Scene Here is a weekly photo-driven feature that captures moments in Valley culture from an outsider’s perspective. Reporters often don’t announce themselves when gathering information for the column. These pieces try to present places, people, and events from the perspective of a fly on the wall.

Scene Here: Bird Brain
Nov09

Scene Here: Bird Brain

Photo by Greg Saulmon Motivated by hunger and a bit of sport, the peregrine falcon searches for a high perch from which she can keep a sharp lookout for prey. Her favorite meals are pigeons, ducks, and shorebirds, but in the lush Pioneer Valley any kind of medium-size bird will do. Peregrine finds a cove on top of a silent brick warehouse by the Holyoke Dam over the Connecticut River. She waits patiently — still, except for the...

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Scene Here: A Potato in the Rough
Nov03

Scene Here: A Potato in the Rough

AMANDA DRANE PHOTO A third of all the food that’s produced in the U.S. goes to waste, Jessica Harwood tells the 14 young gleaning helpers at Atkins Farm. Standing in a circle on a mild mid-afternoon, the children take turns offering up first names and their thoughts on why so much food goes to waste. “People are too picky about what they eat,” one chimes in. “People take it for granted,” says another. “They only want the best of the...

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Scene Here: Franklin County Pumpkinfest
Oct26

Scene Here: Franklin County Pumpkinfest

A devil dances along the lane of Avenue A in Turners Falls. She’s joined by a witch, whose laughter breaks through the crowd in the purest delight. Through the droves of people a young princess pushes her small hands into a large pile of pumpkin guts. A tiny Jedi is lifted high into the air, his green lightsaber gleaming in stark contrast to the firey orange mouths of scowling jack-o’-lanterns. White tents dip and rise along either...

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Scene Here: Laughs and Lingerie
Oct19

Scene Here: Laughs and Lingerie

AMANDA DRANE PHOTO The Mary Jane Jones kicks off the night of comedy and lingerie at One Bar and Grill in Northampton with several soulful love songs. Eyes closed, lead singer Mandy Pachios growls a velvet reverie. A shot girl in a form-fitting, black nightgown with a laced back that barely covers her cheeks reminds me of tonight’s theme at One Bar: Forbidden Comedy. This is no Free the Ta-tas — it is possible to use laughs and...

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Scene Here: Guaranteed to fall
Oct13

Scene Here: Guaranteed to fall

KEVIN GUTTING PHOTO When Cameron Clapp was 15, a night of drinking landed him on train tracks, where an oncoming freight train took his arm and both his legs. “Right now, in this moment,” Clapp tells a room full of health care professionals at Healthsouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Western Massachusetts in Ludlow, “being alive is a miracle.” Smells of salad, deli meat, and pickles fill the room where Clapp, now 29, gives his...

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Scene Here: Before Sunrise
Sep29

Scene Here: Before Sunrise

At the end of a long day, there is no separating me from the world. Everyday needs loom large in my mind, and I’m roped, like Gulliver, to a thousand little worries. But at six a.m., when I step onto my front porch, I feel small again. Looking up at a cold, dark sky, full of shining stars, I fall like a speck back into the void. Maybe, if we could see the stars at every hour of the day, we would take a deep breath more often and...

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Scene Here: Beam Me Up
Sep22

Scene Here: Beam Me Up

Bulbs flash. Beats drop. Bass thuds in my ribcage. On the dance floor, bolts of light swirl together in neon colors, and the dancers are a galaxy of iconic sci-fi stars. A tall young man with long hair and a Jedi cloak whips his red double-bladed lightsaber in spiralling arcs, commanding the dance floor like a deadly galactic baton twirler. A girl dressed as Uhura gets down and dirty on the stage alongside Dj Ruki and Dr Wattz, while...

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Scene Here: Fresh Meat Night with Pioneer Valley Roller Derby
Sep08

Scene Here: Fresh Meat Night with Pioneer Valley Roller Derby

I feel like it should smell in here. This is the thought I just can’t let go of as I wobble precariously along a plastic track with all the other “fresh meat.” Sweat is dampening every inch of clothing touching my skin. My rental gear feels loose — and a bit itchy — as I maneuver myself through a clump of equally uncoordinated people; past a wall of old mattresses, a mountain of shoes and an industrial sized fan. It should...

