Montco Trail Challenge: We Finish It At Almost the Last Moment – Today!

Each year our county, Montgomery County in Pennsylvania, USA, sponsors a trail challenge – visit county trails and collect a symbol to mark your progress, and at the end of the challenge, depending on how many you get to, you get a small prize. We have done this challenge several times.

Last year, during the first part of the pandemic, getting outside to walk was one of the few activities we could do away from home and we really dove into things – do you remember us doing the Perkiomen Trail 2 times for a total of 40 miles? It was not part of the challenge: we just did it for our own satisfaction. (Posts describing the adventure can be found posted during June 2020 on this blog). We walked every section of this map and we’re still proud of it!

In 2020 the county was not sure if it could put on the challenge and only decided to do so in August, 2020. There were no symbols to collect – instead, we took photos of ourselves at the various trails. Like this one.

Now we are in 2021 and the challenge has proceeded as in the past – stretching from May to December 5, 2021.

We did a lot of trails – seven – earlier this summer. Then we got stuck. As you may know, I have been and am still having some eyesight issues that have slowed me down some. We sort of forgot about the challenge.

But – I was thinking about it this week, with the deadline coming up. I hated to admit we couldn’t finish. The idea came to me – we could do three trails in a day, couldn’t we? The rules say you don’t have to cover the whole trail, just put some time in. The missing pieces of our puzzle were not far apart in location – in fact two of them connect. Let’s try it, I said to my husband.

So this morning we got up, got going, and arrived at the 202 Parkway trail. This is a paved path connecting Montgomeryville with Doylestown, essentially; it goes alongside the road. It’s not a favorite of ours as walkers but people on bikes love it.

We parked right over the county line in Bucks County and crossed the intersection to get into Montco.

Right away we collected our symbol.

We then walked about a mile. That was enough to feel good about counting the trail on our scorecard, we decided. We went back to the car and drove over to Audobon, PA to travel a bit on the Audobon Loop and then pick up a bit of the Perkiomen Trail.

There is a big parking lot where it’s possible to access both trails. We left our little car Jen McGill there and set off. First we wanted to do some steps on the Loop. It takes you across the Perkiomen Creek on a highway bridge (scary with cars rushing past you) and into Mill Grove, a place famous for the fact that John James Audobon lived here and began his naturalist career here. Here we collected the symbol:

and here is a photo of me. Did I mention it was a very cold day, at freezing, and with wind gusts of about 20 MPH? I think my outfit might tell you even if I didn’t say so in words – it was cold.

We had decided to go up the hill (a 9% grade, the sign said) to the brick chimney, remnants of lead and copper mining done here in the early 1800’s. A lot of mining was done in our area, I have learned, and you see the remnants of the industry in many locations.

Once we got to the top, we turned around and went back to the parking lot to pick up the Perkiomen Trail. We collected our symbol and then set out to walk.

We walked along the banks of the Perkiomen Creek. You may remember that back in the late summer our area was hit by Hurricane Ida, who brought us enormous floods and some destructive tornadoes. As you might expect, this creek flooded and in fact these two trails where we were today were closed for a long time because of the destruction. It’s very easy to see the marks of the flooding even now, though a lot of cleanup has been done.

But we focused on how things looked today. Across the creek, we were struck by the sight of a length of the opposite bank lined with sycamores. I love their angular forms and white limbs.

A short time later, we turned around and went back to the car. Our walk on these two trails totaled 4 miles, so in all today we did 5 miles. Surely that is a fair showing for us to feel good about collecting these trails for our prize! I am very grateful that we were able to get out and complete the challenge. Somehow this year it seems especially important to me to have done it.

Here are all the symbols we collected this year:

Washi Day

My husband and I are members at the Allentown Art Museum and I am sure you remember some previous visits I have described. They put on a lot of interesting exhibits as well as offering activities in which you interact with the collection (remember the Valentine’s Day scavenger hunt?)

We went to museum on Saturday, October 9, for the members’ preview of a new exhibit, Washi Transformed (which opens on October 10 and goes until January 2, 2022).

I also signed up for the members only art activity to be led by a local artist, Anthony Smith.

We arrived at our timed ticket reservation spot at noon and viewed the exhibit first. All I can say is, Wow! and that I will be returning to look at the art again. There is so much beauty and intricacy, it will take me more than one time to take it all in, I think.

