Delia’s Feeders

By Delia Berlin

David and I have been feeding birds at our home for over 40 years. David is the main supplier of bird foods, and he certainly does not cut corners. He knows that different kinds of birds have different food preferences. The types of foods they eat and the ways in which they eat them span a wide range. So, if you want to attract birds of many species, you need to offer much more than just one type of seed in one kind of feeder. In addition, you must provide water, and plantings that supply shelter, berries, and nuts.

On any given winter day, at a minimum, David puts out mixed seed and chunks of suet on an elevated tray feeder, sunflower seeds in a tube feeder, a thistle seed bag, cayenne suet cakes in a cage, dried mealworms in a dish on the deck, black oil sunflower hearts in a feeder by the kitchen window, and some more mixed seed scattered on the ground in several areas. In warmer weather, the suet takes a break but the hummingbird feeder appears. Wherever we have lived, we have been successful in attracting lots of birds of many species. However, over the years, we have noticed a sharp decline in their numbers that is a well-documented phenomenon worldwide.

One of the feeders we enjoy the most is the little sunflower feeder that hangs from a shepherd’s hook by the kitchen window. Made from ceramic and with a small perching hole, it attracts only our smallest birds, like chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, and Carolina wrens. Larger birds are unable to perch and feed there. Occasionally a gray squirrel runs up the hook and tries to get seeds by hand, but the process is inefficient and that seems to be enough to discourage the practice. We have a large viburnum in front of this feeder and there is a constant parade of birds circulating from the feeder to the bush and back. This dynamic view from the kitchen sink can magically make food preparation quite entertaining.

Our original little-bird feeder was a gift from friends. It had a wooden perch and a single draining hole. After replacing the perch a few times, David asked me to make a ceramic bird feeder based on the same design. He asked for additional draining holes and an unbreakable perch. As an active member of Spiral Arts Studio, I’m always looking for new ceramic projects, so I welcomed the challenge.

My first bird feeder came out quite cute from a human’s perspective, but I wasn’t sure if the birds would like it. We replaced the old feeder with mine and waited for their response. As we had expected, the birds were cautious and took a couple of weeks to try it. But once they did, they had no difficulty feeding and visited it frequently. My design was better in terms of drainage and had a sturdy, built-in ceramic perching surface. So, I continued making feeders. 

For a while, I “field-tested” each new feeder I made on our shepherd’s hook. Each time, the birds took a little while to feel comfortable with the new one. But they soon got used to the constant change and started trying the feeders almost immediately. I no longer feel the need to test every single one, so we have allowed one to stay undisturbed for months. David refills it daily with sunflower seeds, using a small funnel.

The general concept of these ceramic feeders is a receptacle with a perching hole, which makes them look like a tiny birdhouse. Many people think they are birdhouses, and apparently some birds do too. This past summer, we were surprised to see a house wren exploring the feeder—house wrens are mainly insect eaters and do not frequent feeders. But soon a mate joined the first visitor, they both jumped inside and proceeded to fling out every single seed left in the feeder, only to refill it with nesting material. Although this pair entertained us by perching, sitting, housekeeping, and singing around the feeder, they never actually laid eggs in it. House wrens are territorial nesters, and they often take possession of more nesting sites than they can use, just to keep other birds from using them.

As projects go, making these feeders has been a favorite of mine. They present endless opportunities for variation, and each one is unique. I even dream about new designs. Understandably, my feeder inventory grew, and I started giving them as gifts to friends and relatives. But there is a limit to the number of one’s personal relationships and how many things people can accept. Early this year, it became clear that if I wanted to continue making bird feeders, I needed another outlet.

One day I was shopping at The Hoot and, aware of their assortment of feeders, I asked if they ever bought locally made ones. The answer was a qualified yes. I didn’t have any samples ready but arranged to call back once I did. In the meantime, I created a colorful business card with text on the back:

Uniquely designed and hand-built by Delia Berlin at Spiral Arts, in Willimantic, CT. Fill up to the opening with black oil sunflower seeds and hang in a sheltered location. Watch and enjoy chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, Carolina wrens, and more.

When the cards were printed, I took seven tagged feeders to The Hoot, where six were immediately purchased. I will not reach out beyond the local community and will not accept consignment orders. But I may consider adding Mackey’s or Ladd’s, and perhaps offer feeders at Spiral Arts during special events. Knowing that my feeders are finding homes helps to keep me inspired and creative. 

Meanwhile, if you spot one of my feeders while you are out and about and feel drawn to it, I suggest that you snatch it up. Not only is each of them unique, but their total number is limited. They are fully hand-built and hand-glazed, quite slow to produce, and I will be turning 70 this year. You can do the math.

Common Sense Car Care

By Rick Ostien

I would like to start this month’s article with the January article I wrote that never made it to print.

The month of December is the time that I take a day before the Christmas break to deliver muffins to other people in the automotive trade. The sad thing for me is the list is getting shorter each year. Our family business of 75 years has sustained the good and the bad. For that, we want to thank our loyal customers and our new ones also. Without your support we would never have made it this long.

This past year we have still seen a shortage in our work force. The automotive technician is in higher demand now more than ever. The high-tech vehicle that was new a few years ago now is getting older and is out of warranty. This means that most of the old problems will still exist, but now our new problems will be all electronics. This means more equipment to do the needed repairs, but more important is the technician who will do the repairs.

I have seen an increase in electrical repairs since last year that have demanded more diagnostic time than before. The other problem that we have encountered is the customer that jumps from one repair facility to another for the same problem. This creates more diagnostic time to determine what was done by someone else before we can continue with the repair. This costs the customer more money and time that they thought they were saving. I have said in previous articles and this still holds true, find a repair facility you trust and have them perform the services you need.

The southern New England weather has raised many problems for motor vehicles and for drivers. Lack of preparation for snow, ice, rain, freezing rain, hail, and anything else mother nature can throw at us. A foul weather survival kit should be in all vehicles. Road closures are common due to an accident. Waiting for hours for the road to open can cause problems for the driver and passengers stranded in this situation. The survival kit should contain blankets, cell phone charger or portable battery for the phone, flash light, snacks, boots, extra clothing, snow brush with a scraper, snow shovel, kitty litter, and liquid to drink. Be careful with liquids because they can freeze. 

Owners of full electric vehicles need to keep their vehicle fully charged. Cold weather and time waiting in traffic deplete battery charge. We had a friend who found himself stuck in traffic because of an accident. Their electric vehicle charge dropped to 5%. This is not a good spot to be in. Know where a charging station is and get there before you drop this low. 

Gasoline and diesel vehicles keep your tank from full to ¾. It does cost you for the initial fill up, but keeping your tank topped off costs no more than letting it get close to empty and then adding a few gallons.  The full tank of fuel adds extra weight and will help you with better traction in bad road conditions. Good tires and batteries should be maintained year around. 

One last thing is to always warm up your vehicle. There have been people saying this is not necessary. The person who is a runner or plays sports always warms up their body before participating in a practice or game. A vehicle is no different, fluids need to get moving in a car or truck too. 

Please drive defensively making sure to keep two hands on the steering wheel, giving other drivers plenty of space (car lengths), and reducing your speed. These three simple things can head off a bad scene on the road and consequently a bad day.

