Rendezvous with the shipbuilding village of Port Jefferson

Port Jefferson Bay

Port Jeff brewery interior wide

Port Jefferson seen from top floor of ferry

Shipbuilding came to a close in 1923 but tourism is alive and well in the deep-water harbor hamlet of Port Jefferson, 90-minutes east of Manhattan on Long Island. Hundreds of expensive sailboats and sloops anchor on the protected cove that overlooks idyllic Main Street and Brick Hill. The town is named after our country’s third president.

Midweek before Labor Day and the north shore is bustling with preparation on maritime-themed commemorations. Regattas, pirate shows, oyster dinners and nature walks through rare salt marshes and shellfish flats are a few options to enjoy the last vestiges of summer.

Following a hot and sticky production shoot at the estimable Stony Brook University, my producer and I retire for chow and desserts along the waterfront. We split fried pickles at Gourmet Burger Bistro, swill beer at the brewery and lick gelato served from the Frigate candy store.

We escape the dreaded bumper-to-bumper car ride home by using the ferry. The one hour port-to-port ride crosses the Long Island Sound to Bridgeport, Connecticut and for only $59 cuts travel time in half.

Port Jeff is an adorable alternative to celebrity-studded towns with Gatsby-era estates. The daily Patch hyperlocal newspaper lists small achievements like adult reading programs at the library, antique car shows and chicken suppers. Its charm is summed up in souvenir shops that sell lids and t-shirts emblazoned with the town’s motto: “Destination for a day or a lifetime.”

Port Jefferson Ferry

Port Jefferson Ferry

A stroll on the bluffs of Brooklyn Heights

Brooklyn Heights Promenade

The Brooklyn Heights Esplanade with its incomparable seagull views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the lower Manhattan skyline. If we had arrived just a few minutes earlier this photo would include the fading brilliance of a hot red orb retiring into the hazy Hudson Bay.

Instead, (after a long day of production) we enjoyed a brief stroll along the 1,826 foot pedestrian walkway where tribes of tourists balance space with amateur photographers and professional movie shooters.

Throughout history, this sweeping view cast its spell over some of America’s most prominent literary thinkers: Truman Capote, Walt Whitman, Arthur Miller, Thomas Wolfe, Henry Miller, Norman Mailer and dozens more. They all lived, played, wrote and lectured from addresses all over the “Heights” neighborhood.

With little time to do anything but dine on Thai on leafy Montague St., we aim to return for a self-guided tour of lofty Federal and Greek-revival style buildings and early 17th century Dutch history.

(FYI: The spelling of Brooklyn was reworked from the fledgling settlement Breukelen.)

Read more history here.

Brooklyn Heights buildings

Spicy Thai Mango with Chicken wolfed down with no apologies while dining al fresco at Saketumi Asian Bistro on Montague Street in beautiful Brooklyn Heights.

Spicy Thai Mango with Chicken wolfed down with no apologies while dining al fresco at Saketumi Asian Bistro on Montague Street in beautiful Brooklyn Heights.

Back to school on nature trails in Canton, NY

Indian Creek Nature Center

Indian Creek Nature Center


Wildlife Management Area

A body of water that flows in two directions? This unique feature happens only in the far reaches of St. Lawrence County on a stream called “Indian Creek.” Named after the Native Americans who paddled it by canoe, it flows east to the Grasse River or west to the Oswegatchie River depending on water levels.

This is just one of the many interesting facts gleaned from the interpretive signs enjoyed at the Indian Creek Nature Center in Canton, NY. While students return for their fall semester at SUNY, not far from college, we chose to squat in this wonderful outdoor classroom teaming with learning opportunities.

At nearly 9000 acres, the Indian Creek Nature Center is a wetland area created by intense flooding (in the late 1960s) to enhance waterfowl habitat. There are about 8 miles of trails where visitors can watch for aquatic life, mammals or birds from the comfort of painted boardwalks, viewing platforms and wide, mowed ground. Minus the occasional circling deer fly, this environment beats the artificial lights of a sterile study hall any day.

Better than lessons taught by environmental science professors, Dad pointed out the names of the majority of deciduous and evergreens during our walk. He also gave a particularly descriptive paean to the Tag Adler tree and pointed out plump nannie berries, invasive buckthorn and warned us to stay clear of the blooming poison ivy. To avoid a rash, remember this: “Leaflets three, let it be!”

Check out more photos of the adventure on my FLICKR album:

Splashing down on the Grasse River

Lyndsey Frog on Grasse River

Grasse River

A myriad of amphibians, migratory birds and even the bony freshwater sturgeon – once mythical in these murky waters – call the Grasse River home. And in the summer, so too do dozens of North Country residents from the Chase Mills area of St. Lawrence County.