I’m not going to write a lot about the art but instead show you some of the works. Although here is the introduction statement in the gallery, which can give you some background.

All of the art involves washi papers in one way or another, and as you can see, there are a lot of ways it can be used to express form, emotion, and just something beautiful to look at. The exhibit is laid out in two rooms upstairs, one larger than the other.

I took a lot of photos, more than usual. With my eyesight problems, I cannot always take in the details well. I thought if I had photos of the works, I could study them better at home, especially when it came to small details, that I could enlarge.

Here are some items from the larger room.

This large structure featured indigo-dyed paper panels suspended as you see in the photos. You could go inside. To me I felt as if I were in a sky full of stars.

This is a detail of a framed work in which the artist had pleated the paper and then dyed it indigo so that there were patterns left by the pleats – then cut the paper into squares and sewed them, like a quilt.

These large panels are a traditional Japanese form. The lamp in the second one is also constructed of paper.

This grouping was my favorite of the show. I love the colors. And the array looks like a school of happy fish to me.

These two pieces were made by the same artist who did the “fish”. The orange one is quite large and made of attached repeating sections; the little green one (that looks like a building to me) is at the opposite end of the scale.

The soft glow and the gentle shapes of these rounded lamps gave me a feeling of peace.

Here is a view of the second room:

And here is a close-up of one of that group of red sculptures to the right.

The same artist made these bowls; the paper fibers start off at the bottom as being in a braided pattern, very tight, and then blossom out into the free-form look at the ends.

And here is my other favorite in this show (yes, guess I had two favorites…) – this group of white organic forms, also made by the same artist (as the red group and the bowls). The forms are made int the same fashion – braided and woven tightly at the bottom and relaxing into their wild-haired personas at the top.

I loved looking at this group. It’s just beautiful and I liked the idea of restrained growing into free.

To me it was a metaphor for my life – when I was younger I was held in by many restrictions and responsibilities. Now—I let go, or things drop away, and though it is not always a happy process, it is a freeing one, too.

*******************

Then it was time for the art activity. My husband did not attend – he looked around at other exhibits for a while and then went out for a short walk around town.

I went into the activity room right off the main exhibit room. We sat down at tables – here is mine (including my purse, it looks like).

I’m going to be honest, I am not exactly sure how the activity fit in with the washi exhibit (though we did use some washi tape). But it did not matter, because I had a great time and so did everyone else.

Essentially, I believe the link was that we were working with paper and using it to create art, in this case, collages. The instructor had some people templates for us to use as figures in our compositions (one of whom looked like Carl Sagan, as the instructor pointed out, and after that everyone who used that figure referred to their character in that way) – setting them in an environment, clothing them, etc.

Everyone fell to work and found it absorbing and fun, I think.

I tried very hard to follow directions but I was unable to do so, and since I have reached my antique age I feel less and less worried about the implications when this happens (though I do try not to disrupt the class, because I know from teaching classes myself, it is hard to cope with a student who goes off on a tangent and is loud about it). I did stick with the theme of a figure, but I got drawn away by the magazines we were using – Bazaar, and all its clothes and people! Here is the final result:

Then, since I had some time left, I went on to the second suggested activity, a vertically-laid-out landscape, loosely following Japanese landscape principles, maybe or maybe not…

At the end we displayed our work – here is some of it:

Thank you to the Allentown Art Museum for this exhibit and all that it brought to me. I found the exhibit works to be beautiiful and prompting reflection. And, for the activity group, I just really enjoy being in a group that has the hum and buzz of people contentedly creating art.

At What Point Do You Realize You Have a Collection?

I believe I have the answer to this question, when it comes to brake pads and me.

And it came about this way: A long time ago I found a couple of brake pads, different times, different places, just lying on the asphalt, one in a parking lot and one on a bridge.

I kept them because I liked the look of them.

Then… a couple of weeks ago, on two separate walks, my husband came across two more. He donated them to the…collection.

Now I’ve said it. Collection. I collect brake pads that have become disassociated from their vehicles.

I do not understand how the vehicles don’t notice, but…I come into the story after the separation has ocurred, so I’m not going to speculate.

I just like the way they look.

Here is the collection. New ones on top, older ones on the bottom. Both sides. Take a look.

