might as well bike across the country! There would be no way I could ever miss the New England foliage, however. It’s much too grand of a season.

Biking in Litchfield County is very different compared to other parts of the state. For starters, the hills are drastically steeper so even for the experienced bikers, you’ll need your strongest legs, as well as heart! It’s a lot of hard work climbing those hills, even with the best mountain bike. Trust me, I know.

Some have asked me where the best spots are to bike in the region. Boy, that’s a tough question to answer! There’s not one area in particular I enjoy more than the other. Each one poses a challenge, and each one poses some magnificent views. Take Norfolk, for instance. It’s a quaint town tucked away in far northern Litchfield County. It’s a gorgeous area to bike as you pedal past bucolic farms and rolling hills complete with waterfalls. It’s also known as the icebox of Connecticut so when it’s cold, it’s COLD! Where you only needed a sweater in let’s say Watertown in southern Litchfield County, you’ll need a winter jacket! It’s a great ride through the town during the fall, but only if you’re up for a brisk ride.

If you’re looking to bike with the whole family, a ride around Peoples State Forest and American Legion State Forest in Barkhamsted and Riverton are a pure joy. For one, it’s a relatively quiet area traffic wise, and two, it’s a really scenic ride along side the Farmington River. There are plenty of places to stop off to grab a bite to eat, including an old fashioned general store in the historic town of Riverton.

Litchfield County has a lot to offer, and this time of year is the best time to check it all out. With the beautiful array of color from the foliage, a ride through any area of the county is sure to win your heart, as well as make it pump a few extra times.

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