Our friend George Trescher, long dead now (this is thirty years ago) had lost the house he rented in Quogue on Long Island, and we were losing ours in Bridgehampton, and like him we had not been able to find a house we wanted on the East End that we could possibly afford to buy or rent. One night at dinner, during a slightly martini-induced bout of moaning about our situation, I heard myself saying—meaning nothing by it—that “the Connecticut River Valley is very beautiful.” “The Connecticut River,” said George. “I’d forgotten about that.” And with his usual due diligence, he went off, rented a house for the winter in Old Lyme to see what it was like and invited us to come visit.
We didn’t want to go. He invited us for Boxing Day, and the last thing we wanted was to leave a house we liked, and were losing, the day after our last Christmas there, to slog up I-95 into Connecticut. But we loved George dearly, and I felt sort of responsible for him being there, so we did go, whining and complaining all the way, and when we got there, finally, we were met at the door by George.
“Go away. You’re early,” said George. “Go have a look around and come back around sunset.” He shut the door. Not a very auspicious beginning, I thought. But I said to Christian, “let me at least show you where we are,” and we headed back the way we’d come, and onto the road that leads up the east side of the river.
“What are doing here anyway,” said Christian. I didn’t really know either. It had never entered our minds that we might want a house there. Connecticut was all very well, but my mother came from Hartford, and I had had enough of the state growing up, visiting ancient relatives in places like Litchfield and Salisbury, and then going to college there. And though it was beautiful, I had had my fill of the Connecticut River Valley as well during the years my parents rented a house for the summer in nearby Old Black Point.
Christian was even less interested. New England, with its hills and woods and rocky rivers had never meant much to him. They meant less now after having lived on the East End of Long Island. To someone like him, raised in the chilly, closed-in mountain valleys of Switzerland, the Hamptons with its vast sea and sky was a paradise.
A landscape painter – we are both painters, but he is a landscape painter – for the past few years he had been happily turning out big, colorful, semi-abstract images of endless Long Island beaches and the churning Atlantic. And the idea of moving to these often pretty but to him undramatic—unbloody, he would say—rural landscapes, held little interest for him. Lyme had none of the passion or drama of his native mountains, nor the unpredictable wind-sculpted beauties and dazzling colors of Sifnos, the island in Greece he had discovered when he was twenty-one, and where he had a house and painted much of the year.
I was trying to be sort of upbeat and optimistic. I had no interest in Lyme either, though I was trying to find something I could show him that he might like. But even after we reached Hamburg, turning off onto Joshuatown Road—one of the prettiest routes to the river, my destination—it was obvious he was unimpressed by the rocky fields and bleak wintry woods we were passing. Maybe it was the winter light, or the endless winding road, but I wasn’t finding it all that appealing either, until suddenly we sort of popped out of the woods, the land to our left dropped away sharply down across a big open field to a good-sized body of water, a cove, turning golden now in the afternoon light. Beyond it, a wide shining slice of Connecticut River gleamed, and beyond that, big and rolling wooded hills. At last, I thought, and I felt him perk up and look around in the seat beside me.
This is the first of several in a series of writings by Tim Lovejoy on his arrival, house, and garden in Hadlyme, CT. Lead illustration from Into the Garden by Christian Peltenburg-Brechneff copyright © 2019
Into the Garden, a new volume of 185 illustrations by Christian Peltenburg-Brechneff, with a foreword by Bunny Williams, and essay by Donald Kuspit, will be released in June by G Arts. You can preorder copies of the book here
There will be a lecture, book signing and reception, on June 30th at 3 p.m. at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, followed by a sneak preview of the exhibition at 5 p.m. at the Cooley Gallery, 25 Lyme St. There will be an opening for the exhibition at the Cooley Gallery on July 6th, 5-7 p.m.