It’s a Marshmallow World in the Winter

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6945acsIt’s a marshmallow world in the winter

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6807acsWhen the snow comes to cover the ground

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6547acsIt’s the time for play

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6759aIt’s a whipped cream day

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6930acsI wait for it the whole year round.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6562acsSince we began exploring the Wissahickon Valley earlier this year, I knew it would be a wondrous place in the snow. So I’ve been waiting.

Alas, unlike last winter, the snows have been late to come, and meager. More waiting.

In the midst of a severe cold snap, we finally got a few inches of snow, followed by a crisp blue sky day. At last! No more waiting! Valley Green Inn.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6600a*SIGH* There goes Don, straight onto the ice in the middle of the stream, without a thought for his own safety. He’s old enough to know better.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6624aI’m old enough to know better… than to go first. I let Don test the ice, clamber down the steep and slippery stream banks. If he survived, then  I followed. Do you think I’m going to let him get all the good shots? Wissahickon Creek, down on the ice.

150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6679acs150218_Wissahickon In Snow_6744acs150218_Wissahickon In Snow_7049a150218_Wissahickon In Snow_7153aIn winter it’s a marshmallow world.

Presidents’ Day at Valley Forge

04 Valley Forge Chapel Area_ 2583acs Listen closely, the old tree said, and I will tell you of the birth of a nation.

01 Valley Forge Farm_ 2342acs SepiaWhen I was but a young sapling, the rolling hills you see before you were dotted with farmsteads.

07 Valley Forge Valley Creek_ 2726aValley Creek flowed past iron forges before joining the Schuylkill River to the north.

01 Valley Forge Farm_ 2323aIt was the winter of 1777, the heart of the American Revolution, when General George Washington decided my home provided everything he needed for a safe place to encamp his troops for the winter: easily defensible high ground, proximity to Philadelphia to pressure the British, the river nearby for transportation.

05 Valley Forge Muhlenberg Brigade_ 2597acsI watched as 12,000 men marched into the valley on December 19, weary, bedraggled, but with their heads held high. They swiftly pitched tents as temporary shelter, then busily set about building log huts. They would complete nearly 2000 of these huts, chinked with clay and laid out along military avenues.

Valley Forge_0204acs2The men then fell to building defensive fortifications: trenches, redoubts, and a bridge over the Schuylkill River.

02 Valley Forge Knox_ 2357a Some of the officers made quarters in the houses of local farmers. It was more cramped than it may appear today. When General Henry Knox lived in the house above, it was half this size; expansion came after Revolutionary times. General James Varnum occupied only one room on the upper floor of this dwelling, below; the owner’s family continued to live in the rest of the house.03 Valley Forge Varnum_ 2449aMany of the officers, including Knox and Varnum, would later move into huts to be closer to their men.

Valley Forge Washingtons HQ_9412ac sepia Washington himself had vowed to stay in his canvas tent until all the men were in huts, but the needs of command compelled him to move to larger quarters.

07 Valley Forge Valley Creek_ 2630aI have seen many winters in my long life, some mild, some harsh. That winter at Valley Forge was neither. Typical of a Philadelphia winter, there were occasional snowstorms, followed by thawing, rain, and then refreezing. The resulting mud and ice interfered greatly with supply shipments. Heavy snow in February was followed immediately by heavy rain, and mud made roads impassable for a time.

03 Valley Forge Varnum_ 2463a This was the real hardship the troops faced; not the weather, but the lack of supplies, particularly clothing adequate to the winter conditions. The lack of a true Quartermaster made the situation worse.  Sanitation was also an issue. Springs and streams provided water, but were frequently fouled.

Relief arrived with better weather, an early shad run on the Schuylkill, and the appointment of General Nathanael Greene as Quartermaster.

04 Valley Forge Chapel Area_ 2495aWhen they weren’t building, serving as sentries, or hunting for wood and food, they were engaged in military drill on the Grand Parade. In February, Baron Friedrich von Steuben arrived in camp, and was given the job of reforming the Army’s training and discipline. He began with the Commander-in-Chief’s Guards, and quickly won them over with his methods. The enthusiasm spread outward as ever large groups of men drilled and maneuvered skillfully. He also greatly improved the sanitation in camp.

04 Valley Forge Chapel Area_ 2476a Far more soldiers died of disease than starvation or cold, and many of the deaths came in the warmer spring months.

Valley Forge_2903General Washington ordered the chinking removed from the huts to improve air circulation, and in early June abandoned the huts altogether, moving the entire Army across the Schuylkill River to tents.

04 Valley Forge Chapel Area_ 2503a After France entered into an alliance with the United States, the British would abandon Philadelphia for New York. On June 19, 1778, Washington would lead the Continental Army out of the camp in pursuit. My valley returned to a place of peaceful farmsteads.

05 Valley Forge Muhlenberg Brigade_ 2591aNot a shot fired was fired at Valley Forge in battle. Yet the encampment marked a turning point in the war. France threw in its lot with the Americans. Conditions hardened the men. Von Steuben molded a skilled but inconsistently-trained army into a cohesive professional fighting force. Truly the Army that left Valley Forge was not the Army that arrived six months prior.

04 Valley Forge Chapel Area_ 2571aIn the passing years, I have seen the land consecrated by the men that followed, as first a state park in 1893 and then a National Park on July 4, 1776.