Rick Ostien is the owner of Franc Motors in Willington.

Lessons from Travelling: Reflections from Kenya

When two elephants fight, the grass is trampled.

                                                    —Swahili proverb

Article by Phoebe C. Godfrey

Recently I had the good fortune to travel to Kenya with others from UConn in preparation for taking 22 students there this summer. The focus of the two-week summer trip will be to give the students opportunities to learn about the impacts of climate change on different members of Kenyan society and to see what measures have been and are being taken to, if not directly address the causes (as those come mostly from us in the West), at least explore possible ways to mitigate the impacts. Of course, there is the irony of the impact of flying and all the expenses involved. But, having just spent a week there talking to faculty at the University of Nairobi, as well as to Maasai farmers, herders, teachers, medical personnel, and chiefs about climate change impacts, I can affirm that for me it was worth it.

What I learned by listening and talking to people there is that drought on the one hand and flooding on the other, as well as unseasonal weather variations, are having impacts far and wide on food security, medical services, gender/class inequalities, and other social factors. Farmers are losing crops; herders are seeking water for their animals; roads and bridges are washed out; food-, water-, and animal-borne illnesses are spreading; and many other linked crises are impacting people’s abilities to go about their daily lives. I also learned things—not necessarily related to climate change but holding aspects of solutions—from looking out the van window at the people and the land. 

Finally, from spending two days at the Maasai Mara game reserve witnessing the wonders of the animal inhabitants—who, despite everything that goes on in our human world to challenge their existence, still manage to reign supreme—I learned about the importance of preserving animal diversity. No matter how many images you have seen of elephants, hippos, or giraffes, or how many times you may have seen them in zoos, seeing them where they belong, in the right ecosystem and in the right relationship with each other, reveals their dignity and grandeur in a manner I found deeply moving. In fact, given my profession as an environmental sociologist who teaches about climate change, environmental destruction, and species extinction, such an experience was healing. 

This healing did not come just from the animals, although they played a large part, but also from the Kenyan landscape, and of course from the people we met, and from all the people I didn’t meet but fleetingly observed from the van window as we drove for hours on end. All these people were just living their lives but doing so in ways that were highly visible, social, and seemingly satisfying. And yet this constant public presence, in both rural and urban areas, is seen as evidence of “underdevelopment,” whereas in our culture we can drive around and see almost no one and that is seen as “development.” Of course, there are climatic differences that play a role, but even in our summer months it is rare to see people outside walking, talking, engaging in commerce, working, herding, drinking…or just being. There are times, such as Willimantic’s Third Thursdays, or at farmers markets, summer fairs, and festivals, where people gather, but overall, I would argue that as a culture we are socially and creativity starved. 

My claim for us being “socially starved” has been confirmed by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who issued a public advisory last year that we are in an “epidemic of loneliness,” which threatens people’s health as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  However, my other claim of being “creativity starved” is not as common, and I use the term specifically to draw attention to how, in counties like Kenya and throughout the Global South, people can be seen everywhere doing the tasks of daily life and doing them in ways that are innovative, creative, and engaging. Of course, all such places that are deemed “underdeveloped” have over the modern age been brutally colonized, dehumanized, and gravely impacted by our extractivist economy and the impacts of climate change, and yet people have continued to survive and seemingly thrive. 

People in Kenya are farming, herding, building houses and furniture, fixing motorbikes and cars, selling fruits and vegetables, slaughtering animals, fetching water, walking to school or church, or just sitting under a tree, “being”…and so on and so on…in an endless stream made up of the varieties and colors of life. In the larger cities, of course, there are plenty of cars and all the trappings of modernity, but such “development” does not stop the stream of people on the streets. Again, I found all of this human interaction and engagement to be very healing, a reminder of what it means, or what it should mean, to be human, and that people need to be social and creative in ways that we in our culture have for the most part lost. We sit in our homes, befriending our screens, waiting for commodities to quickly arrive, or we drive along empty roads to big-box stores where we speak to no one, create nothing, and wonder why we feel so empty, bored, and depressed, even as we are convinced that the way we live here in the U.S. is the best. It is not. 

What we need more of in our culture are social and creative spaces, places, and encounters, not just with other humans but with other living beings. Such engagements are also key to addressing climate change, by feeding our souls and not just our pockets and our accumulation of commodities. The price for our so-called development has been to rob us of our need for the unknown, the unexpected, and the uncharted—in other words, all that is wild, in both us and in the life around us—and thus we rob ourselves of so much life, life that is wondrous and wonderful in its complexity, diversity, and creativity. For as the Swahili proverb goes, “When two elephants fight, the grass is trampled,” which I take to mean that life requires the making of messes that are not “messy” as we understand the word but are deeply rich and fulfilling. Thus, what we need throughout the world, and specifically for our culture, is not just for there to still be elephants but to find ways to get back to trampling the grass. 

Viral Hope

By Loretta Wrobel

Daily, all of us are exposed to violence, senseless acts and trauma. When we attempt to inform ourselves, we continue to ingest an abundance of negativity, harmful acts and terror. As a person having lived nearly eight decades, I sometimes lose all hope and can easily move towards despair and devastating sadness for our present world, as I witness constant cruelty and prejudice.

Somehow, the coruscating book, Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want by Ruha Benjamin, fell into my hands. And I was infused with hope and exhilaration.  Ruha’s words spoke to me instantaneously, as she shared her personal experiences and discussed how minor shifts in choices can have a gigantic influence on our lives.  There are extreme issues existing in our world and it hardly seems that what each one of us does is going to matter. Ms. Benjamin demonstrates with numerous examples from her own life and the lives of her family and friends that small changes work!

The author focuses on mutual aid and collective healing. There is an energy that builds when people come together and work toward a more creative and practical solution. If you are on the receiving end of an injustice, you know what you need to transform your life. Often the individuals who are designated as the problem solvers, by our patriarchal, racist society don’t have any experience with the problem and may not be in a good position to devise a solution.  

Viral Justice means we acknowledge the truth and work towards repairing the past and ongoing issues. One effective tactic is to support grassroots groups, because they have intimate knowledge and a strong passion to transfigure our society to a just and fairer system. I love the simple demand clearly announced by Ms. Benjamin ,“Nothing about us without us!”   

Ruha talked about the lack of trust in the medical establishment by people of color, mainly due to the history of Black people being unknowingly used as research subjects. She reported on the success of advocates going door-to-door to educate minority communities about healthcare, and to teach people to understand healthcare as a right. Quality and consistent healthcare is essential for everyone. This truth is empowering to many Black and brown people. 

Ms. Benjamin discussed LeeAnne Walters, an environmental activist from Flint, Michigan. This committed and fierce woman exposed the issues of lead in the water in her town of Flint. She led a citizen’s action group that demanded the Flint water be tested, and exposed the toxins residing in the public water system. She is a self-taught problem solver. She exposed the fact that 1 in 6 homes in Flint had dangerous lead levels in their water that exceeded EPA safety standards. She did not waver in thinking that the issue was too big to tackle, and her desire to protect her family and her community energized her. A tremendous role model for all of us in today’s world.  