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Scene Here: Between the Moon and Holyoke
Sep01

Scene Here: Between the Moon and Holyoke

Holyoke City Hall follows you like the moon. Night in downtown Holyoke can be a quiet affair: Sometimes you can stand next to a canal and hear little more than the black water below. One night on Race Street this summer, tree frog near a power substation spoke the loudest.a And on this Saturday night it’s mostly quiet here on the hill. On Bowers, people on the steps of an apartment building talk into the evening, waiting out a...

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Scene Here: Yoga and Beer
Aug25

Scene Here: Yoga and Beer

AMANDA DRANE PHOTO At 6:20 p.m. on a Thursday I arrive at Fort Hill Brewery in Easthampton to do yoga and drink beer. Clad in yoga attire, we the attendees make our way up to the large, bustling farm building on Fort Hill Road. Brightly colored mats, yoga clothes, and water bottles in hand, the yoga crowd starkly contrasts with the muted tones of beer drinkers spilling out of the tasting room. “Where are you guys doin’ yoga?” one beer...

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Scene Here: Homecoming, crowd surfing, and the hot breath
Aug19

Scene Here: Homecoming, crowd surfing, and the hot breath

PHOTO CREDIT: DANIELLE DESJARDINS At 9:30 p.m. on a Friday, the crowd at Hinge on Main Street in Northampton is packed like sardines, and the show doesn’t start for another half-hour or so. “Excuse me,” says a woman trying to push past those of us standing in front of the bar, waiting our turn to order a beer. I try to oblige, but there’s simply no room to excuse her. We, the awaiting audience, hear a violin and the sound of...

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Scene Here: The Runway
Aug12

Scene Here: The Runway

Kelly Dempsey, 31, originally hails from Monson and now she’s on the latest season of Project Runway, which premiered last Thursday. At the packed Pasquale’s Restaurant in East Longmeadow last Thursday, Dempsey’s friends, relatives, acquaintances, and some fond strangers gathered for a premiere party. Though she handled it as if she had always been a star, Dempsey couldn’t travel two feet without the celebrity treatment. “Ohhhh my...

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Scene Here: Let’s go tag-saling!
Jul28

Scene Here: Let’s go tag-saling!

Old garden hoses and porcelain chickens … Oxidized metals and outfits for Wiccans … Doodads and knickknacks that spring cleaning brings … These are a few of my favorite things. I step across a cluttered driveway in Florence, eager to help kick off the beginning of tag sale season. Objects large and small sit in piles outside, disgorged from the nooks and crannies of garages and basements. From one table I lift a large wooden...

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Scene Here: ‘Yo, My Belly Button is a Pool’ – Midnight Ultimate at Wal-Mart
Jul14

Scene Here: ‘Yo, My Belly Button is a Pool’ – Midnight Ultimate at Wal-Mart

I was confident I would find no Ultimate Frisbee going on as I drove into the Wal-Mart plaza in Chicopee shortly after midnight early last Friday — I figured the pouring rain and flood warnings would deter the pick-up players that valleyultimate.org told me gather there every Thursday night at midnight. But sure enough, there they were, splashing around in the wet, running from one end of the parking lot to the next, chasing after the...

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Scene Here: Peak Condition
Jun30

Scene Here: Peak Condition

Not everyone would choose to spend a Sunday morning deep in the woods of southern New Hampshire. The scattered hikers on top of Mount Monadnock at 10 a.m. arrive from all directions — the mountain has dozens of trails — in various states of outdoor preparedness. There are about two dozen people at the summit. Most are wearing shorts, hats, and sturdy shoes, but a few appear to have teleported up the mountain from a couch or the mall....

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Scene Here: On High Street, Holyoke
Jul08

Scene Here: On High Street, Holyoke

A thin man in a red basketball jersey and nylon shorts strides down Dwight Street in Holyoke, arms swinging, a smile on his face. His thick black hair is slicked back, and his ankles look like saplings sprouting from his foam slippers. He reaches the intersection with High Street, throws open his arms, and lets out a loud, satisfied sigh. He puts his hands on his hips, surveys left and right, then dunks his hands in his pockets and...