At 13 (naïveté) years, Lyndsi likes to torture the habitats of hundreds of frogs that sunbath along the sandy bank. She nets several unsuspecting Kermits for closer inspection – the bigger ones earn her bragging rights and a photo.

“Maybe, frog legs for dinner?” I suggest. “Oh yuck!” she gasps and returns the slimy victims back to freedom. They skip like small stones across the river surface until they sink from view.

This is that fleeting window in a teens evolution when nothing is more important than wildlife discovery. Texting or boys – what are those? It’s wonderful!

There’s no better place to grow up than in the greater St. Lawrence County river basin exploring tributaries like the Grasse, Oswegatchie and Raquette rivers. Old world dams used to exist along the course of these slow-flowing rivers and were later replaced (and mistreated) by mills and factories. Remediation projects have reintroduced ducks, turtles, dragonflies, toads and fish to sections north of Massena.

We grab the inflatable blue rafts, a couple styrofoam noodles, pairs of goggles and swim out to an elevated sandbank in the middle of the river. Lyndsi demonstrates how to do handstands, cartwheels and backflips in three feet of coffee-colored bath water. Her youthful exuberance is contagious and several of us try to do the same.

As expected, it’s not pretty. Arms and legs violently splash about like drowning butterflies devoid of any grace or elegance demonstrated by our young friend. Many of us surface with vertigo. No doubt we are feeling much like the netted frogs.

The sun sets on our fun but not before a boiling pot of fresh shucked corn with family over Uncle Wayne’s “redneck” grill made of rusting car parts.

redneck grill

“36-Hours” of adaptations on The Travel Channel

36 Hours

It doesn’t happen often but sometimes a film adaptation can be just as good as the book it’s based on, for example: The Harry Potter series or Jaws or A Clockwork Orange or The Great Gatsby. But what happens when The Travel Channel tries to do the same to an iconic New York Times travel column – that column being “36 Hours”?

The new 1-hour premiere aired a few days ago and by all accounts the series embodies the same fervor and energy as the Sunday resource and I like it. I like it a lot. Oh hell, who am I kidding, I’d like it even more if PilotGirl Productions were called on to help shoot it!

I wasn’t anticipating an experience equally as engaging as the prolific favorites who pen the newspaper read (I try in vain to parrot the writing) but I’m happy to report that hosts Kristen Kish, an acclaimed chef, and Kyle Martino, a former pro athlete, provide just that exploring a new city with local insiders. Behind the scenes, it’s really the producers doing all the work.

Check it out Monday evenings at 8p on The Travel Channel and tell me what you think.

Slice of beachy heaven on Middle Saranac Lake

Saranac Lake

Middle Saranac Lake Beach

Growing up not far from the Adirondacks my parents had an affinity with Ampersand Mountain. We’d hike the popular climb in the summer, fall and winter – usually introducing a neophyte to the sport of hiking because, albeit steep, Ampersand could be done in just a few hours. At only 5.4 miles round trip it offered incredible views.

Yet, thinking back now on those tiresome climbs (for a 10-year old), not once do I recall my parents setting aside time to relieve sore muscles with a refreshing dip. But, lo and behold, maybe they didn’t know? Fact is, we could have all went swimming not far from where we parked our car on Route 3.

Roughly 30 years since the last time we climbed Ampersand, Mutti, my sister and I discovered the postcard-perfect beach on Middle Saranac Lake (that was there all along). It’s a popular spot for boaters, as several were anchored to the shoreline, with only a few scattered hikers.

Free of litter and debris, free of rules and regulations, free of baking teens and muscle-enhanced lunks, this beach is something plucked from my imagination. No exaggeration, the pristine nature of this destination is truly magical.

Despite the brutal winter, swimming is as easy as easing into a warm bath. Stretch out on the endless salt-less cove or wade for several hundred feet before the water reaches your crown. Visibility is crystal-clear with only the occasional pile of sticks or open clam shells to avoid.

We had the best time here and you will too – especially after climbing Ampersand or any of the surrounding peaks.

Careful not to get too excited lest you might take a tumble down the embankment.  After a small footbridge and set of tree roots, pick up the pace and head straight through the woods for about a half-mile to paradise.  The smell of pine and cedar mix fragrantly with the cool mountain air.

Careful not to get too excited lest you might take a tumble down the embankment. After a small footbridge and set of tree roots, pick up the pace and head straight through the woods for about a half-mile to paradise. The smell of pine and cedar mix fragrantly with the cool mountain air.