Snyder-Middleswarth Natural Area, 2012: life after death

hemlock skeletons

The last time I visited the old-growth stand of eastern hemlocks at Snyder-Middleswarth Natural Area, in central Pennsylvania’s Bald Eagle State Forest, the hemlocks were succumbing to a wooly adelgid infestation, and I figured they’d all be dead in a few years. That was early June 2007. My hiking buddy Lucy and I felt we should go back five years later and see what was taking the hemlocks’ place.

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Protecting the environment from the Department of Environmental Protection

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So as luck would have it, the Juniata Valley Audubon Society‘s first lawsuit is happening under my watch as president — this despite the fact that in my personal life I avoid confrontation like the plague. Fortunately I’m not the point-man here, and today I was happy to use my presidential authority merely to insist upon shooting a video of the real heroes of this fight (as well as to record some audio, which I hope to share eventually as a Woodrat Podcast episode).

The video wasn’t very eptly shot, but what the heck. It’s JVAS’s first official video, and I figure we have to start somewhere. It features Mollie Matteson, Conservation Advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, and Stan Kotala, JVAS Conservation Chair, member of the Pennsylvania Biological Survey’s Herpetological Technical Committee, and general bad-ass.

Woodrat Podcast 27: Harold C. Myers, a kid from the Vulcan

Harold Myers and family
Harold as a boy, left, and in the center front of the photo on the right, with his brother and father, both named Walter, his mother Georgina Dresch, and his grandfather Valentine

Harold C. Myers (1914-2003) was my maternal grandfather, A.K.A. Pop-pop. Today I present part of an interview my brother Steve tape-recorded in 1997, subsequently digitized by Jeff Suydam. Pop-pop’s description of his childhood, first in the little “coal patch” called the Vulcan on Broad Mountain near Mahanoy City, then in the steel town of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, is full of great details about the way people used to live, and the way boys in particular used to almost raise themselves, spending many days away from home on fishing or berrying expeditions, or building go-carts and pipe bombs and generally running wild. Pop-pop was unusual both in his love of reading and his love of the outdoors, two things he definitely imparted to his oldest daughter, my Mom. I’ve selected and edited the best parts of his earliest memories, and really wish we’d been able to record more. If you have elderly relatives or neighbors whose stories have never been recorded, I hope this will inspire you to preserve something before it’s too late.

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Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence)

Return to The Hook

turtlehead at The Hook

The last time I visited The Hook, the hobblebush and painted trilliums were in bloom. It was mid-May. My hiking buddy L. and I parked on the south edge of the 5,119-acre watershed and scrambled down a steep ravine as the shadows lengthened, and we began to worry about the long drive home. Greenish-yellow pollen coated our boots.

That was in 2005. How did we let five years go by without returning to this spot less than two hours from home? But better late than never, as they say. Many of our favorite spots in northern Pennsylvania have probably been marred if not ruined by deep gas drilling in the Marcellus shale formation, and we’ll never get another chance to see them as they were, while many of the old-growth stands around the state that we visited in the early aughts have been decimated by the alien invasive hemlock woolly adelgid and/or beech bark disease. Continue reading “Return to The Hook”

Back to School

no job to big

I enter town by an alley off the railroad adjoining the parking lot for G&R Excavating and Demolition — “The Professional Homewreckers,” they call themselves. “No Job to Big or Small.” Sic. Walking into town on a quiet Sunday morning to use my sister-in-law’s computer, my route takes me along the railroad tracks and under I-99, where the 35-year-old overpass is undergoing extensive reconstruction. Workers have wrapped the massive steel girders with chainlink fence and covered that with burlap. It reminds me of a pupating caterpillar, the difference being of course that when it emerges from its chrysalis it will still be a highway bridge. I glance back at the end of our mountain, and see that it’s topped by a wisp of cloud that belies its diminuitive elevation: the sun-struck forest exhaling into the crisp morning air.
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Black Moshannon

If you can’t see the slideshow, or if you’re on dial-up, go here.

Gnarled stumps of pine trees cut down a century earlier jut from the tannic waters of Black Moshannon Lake. Though like most lakes south of the glaciated portions of Pennsylvania it is a man-made reservoir, a smaller, boggier series of ponds preceded it, and descendents of the beavers that built the original dams remain. Last Saturday, my mother and I were admiring the banks of cardinal flowers in the streambed below the dam when a small birch tree beside the trail toppled over less than fifty feet away. We went over to look and discovered that a beaver had chewed it almost all the way through, presumably the night before, but for some reason had left it standing.

Black Moshannon is a pretty special place, home to rare orchids, carnivorous bog plants, and many other strange and wonderful things. Botanists consider the 1,500-acre Black Moshannon Bog Natural Area to be “the largest reconstituted bog/wetland complex in Pensylvania.” The park is surrounded by a much larger state forest on the Allegheny Plateau a few miles west of the Allegheny Front. I won’t give the exact elevation, because I know my western readers will laugh, but let’s just say that it’s high enough to be significantly cooler than most of the surrounding area. So the small swimming beach is always a major draw.

In fact, our main reason for going there on a beautiful, cool summer day was to introduce my three-year-old niece Elanor to the joys of a swimming hole. She’s always been drawn to water, but her fascination has included a healthy admixture of fear. With some coaxing from her father, though, and with the example of all the other kids to follow, she was soon splashing and yelling with the best of them.

My own interaction with the water was solely photographic. Like Elanor, I’m drawn to water and never get tired of looking at it: the plants that grow in and around it, the trees and branches that fall into it, the frogs that sit quietly beside it, leaping in at the last possible moment. By the end of the afternoon, we were each relaxed and besotted from our long immersions.