Historic Turners Falls: A fish tale of lifts and ladders

Turner Falls

Turner Falls Viewing Platform

Turner Falls Fish Way

Turners Falls Fishway

It’s spring and that means my parents migrate from Florida back home to the Northeast. But they aren’t the only ones who make great travelers. So too can be said of spawning fish like the shad, salmon, sturgeon and sea lamprey.

For thousands of years, if not longer, these anadromous fish have taken a remarkable journey from the Gulf of Mexico, up the Atlantic, to Long Island Sound, into the mouth of the Connecticut River, and finally reaching Turners Falls, Massachusetts hundreds of miles later. All the while never once complaining about weirs, dams or sluices: industrial-age barriers that helped build our country but impeded natural habitats.

Lucky for them (and us), a series of lifts and ladders built in 1980 at the Turner Falls Fishway and Holyoke Dam have improved their chances of survival and, especially for the American shad, are flourishing as a result.

The shad swim over a series of rising pools in much the same way they would have overcome the natural rises in the river before dams were built. The height of spawning season is goes from mid-May to mid-June, same time as the delicate white blossoms of the shadbush tree.

I was on “mill” assignment in this quaint, historical village on Wednesday and stumbled onto this wonderful vestige before leaving. Like a kid in a candy store, I stood mesmerized by “the fish that fed the nation’s founders” at the free underwater viewing windows in the Fishway building.

Insight was provided by Fishway Guide, Charlie Sampson, who stood vigilant over two mounted cameras counting every spawning fish that successfully made that last hurdle upstream.

A follow-up visit along the bike path to the Great Falls Discovery Center is anticipated this summer. Not to be forgotten are the fishing poles.

A tropical paradise on the pan handle of Florida

Oglesby Plants International

Oglesby Plants International

Oglesby Plants INternationa

Oglesby Plants International

Tropicals, perennials, ornamental grasses – playing in the dirt with these varieties might be fun stuff for some but for Oglesby Plant International, Inc. it’s not child’s play. The “cutting” edge company has been around since 1947 and doing plant tissue culture propagation since the 1970s – supplying horticulture centers around the world with unique flowers and foliage.

I was on assignment near Tallahassee last week and got the rare opportunity to stand in a greenhouse surrounding by millions of Venus Fly Traps. Watch your fingers! Laboratory Director, Ray Gillis reveals that with nearly 500,000 in the greenhouse at any one time, it’s likely the largest collection in the world.

These young starter beds will be shipped to the best growers in the U.S. long before they bud and bloom. Gillis admits that it’s hard not to get a little sentimental when he sees his little seedlings leave the facility. But the aim at Oglesby is not necessarily to enhance the aesthetic quality of the plant but rather boost its insect resistance hence eliminating the need for nasty pesticides.

My grandmother worked her heart out for over 50 years in several dilapidated greenhouses behind her house. I have to wonder what she’d think of the cyber-like science that goes into reproducing her favorite fern now.

An underground world of wonder at Florida Caverns State Park

Florida State Caverns

Caverns in the Sunshine State? No, can’t be. Amusement parks, beautiful beaches, airboat tours, that makes sense but limestone stalactites and stalagmites?

While on brief assignment on the pan handle of Florida last week I found myself exploring a hidden gem called Florida Caverns State Park. Located in the tiny town of Marianna, 60-miles west of Tallahassee, is a one-of-kind natural oddity with hundreds of dazzling rock formations millions of years old. Underground passages built by the Civilian Conservation Corps workers in 1937 help visitors navigate past a prehistoric world of wonder.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time for the 45-minute tour (Central Standard Time threw me for a time crunch) but the Park Ranger was happy to accommodate my limited schedule. He instructed me on a few other reasons for visiting like the Bluff Trail leading to a tunnel cave where rare plants grow wild and a beautiful blue springs that harbors large gators.

Word of advice: given this is a floodplain don’t even think of visiting without bug repellent. I was in a hurry anyway so sprinting through the upland pines worked in my favor but any slower and the mosquitos would have eaten me alive.

Florida State Caverns

Florida Caverns

Gator in Florida State Cavern Park

Poking around Bodega Bay, California

Bodega Bay Seagull

A seagull brazenly eyeballs me as I step out onto the steep cliffs of a wonderfully gloomy Bodega Bay. Made famous by Hitchcock’s 1963 horror/fantasy film, The Birds, the local community was immortalized when fictional feathered friends of all kinds attacked innocent town folk.

The seagulls I watch, swoop, glide and aggressively torpedo each other – no different than the movie. The Pacific has the minty green hue of mouthwash but the birds fly clear of the drink.

