A dark and stormy night

The day started the way a spring Dad-with-13-year-old motorcycling day should start: sunny but not too much heat. It was a post-Navy-retirement run from Norfolk, Virginia where I had spent the previous eight years to Maine, where I was raised.

Night One was Locust Lake State Park, near Mahanoy City, PA. We filled out tummies at a Main Street diner named, Angela’s, populated mostly by old men who enthralled my eldest offspring with tales of the glory days of anthracite coal. It was they who pointed us to the Blaschak coal breaker at the west end of town.

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540 feet

From my front yard, I watch the sun creep over the hill behind my shoulder lighting the street in front of me, beginning from the far end and slowly illuminating the blackness before me like a Mother peeling the blanket from her child’s sleepy head.

I live at approximately 540 feet above sea level. Some forecasters occasionally bemoan melting glaciers and rising sea levels, but I know it will be a long time before the Atlantic Ocean laps at my door.

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When the GPS isn’t helping

In an online video the other day, a fellow wanderer was making his way through an area with which I am fairly familiar. As I watched him follow his camera along the path, I noticed places I recognized, places I had, in my own wanderings, passed by.

I was reminded of an experience several years ago, while driving through Jacksonville, Florida.

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Road trip through my mind

A recent car-shopping trip with a young friend got me thinking about my history with motor vehicles.

My first was an English Ford convertible. It was white and cost me $75, which, even in 1967, was not bad. I don’t remember the year or model, but it was old. It had character, which meant some things did not work, but it had a manually operated convertible top that did not leak.

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(Not totally) unique among critters

Anatomically, we are similar to lots of other critters. We have hearts and livers in more or less relatively the same positions in our bodies, though some of us carry ourselves horizontally and others vertically. We walk on our hind legs, but so do birds — most of them, anyway. We use tools, but so do some birds; some species of crows will poke a stick into a hole to extract food it cannot reach with its beak.

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“Monarch Crusader” to speak at G’burg Rec Park

A few years ago, Granddaughter went wandering with a friend in the woods behind our home. Suddenly she burst in the door, excitedly proclaiming, “Come on, Papa John! We found something!”

“What did you find?” I asked.

“C’mon. We’ll show you!”

Imperial moth spreads its yellow and purple cape across a branch of maple leaves.
Imperial moth spreads its regal cape across a panoply of maple.

And off we went to see what turned out to be an Imperial Moth, a huge thing — especially to a pair of little humans — clad in a yellow cape with purple markings, spread regally across several oak leaves. I got a few pictures and went home, glad the little girls were not afraid of bugs.

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What a boring world this would be

Several years ago, when granddaughter was still of an age that she enjoyed going hiking with her Grampa, she came back one day to sort of complain that Papa John had spent a lot of time talking about how the trees had leaves of different sizes and shapes.

Some of it must have stuck with her, though, because she has traded the old guy for a Chosen One more her age, and together they enjoy hiking the woods and trails of northern Maryland and nearby Pennsylvania.

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Springtime symphony

I can hear them tuning up. So can my spouse, whose cabin fever I’ll put up against any New Englander who thinks winter has been too darn long.

My best friend, bless her, has impatiently awaited the assembly of the “garden corral” in the parking lot of the nearby Wal-Mart. As the first concrete blocks are placed to mark its boundaries, her heart begins to pitty-pat with an excitement I’m certain can be felt in the farm fields that surround our burg.

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Landmarks

I found myself this week looking back a few years, when, well …

“I used to use that as a landmark. Something’s got to go back up there,” Ariste Reno, of New York, formerly of Chicago, told me when I visited the World Trade Center site on the first anniversary of its destruction.

I thought about the National Tower at Gettysburg, which was imploded July 3, 2000, and said so later that day to Mark McGinnis, Gettysburg College Class of 1976, who was in California waiting for a telephone cross-country conference (Zoom had not been invented yet) when the north tower died and with it 10 of his friends and colleagues.

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Never Ending Story

Through rain, sleet, snow and drought, Silverstone the Younger watches over the South Mountains, as she has done for at least hundreds of thousands of years — before, certainly, humans arrived in what one day would be called south-central Pennsylvania. We met one day as I wandered in Michaux State Forest, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, poking her nose into the warmth of the afternoon sun.

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The paradox

I sit looking out my upstairs window at four trees poking through mostly lawn. Last year, we planted a 4×16-foot wildflower plot on a piece of that lawn. This year the strip will be 4×100, roughly — a divider between our suburban lot and the one next to ours and, we hope, a larger magnet for butterflies.

It might seem as though I’m bragging, but …

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The trouble with green

March wind waves the blossoming red leaves of the maple, bluebirds and cardinals clinging to the branches as they try to overpower the blossoming red leaves with their own raiment. It’s not yet Easter, but many critters are eager to show off their colors.

Grabbing seeds from the grass, diminutive Dark-eyed Juncos in their white vests and dark gray waistcoats, weave across the yard, among the sparrows and dove, like tiny preachers chasing down sinners in need of salvation. A pair of Northern Cardinals jet through the branches of our Silver Maple, shouting at each other the taunt that has marked boys’ and girls’ spring ritual since time immemorial. “You can’t catch me — yes, I can.”

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Every body gotta eat

Outside my window, birds and squirrels and a presumable variety of other critters are pairing up in my backyard — bluebirds and house sparrows have commenced their annual fight over the bluebird houses that, if history is prognosticator, will soon be home to a clutch of sparrow chicks.

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Welcome to Emanon

The thing about development is it never seems to work out as well as it was planned – except for the developers. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not opposed to growth. I enjoy, for instance, trees large enough to make shade on a summer afternoon, and creeks wide enough to have pools for swimming. My favorite growth is the fish that grow larger each time I remember them.

Human population growth, on the other hand, has some drawbacks.

Life was good for many years in Emanon. (All names are fictional to protect the storyteller.) Herons and osprey hunted the creek, and people generally enjoyed living here.

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Only the past is pristine

There is much discussion in conservation circles about, on the one hand, species disappearing from sight, sound and memory and, on the other, species newly rooting in places they have not always been.

As I wandered along a deer trail through a section of otherwise pristine woodland and discovered a rock wall with no apparent historical connection, I remembered an experience when I was a daily news reporter covering the machinations of a county planning board.

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Name that tree

As a youngster, I spent most of my time afield by myself. I had a brother and a sister, and later a second sister, but there was something about wandering in the forest that appealed to me in ways it never did to the others.

I tended, when not involved in the daily chores of mid-1950s pre-teen country living, to wander off alone or jump in the rowboat to go fishing among the shore-bound deadfalls around the perimeter of the 500-acre pond outside our home, or simply peel down save for a pair of swim goggles and paddle around with the beaver and the loons.

With all the time I spent in the woods, I knew the names of only a few trees, much like living in a human neighborhood in which we know the names of a few neighbors, although we are often friendly with several others we label by sight but not by name.

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