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The Back Bay Fens is one of eight richly varied parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 1800s for the City of Boston. These scenic parks stretch for seven miles from the Boston Common in downtown Boston, to Franklin Park in the Dorchester neighborhood. When the Fens was officially established in 1879, it was severely polluted and commonly referred to as, “the foulest marsh and muddy flats to be found anywhere in Massachusetts.” Determined to find a solution to this foul-smelling problem, city officials turned to Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of modern landscape architecture, for help. Olmsted solved the problem by successfully combining sanitary engineering and creative landscape art. This unique combination resulted in a complete ecological restoration of the park. By connecting a series of brooks and ponds with a flow of fresh water from Jamaica Pond (another park in the chain) he created a creek known today as the Muddy River. The creek was originally designed as a brackish water flow and flushed out twice a day with the tides. In 1910, a dam was placed on the Charles river, turning the brackish water into a freshwater environment, which is now home to the Victory Gardens and a variety of other recreational opportunities, including a statue of Roberto Clemente, a right fielder, humanitarian, and baseball Hall of Famer. He was my mom’s favorite baseball player.
The Richard D. Parker Memorial Victory gardens are located in the Fens along with other minor attractions such as Fenway Park. The Victory Gardens are as famous to avid gardeners as the Park is to baseball fans. At least, that is how my mother saw it. What else would you expect from a dedicated Pittsburgh Pirates fan?
During World War I and World War II, vegetable gardens were planted at residences and public parks in many countries around the world to supplement diminishing food supplies. These gardens were given a variety of names, including “war gardens” and “gardens for defense.” In this country, the most popular term was “Victory Garden.” During World War II, nearly nearly 20 million of these gardens were planted by Americans. Victory gardens produced nearly 40 percent of the fruits and vegetables consumed in this country during the war. In spite of objections from the Department of Agriculture, which feared that a victory garden movement would hurt the food industry, Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden on the White House grounds. As time went on, many agribusiness companies, such as International Harvester and Beech-Nut (the baby food company), and the Agriculture Department began publishing basic how-to gardening booklets in support of the movement.
In 1942, the city of Boston created the Boston Victory Garden Committee. This committee secured 49 acres of land around the city to be used to grow food. The Back Bay Fens area was not wooded, so it was perfectly suited for gardening and needed little preparation for planting. The Boston Common and Public Gardens were also drafted for victory garden planting. After the war, Federal funding for victory gardens ended, so the city of Boston began entertaining options to replace the Gardens with something else. Pressure to replace the Victory Gardens became strong. Among the proposed replacements were two different high schools, a hospital, and a huge, butt-ugly parking lot.
In 1944, one member of the original World War II victory garden committee, Richard D. Parker, created the Fenway Garden Society and launched a successful effort that saved the Gardens. Thanks to the dedication and effort of Mr. Parker, the Fenway Victory Gardens are now an official Boston Historic Landmark.
Today, the Gardens are very different than they were in the 40s and 50s. When I was young, my mother and I would hop on public transportation on Sundays during the spring, summer, and fall and head for the Fens to walk around the gardens. She was an army veteran, and loved these gardens because she understood how much of a contribution they made to the war effort. All of the gardeners were friendly and loved to talk about food and share recipes, which were two of her favorite pastimes. I am not sure how many garden plots were there back then, but today there are about 500, nurtured by nearly 400 gardeners. Unlike in the past, each garden has its own fence and gate. Elegant, creative floral gardens seem to outnumber vegetable gardens. Each of these gardens seem to reflect the personality of the gardener, and just how that gardener defines a successful garden. The popularity of these gardens is incredible. One of the gardeners told me that demand for these plots is so overwhelming that securing a free membership in a high-end country club is easier than securing a garden here. After talking to these dedicated and talented folks, I came away with the feeling that they consider it an outstanding privilege to have a garden in the Fenway.
I entered the Gardens at the Park Street entrance. The photo below was shot facing north from inside the Gardens.
Parking in this area can be a real problem. On any day of the week, motor vehicles far outnumber the available parking spaces. My wife, Tricia, is sitting in the first black car in the front of the buildings in the distance. We were forced to park in a resident-only parking area, and she stayed in the car to be on the lookout for a tow truck. It is far better and easier to park in a commuter rail station outside of the city and ride the train in.