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Scene Here: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow, Ashfield’s semicentennial beard contest
Jun23

Scene Here: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow, Ashfield’s semicentennial beard contest

Stage lights shine down on a legion of beards. They sprout from Ashfield men young and old, tall and short. Some beards are just wiry tufts, some fluffy and soft like cumulus clouds, some as thick and full as a field of wheat primed for harvest. The beards are black, brown, red, white, gray. and, in contestant Brian Dickinson’s case, spray-painted in stripes of red, white, and blue. The beard on Ashfield Select Board member Todd...

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Scene Here: Shave and a Haircut at the Friendly Barbershop in West Springfield
Jun16

Scene Here: Shave and a Haircut at the Friendly Barbershop in West Springfield

The three men who staff The Friendly Barber Shop in West Springfield — James Pagan, Jeff Vample, and John Pellegrino — don’t care two bits who you are. You can be a Red Sox fan, a Yankees fan, or a Mets fan — and the three jerseys hang side-by-side at the front of the shop as testament — if you need a shave and a haircut, they’re your men. “I even cut women’s hair,” Vample says with an upturned tone. But ladies in search of long...

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Scene Here: For Love or Baseball?
Jun09

Scene Here: For Love or Baseball?

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, said in his poem “Locksley Hall” that in springtime a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love. Maybe so. I’m long past remembering almost anything about being a young man; but I do know that in this springtime, the first in my retirement from the world of paid labor, my thoughts turned to baseball. Specifically, I wondered if there was a local softball team that would take on a player whose spirit is...

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Scene Here: Nightly Rounds at Tandem Bagel Co. in Easthampton
May27

Scene Here: Nightly Rounds at Tandem Bagel Co. in Easthampton

Melissa Haller rattles a wheeled rack across the concrete floor. It holds 15 pans with 24 raw bagels in each. The unbaked dough shines in the fluorescent light. The air in the kitchen is thick with a warm, herby smell, cut with the savory tang of onion and garlic. It’s easy to imagine the aroma in here — just picture yourself standing in a room filled with Everything bagels. That’s exactly where I am, in the kitchen of Tandem Bagel...

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Scene Here: Springfield Symphony Hall
May06

Scene Here: Springfield Symphony Hall

It’s the final performance of the 2015 Springfield Symphony Orchestra season and the 71-year-old group has put together a timely show, The Rite of Spring with Spencer Myer on piano. Buses for retired living communities line the street outside. Inside Symphony Hall, the smell is all Jean Nate. The musicians are dressed in finery: the men in tuxes, the women in black dresses and slacks. The audience dressed for the orchestra, too....

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Scene Here: Beyond the Division

Hampshire College’s commencement ceremony is a social justice rally. About 350 people pack the graduation tent on the campus commons. As president Jonathan Lash begins his speech, more guests arrive. They spill out into the lawn outside the tent. Few of the students wear the traditional robe and mortarboard — khakis, business suits and many-colored spring dresses abound. Some wear purple sashes. The student speakers really dig into...

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Scene Here: Temple of the Mind
May12

Scene Here: Temple of the Mind

A cool breeze floods the mountainside, rustling the leaves and pine needles in the branches high above me. But as I walk up the path, I barely hear it. My brain is making too much noise of its own. My eyes are down, watching my sneakers crunching along the dirt trail, but my mind’s eye is reviewing half-written emails. Deadlines are boiling on the front burner. Recent words from a close friend have me troubled. And what’s going to...

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Scene Here: Spectacular, Spectacular
Apr28

Scene Here: Spectacular, Spectacular

Lively organ music floated through the air, and I followed it in from the parking lot. Why, exactly, had I opted to spend Friday night at the circus? I wasn??t sure, other than the fact that I was drawn here to the Eastern States Expo in West Springfield by faint, happy childhood memories. The 61st annual Melha Shrine Circus, April 23-26, is produced by the Melha Shrine Center in Springfield — a non-religious fraternity — to raise...

