The legal description of the 50-acres of wooded shore front my parents owned noted a huge boulder at one edge and a brook at the other. The watercourse was called Smelt Brook because every spring the smelt – anchovy-size minnows used mostly for bait to catch larger fish – would run into it to spawn.
Fisherfolk from town would show up, as well, and that’s the crux of this tale. They would bring their beer and build small campfires next to the creek, and be sociable. The smelt ran at night when kids my age were supposed to be in bed, so dad and his long-handled, fine-webbed smelting net attended the party alone.
I met a hiker on the Appalachian Trail Sunday. Actually, he was on the AT. He had been on the trail since Binghamton, NY, heading for a family gathering in Tennessee. I was on a woods road that crossed it.
The day had started the way a nice motorcycling day should start, sunny but not too much heat. My then 13-year-old son and I had spent two nights at Locust Lake State Park, near Mahanoy City, Pa. The stop had given us a tour of a coal breaker plant. LJ came away with a small bag of samples, one piece for every size the plant broke and sorted: stove, nut, pea, barley, and buckwheat, in order of size. I think.[pullquote]“I don’t see anything,” he said.
“That’s it,” I said.[/pullquote]
We ate at a diner on Main Street, populated mostly by old men who enthralled my eldest offspring with stories of the glory days of anthracite coal. It was they who told us of the Blaschak coal breaker at west end of town.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. That line has rolled around in my ear for days, though my calendar is nearing summer and Robert Frost wrote “Snowy Evening” about a woods filling with snow.
[pullquote]the floor is carpeted with last year’s leaves and this year’s ferns[/pullquote]Butterflies, small ones, like miniature Emperor Moths only drab-hued, flitter around clover blossoms. Higher in the trees, a flicker of yellow catches my eye, and is gone. I would like to believe it was a Monarch, because they are becoming scarce, but I didn’t see it well enough.
Closer in, and on or near the ground, several Red Spotted purple butterflies, so called because they are purple, mostly, with red spots among white accent marks, search the duff for goodies. They seem afraid of heights; I rarely see them higher than a few feet. Mostly, they seem to favor the edges of dirt roads and, at the lake, open pebbly beach areas with tall-grass surrounds. Continue reading →
One of the many things I’ve learned is a truly good wandering companion cannot be bought. I have tried, and none have worked out. On he other hand, there have been three …
I met Dutch at a friend’s house on Adak, an island about halfway out the Aleutian Islands chain. One day, Dutch – a Yellow Lab and Irish Setter mix – wanted to go home with me. It turned out my friend was leaving the island, and Dutch could not accompany him.
The situation repeated two years later, when it was my turn to depart, but in those 24 months, Dutch and I were nearly inseparable. We wandered the tundra, and when I would go to the store he waited outside – allowing passers-by to stop and pet him, but never leaving his place by the door.
Several years ago, a friend with whom I often went wandering called me to meet her behind Lake Auburn. She said she had found something in which she thought I’d be interested.
[pullquote]When that trapper’s nearest neighbor was miles downstream, his sewer arrangement worked.[/pullquote]At the appointed day and time, we met and headed into the woods. About a half-mile, more or less, into the woods, she stopped and pointed. There beside a swiftly running stream was a rock foundation, the remains of the home of some long ago settler. It clearly was a two-room abode, built beside a stream. The log sides and roof were long gone.
We talked some of how many people could have lived in the structure, and why they chose that spot to live. We decided the resident likely was a trapper, who selected the site for its proximity to running water.
“What’s that about,” my friend asked of the smaller room.
“The mountains are calling, and I must go,” John Muir wrote in a letter to his sister, Sarah.
There is a ridgeline a few miles from my home that appears to be a naturally created rock wall. The ridge was created from the eastern U.S. crashing into Scotland thousands of years ago. In some places, one can see the layers folded like a carpet laid flat, then pushed at the edge until it curls into several folds, lain over each other.
[pullquote]In the duff, or between tree branches, barely caught from the corner of my eye, a spider weaves a snare, proving to errant flies and other unaware winged creatures that the seemingly shortest way from A to B is not always the best way.[/pullquote]Atop the folds, in places that have not yet been reshaped by residential development, humungous rocks stand exposed, as though someone had come along with a giant blower and sandblasted around them so they stood free to make later humans wonder how that happened.
Peavine bought himself a new walking stick. A dandy specimen it is, too – a really nice five-section telescoping stick with a compass on top. Each section is accented with, in his case, a bright orange ring.