The author offers many suggestions for how to begin to solve many of the seemingly unsolvable issues front and center in our racist society. She encourages residents to organize media protests over unjust and discriminatory practices. She suggests using the power of barbers and hair salons to educate their communities regarding healthcare issues and delivery of services. Community-driven health institutions that include midwives, doulas, health justice advocates, and mental health advocates could help repair our broken healthcare system. She challenges white people who hold power to use their privilege to push for systemic change, particularly in areas of medicine, education and government. She questions, “What are scientific and medical institutions doing to demonstrate their trustworthiness to Black communities?”  What is possible when we work together? For example, what if we had a more expansive approach to public health rather than a rigid system driven by profits? If medical schools addressed racial justice in their curriculum, how would that change our healthcare system for everyone?

Ruha talked of the value and benefits of a Universal Basic Income. A four-day work week with paid vacation, guaranteed sick leave, and disability accommodation are basic to the move from an unjust and unhealthy society to a system that promotes wellbeing for all its citizens. Her assessment is that private accumulation and institutionalized greed are the culprits. In 2020 around 40 million people lost their jobs, while the billionaires experienced a ten percent increase in their wealth! That statistic really exposes who we are as a culture, and what is important in our flawed worldview.

The disempowerment of workers was another topic that Ms. Benjamin focused on in her book. The phenomenon of the gig worker, where the advantages are setting your own hours, working parttime, and being your own boss, are truly outweighed by the disadvantages of receiving no benefits. This is a colossal obstacle, because if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. If you are sick, you can’t work so you don’t get paid. You lack medical insurance. You don’t have any guaranteed income. If you have more expenses, you must seek out more work. Plus, there are no pension plans or any guarantee that you will have work. In today’s world, benefits are vital, especially if you have a family. If you are an Uber driver, deliver food, work in the food service industry or other low paying jobs, you can’t afford to only work parttime. In academia the university makes out, as the adjunct faculty earn no benefits and usually get paid a minimal amount per course. There is no guarantee the course will be continued and you will continue to have an income. In the university system there are 1.8 million faculty that have no benefits, and these individuals are responsible for the bulk of the teaching and functioning of the system with only a pittance of financial reimbursement for their efforts, and no power within the system. A sad commentary on the corporatization of academia. 

I recommend taking the time to peek at Viral Justice to inspire you to use whatever skill set you possess to make a tiny but important change within our dysfunctional institutions and systems. It is best to start where you are, with the issues that impacts you. By reimagining work and redistributing wealth, we can turn toward democratization of our economy and society. It involves shifting what we value, and placing caring over cutthroat competition. We need to be educated consumers who do not fall for the manufactured scarcity. We can then build on a society that welcomes all to use their creativity and skills to find meaningful work that supports themselves and their families without exhausting their bodies. By working together, we can create astounding solutions to today’s overwhelming, burning matters and questions. Be revitalized by perusing Viral Justice, and become immersed with Viral Hope!!

From the Ground Up – Buying Local in Connecticut #2

In the spring, 

at the end of the day, 

you should smell like dirt.

      -Margaret Atwood

By C. Dennis Pierce

Spring is four weeks away! Many of the local maple trees already are feeding intravenously, through a zig zag network of tubing, large white containers which hold the sap that will later become maple syrup. Yes, a true sign of spring. As I write this column once again, I feel the frustration of being unprepared for the upcoming gardening season. This might be called the “spring shoulder season” but as I look out my window I think “patches” is a better name. It is that time of the year when the ground is warming up and the last snow begins to fade away and plants are waking up from the dormancy of winter. On a positive note, it is the best time of year as the air mixes with the warming soil, that earthy smell that reminds you don’t give up warmer weather will soon be here keeping you excited about what’s to come. Many here in the Northeast may refer to this as mud season.  The combination of rapidly melting snow, thawing ground, and even rain causes only one thing…mud, and lots of it. Here in Mansfield, I recently experienced several back roads were closed or limited to travel due to the impassible muddy roads.  

The “spring shoulder season” is encouraging for hobby gardeners like myself but for the local farmer it is a time where they are working on the first steps of garden production. It is a crucial time for indoor planting. Hundreds if not thousands of seeds will have their first opportunity to snuggle in the enriched starter soil. Farmers begin the process of coddling, transplanting and carefully waiting for the right time when the soil is warm enough to be placed in the ground. Some planting methods bypass this step and seeds are placed directly in the garden beds. The early spring starter method jump starts the little seedlings so they can beat the growing season and show up at the local markets earlier. So why does our local farmers start early? For one, they grow produce that goes directly to the market. The key for market farmers is to produce a product for their customers that they like and cannot find elsewhere. Sometimes this means growing unique varieties not usually found on traditional market shelves. Sometimes it simply means growing a familiar crop at a time when it is difficult to find fresh elsewhere.  If you have not developed the habit of buying locally, perhaps this is the year to start. With inflation impacting the prices of items in traditional stores and you have always thought framer’s markets are too expensive now maybe the time to rethink your choices.      

If you read my column on a regular basis, you will recall that my column was absent from the last issue. Some thought I have given up on advocating for Connecticut Grown and the local farmer or sharing recipes that may incorporate local offerings. While a break in the process of crafting this column for the past ten years has given me the opportunities to reflect on what to focus on in the future. Despite the fact that it is a tremendous struggle for the younger generation to buy or rent farmland, establish a footing in the farming community (which by the way receives them with open arms) and sometimes fight the bureaucracy of local towns, young farmers are now beginning to sprout up like mushrooms after a rainstorm.

Interested in meeting those who ventured into local farming as a career? On Saturday, March 9th,  plan on visiting the upcoming “Know Your Farmer Fair” which is held annually in Willimantic. This year it is at the relatively new Community Center that is across for the Willimantic Food Co-op. “The Know Your Farmer Fair” is an opportunity for residents, chefs, food service directors and restaurant owners  to meet local farmers and to look ahead to the upcoming growing season. Residents can shop at the farmer’s market as well as discuss local Community Supported Agriculture Programs (CSA), farm stands and pick-your-own opportunities. What to learn more? Check it out at

Typically, most individuals who are in search of local produce or products fulfill their quest at  local farmer’s markets. As a localvore, (one who purchases local farm produce and products) are you aware the Willimantic Co-op offers produce that is in season and products that are Connecticut Grown? I recently asked Patty Smith, the new General Manager of the Willimantic Co-op, if she could share with me a list of those that provide product to the Co-op and also, I asked her for a clarification on membership requirements to purchase from the Co-op. Patty sent me the following which I thought it would be great to share with our readers. “ The Co-op is not currently charging the 10% surcharge to non-members. We stopped doing that when the pandemic hit and haven’t reinstated it. We believe it is an outdated practice that no longer serves the Co-op, its members, or the community, especially as we attempt to become more accessible and welcoming to all members of our community who are interested in what the Co-op has to offer, even if they are not ready to become members yet. All shoppers are prospective members, and we believe the surcharge is an obstacle to our ability to serve shoppers who either can’t afford the price of a member share ($120 at $20/year for 6 years) or who simply don’t yet see the value in joining. However, members still receive special benefits for joining, such as a 15% discount on most case pre orders, a 10% coupon upon joining, and other member-only specials and coupons throughout the year, in addition to the benefit of participating in collective and democratic ownership of a community grocery store. We’re currently running a member survey on the topic, to gauge the level of member support in permanently eliminating the non-member surcharge.”