Meet Rick. He has been gardening on the Fenway for 27 years. His garden is creative and reflects his personal interpretation of gardening. As you can see, he is very comfortable with his creation. The photos below show different areas of his garden.
All of the gardeners that I met on this visit were extremely friendly and informative. All were willing to invite me into their gardens and explain what they were planting. Space considerations have forced me to limit the number of beautiful, creative gardens that I photographed on my visit. Planning a trip to Boston to visit and tour these gardens will be a worthwhile adventure; you will not be disappointed. I am planning at least two more trips during this growing season.
Below is my 50 square foot garden that I have planted for the past 15 years. I live in an former lakeside vacation community, where the housing lot sizes are on the small. I am fortunate that this small area in front of my house receives 8 hours of sunlight daily during the growing season. The soil is 3 feet deep and is enhanced by composted tree leaves, dehydrated cow manure supplied by local farmers, and peat moss. When my mother and I fantasized about a garden, this is what we imagined.
In the title of this post, I indicated that there is another smaller surviving World War II Victory Garden — the Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis. I read about these gardens in the online version of Urban Farm Magazine. From what I read, these gardens have been around for almost as long as the Fenway gardens. I will do some research on these gardens and report back during this growing season.
This past winter in southern New England was, according to the weather folks, colder than usual. I verified this information by checking my heating bills for the past few years. As March approached, I anticipated more moderate temperatures that signal spring was just around the corner. However, as April came to a close and there was still snow on the ground in many of my frequent haunts, I started to wonder if we were entering a new Ice Age. The soil in my garden was still frozen in spots, and most of the spring garden shops were still closed. It wasn’t until the second week of May that the weather started to develop a spring warming pattern. I checked with the weather folks in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, and they assured me that what seemed to be a colder-than-usual spring, was in fact normal for this part of the world. After listening to me complain for about 20 minutes, my daughter Sarah sighed, gave me a hug, and informed me that I may be getting a little softer as I age. Ouch! To comfort myself, I started looking for anything that would indicate spring was close and summer not far behind.
Early spring in New England, regardless of the weather, is car show season. I have been attending these in all of the New England shows for about 50 years. Drooling over cars that I can’t afford, fly fishing, and photography are my three good habits. In the Farmington Valley, car shows start in late April and continue through the fall. I usually attend at least 3 or 4 every year. This year the show at Tunxis would be my first. Since the early 1990s, I have been attending these shows with two objectives in mind: the first one is simple — I enjoy viewing the craftsmanship, attention to detail, and classic art work that is always on display. Secondly, I am hoping to once again see a car that I first saw parked on a side street in Cape Cod’s Provincetown. After only one encounter this car became my secret passion. Unfortunately, it was not one of the show cars, but I included it anyway.
Just for fun, I have included a music video of the show.
When I grow up, I want one of these macho, muscle machines.
1987 Buick Grand National X (GNX)
If Darth Vader drove a car, this is what you would find parked in his garage. This limited edition road commander was released by General Motors in 1987. They only manufactured about 500 units, which sold for about 30 grand each. Most of those sold to celebrity collectors like Burt Reynolds, Reggie Jackson and Sylvester Stallone. I have been told that one of them, in mint condition, sits in a California Buick dealership show room. Like other muscle cars of this era, this car was meant to go fast and be driven hard. Even by today’s standards, this car has some impressive specs. This sinister looking black coup, with it’s sneering grill displays enough macho and muscle to make a growling Jaguar wine like a house cat. Other muscle cars may be faster, but few have the commanding looks of this tough guy.
