Searching for Peace

So you speak to me of sadness and the coming of the winter,
The fear that is within you now that seems to never end…

 140703_MI Point Betsie Lighthouse_0653acsWar. Terrorism. Murder. Violence.

2015 was a banner year for mankind to be cruel to one another. I have been growing more cynical with the years, but it’s hard now to retain any faith in the wisdom and goodness of humanity.

Abroad, terrorists are slaughtering hundreds in the name of a religion their so-called “beliefs” don’t resemble in the slightest. On the home front, politicians vying for the highest office in the land spew hatred, fear and humiliation in the pursuit of attention and power. It’s enough to make a nature girl weep.

Trail time offer a respite from the cacophony. Walking along a peaceful lake or thunderous surf, watching the infinite variety of critters going about their daily lives… All serve to remind me that man is but one of the species sharing this planet. To the bufflehead ducks swimming by, I am of no consequence. Somehow that soothes my soul.

But what in nature can restore my faith in the human species?

…It is here we must begin to seek the wisdom of the children
And the graceful way of flowers in the wind.

141005_Wissahickon Valley_8925acs Art!

Man’s need to create beauty reminds me there’s a flip side to the boorishness and hatred. Even far from paint brushes and sculptor’s tools, the artistic hand of man can be found.

140503_Mt Cuba 3 Woodland_6088aSometimes it’s a small garden statue placed just so among the flowers in the woods.

141005_Wissahickon Valley_8942acsSometimes on my meanderings, I come across cairns, these small stacks of stones. Cairns originally functioned as directional signals on trails, but have been raised to an art form by creative wanderers.

140124_Bartams Bridge Guardian_0288acsOnce I came across a humorous figure perched on a bridge, placed there just for the amusement of others. And in its serendipity, I am reminded of our sense of community, our need to comfort and cheer one another.

140703_MI Point Betsie_0617acsAt Point Betsie in Michigan, the entire beach is covered with a wondrous variety of weatherworn cobble. Perfect for creating art.

Seeing these works of trail art reminds me of humanity’s love for beauty, and gives me hope that our race may one day put behind us cruelty and hate.

And the song that I am singing is a prayer to non-believers,
Come and stand beside us we can find a better way.

140703_MI Point Betsie_0651acsLyrics to “Rhymes and Reasons” by John Denver.

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.


141028_HNWR Autumn_2271acsWhat’s this? Has Lady Autumn been playing in her wardrobe again?

141109_Nockamixon Fall Camping_3230aIn the manner of all divas, this elusive elf has made us wait for her appearance. At last she has graced the stage. First to feel the touch of her hand were the mountains and high hills. Haycock Mountain wears Her Ladyship’s colors along the shimmering blue shores of Lake Nockamixon.

141025_Hawk Mountain_1962aHawk Mountain is similarly adorned. One can do worse than to sun oneself on an outcropping of Tuscarora sandstone, watching while raptors journey past, and vultures circle lazily over the slopes.

141025_Hawk Mountain_1840acsHere flies a courier of the autumn elf. A Red-tailed Hawk wings its determined way south on a mission of migration.

141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2458aHer Ladyship’s steeds soak up the sunshine on a fine autumn day.

141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2667acsFun Fact: The Summer Queen bedecks herself in leaves of green, while Lady Autumn chooses golden yellows, fiery reds and blood-deep purples. Yet these are in fact the same leaves. Why do they change color? Like much in life, it has to do with food. Plants use the chemical chlorophyll to make food from sunlight, a process known as photosynthesis. Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color. When the day shortens and sunlight fades in fall, the chlorophyll also fades. This reveals the yellows and oranges of the carotenoid pigments, which have been present all along. In addition, some trees produce anthocyanins in the fall, which turn leaves red and even purple. Leaves are vulnerable to freezing, so to protect the tree throughout the cold winter, the leaves close their veins and fall away.

141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2587acsLady Autumn samples many smaller stages before she is ready to take her act to Broadway.

The theater of choice this year is the Wissahickon Valley.

A wise choice it is indeed. The slopes of the deep gorge abound with trees that can best show off her finery.

She cannot help but admire herself in the mirrored surface of Wissahickon Creek.

