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Old Lyme - On Saturday, couples walked down Lyme Street with artwork tucked under their arms. Along the way, they passed preteen girls doing cartwheels on the grass and little boys keeping time on wood blocks while folk bands played. They all came to town for this year's Midsummer Festival, which featured a variety of activities - live music, art sales, food vendors and hands-on learning centers - that attracted visitors of all ages.
On one end of the street, the festival offered a "Hands-On, Minds-On" education area that was crowded by knee-high children even as the festival drew to a close. At a Project Oceanology stand, three children gathered around a horseshoe crab in the early afternoon, asking to touch it.
The representative there held the crab for the children to observe and touch. When one boy bravely reached out to touch it near the legs, he declared, "Oh, he's almost gonna eat me!"
The children were also able to touch other crabs, a lobster and a snail that were kept in tubs of shallow water at the stand. The young man working there took a break from his conversation with a visitor about the declining mussel and sea star populations to show children how to tell a "boy crab" from a "girl crab." When he exposed a female crab's cache of more than 1,000 bright orange eggs, the parents leaned in, too, fascinated.
The Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, located in Mystic, also participated in the education area. They set up a stand with a variety of natural artifacts including owl feathers and skulls, animal pelts, snakeskins and a live toad and tree frog.
The center uses events like the Midsummer Festival as a form of outreach and an opportunity to "give the public a chance to get hands-on with nature," said Crystal-Anne Zeck, an educator at the center's natural history museum.
On another part of Lyme Street, live music and a student art tag sale were major attractions on the lawn of the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts. A member of a folk band showed the audience one of his "diddley bows," or homemade guitars. This particular instrument was fashioned from a tin labeled "moth gas" that he found at a yard sale. When he began to play the diddley bow, children in the front row joined in on wood blocks and tambourines.
Mari Burke of Guilford said she's been coming to the Midsummer Festival with her family for about five years now. She said she was "thrilled with the music" and called the festival "a great way to expose the community to music appreciation."
Burke said the traffic on her way down was horrendous, but the event was well worth the trip.
Also participating in the festival was the Lyme Garden Society, which set up a booth filled with flowers, herbs, homemade foods and other goods.
Everything they sold was created by members, including flowers picked from their gardens and arranged the day before. Visitors were buying all types of items, according to the booth's workers, although jams and potpourri proved to be particularly popular.
Kathy Anderson, a member of the club, said the festival is the club's main fundraising event. The Lyme Garden Society - which has been meeting since 1930 - is dedicated to "civic beautification and education," she said, and the money raised goes either to beautification or to one of the club's programs. Past programs have included visits from a bonsai "master," tours of local gardens and talks about plants and pest control by members of the University of Connecticut horticulture department.