This is the story of a very good day. I credit it all to Ameen, someone I hadn’t met until this afternoon.
Today really started yesterday, when I called my friend and fellow photographer, Steve. Saturday was going to be beautiful. I had some free time. Would he like to drive to Litchfield County to take some photos?
Steve was here at noon and by 12:30, with my car’s top down, we headed north.
Where were we going? I had no clue. I’d printed out two Google maps. They were wide shots of Litchfield County – Connecticut’s northwest corner. The maps were good enough to help find a road back home, but not specific enough to take us anywhere in particular.
We took Route 69 through Bethany and Prospect to I-84 in Waterbury, then up Route 8 to Winsted. We were in the country now. We continued northwest on Route 44 to North Canaan. Not one photo had been snapped!
That’s why I hit the brakes and turned into the parking lot when Steve caught sight of the Collin’s Diner. It was very retro and very photogenic.
The diner was tiny, sitting toward the back of a large, but mostly empty parking lot. The building itself had a glass brick foyer, enameled outer panels under the windows and sweeping curved lines where corners are usually found.
We took our cameras from the trunk and began shooting away. A minute later a man walked out of the restaurant and in our direction. He was short, but muscular, with a do rag on his head, a chain with charms around his neck and tattoos on every part of his body not covered by a Wesleyan University t-shirt and Dolce & Gabanna sunglasses.
We soon learned he was Ameen. The restaurant was his family’s business. And, he didn’t mind us taking pictures if we’d send him copies.
We continued to chat and within a few minutes he’d invited us inside to meet his mom and the rest of the family working there.
When we were ready to leave, I asked Ameen where we could go to take some good pictures? He said, “follow me.” For the next few hours we followed Ameen’s hybrid SUV through rural Northern Litchfield County.
Over the past few years, property in Litchfield has become very desirable to New Yorkers looking for a country place. To many people, that’s the new face of Litchfield County. But Ameen has spent a lifetime in these hills and he was going to take us to meet some locals and see things only locals know.
I can’t tell you exactly where we went, but the first stop was the side of a quiet country road where the view was expansive. The mountains in the distance were part of the Catskills in New York State. Between us and them were working lime rock quarries.
We continued uphill. Ameen must have really known the roads because my little sports car kept falling way behind his top heavy SUV. We stopped at Rustling Wind Farm.
Ameen knocked on the door to make sure it was OK for us to take pictures. He got a yes and a hug! As it turns out, at one point he lived in a little house on the property.
Rustling Meadow is the kind of countrified place once foreign to a city boy like me. Even now, it’s heartening to realize places like this really do still exist.
We walked through the upper field, past reminders that horses run here, and stopped to listen to the wind. There was no city noise – nothing mechanical. There was, however, the rotting exterior of a real outhouse!
Back in the car, we headed to the Munson’s. They are a family out of Litchfield County central casting – Karl and Laura are very attractive and earthy parents with two exquisitely beautiful children¹. As we drove up, mom and daughter were playing in the front yard. The younger son was up in a tree, sitting comfortably as if it were a living room chair.
It didn’t take more than a few seconds to notice a large, four panel solar array, mounted on a post. This single installation provides all their electricity! In fact, power lines from the local electric company don’t even come onto the property!
I’ve met people who were off the grid before – but they usually had to live spartan lives to make it happen. Not so the Munson’s, who store their solar bounty in an array of batteries and have enough for a few weeks of rainy days. There are a few concessions, like a gas powered refrigerator and fluorescent lights, but mostly you wouldn’t notice the difference… until the electric bill didn’t come.
The next thing I noticed was the stone. Karl is a stone mason, and there was what looked like a small stone home off to the side, with a bigger one in the process of being built.
Before there were any buildings, the Munsons lived in a yurt! Like I said, they were out of Litchfield County central casting. They could not have been friendlier or nicer, nor could their life seem more idyllic.
We headed out again, to our next stop at Wangum Lake, a reservoir for the local water company. Like so much else in Northern Connecticut, it is isolated, rural and beautifully pristine.
This was our last stop with Ameen, who was taking his sister out for her birthday. We said goodbye and headed south on Route 7, along the western bank of the Housatonic River. There was one more stop to make.
A few hundred feet off Route 7 in West Cornwall, Route 128 crosses the Housatonic via a covered bridge. There aren’t many of these left. It’s a one lane bridge running not quite the distance of a football field. Could there be anything more New England than this?
It was time to head home, a little over an hour away.
Connecticut never ceases to amaze me. It really is a beautiful state, with sharp contrasts between the shoreline and the hills in its northwest and northeastern corners. Today it was worthy of nearly 200 photographs from me alone. Steve and I had an excellent time.
There’s no doubt, we wouldn’t have seen half as much without Ameen. If you’re ever up in North Canaan, please stop by the Collin’s Diner and tell him we were raving about the hospitality. Next time, we’ll even try the food!
¹ – Both Munson children were incredibly photogenic. However, this being the 21st Century, I’m not going to post their photos online.