141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2638aNo unblemished mirror is this Creek. All along its course are boulders of Wissahickon schist, smoothed and weathered with time. Far from detracting from Her Ladyship’s beauty, they seem somehow to enhance it.141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2885a

141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2792aAs do some creations of Man. The Bluestone Bridge was built in 1896 to carry travelers across the creek to the Lotus Inn. The old roadhouse is long gone, but the bridge remains.

141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2934aElsewhere, the Walnut Lane Bridge provides a more modern backdrop to Lady Autumn’s colorful dance.

141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2849acsNow the days grow short, and the hounds of the Winter Queen can be heard baying throughout the woods.

Lady Autumn’s entourage finds much preparation needed before the curtain closes.

141114_7D First Shoot_0058 acs copyThe smallest of her footmen searches busily through crimson raiments worn and then discarded. “There’s an acorn in here somewhere, I just know there is!”

Soon the last of Autumn’s finery, discarded along the wayside, will fade to brown, to be gathered and taken away. Not to be rushed is our Lady, though; before ceding the stage, she will have her encore, one last turn along the Wissahickon, one last dance in the gorgeous gorge.141031_Wissahickon Autumn_2745acs

The Golden Cave

ImageWhat more likely place to go hunting for gold than in the heart of the city?

My merry band of adventurers caught wind of an abandoned mine deep in the wilds of the Wissahickon Valley, and quickly signed up for a tour. We set off one day for an easy stroll down Forbidden Drive where it borders cool, green and leafy Wissahickon Creek.

Wissahickon 6 Trail_9805acsThere was no shortage of flowers and greenery to admire along the way.

Further along, a staircase led down the embankment to a small dam in the creek.

One of our group is a talented professional photographer who is generous with his photographic wisdom, and I soak it all up like a sponge.

At the dam, Ned gave me a homework assignment: photograph the water flowing over the wall at different shutter speeds.

Dam Collage I know which one I like better – how about you? (Click to see larger image.)

Wissahickon 2 Livezy Dam_9612aWhen he wasn’t looking, I forsook my homework and took a photo of a feather drifting lazily down the creek.

Wissahickon 3 Gold Mine Cave_9668aFrom a side trail, we got our first glimpse of the gold mine. This outcropping hides a small cave near its base that once was home to a mining operation, way back when in the 1760s.

The Roxborough Mining Company, consisting of a handful of German immigrants, excavated this manmade cave with hand drills and black powder. According to legend they were searching for gold, but having found none, soon abandoned the endeavor.

Wissahickon 3 Gold Mine Cave_9685acAnother legend claims this cave was a hidden storehouse of grain during Revolutionary days. Today it holds only tourists like us. Though the cave goes back some distance, the roof is low; here you can see the entrance is half a Robb high.

Wissahickon 4 Trail_9712acsAn old stone bridge carried us across the creek. A casual amble for us no longer; the trail was much more challenging on the other side.

Wissahickon 4 Trail_9730aThe pathway wound around rocks, over tree roots, and up and down hillsides. At times, it was crossed by rivulets of water; at other times those rivulets made their bed in the trail.

Wissahickon 6 Trail_9772aThe Valley is actually a gorge, with steep rocky hillsides. Here’s Don picking his way down the trail, aided by his trusty walking stick, and a convenient set of stairs.

Wissahickon 7 Livezy House_9812aThis is the Livezy House, built by a Quaker farmer and miller in 1749.

Wissahickon 8 Devils Pool_9839aAh, Devil’s Pool. Cresheim Creek drains into the Wissahickon here in this deep green glen. Like many of the watery places along the creek, it is a popular, and illegal, swimming hole.

It’s also dangerous. Too many people are tempted to jump from rocks up to 20 feet high into a pool that is just 5 to 7 feet at its deepest. Drownings are not unheard of here. Frequently polluted water adds to the list of hazards.

Devils Pool Collage 2bThis time-lapse photo proves that young daredevils are not easily deterred by the risks. Here I blended four shots into one to capture all the action of a backward somersault into the pool.

Wissahickon 4 Trail_9702aLike any urban area, Philadelphia is crowded, noisy, and paved-over. Yet within the city limits, in the Wissahickon Valley, Nature holds on as tenaciously as ferns cling to life in a rockface. Definitely urban living on the Wild Edge!



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