Patty also shared an extensive list of those farms and individuals who already provide product to the Co-op. I have shortened this list since I wanted to focus on local Connecticut products and Connecticut Grown.  The original list contained over 135 vendors. Due to a lack of space for my column I have chosen  local farms from the surrounding communities as an example: A&Z Apiaries / Honey, Alice Rubin / farmer / plants, Still River Farm / eggs, grains and flour, Apis Verde / produce, Baldwin Brook farm / dairy products, Bats of Bedlam/ maple syrup, Berry Bird Farmstead / eggs, Bliss Farm / plants and flowers, Bluebird Hill Farm / produce, BOTL Farm / eggs and meat, Bright Acres farm / produce, Brown Farm / flowers, Bruce the Goose / Eggs, Buddha’s Bees / honey,  Cambera Farm / baked goods, Cato Farm / cheese, Cloverleigh Farm / produce, Cobblestone Farm / produce, KDCrop Farm/ eggs, jams and jellies, Kim Bowers / eggs and maple syrup, Kindred Crossings / meat, Lara Skirvan / produce, Maggie’s Farm / produce, Mary Hawley / eggs, Mathew Olkin / produce, Matt Pulk / produce, Melinda Fields / eggs and produce, Monument Hill Farm / produce, Mountain Dairy / dairy products, Proctor Hill Farm / meat, Rachael Landry / flowers, Raptor Ridge Farm / eggs, Shooks Apiaries / honey, Shundahai Farm / produce, Swift Acre Farm / produce, The Clucking Chicken Farm / eggs, The Loved Hen Farm / eggs, Tiny Acre Farm / produce, Tobacco Farm / produce, Waddicor’s Winterplace / cheese, Wayne Sweet / eggs, Willow Valley farm / produce, and Winterplace Farm Creamery / cheese. 

If you have a farm and are interested in selling to the Willimantic Co-op Patty suggested  you can use the Contact Us form on the Co-op’s website or if it is produce their local produce buyer Mark at

Egg Salad, Yup, But Not Your Mom’s

Filling for four sandwiches


4 large eggs, preferably local.

5 tablespoons of mayonnaise

1 cup of finely chopped celery ( 1 stalk)

¼ cup of minced parsley

1 scallion, minced (you can substitute with a ½ of a small onion)

1 granny smith apple, peeled, core removed, and apple grated into salad.

1 tablespoon of minced dill weed

Salt and pepper to taste


Cover eggs with lightly salted water in a pot

Bring to a boil. Boil 12 minutes

Drain hot water and immediately submerge in cold water.

Let water run over eggs until eggs are cooled.

Peel eggs. 

If you are peeling fresh local eggs don’t be surprised if they are a pain to peel.

Chop eggs, add mayonnaise, chopped vegetables / apple

Season with salt and pepper

Cover mixture and place in refrigerator for one hour.

Serve on a whole wheat bread or bagel with lettuce and tomato.

Eggs are the sign of spring. The local hens have begun laying and we will begin to see a lot of signs pop up on the highways and byways offering local eggs for sale. Did you know that egg salad sandwiches is a favorite in Singapore?  This egg salad sandwich is actually a Japanese favorite called Tamago Sando. It is tucked between two slices of sweet milk bread, and it is prepared with kewpie mayonnaise.

Starting with this column I am planning to incorporate some tips I have picked up along the way from farmers, markets, and local gardening associations. As birds are making their way back to the area, welcome them  with some nesting materials. Do you have one of those suet holders laying around? Leave it by your clothes dryer and every time you take out the fluff from your filter add it to the suet holder. When full hang it by your bird feeder. Birds will think they died and went to heaven.  Also, my experience last year, while taking the UConn Master Gardener program (which I highly recommend) is that when gardening do not state that your growing matter is dirt. Instead call it soil. Dirt is what you track into the house. Another tip is when going to purchase soil to fill your raised beds do not fall for the expensive marketing of raised bed soil. Instead purchase several bags of a lesser priced substrate and purchase a bag of compost and a bag of peat moss and make your own mixture. You may also want to add vermiculite for water retention.  Countless recipes can be found online. Lastly, as it will soon be early spring, if you have not done this recently have your soil tested. Think about it. How can you invest in expensive seeds or pre grown plants if you do not know the composition and attributes of the soil you are planning to grow in. For a reasonable price you can send it or drop it off to the University. A great article and contact information can be found here: 

If you find that you enjoy reading this column every month or if you have some gardening hacks you would like to share with others? Please drop me a line and let me know  at I am grateful to those who let me know that they missed my column when it was absent in the last issue. Peas be with you. Come celebrate with me and remember, every day is a holiday, and every meal is a banquet.  I’ll save you a seat at the table!

Unsung Heroes of Soul:

Fontella Bass

By Dean Farrell

As host of “The Soul Express,” I play the biggest names in 1960s and ‘70s-era soul music. I also mix in the many great soul artists who did not necessarily become household names but were no less talented. This month’s column is about Fontella Bass, best known for 1965’s “Rescue Me.”

She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 3, 1940. She was the daughter of gospel singer Martha Bass, who belonged to the Clara Ward Singers. At age five, she provided the piano accompaniment when her grandmother sang at funeral services. She joined her church choir at age six. By the time she was nine, Bass was accompanying her mother on tours of the American South and Southwest.

As a teenager, Bass became more interested in secular music. She took to singing Rhythm & Blues at local contests and fairs. At seventeen, she began her professional career singing at the Showboat Club near Chain Rocks, Missouri. In 1961, she auditioned for the Leon Claxton carnival show. Bass was hired for the two weeks the carnival was in town, playing piano and singing in the chorus. Bass wanted to tour with Claxton, but her mother “literally dragged me off the train.”

During her brief time with Claxton, Bass was heard by blues singer Little Milton. His bandleader, Oliver Sain, hired her to back Milton on piano for both live shows and recording sessions. When Milton failed to show up for a gig, Sain had Bass sing in his place. She soon became a featured vocalist in the show. When Sain and Milton went their separate ways, Bass went with Sain, who also recruited singer Bobby McClure.

With the support of Bob Lyons, who managed the St. Louis radio station KATZ, Bass released her earliest singles on the Bobbin label in 1962. She also recorded for Ike Turner’s labels, Prann and Sonja. Turner produced those sessions for Bass and included his wife Tina on Bass’ 1964 release, “Poor Little Fool.” These early singles were not commercially successful. It was also during this time that Bass married jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie.

In 1964, she had a dispute with Sain that led to her quitting the show and moving to Chicago. Bass auditioned for Chess Records and was signed to its Checker subsidiary. Her first singles there were duets with Bobby McClure, who Chess had also signed. Their debut, “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing,” was released in January 1965. It went top five on the Billboard R&B chart and top forty on the pop side. Ironically, Chess had commissioned Oliver Sain to produce the Bass & McClure session!