Engine — 231.4 cu. in. turbocharged OHV V6 with port fuel injection
Power and torque — 245 hp @ 440 rpm, 355 lb- ft @ 2000 rpm
Performance — 0 to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds; quarter mile in 14.7 seconds @ 95.1 mph
Bobby G’s ride
Before attending a local auto show, I usually stop by my favorite used car dealership to see if they will have a car on display at the show. This shop conditions and sells only high-end cars like Jaguar, Mercedes and BMW, and once in while I see one of their cars on display at tha show. I was surprised to find a completely restored 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air sitting in a prime location on the lot. A long-time friend of mine — Bobby G— owned an exact duplicate of this car in the early 60s. I believe the only difference between this car and the one that Bobby dove is: the lower front and rear quarter panels and the lower doors were painted black on Bobby’s Bel Air He always kept this car super clean and shiny. There were times when saw him standing next to this beauty, and I couldn’t tell which was better looking Bobby or the car. If you see Bobby, tell him that he can buy this beauty for a negotiable price of 21,500.
Another restored 57 Bel Air on display at the car show.
Another GM powerhouse — the Oldsmobile 442
Prime General Motors — the 1956 Chevy Bel Air
This, I believe, is a Prohibition-era Cadillac. The suicide doors in the rear give it a real Mob car look.
For me and millions of other want-to-be farmers, spring is also time to plant our gardens. The daytime temperatures in my area are averaging in the low to mid-60s, but falling to the low 40s at night. Since all of my seedlings are starting to outgrow their inside home, I decided to harden them off in the cold frame and move them to their permanent homes in in the garden and hope for the best. I got lucky and despite overnight temperatures in the 40s all of the seedlings did well. The only problem I had was direct seeding green beans in soil that was below 60°. The seeds revolted and refused to sprout, so I had to plant them again.
Teaching myself how to get worthwhile production from only 50 square feet of planting space took a couple of years of research and practice. This small space now provides enough of 9 selected vegetables and herbs for my family throughout the growing season with enough extra to donate to a local food pantry. This year I have planted: (from the foreground), three varieties of beets, three varieties of carrots, thyme, oregano (both of these are perennials), four varieties of tomato, eggplant, Kentucky Pole beans and cucumbers. In past years, I have successfully planted kale, parsnips, sweet corn, lettuce cabbage, potatoes and onions.
My garden — small but productive
A visit to the Krell Farm greenhouses confirmed, for me, that planting season was here at last.
Vegetable seedlings At Krell Farm
Spring flowers and other plants ready for sale
Despite a late and chilly beginning, the Kolp garden plots are doing well.
About twenty years ago, a long time and much loved friend, living in upstate New York, invited me and my family to visit her. She was planning a trip to Niagara Falls and asked us if we would like go. The thought of traveling all the way to New York and then to Canada had Sarah, Jason and Michael on the verge of hysteria. “Dad,” Jason said, “that is the biggest waterfall in the world, we gotta go.” His sister and brother were equally as excited. Tricia and I were also excited by the thought of spending some quality time with a friend that we had not seen for a while. So, on the following weekend, off we went. We spent a whole day viewing the falls from both the U.S. and Canadian sides of this spectacular display. I came away believing that we had experienced one of nature’s most magnificent plunging water displays. For the 20 years since that visit to Niagara Falls, I have held a belief that all other waterfalls in this part of the world would be, at best, somewhat of a disappointment when compared to Niagara. I figured that my next waterfall experience would have to be something like Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Africa, or Angel Falls in Venezuela. Two weeks ago, however, I discovered that I have, unfortunately, been “stuck on stupid” for the past twenty years.
Recently, I drove north toward Norfolk, which is on the Massachusetts border, to visit Haystack Mountain State Park to capture some sunset photos from the top of a 34-foot stone tower at the summit of Haystack Mountain. I could get photos of the Berkshires in Massachusetts and the Green Mountains in Vermont. As I entered Norfolk I saw a sign indicating that Campbell Falls State Park was just 2 miles north on the same road. Recalling my wonderful experience at my last visit to a waterfall, I changed my plan and headed for Campbell Falls State Park. I figured if the falls were a disappointment, I still had Haystack as a Plan B.
I entered the park in Connecticut from a small parking area off Toby Hill Road, and followed the yellow blazes on the trees to the falls. The park consists of two acres in Connecticut and four acres in Massachusetts. Over the years the two states have managed the park through an informal agreement with great success. The grounds and trails were free of the litter that I often find in some parks. Campbell Falls is one of New England’s most popular natural attractions. This spectacular display is created as the Whiting River drops over a two-step fall, first in a veiling horsetail which begins wide and constricts as it rushes 41 feet into a narrow recess. It then slides down a rugged sloped bench for another 7 feet to a shady glen below. The base of the falls is about 250 feet north of the border between Connecticut and Massachusetts.