He bought it, he said, because it came in orange. It also is available in black, blue, green, purple, red, gold and titanium, but as long as we’ve been hanging around together, I’ve never known Peavine to go for those flashy colors. Besides, orange is a good color in the woods because deer can’t see it. Continue reading →
In 2005, the Susquehanna River was listed by American Bassmaster magazine as one of the top five smallmouth bass fisheries in the United States. No longer.
Young smallmouth bass have, for the past several years, been displaying spots, lesions and decreasing populations – though the problem’s severity depends on who is describing it. Some sportsmen who earn their livings guiding and supplying fisher folk on the river acknowledge the bass are in substantial decline, and what once was a world class fishery is threatened, but insist the river remains a safe waterbody for recreation and sport fishing.
Young smallmouth are experiencing a seven percent mortality, Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission Director John Arway told attendees at a Susquehanna Summit last week in Lewisburg, “The big bass are still there – the problem is, the small bass aren’t there.” (Additional remarks by Arway in video at the end of this piece.)
A bill in the Pennsylvania legislature has conservationists on high alert. House Bill 2224, some fear, will open the way to sale of public lands without the normal path through the courts. All they would have to do is declare the “parks, squares or similar uses and public buildings … no longer necessary or practicable.”
Which appears to many to be what Gov. Tom Corbett, R-Marcellus, declared his award winning state park system director, John Norbeck. It seems Norbeck’s “no drilling in the state parks” crashed into the “drill everywhere” juggernaut, and the people of the Commonwealth lost.
Michaux State Forest encompasses more than 87,000 acres of woodland, including a reservoir, several streams and a section of the Appalachian Trail.
The Pa. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website still claims about 85,000 acres, but I think that does not include 2,500 acres purchased from Glatfelter’s paper company circa 2008 and donated to the state.
Something caught my eye, something that didn’t quite belong among the long green needles. I don’t know why I looked up for it, except that I habitually wander around with my eyes pretty wide open, the better to see stumps and other things I might run into while walking through the woods or paddling close along the shore.
Then I found it, a volleyball-size wasp nest hanging from a Pitch Pine, about 10-12 feet up from the ground. And about six feet from the trail, where joggers, bicyclists and other woods wanderers regularly pass by, probably without noticing the armory above their heads.
Rain had fallen in the overnight, and the piece of low-lying forest through which I wandered was mostly wetland, at the edge of a cattail-filled meadow. Beneath my hiking shoes the path was cushioned – not soggy, but like a carpet with a nice sponge under it. Ahead of me – he’s always ahead of me – Grady the Golden Retriever kept looking back to be sure I was following. If I stop, he’ll come back to me. If I reverse direction, he’ll come jogging past to take the lead on the new course.
Last month, the EPA announced new regulations that will require natural gas drillers to capture the methane they ordinarily allow to escape before they cap their well. The new rules take effect in 2015.
Last week, the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, announced proposed regulations that would require drillers to tell us what chemicals they are pumping into the ground – and sometimes spilling onto the ground and into our waters – to release natural gas by fracturing shale thousands of feet underground.
We had picked up the Messeder Space Pod in Myrtle Beach on a Thursday afternoon and headed home. Somewhere a little south of Petersburg, Va., we decided to start looking for a place to pull in for the night.
So we asked Sally G, our faithful GPS, to find one. She found several. We picked the closest one and dialed the phone number. A fellow whose gravelly voice came from National Geographic’s “Swamp Men,” only friendlier, listened patiently while I described where I was – some exit off I-95, northbound toward home.
“It’s not that I don’t want your business,” the proprietor said, “but I’m over on (Interstate) 85, and that’s pretty much out of your way.”
I went for a walk in the woods one day with the granddaughters, in search of the source of a creek which flows from the county where I live in south-central Pennsylvania, across the state line into Maryland, and joins the Monocacy River east of Thurmont.
A paper company once owned the particular piece of forest, 2,500 acres of the first tree farm in the state that gave birth to the nation’s forest conservation movement. There was a time when men with axes and horses took to the woods to cut trees and drag them to a nearby road, from whence they could be carted to the mill. Axes gave way to chainsaws, and horses to huge, powerful tractors called “skidders,” but even then, logging was a slow process. I know; I was raised where logging and paper making was the primary industry.
Chainsaws have been replaced by machines with air conditioned cabs from which one operator can virtually denude a mountainside in a matter days, instead of the months or years once required, leaving the owner to pay taxes for several decades while waiting patiently for trees to grow to usable girth. Glatfelter, owner of that 2,500 acres, had decided to sell the land, to let someone else pay the taxes and “call us when you’ve got wood to sell.” … Continue reading …