We Visit Longwood Gardens

Back in the winter I won free tickets to this local attraction, Longwood Gardens, in a raffle at my library. Their expiration date was 9/30/21, and I realized recently that we’d better get in a visit or else miss the chance. So a week or so ago my husband and I traveled down to Kennett Square, PA, to check things out.

I have visited here before – it’s a must on the Philadelphia tourist attractions list – but it has been decades. I admit that if not for the free tickets I would not have made the trip. I don’t find large formal gardens interesting and my previous trips had not given me the desire to return. But…the tickets were free. We were saving $44 (senior discount price) and it was a nice day. Motivation enough.

We arrived and ate lunch in the picnic site. It’s free, and shady, and quiet. It is supposed to be open only to ticket holders, but…I think if you are in the area you could slip in and eat lunch here. Note: it’s not open year round. Check the website.

After lunch we drove over to the parking lot and joined the hordes of people streaming into the admission area. As I said, this is a major tourist attraction. It was crowded. Lots of people. Everywhere.

I’m going to gloss over the visit. I enjoyed walking around in the sunshine. The gardens, to me, were ho-hum. We did a short tour of Pierre DuPont’s house on the grounds – I forgot to mention this place was developed by him over the first part of the 20th century. (If you want to know more about the history and general info about the gardens, look here). But I feel I’ve seen these scenes in a lot of different places.

We walked through the meadow area and a small forested area – more interesting to me, but once again, I have seen these scenes – for free, along the Skippack Trail in Montgomery County, for instance. And once again, the hordes of people made it less enjoyable.

What sticks in my mind from this visit are three things:

  • All those people. (Bad)
  • A number of beech trees with graffiti – their smooth bark makes them every-popular for the person with a sharp instrument and a timeless message to record. (Good but I do understand this kind of treatment is not good for the trees)
  • And, the picnic grounds. (The most enjoyable part of the experience.)

Here’s my summary: We had a nice afternoon. I don’t have the urge to visit again. I think there are plenty more places around here that are more interesting to me, and the costs for visiting here can mount up fast. But, as I said…we had free tickets. Overall, it turned out fine. That was enough for that day at that time.

Tornado and Cornfield

A few weeks ago Hurrican Ida visited my area, southeastern Pennsylvania, and left flooding in its wake. You may have seen photos of a highway in Philadelphia that looked like a canal – the Vine Street Expressway in Center City was flooded with muddy water from the Schuykill River. And that was just one episode among countless stories of floods, wind, and destruction.

I showed you photos of flooding damage along the Perkiomen Creek in an earlier post: look here.

I’ve lived in this area for 40+ years, never seen anything like it, never want to do so again. Our house was spared any damage, for which I am thankful. However, a tornado (one of several in the area) touched down about 5 miles from my house and left a swath of destruction that is still being cleaned up and/or assessed. Some of our favorite areas along the Green Ribbon Trail are now forests of topped trees with their leaves blown off, clear sky where there was shade and green before the storm.

And a lot of people lost roofs, trees, parts of their houses, and there was injury and death as well. My heart goes out to all who are just entering a recovery from this storm.

Tornadoes are dangerous. Goes without saying, but until you see it with your own eyes, the level of dectruction is hard to imagine.

A few days after the storm we were walking along the Power Line Trail in Horsham. One area is planted in corn. Take a look.

I grew up in Tennessee and tornadoes were an annual feature, but they are not common in Pennsylvania. We had tornado drills in school and in one memorable storm a house near us was cut in half, the middle destroyed and the two sides left standing, as the tornado plowed through its middle.

It’s a characteristic of tornadoes to bounce and weave their way across the countryside. An area totally destroyed can be right beside one left untouched. That’s what you see here with this cornfield. Notice the flattened areas next to an intact row. That’s how precisely a tornado can move.

I’m still shaken, remembering that day through these photos.

Next time your area has a tornado warning, think of these photos and go straight to your basement. That’s your best chance. If you are outside, look for a low spot in the landscape, such as a ditch or culvert. Cover yourself if you can to protect against flying debris. Most of all, pay attention when conditions exist for tornadoes to form and take the warning seriously.

Sights Along the Skippack Trail

On September 4, my husband and I decided to walk along the Skippack Trail in Skippack, PA. We wanted to acquire another trail for this year’s Montco Trail Challenge, in which participants walk or run or bike 10 county trails. We’ve done this in the past – last summer, in fact, we were very ambitious and even completed the 20 mile Perkiomen Trail – twice.

