Mel Shaw and His Love Affair With Foley Mountain

Overlooking Westport From Foley Mountain

I wanted to interview my long-time friend, Mel Shaw, not just because his intimate nature photos please me, but because he is a good example of someone who enjoying retirement. (Some of you may know him from the attractive calendar he and his wife Rose Ann designed and sold the past two years as a fundraiser benefitting the Foley Mountain Conservation Area.)

Recently, I sat down with him to learn more about his special relationship with the park.

When Mel was a teenager spending part of his summers at Camp Iawah as a councilor and instructor in the seventies, he occasionally visited the Foley Mountain Conservation Area and the memories of exploring there stayed with him.

Then later, after he and his wife Rose Ann first moved to Westport in 1995, it was natural for the couple to bring their two children and Mel’s parents to explore this special area so close to the town. Even at an early age, Ginny and Michael also learned to love the park. He has “lots of great memories of happy times catching frogs, snakes and salamanders to have a closer look.” Mel, who admits to a soft spot for amphibians, would turn over rocks, looking for salamanders. “In the winter, we often shoveled off a small area of the beaver pond for skating.”

So many times I have brought people up to Spy Rock, overlooking Westport, and they are in awe of the view. I remember taking a bunch of friends up to Spy Rock on Thanksgiving weekend. It was evening and there was fog surrounding the town and the lights of the village poked through the fog and there was the sound of coyotes yipping far off. It was so quiet, peaceful and so beautiful. My friends thought it was a magical evening.

“Being retired now,” he says, “I have more time to visit the park on a daily basis. Some days it’s just nice to go to Foley Mountain and enjoy the solitude and reflect on life and practice meditation. He has his favorite benches, including the one overlooking the beaver pond, with its plaque commemorating my late husband, Barry McQuay, and his 30 years of service to the park. Also, he explores the trail to the park’s beach, and makes a point of walking one of the trails from beginning to end each year.

One of the great things about being retired now, he tells me, is that he has the luxury of just slipping up to the park whenever the mood strikes him.

Mel is self-trained as a photographer and simply enjoys taking pictures of nature on his visits because it makes him happy, but he also enjoys sharing those images with other people to brighten their day. He currently uses a Canon EOS 252 and sometimes an iPhone 7 for closeups.

Some of people’s favorite shots are intimate portraits of the resident deer herd. In fact, so well do the resident deer herd in the park know him, that they will let him approach as close as ten feet. The best time to see them is in late Summer, when the fawns have lost their spots, and browsing for them is usually easy.


I asked if he would reveal any secrets about good places to see wildlife at the conservation area and was surprised to hear that these days he mostly stays on the park road because there is less likelihood of attracting lyme-carrying ticks in the relative openness there. “I see more wildlife when I walk the road because of the openness.”

“But don’t you feel hampered by the increasing traffic to this popular park,” I asked. He thought about it.

“No,” he said. “Because I am able to come early or late I mostly have the place to myself.”

And I had one final question: After all this time, are you still making discoveries?

He reflected about that for a moment, “I’m seeing a lot more rat snakes and Blandings turtles at the park. Recently I also have started to see Scarlet Tanagers, who are surprisingly hard to spot.”

Because he likes to share his pleasure in what inspires him, he showcases his pictures on Facebook, where he has an increasing following. [Search for Mel Shaw Photos]

Just as so many of us have a favorite place at Foley Mountain, I’m sure lots of us have our favorite Mel photo. This one’s mine:

More Mel

Small with Great Love

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