As soon as I stepped out of my car I felt a stiff northwest wind howling through the tall white pines. This chilling wind failed to drown out the faint thundering of the distant falls about a half mile away. As I proceeded down somewhat slippery, snow-packed trail, the roar became more distinct and louder. I started to experience an excitement similar that of Mickey Mouse in the Walt Disney movie Fantasia. Mickey portrayed the young apprentice of the sorcerer Yen Sid in the 1940 animated film. He tried to master the sorcerer’s tricks, but soon discovered that he couldn’t manage them. As I approached the falls the majestic site of this thundering plunge of water, unlike Mickey, I quickly realized that the power of nature, not sorcery, was in charge here. My brief fantasy had ended. What a relief. The path (marked with yellow blazes on selected trees) goes into Massachusetts and back into Connecticut before reaching the falls. As I approached the steep downhill path to the falls, I saw a concrete column marking the border line between the states. My map indicated that the road next to the column was Campbell Falls Road. Following it a short distance brought me to a massive stone bridge at the top of the falls. Viewing the spectacular plunge of the falls from this bridge was love at first sight for me. I had to see the falls from the bottom so I headed back up the road to the trail and slowly made my way down. It is only 62 feet from the top to the bottom of the falls. This isn’t spectacular when compared to Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. But most of the enjoyment Campbell Falls offers is the ability for a viewer get close enough to the falling water to feel the power and hear the thunder at both the top and bottom. Usually, I avoid climbing over wet, slippery rocks and down steep, snow-packed trails with expensive camera equipment. But, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, I couldn’t resist.
At the base of the falls is a quick moving stream — Ginger Creek. It merges here with the Swift River, and continues its flow into Connecticut. The park is covered with glacial till deposited by the receding glaciers over 15,000 years ago. Following this small stream back to Toby Hill Road and the parking lot revealed many of these ancient wonders, adding to my excitement over this small but interesting wonder of nature. I will return to this interesting part of Connecticut over the summer, starting with Haystack Mountain State Park.
Campbell Falls Park Map
View of Toby Hill Road from the parking area
The walk down the yellow blazed trail was smooth at the beginning.
The shallow snow pack and the sudden downhill drop added some hazards on the path to the falls.
A concrete marker at the state line, with Massachusetts to the right and Connecticut to the left.
The two folks at the top of this photo are standing on the rocks just below the stone bridge at the top of the falls.
The Whiting River as it flows under the stone arch of the bridge.
The river continues under a lava rock overhang on its way to its final plunge.
The final plunge begins and continues to the rock gouge below.
The merge with Ginger Creek
New York City celebrated the 250th anniversary of its St. Patrick’s Day Parade this year. So, why do I hold this day in my “Warm Memories” file? To answer that question I will introduce you to Virginia Lee Blunt — my mother. She was, by far, the most adventurous, determined, courageous person that I have ever known. When she decided to do something, she moved forward and did it, without reservation. In October of 1954, her long-standing application for an apartment in a recently-constructed housing development (which gave initial preference to World War Two veterans) was approved. We had recently moved from Long Island, New York, and were living with friends in one of Boston’s neighborhoods — Roxbury. The new development was only about two miles south of where we were living, so moving would be easy, and we would still be close to our friends in Roxbury. Boston, like many other large cities in the 50s and 60s, was divided into ethnic neighborhoods. Moving from one neighborhood to another often involved moving to an area populated by folks with different ethnic roots. To many of my mother’s friends this was cause for concern. My mother’s only concern, however, was how much rent she would have to pay to live there. Her response to the folks issuing these warnings was: “During the war we all lived, worked, fought, prayed together as soldiers. Now we are going to live together as war veterans, and mend our lives. There won’t be time for anything else.” Most of these “Nervous Nellies,” as my mom called them, were well- meaning friends who eventually got the message and realized that my mother had made up her mind and that pressing their concerns was pointless. After one of these conversations, she announced to me, “Next year (1955) we are going to take the train to New York City and watch the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. We will watch the parade with people that are the same as our new neighbors.”