On this day, though, we wanted to take advantage of the nice weather while providing a good walk along a safe surface. I am currently having eyesight issues as I deal with an infection in my left eyelid. Eventually things will be fine, I am told, and my long term eyesight should be fine, but right now the swelling is pressing on my cornea and causing my vision to be quite distorted. My two eyes are not working well together. So this trail seemed like a good place to go as the trail surface is asphalt and the footing is good.

You may know that we here in the Philadelphia area came through the remnants of Hurricane Ida earliler in the week with severe damage to many parts of the area. There were tornadoes that flattened areas near my house, and all of us got enormous amounts of rain. The Schuylkill River flooded Center City and all the waterways around us were frightening in how they flooded and how quickly.

My own house was safe, for which I am thankful.

I give you this information as a prologue for our walk along this trail. It begins at a high elevation and moves gradually down hill toward the Perkiomen Creek. The walk was quite interesting for what it showed about the flooding of this waterway.

All right, let’s go. We parked in a local park and crossed the road over to the trail. There is a horse riding farm/academy that occupies the space under the high tension wires in this section.

I always find the juxtaposition of the horse farm and the surrounding townhouses quite interesting. Some of the residents can sit on their decks just feet from the horses.

We continued along the trail. As you can see, the trail follows along under the electrical wires. Once you pass the horse area, it is left natural by the power company, and it’s beautiful. Right now the area is filled with goldenrod, ragweed, milkweed, and lots of others plants and flowers whose names I do not know.

The trail heads downhill into the floodplain of the Perkiomen Creek. The power station is the white building complex ahead in the distance across the creek.

We walked on, eventually coming into the floodplain of the creek, which was underwater during the storm. We began to see the grasses flattened and some debris carried by the waters, such as these garbage cans.

The trail now turns and runs along the creek, maybe 30 feet back from it. You can see the brown water of the Perkiomen Creek through the muddied vegetation, a sign that flood waters rushed through this area.

At this point we are on a level with the creek. It’s clear now how high the waters were. See the grass and debris in the trees here? It’s at a level of 12-15 feet. That means the water here was that deep, or more. It’s hard for me to imagine the scene, much less take in how dangerous the water was at this point. It’s not a survivable situation if you happened to be in this area.

The Skippack Trail ends at this former railroad bridge, which is part of the Perkiomen Trail and crosses the creek.

You can see the branch caught in the underside of the bridge. That means the water was at least up to this height, about 15-20 feet. As I looked toward the section that goes over the creek, I saw that the underside was packed with branches and other debris left by the waters.

We walked up to the battered info sign at the intersection with the Perkiomen Trail and started back, sobered by what we had seen.

But something nice happened on the way back.

You say, what is this picture of a puddle you’re showing me? And I’ll tell you a little story. On the way down the trail, we noticed a tiny fish on his side in this puddle. It’s common to see fish stranded like this after a flood as the waters go down. Figuring he was dead, we passed on our way.

Returning, I stopped to look at him, and he chose that moment to twitch. I realized his eye was clear, not clouded – he was alive. Quick, I shrieked to my husband, grab him, and we can put him in the little runoff creek we just passed about a minute back.

My husband scooped him up and we ran back to one of the many small runoffs that go through the floodplain, now full of water. We got the little fish into the water and watched. He lay on his side, still. I thought maybe we were too late. The he twitched a couple more times and lay still again. Maybe he needed to be in deeper water. My husband scrambled down the bank to help him.

The, like a flash, the little guy flipped himself over and took off down the tiny creeklet as if nothing had ever happened. Only then did we notice the body of a giant carp, very dead, on the other side of the creek. He had been too big to make his way back to the creek when the water receded, but our little fish had no such problem. I am hoping he got back to the Perkiomen and is right now swimming happily away.

Monument

The other day my husband and I were driving around and we ended up in Collegeville, home of Ursinus College. You may remember a visit we made to the Berman Art Museum, which is located on campus, earlier in the summer.

While we were there we noticed this large smokestack with what looked like writing all over it, but we didn’t have time to eaxmine it. On this day, though, we did. Here is what we saw.