After one more single with McClure and a brief tour, Bass returned to the Chess studios to record “Rescue Me.” Backing musicians included bass player Louis Satterfield, saxophonist Gene Barge, and drummer Maurice White (later of Earth, Wind & Fire). Among the back-up singers was a young Minnie Riperton (“Lovin’ You,” 1975). Released in the fall of 1965, “Rescue Me” spent a month at #1 R&B and hit #4 pop. It also became a #11 hit in the UK. “Rescue Me” sold over one million copies and received a gold disc from the Recording Industry Association of America. It further received a Grammy nomination. Also worth mentioning is “Soul of the Man,” the gospel-drenched blues ballad on the flip. A reviewer at Billboard even singled it out as the hit side!

There was some controversy surrounding the writer’s credit on “Rescue Me.” Producer Billy Davis, along with co-writers Carl Smith and Raynard Miner, had assured Bass that her contribution to the song’s lyrics would be acknowledged. However, when the record came out, Bass did not get a writer’s credit. When she complained to Davis (then her manager) about it, he assured Bass that her name would be on the song’s legal documents; but that never happened either. As a result, Bass became disillusioned with Chess and quit the label in 1967. There would be many years of litigation before Bass finally received a co-writer’s credit and collected her back royalties.

In 1969, she and husband Lester Bowie moved to Paris, where they recorded two albums with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. By 1972, Bass had retired from music to focus on raising her and Bowie’s four children. She did, however, appear on two of her husband’s LPs: The Great Pretender (1981) and All the Magic (1982). In 1990, Bass recorded a gospel album, which included her mother and brother, David Peaston. She further toured the American West Coast that fall as part of a show called Juke Joints and Jubilee. It featured both gospel and blues acts.

Also in 1990, “Rescue Me” was used in a TV ad for American Express. Bass sued the company and its advertising agency, which resulted in a 1993 settlement of $50,000 plus punitive damages. Bass went on to appear in the PBS-TV special, Soul Celebration. And in May 2000, she received a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

In her later years, Bass struggled with deteriorating health. She survived breast cancer, but then had a series of strokes. She also had a leg amputated. Fontella Bass died on December 26, 2012, of complications from a heart attack. She was 72.

Rock critic Dave Marsh included both “Rescue Me” and “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing” in his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made.

Charted singles:

“Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing” (duet with Bobby McClure, 1965) R&B #5, Pop #33

“You’ll Miss Me (When I’m Gone)” (duet with Bobby McClure, 1965) R&B #27, Pop #91

“Rescue Me” (1965) R&B #1 (4 weeks), Pop #4

“Recovery” (1966) R&B #13, Pop #37

“I Can’t Rest” (1966) R&B #31

“I Surrender” (1966) R&B #33, Pop #78

“You’ll Never Ever Know” (1966) R&B #34

“Safe and Sound” (1966) Pop #100

Please check out the Unsung Heroes of Soul blog at

Dean Farrell hosts “The Soul Express” Fridays from 7:00-10:00 p.m. on WECS, 90.1-FM ( and alternating Saturdays from 2:30 – 5:30 p.m. on WRTC, 89.3-FM ( He plays vintage soul music of the 1960s and ‘70s, everything from #1 hits to long-lost obscurities. Dean’s e-mail address is

Did Native Americans Transform the World?

Sustainability, Liberty and the Noble Savage

By Brian Karlsson-Barnes

First Nations in New England were intimately connected to the Earth that had sustained them for centuries. They revered the Land. It defined their spirituality. Generous in spirit, Nipmuc Indians took maize from the Quiet Corner along Old Connecticut Path to starving colonists in Boston, a long trek in the 1630s. But native Americans gave us much more than generosity and corn.

SUSTAINABILITY is a mantra of American Indian cultures, such as the principles of a Potawatomi‘Honorable Harvest’ (reported in ‘Our Relationship to the Land’ by Loretta Wrobel, Jan/Feb 2024 Neighbors):     

Ask permission, listen, be grateful and reciprocate. 

Never take the first one, and take only what you need … 

Share and minimize harm …

Also drawing on ancient wisdom, the 7th Principle of Unitarian-Universalism teaches: 

Respect for the Interdependent Web of All Existence of Which We Are a Part.   Not apart.

LIBERTY   Indian Givers (a 1988 book by Jack Weatherford, Anthropology professor at Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota) asks, “Did Native Americans Transform the World?” 

Yes! Native culture has given us much more than the wisdom of sustainability: modern medicine, agriculture and ecology… potatoes, chillies and chocolate!… and our democratic system of government with our uniquely American concept of freedom… all are Indian gifts. 

Personal Liberty is our American Indian notion of freedom. “Freedom does not have a long pedigree in the Old World,” Weatherford observes. Ancient Mediterranean literature refers to group freedom from domination, such as freeing Jews from Egyptian bondage. American personal freedom, however, is an individual’s liberty from rulers and wealthy elites.

After 1493 when Columbus founded settlement for Queen Isabella on Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), exploration decimated Indian leadership and grafted the Spanish language and religion on native roots throughout the region. Less invasive French and British adventurers observed North American Indians living in harmony and prosperity without royal rule, without “magistrates, forced services, riches, poverty and inheritance.” 

Indians were instead egalitarian and ethical without the European mania for money. 

By the 17th and 18th centuries of the “Enlightenment”, American Indians were belittled as “Noble Savages” by European elites. Per US historian Henry Steele Commager, “Europe was ruled by the well born, the rich, the privileged, by those who held their places by divine favor, inheritance, prescription or purchase.” German philosopher Immanuel Kant claimed that American Indians are “incapable of civilization… without affection and passion… not drawn to one another by love… hardly speak at all, never caress one another, care about nothing, and are lazy.”

Ugly racist bigotry. Elite, not enlightened.

The Indian spark of personal liberty lit the fire of the 1776 American and 1789 French Revolutions. It illuminated the way to a global age of democracy, more than two centuries to a world now threatened in Ukraine, Gaza, even America. Do we need a global powwow?

Powwow  Weatherford’s book resonated with my Minnesota memories of the Headwaters Green Party in the late 1990s. Greens as I were invited to an annual gathering north of The Cities. 

Powwows seem chaotic to nonnatives. No one is in control, no one tells dancers to start. Slowly activated by drum and song, dancers moved in a spiral of respect, a continual shuffling to the rhythmic beating of a drum. Veterans were invited early, regardless of ethnicity or service (my 7 years USAF). The circle spun larger and larger, growing organically as more dancers joined the spiral. Mesmerizing. My spirit still dances in harmony with the Land.

Ralph Nader’s 2000 running mate was Winona LaDuke, environmental activist, Harvard economics graduate, member of the White Earth Indian tribe, an Ojibwe “Warrior Woman” and a force of nature. The Green Party shared her issues of environmental sustainability. 

Although she studied in Boston, LaDuke wasn’t well known on the East Coast. Some Democrats disliked Greens, we Stewards of the Earth, as competition for their bipartisan power. Some Greens disliked consumer-advocate Nader who wasn’t a party member but craved attention and lent celebrity. Some Dems still disdain the Green Party. I’m now an Independent. 