Many generations have come and gone. Yet I stand here still, my old limbs weary, honored to be a silent sentinel watching over the valley that forged a nation.

Independence Day II: A Morris Mosaic

2 Morris Plant_4809 aAfter our ramble through the Wissahickon, and lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant, my friends and I were refreshed enough to take on the Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill.

Originally a summer estate, it became part of the University of Pennsylvania in 1932.Besides a wealth of trees, plants and flowers, every summer the arboretum hosts a wonderful garden railway. In addition, this year it is also hosting the BIG BUGS! exhibit. Arboretum Collage White2 Morris Plant_4854 aBug CollageMorris Arboretum_6487 aTrain CollageMorris Arboretum_6769 a

Coming up: Natural Abstraction

Independence Day I: Wissahickon Wanderings


What I Did On The Fourth of July

1 Wissahickon_4690 aThis year ranked as one of my more unusual Independence Day holidays. Several Refuge friends and I went exploring in Fairmount Park and then the Morris Arboretum.

Fairmount Park in Philadelphia is the one of the largest urban park systems in the US, and spreads throughout much of the city. The 1800 acre portion along the Wissahickon Creek, known as the Wissahickon Valley, is actually a gorge, with the wooded slopes rising nearly 200 feet above the Creek. It’s as close to wilderness as one could be in a big city.

Our primary goal here was to see the Thomas Mill Road Covered Bridge. To reach it we took a long, easy walk down Forbidden Drive.

1 Wissahickon_4480 aKids swimming in the Creek. It was hot and humid, and later in the day I really wanted to join them.

1 Wissahickon_4487 aOne of the remnant dams along the Creek. The dams supplied water to run the waterwheels of the lumber, paper, and grist mills that once populated the Valley.

Wissahickon Valley Chipmunk_4533 acs  “Oh look – lunch!”

1 Wissahickon_4500 acsTrail art, by humans.

ButterfliesI spent some time trying to persuade at least one Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly to be still long enough for a picture. Didn’t have much luck.

1 Wissahickon_4570 a More trail art. Courtesy of Mother Nature this time.

When you walk anywhere with the botanically-inclined, you can expect frequent discussions on the identity of this or that plant. Here’s Robb (in orange) and Jeff arguing, ahem, discussing the identification of a tree.Jeff & Robb“This tree over here?” “No! THAT tree over THERE!”

1 Wissahickon_4545 aReally cool old building, originally part of a nearby mill, but rebuilt by the Works Projects Administration (WPA)  in 1938. They were used to shelter the Fairmount Park Guards who once patrolled the park.

1 Wissahickon_4710 1 Wissahickon_4719 a Ahhh! At last! The Thomas Mill Road Covered Bridge.

It was built in 1737, and restored by WPA in 1938. It’s the last covered bridge in the Valley, and the only covered bridge in a major U.S. city.

There’s something picturesque about a covered bridge. I think it’s the play of red against the green foliage.

Aren’t all covered bridges red?

Here’s Don, looking every bit the bold explorer, in front of the bridge.covered bridge acs

We crossed over the Creek here, and came back to Valley Green via the trail. A totally different walk. Where the Forbidden Drive was wide, the trail was narrow; where it was flat, the trail climbed sharply up and down; where the Drive was crowded with bikers and runners and horses, the trail was – well, not empty, but certainly less crowded.

Our goal along the trail side of the Wissahickon was “The Indian”. The Valley was once the home of the Lenni-Lenape people. In 1902, after they were long gone, a 15 foot high sculpture was erected in their honor. It depicts a Lenni-Lenape warrior, kneeling and shading his brow as he watches his tribe depart from the region. Of course, the artist couldn’t be bothered to differentiate among the traditions of the various Native American nations that lived here. Which is why an Eastern Woodland Indian is wearing a Western Plains Indian headdress.

On the Forbidden Drive side we’d come upon a sign marking the Indian statue, placed high up on the far bank of the creek.  The only trouble was, we couldn’t see the statue for the trees.

With the help of some other trekkers, we found the pathway to the Indian.This was a short but tough trail that went straight up; you get some idea of the steepness of the Gorge from this set of stairs. We found ourselves below the base of the statue. This was a great view, and I wanted a great shot, but as you can see but I blew the focus. Oh, well, I will just have to go back.Indian collageUp at the top we got a perspective I am quite familiar with from my wildlife photography – the rear end. Here you can see that the statue is slightly more than two Robbs high. And since the Indian’s kneeling – well, that’s one big Indian.

Leaving our friend, we discovered a much easier path back down to where the main trail awaited. Wish we’d known that before!  From here back to the car, the trail got tougher, as we needed to clamber over roots, tree trunks, rocks and even small streams. A couple of times I found it easier to slide on my bum. Eventually we made it back to Valley Green, where another adventure awaited – finding a restaurant that was open on the Fourth of July.

1 Wissahickon_4471 aMy dad grew up very close to the Wissahickon Valley in the 1930s and ’40s, and spent a lot of time there. And told me a lot of tall tales from his boyhood. This first visit just made me more determined to see more of the area he knew so well.

Coming up: Independence Day II: A Morris Mosaic

Photo of Don courtesy of Robb Kerr

Historical information courtesy of the Friends of the Wissahickon