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Scene Here: Over King Street and Through the Woods
Apr21

Scene Here: Over King Street and Through the Woods

Two or three lonely shopping carts litter the entrance to the Northampton-to-Leeds section of the bikepath. I’m sitting on a stone marking the entrance to the path taking notes when a 50-something man named Peter meanders my way. “Does your name start with an ‘A’?” he asks. It does. “Are you psychic?” He shrugs and asks if I’m going to take photos of the trees. Not today. “There’s a lot of cool trees along the path, windy-like. They...

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Scene Here: Final Dining
Apr07

Scene Here: Final Dining

The cook turns from the steaming griddle to face the small dining room, which is crowded with breakfast customers. He looks to the front door. “I don’t remember the last time I saw a line out to the parking lot,” he says. At the long counter a seated man nods, then starts reminiscing about another restaurant he used to frequent. “Their last day, it looked just like this. They were like: If we had this crowd every day, we wouldn’t have...

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Scene Here: Sweet Expectations
Apr01

Scene Here: Sweet Expectations

If Willy Wonka took Turkish baths, his house would smell like this. In the evaporating room at Gould’s Sugarhouse Sunday morning, clear liquid sap is boiling down into concentrated gooey goodness. The thick steam it lets off is warm and silky, with a slightly sweet aroma. The place is packed with visitors. This family-run Shelburne Falls landmark, now in its 55th year, attracts locals and tourists so readily that the matriarch of this...

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Scene Here: Shamrock in the Wind
Mar24

Scene Here: Shamrock in the Wind

I’m at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and there are more plastic cups whipping down High Street in the wind than there are people waiting for the parade to turn the corner. I’m beginning to think the parade has been delayed by the 30-plus mph wind gusts, when I spy some resolute revelers claiming their spots along the sidewalk. Donning heavy coats, gloves, and hats for the 30-degree weather, they drop their chairs on the curb closest to...

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Scene Here: Spring Steed
Mar18

Scene Here: Spring Steed

I pull my mud-splattered sedan onto the side of Hill Road in Ashfield, parking it at the metal gate of the cow pen at Taylor Farm. My snow tires crunch on gravel, and a dozen cows turn their heads and stare at me. Their pen is connected to the back of an enormous red barn. On the far end of the barn sits a pretty old farmhouse, from which a small dog comes running and barking. In the field behind the cow pen, two horses glance up at...

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Scene Here: Breakfast pie
Feb25
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Scene Here: A Spot for Tea
Feb18
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Scene Here: Locked Away
Feb11

Scene Here: Locked Away

I have only one recurring nightmare. I find myself in prison. Charged with a crime I cannot discern, I’m locked away from family and friends by thick plastic walls. The clear walls are smeared with a thousand fingerprints obscuring my view of the sweet blue sky. Jack L. Morris has been living that nightmare — actually, one much worse. In 1978 Morris was locked inside a California prison after committing a series of petty crimes and...

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Scene Here: Pre-Blizzy Tizzy
Feb04
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Scene Here: Catching Cold
Jan28

Scene Here: Catching Cold

Wind whips across the ice on the Oxbow in Northampton. Under a bright, cold sun, shadowy figures stand against a stark panorama of frozen river, snow-decked mountains, and frosted gray sky. It’s 25 degrees. Viktor Biley, 17, is rubbing his bare hands together. It’s the first time this winter that he’s come to ice fish on the Oxbow. “Even when it’s windy,” he says, “it’s not all that bad — as long as you’re catching fish.” Today,...

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Scene Here: Big Easy Brunch
Jan21

Scene Here: Big Easy Brunch

Remember that first wash of Technicolor in The Wizard of Oz? That’s what it’s like to step off the grayscale street and into Chef Wayne’s Big Mamou in Springfield. This little New Orleans-style restaurant is stranded on a run-down industrial block of Liberty Street, but that hasn’t put a damper on the warm, welcoming vibe that Chef Wayne Hooker has curated. The place is dimly lit and cozy, decorated with colorful masks, murals,...

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