UGLY AMERICANS  The United States now indulges environmental abuse, recalling the epithet depicting Americans who were arrogant, loud and ostentatious overseas (from a 1958 political novel about Southeast Asia diplomacy). Overconsumption is a new Ugly.

American Consumerism is now too much about marketing and deceit, profit and greed, and overconsumption and waste. As Wrobel wrote, “When we take only what we need, we stop producing mountains of waste.” We need to buy; we just don’t need so much. Yet Americans are only 4% of the world’s people and in the triage of global crises, the effects of climate change – increasing drought and fire, flooding and rising sea levels — are devastating world-wide. Loss of species is more alarming, perhaps 200 species disappearing daily. Perhaps triage is pointless. Everything is interconnected.

Problems grew exponentially in the 20th century as Americans became less connected to the Land, less in touch with nature and nobility, and consumed by consumption. Since we began buying and driving more, and more, and frivolously flying afar. Fortunately, we are blessed in the with nature in our quiet corner of Connecticut. 

Any little journey can include a woodsy walk.

Old Connecticut Path

By Brian Karlsson-Barnes

Everything Is Connected. Native trails first led westward from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the Connecticut River Valley. Old Connecticut Path was first of North American routes west from the seacoast settlement that is Boston, founded 1630. From the Hub, everything was connected, land and sea. 

The word Connecticut has little to do with our verb of connection, however; it is derived from anglicized spellings of Quinnetuket, a Mohegan-Pequot word for the state’s “long tidal river”.

Indians already knew the efficient trails, skirting wet meadows of river bottoms, crossing streams at the easiest fords, and walking the ridges. When Bay colonists were short of grain in the early 1630s, Nipmuc farmers in Connecticut took surplus maize along this familiar route to the mouth of the Charles River, trading food for metal goods and woolen cloth (and unintentional disease for which no immunity). 

1635 Watertown settlers took this route moving to Wethersfield, Connecticut. In 1636, Hartford was founded when Congregational minister Thomas Hooker (advocate of universal Christian suffrage who disagreed with the Puritans) took a hundred of his dissenting congregation on a two-week trek with 160 cattle along the Path to the Connecticut River, a place called Saukiog, meaning “blackness of earth”. Early colonists driving cattle made the Path wider.

By 1643, Sudbury Village in Massachusetts, documents called this trail “Old Connecticut Path”. With a postal system in 1672, “The Great Trail of New England” became the first colonial Post Road. The Path crossed the Blackstone River, crossing known as North Bridge, and the Quinebaug River crossing was South Bridge, thus naming Northbridge and Southbridge. The Path still partly follows Routes 9 and 126.

The ease of growing corn led to small grist mills on waterways throughout the region, as in Gurleyville near Storrs, dating to about 1749 on the Fenton River near Mansfield Hollow and the Nipmuc Trail.

GARDEN PATH  Everything Is connected. Moving to Boston in 2004, I often drove Route 9 from Jamaica Plain to Hopkinton’s Weston Nurseries, my first connection to the Path. JP is also home to Arnold Arboretum, nature’s solace for many, where I was a volunteer docent. In the1970s, architectural studies at the University of Minnesota connected with spatial work at Bachman’s Garden Center in Minneapolis, and Dundee Nursery in Plymouth MN.Unitarian-Universalism taught its 7th Principle: 

Respect for the Interdependent Web of All Existence of Which We Are a Part

Not apart.


Centuries before European settlement, Old Connecticut Path led west from Massachusetts Bay along the north bank of the Charles River … to Cambridge (New Town) and newly settled Watertown, through now-Waltham and Weston… curving south to Wayland where Route 126 still bears the Old Path name. (Wayland, where “Bay Path” diverged from Connecticut Path to head straight west through Worcester to the Connecticut River from Mass Bay.) 

Southwestward, Connecticut Path passed along the north side of Cochituate Pond to cross the Sudbury River in now-Framingham (Route 126 also retains name), then threaded between the Charles and Sudbury Rivers. From Framingham, Old Connecticut Path ran south through Ashland (Megunko, where I later lived on Sudbury headquarters) through Hopkinton (Quansigamog) into now-Westborough. 

Native Indians were coerced to settle in “praying towns”, instructed in European customs and converted to Christianity. Trekking over Fay Mountain to Grafton, known as the praying town of Hassanamesit / Hassanamisco, the Old Path led through Sutton woods to Connecticut. It entered at the praying town of Mannexit, now Thompson, continued into Woodstock and crossed the Quiet Corner through Eastford, Ashford and Willington. 

Today, travelers in the Quiet Corner can walk Old Connecticut Path in Fenton-Ruby Park (Willington) and along the Nipmuc (aka Nipmuck)  Trail north from Mansfield Hollow (Windham) to Bigelow Hollow (Union) at the Massachusetts border. 

NIPMUC TRAIL A west branch starts on Puddin’ Lane in suburban Mansfield, and the east branch extends north from Mansfield Hollow State Park (Windham), through the Natchaug / Nipmuck State Forests and Yale Forest, into Bigelow Hollow State Park (Union). The 45-mile trail hikes woods, open fields and ridges, to which many other trails connect town and conservation lands, notably Joshua’s Trust. 

Westward, the Old Path crosses Tolland, Vernon and Manchester to arrive at the Connecticut River. 

GARDEN PATH  Working in Hopkinton, Weston Nurseries’ vast inventory of plants instructed me. Better than a graduate degree. Working at Bachman’s and Dundee Nursery in Minnesota, had converted me to Horticulturalism, but WN enhanced my sense of landscape design and my earlier experience with plants suitable to Minnesota’s bitter winters.

My mantra:                                                      Suit the Site, Fit the Space, Then Seek Beauty

Master gardening was most instructive. This interconnection of all things horticultural was studied at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society at Elm Bank, Wellesley, as I began KB garden design in Jamaica Plain. 

2018  My path arrived in the Quiet Corner at a 1750 farmhouse in Chaplin near the Natchaug River with a scary basement and two wooded acres. Over sixty more trees, many flowering, and many more shrubs and herbaceous perennials have been planted, coexisting with glorious weeds. Love the wild landscape.


What I most want to take root, however, is the notion of horticultural interconnection.  Spiritual respect for the environment assists book and field learning. Key for me was master gardening training with MassHort.

Locally, the UCONN Master Gardening Program is in Storrs. Volunteer to learn more. Arnold Arboretum taught me more about mature growth and landscape design; in New London, learn from ornamental and natural habitats at Connecticut College. 

Master Gardener is an amateur designation; Horticulturist is a professional one. Skill and passion overlap, and becoming a Master Gardener doesn’t replace a professional degree or working as a project manager at a “design-build” nursery, but master gardening connects many variables. Gardening benefits all landscape designers. Nothing beats experience, except imagination.

Dedicated to the memory of Ryan Lefsky who died unexpectedly in October, a hard worker with overwhelming family responsibilities who loved walking the woods of Sutton, Mass.