I figured that the parade would probably be okay, but I loved riding the train; that would be enough to keep me happy. The parade was long, and the weather was a little chilly (in the mid 40s) with a light wind blowing. But we had a great view of the marchers as we stood on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was perfect weather, according to my mom who seemed to be impervious to cold. I often wondered if she was part snow woman. During the parade, my mother’s main concern was not the chilly weather or the long wait. She was worried that the very big, slightly tipsy man standing next to me was going to lose his balance and fall in my direction. Fortunately that never happened. We had a good time watching the parade. I had a better time eating dinner on the train on the way back to Boston.
In the years that followed, we often watched the Boston Saint Patrick’s Day parade near the corner of West Broadway and D Street. That parade was always fun to watch because every year Saint Patrick’s Day is held on a holiday in Boston — Evacuation Day. So, why is that a holiday in Boston? On the days before March 17, 1776, George Washington was able to covertly place fortifications and 200 cannon on Dorchester Heights, which overlooks the city from the south. When British General Sir William Howe discovered this, he immediately realized that his stronghold in Boston was indefensible. He quickly evacuated the the city with 11,000 British troops and 1,000 loyalists, and fled to Nova Scotia. Boston is part of Suffolk County, the only county in the state that observes this day as a holiday.
Well, I discovered later that going to that parade was my mother’s way of demonstrating that people can live together and have fun together. My mother’s decision to move from Roxbury to a new home in Dorchester, and to take me to the 1955 Saint Patrick’s Day parade in New York City has, as I see it, showered the Blunt family with nearly six decades of positive rewards.
Pictured below my mother is my daughter, Sarah. Often, when having a conversation with Sarah, I have to pinch myself in order to focus on the reality that I am talking to my daughter, and not my mother.
Virginia Lee — The original
Sarah Ann — Virginia’s granddaughter — A duplicate of the original, possessing the same determination, courage and stubbornness.
The High Cross Memorial In Hartford
Connecticut is home to many symbols placed to inform visitors and residents of significant events in past history. One such symbol stands on Hartford’s south side. It is a replica of a Celtic High Cross. This cross was erected as a memorial to 10 Irish Republicans who died while participating in a hunger strike in 1981. The strike was led by Bobby Sands, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army and a member of the British Parliament. The grandfather of one of my childhood friends often described these delicately carved crosses that still dot Ireland’s landscape. He was a remarkable man who constantly shared knowledge of his homeland. Every time I go past this spot, I recall his remembrances. What makes this High Cross Memorial fascinating is that it is the only reminder of this unfortunate event that took place in this country.
The Blunt And Duffy 1963 Camping Adventure
Below is a photo of my lifelong friend Dave Duffy and me in our early twenties. We are enjoying a cup of coffee with two new-found friends that we met in northern Maine in 1963. It was a very hot day in the middle of August and we were trying to reach Baxter State Park before the sun went down, but the heat of this hot August day was taking its toll. We stopped at a small store and asked the owner if he could direct us to a reachable camping site. He told us that there were no camping sites nearby, but Great Northern Paper Company had cut a logging road into the forests to harvest trees. To make the long trip out of the logging area easier, the company built rest stops for their truckers along that road. He said the traffic on that road was slow in August, and we could possibly find a nice spot to camp and fish. After a long dusty ride along that road we found paradise — The Unknown Lakes. We spent the rest of the week camping, fishing and visiting with two new friends who were supervisors with Great Northern. They owned a small farm further north and camped in this area every weekend during the summer. I returned to this spot every summer for about 10 years. Dave and I still talk about that camping trip and the great time that we had.
Below is a photo of a group that bonded as friends over 55 years ago. The picture was taken last May, at a reunion of families from the Franklin Field Project in Dorchester, Massachusetts. This is a place that we still call home with pride. I am sure that this photo would bring a warm smile to my mom’s face.
