TASC List: In our own back yard

The seasons change and the clocks have been set back. Wilton begins to prepare for winter and think about places to go, attractions to visit, and things to do within our own borders and neighboring communities. This column’s strongest recommendations would find at the very top of the list one of our area’s undisputed treasures.

The Weir Farm National Historic Site along Nod Hill Road at the Wilton-Ridgefield line is a stunning combination of national park and preserved acreage. A visit offers much more than the intersection of art and nature and the opportunity to view our surroundings as they appeared more than 100 years ago.

The place is a remarkable collection of actual artifacts and relics from the past, a kaleidoscopic look into the origins of the American Impressionistic school of painting, and a chance to examine close up the way in which Mother Nature clothes and wraps herself in seasonal garb and timeless style.

There are two properties you can explore — Weir Farm NHS, which is the only national park dedicated to American painting and the home to several generations of prominent artists and their families, and the Weir Preserve, which is an adjoining 110 acres open for public hiking as well. Today, artists-in-residence on a monthly basis interpret the landscape and rolling terrain in individual renderings and in various media.

Within its boundaries are houses, studios, barns, sheds, outbuildings, ponds, gardens, trails, fields, and streams. Woods and wildlife abound. Stone walls extend in every direction. They are themselves the artistic remnants of farmers turned craftsmen in order to contain their livestock and define their properties. All of this is described in great detail by illustrated brochures and with helpful enthusiasm by the staff of park rangers.

The visitor center is the starting point for exploring the park and houses the support personnel and a small art gallery. One particularly useful document for self-guided touring — Walking the Cultural Landscape … Art, Inspiration, and Preservation — provides considerable background on the artist J. Alden Weir who first moved to the farm in 1882.

Stepping off the center’s porch one can follow the tour guide to the Weir House, sunken garden, barn, and meadows. And then follow any of the well-marked trails that fan out across the property. It’s here that I began on a wonderfully warm last day of October to walk the main trail into the heart of the preserve.

The sun still fairly high above the trees slanted its light through foliage only about one-third fallen to the ground. Where it struck and was absorbed by the rocks and boulders along the pathways it supplied the natural comfort normally found in an electric blanket. Another solar worshiper sat with his two large white dogs (a mother and son) on these ancient stone cushions. The illuminated path displayed leaf shadings of vivid red and yellow glowing with a golden aura. A dozen leaf varieties intermingled, and the browns and greens sought their own share of attention.  

Passing through the once-gated openings in the stone walls, you will notice the ground rising gradually along wetlands with frequent cross-trail root structures requiring more careful footsteps. Larger boulders from the glacial periods are encountered, along with granite outcroppings that also require some scrambling to maintain footing. At the table-top high points of these promontories, providing a perfect view of the western landscape, you can imagine Native American tribal elders gathering in council.

But one very special place. Where a stream bed runs under a flat rock bridge, a natural dam slows the flow to stillness. In the quiet of your passing, away from roadway noise and sounds of human habitats, like leaf blowers and lawn mowers, you can sense the beauty of Weir and the meaning of preserve. The deep brown shade of the water at its surface reflects the azure coloration of the sky. And floating on the top are dozens of fallen leaves, edges slightly coiled and riding like small rainbow-painted ships in a harbor.

You have just stepped from Wilton into a traditional Japanese woodblock print scene. A classic portrayal of fall. And only a small distance from home.

TASC stands for Toward A Stronger Community. Contact: brennerjoe@aol.com.