Brian Karlsson-Barnes, Master gardener/designer, Chaplin CT

Looking Up:

Catnaps, Landfills and Soul

By Bob Grindle

The barn is cold this early afternoon in mid-February…it’s a damp and chilly sort of gloominess that can settle in when the lights are off, and the sky is gray. The daylight filtering through the windows of this earth-floored building seems tired and lacking in the energy that bright sunlight usually brings. Still, resting here on a couple of stacked hay bales watching the snow fall, charmingly framed by an open door that faces our warmly-lit house on this day before Valentine’s Day, I feel a cozy, dream-like sense of comfortable satisfaction…almost as if the goats are back. Sitting here staring at the date ‘November 1981’ carved into the cement window ledge, I am transported back to that summer when we built this still unfinished building more than 40 years ago. What triggers our mind to replay these episodic memories with such clarity? …a smell?… a sound?… a vision?… a pattern in, or atmosphere of a place?… Perhaps something less familiar; harder to quantify, an ether of the place?… the ancient civilizations might have offered such an explanation. Something so ethereal and yet so familiar that I wonder how far across a dream can we travel before the curtain rises and we tumble off the proscenium into a reality that challenges our sense that moments and places and things have soul. Many of the indigenous peoples that inhabited the western hemisphere in the millennia before they encountered Europeans had developed spiritual beliefs that viewed the Earth as the mother to all things, and since all creatures and plants depended upon Mother Earth for water, food, shelter and clothing, it followed that we are all bound together as kin. History took another path though and civilization has drawn us away from our roots in the planet.

We built this barn in 1981. Sitting here on the hay, my feet up on the old milking stand as the snow falls, I close my eyes, lay my head back against the stone wall and can see my wife Linda’s concrete smudged cheeks, our 3 year old son struggling with stones bigger than his age, a couple of near-teen nephews who spent that summer of 1981 with us so my sister could deal with a  crumbling marriage and, of course, the cute-as-a-button Nubian goat kid we had just bought locally that would set us on a journey of milking, morning and night, for more than 30  years. In less than the span of a catnap, I relive an entire summer, building a barn that we needed but could not afford…so many trips back and forth to the Hampton/Scotland dump, like some sort of reverse landfill, to scavenge virtually everything but the concrete…we made it affordable. Yes, this place has soul. 

As the Earth turns slowly eastward the afternoon cools, the pulse of the wind quickens and the snowfall slows. I open my eyes. The decades old images and sounds of a temporal lobe in replay mode dissolve quickly into the damp, chill atmosphere of the afternoon and are quickly, safely shelved again in the vaulted recesses of my brain. Heading back to the house, I start composing this piece for the March issue of Neighbors knowing that the brief reverie of how the barn got built will stick with me long enough that I won’t have to stop right away and write it down. Stopping to gather eggs at the chicken house, I turn to look back at the barn as a fleeting thought occurs about whether the swallows will return this year…last year’s nearly unending rain seemed to reduce the success of their nesting…and I feel a certain excitement to think about the coming season. It will feel good to step into the warmth of the house. Yes, this moment has soul.

There has been so little sun these last six weeks that I am beginning to think of the night sky as something of a pen-pal. Even the dawn and dusk transitions have mostly been cloudy with mist, rain or snow present or threatening and this early evening is no exception…as I enter the house I kick the snow off my boots, turn to look to the east where Orion is rising, along with his hunting companions Canis Minor and Canis Major as they chase Taurus across a cloud shrouded cosmic stage. Oh well, there are clear skies to come and perhaps April’s eclipse will dazzle us all. For the time being, though, March is on it’s way with its own streaming service at no charge…Venus has vacated our morning skies, to be replaced by Saturn and Mars, Jupiter will remain in the night sky until Venus reappears late in April as the evening star outshining Jupiter.

If evening skies are agreeable on March 13th, one of the month’s more dramatic sights will be a very brilliant Jupiter and a waxing crescent Moon hanging high over the western horizon about an hour after sunset…that would be nearly 8 pm because, yes, daylight savings time begins Sunday morning, March 10th! And just a week later Spring arrives on the 19th of March. No matter the uncertain vagaries of Spring in southern New England, you can feel our delightful landscape peeling up and out of its layers of winter-time slumber and calling out to each of us to shake off the dust of last year’s not quite completed projects (perhaps finish shingling the barn) and find the energy and joy that comes with the changing of the season. Be well and enjoy the coming change of the Spring equinox, and if there’s a place where you enjoy peeling back the layers that modern life often weighs us all down with, spend a little extra time there.

No Axe to Grind – Simply in Pursuit of the Facts

“Everyman has a right to his own opinion, 

but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.”

        -Bernard Baruch

By Bill Powers                                   

Do I have an “axe to grind” with Hartford Heath Care? Hell No! On the contrary, Hartford Hospital is where I took my first breath. Fortunately for me, my family lived only a few blocks from the hospital.  In the first month of infancy, I developed pneumonia, and during a heavy snowstorm, my father ran through the streets with me in his arms to the hospital. They saved my life!  

Twenty-five years later, as a young registered respiratory therapist, it was tremendously exciting to return to the hospital to develop a new program at their School of Allied Health to educate respiratory therapists and technicians. Later, I was promoted to technical director of a newly organized Respiratory Care Department. Today I am honored that that my photo with my medical director, Donald R. Morrison, hangs in the Lobby of Hartford Hospital in the History of Hartford Hospital Photographic Gallery. 

During those years I was able to take advantage of the hospital’s nationally recognized employee development program that included management skills training and a generous tuition reimbursement benefit. That benefit allowed me to complete my bachelor’s and two master’s degrees. The Master’s in Health Care Management from Hartford Graduate Center/R.P.I. qualified me for the Operating Room Manager’s position at the hospital and eventually for two hospital administration jobs at other medical centers. The positions at Hartford Hospital gave me the opportunity to actively participate in the evolution of a growing profession by serving at state and national elected and appointed leadership roles. I was able to write and see my articles published in allied health and medical journals as well as presenting our work at national meetings. For me Hartford Hospital was a “land of opportunity and personal growth” 

After three decades, it was time for me to change my career path. Institutions that were to become integral parts of what is now Hartford Health Care (HHC) have significantly and thankfully contributed to that goal. As part of my master’s degree in clinical/community psychology, Natchaug Hospital in Mansfield welcomed me for internships in psychology and addictive behaviors. The clinicians were generous with their time, demonstrating and explaining that allowed me to refine assessment techniques, interventions and therapeutic techniques. 

Windham Community Memorial Hospital (WCMH) granted me privileges to work in their Emergency Department (E.D.) and to see inpatients as a Licensed Professional Counselor while a provider with United Services. I was able to work with an incredibly talented and compassionate group of E.D. doctors, community psychiatrists, nurses and other support staff, while providing crisis intervention, emergency behavioral assessments and placements. I witnessed their dedication and teamwork and loved being part of their team. 

The people who worked at Hartford Hospital, Natchaug Hospital and the WCMH’s E.D. when I was there contributed greatly to my development as a clinician, as a professional, and as a person, and I am deeply indebted to them. For them it was so much more than a job. It was a passion to help humankind. 