The Great Hunger Museum In Haddam, Connecticut
From 1845 to 1850, Ireland was devastated by a fungus that infected its potato crop. The famine that resulted killed over a million people from starvation, and forced two million more people to emigrate from the country. In 1997, John L. Lahey, President of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, served as Grand Marshal of the New York City Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Black 47, the worst year of the Irish famine, he made it the theme of that year’s parade. He continued this effort by making many public appearances and giving many speeches on The Great Hunger. These speeches caught the attention of the late Murray Lender, chairman of the Board of Trustees at Quinnipiac University. With the support of the Lender Family, a collection of art, research and educational materials on the Great Hunger was established at the University. This collection quickly grew in quantity and quality. The decision was made to give this marvelous collection a building of its own. In 2012, the Great Hunger Museum opened to the public. The museum art graphically illustrates a dark period in history, filled with hardship, sickness and death. But the museum is by no means a horror show. It is bright, warm and comfortable. The artwork is set up in a manner that is informative, and is softly accented by natural and artificial lighting. Below, I have included a link to the museum website where you can get detailed information on activities at the Museum and its growing art collection. http://ighm.nfshost.com/
Quinnipiac University has marched in the New York City Saint Patrick’s Day parade for more than 20 years. In 1997, when John Lahey was Grand Marshal, the contingent was more than 1,000 marchers.
Interested children watching a video slide show
Below is sampling of some of stunning art work featured in the museum collection.
The most comprehensive accounts of the grim realities of the famine was recorded in a relatively new medium — mass produced newspapers. In this medium you can find the most comprehensive account of the famine. The museum has a room devoted to some of these accounts. The magnificent art collection and the warm friendly atmosphere of this museum has made it a top selection on my frequent visit list.
In spite of the continuing cold weather, the Connecticut and Farmington Rivers are showing signs of the annual American Shad Run. Sarah and I are planning to go shad fishing in a couple of weeks. With luck I will have photos and facts to share with you in my next post.
The Connecticut River is one of the most remarkable ecosystems in New England. Not long ago, large sections of the river were collectively referred to as “the best landscaped sewer in the nation.” Fortunately, over the years it has come full circle to become a high-quality, clean and fully-functioning ecological system. It is the largest river system in New England. Its headwaters lie in northern New Hampshire near the Canadian border, from which it flows 410 miles to Long Island Sound. Its watershed spans five of the six New England states: New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and small parts of Maine. During the past 50 years I have fished, hunted and hiked along this river from northern New Hampshire, where it crosses the Canadian border, through Massachusetts and into Connecticut, down to its mouth at the Long Island Sound. Lately, I have taken special interest in the amazing diversity of the Lower River, which begins 15 miles south of Hartford near the towns of Portland and Cromwell and then flows the final 36 miles to Long Island Sound. Within this section of the river are natural wonders that are unique to the entire watershed. Here you will find shallow coves and marshes that are separated from the mainstream by bars and levees. Upstream, the force of river flow prevents these estuary and tidal waters from developing. By definition, an estuary is an area where fresh and salt water mix. Tidal water is where the surface waters are fresh and devoid of salt water influence. The tidal relationship that this river has with the Atlantic Ocean is expressed in the name of our state. Connecticut is a French corruption of a native American word quinetucket, which means beside the long tidal river. The wetlands and waters in the estuarine complex of the Lower River contain a remarkable clustering of rare and endangered species which include geese, wood ducks, ospreys, Bald Eagles and loons. Mammals like muskrat, beaver, river otter, mink and whitetail deer are also thriving residents in this area. Migratory fish like the American shad, alewife and Atlantic salmon live and thrive here also. Native Americans have used the living resources of the river for many years. For example, bulrush and cattail from tidal wetlands have been woven into lodge coverings and mats. Tubers of water lily and many other plants provided important food items. The abundant wildlife was hunted for food, clothing and as a source for ornamental objects.
The Connecticut River and its tributaries represent the best of this state’s natural heritage. In recognition of its ecological value, the Connecticut River’s beautiful watershed was recognized as a national wildlife refuge in 1995. It is a treasured and popular destination for thousands of Connecticut residents and tourists who visit the river to kayak, hike, bird watch and fish. Three of Connecticut’s most popular attractions: the Essex Steam Train in Essex, Gillette Castle in East Haddam and the River Museum in Essex are close neighbors in the Lower River area. There is much to experience and photograph here all year. I plan to visit the Lower River several times over the next several months and share with you my adventures, along with plenty of photos.