This tiny coastal tourist town is where locations like The Tides Wharf restaurant, Bodega Head peninsula and Bay Hill Road (remember Tippi Hendren in the Aston Martin?) made the movie a cult classic. It’s not unusual to experience a low lying ceiling of dense fog when you visit, but that’s okay too, since it was cause for another scary hit: The Fog .

A couple of brave surfers dressed in wet suits practice on on small waves on the sandy beaches of Bodega Dunes Campground. The park vista is so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes.

Bodega Bay extends 17-miles and my hosts Lisa and Don explained to me that the San Andreas Fault runs directly underneath it. As if haunting memories of a scary movie under an ominous sky in an empty parking lot isn’t cause enough already to worry.

For dinner, I’m lured by a full parking lot and a poster board that reads “Fresh chowder, Raw oysters and Craft beer.” This is the Lucas Wharf Restaurant & Bar and as I approach the entrance, “Good Grief,” it’s another Charlie Brown statue in Sonoma County. This one is wearing SCUBA apparel with a conch in his hand. Cartoonist Charles Schultz penned the comic strip from his home in Sonoma County.

Overlooking the bay I order a plate of spicy fish tacos with a side cup of chowder. In less time than it takes to properly spell “Daphne du Maurier,” both dishes disappear in record time.

Visit Sonoma County Tourim to learn more about the B&Bs, hotels, motels and rentals available this summer.

Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay Beaches

Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay

Lucas Wharf

Lucas's Wharf

Charlie Brown at Bodega Bay

Cruising the Santa Rosa strip in style

1937 Ford Phaeton

Vintage Filming '37 Ford Phaeton Convertible

For car buffs of vintage vehicles, especially Fords, Santa Rosa, California is the place to be. I returned to wine country this week to follow up shooting a historical documentary about the town. To make things interesting, the producer tossed me into the passenger seat of a buffed and waxed 1937 Ford Phaeton convertible to shoot an interview with the driver. (Many thanks to my Top Gear boyfriend that I even know that.)

We cruised past dozens of beloved historical landmarks, many in the heart of “Old Town,” like Railroad Square, the Hotel La Rose, grammar and elementary schools and department stores. We even stopped at a number of Victorian mansions where classic movies were filmed like Walt Disney’s “Pollyanna,” Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt,” and Kathleen Turner’s best “Peggy Sue Got Married.”

After several hours of showboating the owner’s restored antique a strong engine oder reminded us that she might be getting tired and due for a break. The Northern California sun was also getting the best of my driver and producer so we turned for home, but not before gathering a few creative shots with the GoPro cameras and drones. The nostalgic time capsule makes its’ debut later this summer but, alas, you have to fly to Santa Rosa to see it, an adventure in itself.

Time stands still at the house where Charlotte "Charlie" Newton (played by Teresa Wright) lived for the psychological thriller "Shadow of a Doubt," filmed in 1943.

Time stands still at the house where Charlotte “Charlie” Newton (played by Teresa Wright) lived for the psychological thriller “Shadow of a Doubt,” filmed in 1943.

Commercial space travel? Thank the Russian-American partnership

Participants 2016 Essay Contest

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One of this years most intriguing commercial travel trends are space expeditions. Kayak is now accepting reservations for flights aboard the XCOR Spacecraft. For a mere $100,000 in loose change you can float around suborbital space for a mind-blowing hour.

Sounds more science fiction than reality, right? Well, it’s happening and after years of close collaboration, you can thank the Russian-American partnership in space for the progress.

And who better to talk about this monumental launch than the first place winner of the 2016 Albany-Tula Alliance Essay Contest.

“I really wanted to write about something that I am passionate about,” said Albany High School sophomore, Erin Lippitt, “and that’s space.”

Lippitt won pocketed the first $1000 for her work on an essay posed that best answered the question “Identify and discuss ways in which Russia and the U.S. have worked together successfully to solve problems and how they can continue to work together on partnerships of mutual interest to create a more harmonious world and improve lives.”

Capital Region students, 15 registered in total, were given one month to construct a 1500-word answer and submit by deadline. Lippitt chose The Final Frontier: Space Exploration providing a historical analysis of the Space Race, Space Treaties the and the International Space Station as keys to unlocking tensions and uniting both flags.

Here’s a sample of her well-researched contribution:

Russia and America have worked productively and successfully together time and time again. Both nations have continued to cooperate with one another through some of the greatest political challenges, from the tension of the Cold War to today’s political unease. It is almost a miracle that space relations are at their best. That goes to show that united under a common goal, these countries can have a great partnership and achieve amazing, wondrous, scientific advancement. If space truly is the Final Frontier, it is best that the world faces it united and working as one.

In 2014, ATA board member Jack Aernecke and myself visited Moscow’s Museum of Space and Cosmonauts with Essay winners Isaac Smith and Tarek A. Benson.