I hope that you have read my other article in this issue of Neighbors titled “First It Was the Loss of Intensive Care Then Inpatient Maternity Services – What’s Next?”  Perhaps now you will understand why I have “no axe to grind” but currently have “a bone to pick” with HHC/WCMH. I have gathered what appear to be numerous “facts”, that are not just opinions, from passionate opponents of the termination of critical services at WCMH. In order to write a story that is fair, balanced and factual, I need “facts” from HHC and WCMH as they see them, and they are not willing to have a conversation about that. It is unfortunate and disheartening. We deserve the facts. We deserve transparency and the truth about our health care services and who, when, where and how decisions about our health care are being made. 

Bill Powers is a former, respiratory therapist, teacher, counselor and health care administrator.

First It Was the Loss of Intensive Care – 

Then Inpatient Maternity Services – What’s Next?

Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, 

it would change the Earth.  

      -William Faulkner

By Bill Powers      

Local officials in our area intensely voiced their concerns against the injustice, lack of transparency and absence of community involvement for Hartford Health Care’s (HHC) decisions for closing the ICU and inpatient maternity unit at Windham hospital. HHC displayed a lack of compassion for moms and their newborns and their families, and demonstrated a callousness that reflects both arrogance and a directed effort to exploit those least able to defend themselves. HHC’s apparent greed and lack of concern, veiled by claims of efficiency, is at the public’s expense and reeks of hypocrisy with respect to HHC’s own mission and statement of values. 


A few years ago, Ashford’s current First Selectwoman Cathryn Silver-Smith, at a regional meeting of elected officials, told our Governor that the termination of inpatient maternity services at Windham Community Memorial Hospital (WCMH) gave her concerns that “women were now placed in a position of having to deliver their babies on the way to the hospital; God forbid there being complications.” Additionally, she said: “At the same meeting Lisa Thomas, Chairwoman of the Coventry Town Council spoke to the Governor to express concerns about the termination of inpatient maternity services.” Later in August of 2021, the Ashford Democratic Town Committee issued a press release – “REOPEN WINDHAM HOSPITAL MATERNITY UNIT NOW!”

Lisa Thomas, in addition to many others, has been and remains very vocal and active not only about the local “maternity dessert” and the termination of hospital inpatient labor and delivery services at Windham Hospital/HHC but also northeastern Connecticut. She told me: “There was a lengthy Certificate of Need (CON) hearing for which the Coventry Town Council’s Resolution was submitted and at which many testified, there has been a plethora of media coverage, and there have been rallies. The loss of critical care health services in northeastern CT is more than just labor and delivery. I currently serve on Comptroller Scanlon’s healthcare task force – specifically the Rural Health subcommittee co-chaired by Kyle Kramer, and the Women’s Health subcommittee. Additionally, I have spoken with both the Governor and Lt. Governor at length about the loss of critical care in rural Connecticut.”

There can be no doubt that the November 1, 2021, “resolution” adopted by the Coventry Town Council described by Lisa Thomas was both a significant and powerful statement “Concerning Termination of Services at Windham Community Memorial Hospital.” The Resolution stated: “The Coventry Town Council demands that Windham Hospital restore Intensive Care and maternity services of Labor and Delivery to its original levels, and develop integrated services with a community needs assessment informed by meaningful and diverse community input.” I am finding that Its contents not only reflect the concerns, needs, issues and attitudes of Coventry’s local elected officials but also of the vast majority of us residing in northeastern Connecticut. 

Previously, more than a year earlier (October 6, 2020), the Windham Town Council issued Resolution No. 2803 in which the Council produced a persuasive and articulately written document that “demanded Windham Hospital restore all core services, especially maternity services of Labor and Delivery to its original levels, and develop integrated services with a community needs assessment informed by meaningful and diverse community input.”   

In the Town of Mansfield on April 26, 2021, the Town Council “authorized the Mansfield Human Rights Commission to send a letter to Hartford Healthcare’s Jeffry Flaks, HHC president and CEO, addressing the human rights concerns regarding the closure of the Windham Hospital Maternity Ward.” The letter dated April 2, 2021, included the following: “The United States ranks last for maternity mortality among high-resource countries (NICHD); In addition to the already high rate of maternal/child mortality and morbidity in the United States, childbearing women of color suffer disproportionately high rates of pregnancy-related mortality and morbidity. Non-Hispanic white women experience 13 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 births compared to 42.8 deaths per 100,000 for Black women (Saluja & Bryant). Racial and ethnic disparities for mothers and newborns have persisted over time (CDC); The decision to close Windham Hospital’s Labor and Delivery services was short-sided and has far-reaching implications for the community; and, we encourage you to convene a committee with the focus of addressing this issue. The committee should include healthcare providers, community leaders, and community members.”  The Mansfield Town Clerk’s Office has no record of a reply from Mr. Flaks nor do current or previous commission members have any recollection of a response. I have also asked a HHC Eastern Region Board member about whether such a group had been convened and was directed to Donna Handley, HHC Eastern Region President for the details. My requests for a conversation with Handley remain unanswered. 


I have made many attempts to have conversations with officials, both employees and board members, at HHC to get their side of the story and have met with little success. Employees and several board members either haven’t responded or told me they have been instructed to direct all questions on the matter to their media relations and content specialists. (One board member, who years ago had been one of my professors, did talk with me and advised me to speak with Donna Handley, (Senior Vice President at HHC & East Region President) for “specific facts” for my story. Believe me when I say, I would love “specific facts” in order to write a fair and balanced story.  I have been directed to three HHC media personalities and they simply referred me to press releases and ignored my questions about who made the decisions, when, how and why. HHC is very good at “circling the wagons”; I guess in order to protect the Hartford Health Care brand. So much for transparency, honesty and truth! 


There can be no doubt that elected and appointed local town officials acted appropriately when it came to trying to protect the health interests of the people they serve. Unfortunately, it is obvious that our elected state officials have been unable to effectively protect our moms and newborns. I’ve spoken with six of them and collectively they have numerous explanations for how and why WCMH/HHC got away with what they have done to our neighbors? Finally, how was one woman in the Office of Health Strategies (OHS) permitted to make the “final decision” on December 1st of last year, three-and-a-half years after the maternity unit was closed. Deidre Gifford is an official who is appointed by and reports directly to the Governor. The interesting explanations from our area state representatives and state senator about what happened at WCMH will have to wait for another episode of this story. It appears that in effect it amounts to our state government’s protection for HHC’s virtual monopoly through their cadre of lawyers buttressed by the powerful Connecticut Hospital Association lobby, thus enabling HHC to do pretty much whatever they like, without particular regard for transparency or fairness for the needs of certain communities they abandon. Community hospitals serve a critical role in providing services. The people they serve deserve government protections from exploitation by larger corporate partners, who can simply skim off the cream and redistribute services in arbitrary ways that may negatively impact the patients they serve. It is in the public interest for our state representatives to protect us from such abuses through public policy initiatives. Our elected state officials from both parties, the Governor, and executive branch agencies need to effectively confront the health care monopolies in our state and make them accountable. You could call this – government working for the people as opposed to working for corporations. Protecting our local basic health care services must be a priority. Assuring transparency, community input, and truth from large health care corporations should be goals, if not, then there is no telling What’s Next?

This episode follows the first episode that appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Neighbors and was titled “Local Moms and Newborns Abandoned.”

Bill Powers is a former teacher, counselor and health care administrator.