During the months of February and March, groups of Bald Eagles fly down from the frozen north to the open water of the Lower River to feed in the ice-free open water. I decided to grab Ginny Lee (my camera) and see if I could get some raptor shots, and also visit the Connecticut River Museum. The museum is a must stop for first time visitors to the Lower Connecticut River. It is located on the river at the end of Main Street. Built in 1847, the building was originally a warehouse and general store. By the early 1960s, the building was beginning to fall into disrepair. With the support of former Connecticut Governor Ella Grasso, the building was restored and opened as the Connecticut River Museum in 1975.
A view of the river as it flows southeast to Long Island Sound
Below is a photo of an upstream portion of the Lower River. In the distance is the historic East Haddam Swing Bridge that spans the river near the Goodspeed Opera House.
Below are photos of four prominent and popular neighbors of the River Museum. On a recent adventure to the Lower River we boarded the Essex Steam Train at Essex Station. We disembarked from the train in the next town upriver at Deep River Landing, and boarded the Becky Thatcher Steamboat to continued upriver, past the Gillette Castle to the East Haddam Swing Bridge and the Goodspeed Opera House.
This year raptor enthusiasts and photographers are excited about the arrival of record numbers of Bald Eagles on the Lower River where open water remains, unlike the iced-over northern reaches. These majestic birds are fish-eaters, flying down from the ice-covered north to feed in open water. This year, the extreme ice on the Upper River and a rare die-off of striped bass at one of the river’s tributaries in Old Lime caused by extreme cold weather in January, lured more eagles than usual to this area. It is believed that shallow water conditions during low tides allowed water temperatures to drop to unusual lows causing the die-off. This is a real plus for Bald Eagles, because they are carrion eaters. They will eat dead fish with the same gusto as live fish, and will switch to fresh-caught fish in the spring when they are feeding their young. Unfortunately for me and some other disappointed eagle enthusiasts, the extreme cold forced the cancellation of two EagleWatch tours sponsored by the River Museum. In desperation, on both of these occasions, I drove up to Eagle Landing State Park in Haddam hoping to get a few prime shots from there. No luck!
The folks at the museum informed me that professional wildlife photographer Dr. Stanley Kolber was giving a lecture at the museum on March 1st. I have recently become a fan of the doctor’s work, so I planned to attend. I was not disappointed. He discussed photography (especially bird photography) with such calm, sincere passion and enthusiasm that his obvious love of the art was inspiring. I have included a link to his website below.
The museum conducts several EagleWatch tours in February and March on a 65-foot, 50-passenger research vessel called the Enviro-Lab III, which belongs to Project Oceanology. This is an organization formed in 1972 by a group of public school administrators from southeastern Connecticut. The boat is a 56-foot confiscated lobster boat donated by the U.S. Customs Service in 1986. The last EagleWatch Tour will be on March 16. I will be there with Ginny Lee and will share with you any successful photos that I am fortunate enough to shoot. I asked Dr. Kolber if I could borrow his Nikon setup (shown below) for the shoot. He smiled and continued with the lecture. (Just kidding.)
The museum has made a substantial commitment to the Bald Eagle. Shown below are parts of the exhibit.
The first floor has an impressive exhibit depicting the burning of the fleet of a privateer warship moored in Essex in 1812. There are also two full-size replicas of the Turtle, the first American submarine, which was built in Essex in 1776 to be used against British ships during the American Revolution. The black model is a working unit that I was told has been tested in the Connecticut River.
The three-story museum’s main and third levels offer changing exhibits, while the second level is home to a history of shipping and commercial boating on the river, which includes maps and models of steamships. This floor also has exhibits of the various fish species in the river. Below are examples of the commercial navigation exhibit.
The 36-mile stretch of the lower Connecticut River consists of a group of small waterfront towns that, unlike similar communities in other areas, offer interesting and exciting adventures for visitors all year. After experiencing the wonders of the Lower River, remember, there are still another 374 miles of fun and excitement to the north.