It’s the creation of Katie Merz, serving as artist in residence at the college in 2020, and the work was done in fall 2020 to commemorate the class of 2020, whose year was cut off so abruptly by the pandemic. I won’t go into the process: the museum has a very complete site on the work, its meaning, and how it was done, plus info on the artist. Look here.

I’ll just show you the photos I took, instead. You can enjoy the graphic look of the chimney and then you can delve into examining the symbols and deciphering their meanings. It’s something to see, all right.

Beach Trip

My husband and I had planned to take a short overnight trip to a museum about 3 hours away, but family circumstances had made the previous week very event-filled and we didn’t feel like being away overnight. We did need a bit of a spirit-lifter, though, and on impulse Saturday morning, we decided to take a day trip to a water site.

I love the water – lakes, bays, oceans, creeks, you name it. If there is water, I am happy being around it. I had a spot in mind – Slaughter Beach, Delaware, about 2+ hours from our house.

I’d been reading up on the Delaware beaches – there are bay and ocean beaches in the state – and this one was tops on my list because of a recent visit a friend had made. So we hopped in the car and took off.

Slaughter Beach is a tiny strip of beach along the Delaware Bay, about 15-20 miles north from the first ocean beaches in Delaware. There are several small places like this all the way up to Wilmington. The ocean beaches are vastly preferred by the public and are the typical shore experience around here – crowds, boardwalks, amusements, restaurants, etc. Where we were going is not the popular experience. Just some pebbly sand, low waves, lots of open marshland around, and few houses or buildings or people. Much better, to my way of thinking.

We arrived around 10:30 or so in the morning on a beautiful sunny July day. We parked at the firehouse parking lot where the main beach access was. Here’s the main road as we arrived:

We put on our water shoes and headed across the street to the beach. The bay is very wide here. You can see two container ships heading upstream way out in the distance.

The houses are set back from the water across a line of dunes. The beach is narrow and pebbly, and once we left the main access area, we passed very few people. We waded in the surf; the water was warm and the waves very gentle. As I usually do I had my eye on the ground looking at the stones. They are rounded and washed by the water and so many colors! I made the conscious decision not to pick up too many this time – I wanted to remind myself just to walk along slowly and enjoy the day. I could certainly see returning for a hunt, though…

We ate our lunch, hoagies picked up at a Wawa on the way, in a little park by the parking lot, overlooking the marsh view.

Now I’ll show you photos of the beachcomber herself, in different moods, all good…

Reforesters Update 7/4/21

This morning my husband and I took a trip over to the Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust (PERT) to count our trees, do some upkeep, and maybe clear away some more invasives. I am a little behind on my report, since I haven’t been here since mid-June. Recovering from my shingles vaccine took a week and last week was either very hot or else thunderstorms, so I didn’t come over here.

Well, we are here now. It’s very green and lush these days here in the preserve.

We decided to count the trees first. I think this session we finally have found all our trees and cleared them. The count is 35 trees alive, 3 dead, and 2 vounteers we also are caring for.

We did some clearing. Those vines I mentioned in the last post, the ones with very weak stems and small heart-shaped leaves, are everywhere now. If they had any heft to them we’d be unable to fight our way into the plot. As it is, they have their own weapon – they are very sticky, meaning sticky like velcro, not sticky like popsicle juice, and if they touch your skin, it hurts to pull them away.

Ugh. Luckily, gloves and our usual array of cover-up clothes does the job. I pulled some vines away from this little tree. Ick, they arise in a mass and seem to stick to each other too, in order to get where they would like to go. I still don’t know their name – I need to look it up.

But today, I have a really exciting story to tell. Do you remember back at the end of May, I uncovered a dead tree still standing in its cage, buried under a huge mound of vines, weeds, and wild rosebushes? (Look here for that post if you don’t). I tagged it pink and left it. It then appears in several subsequent posts, a forlorn remnant, as I continued to clear brush.

Today I checked it, out of curiosity more than anything. I noticed some leaves that looked very much like oak leaves at the bottom of the cage.

Here it was this morning:

And those leaves…hmmm… I thought maybe a little volunteer oak was coming up, though I didn’t see any parent oakds nearby.

I found the former trunk of the tree and snapped the top off easily. Dead, yes. but I still wasn’t satisfied. I removed the whole cage and cleaned around the leaves. I found that they were growing out of the very bottom of the trunk. The tree was not dead!

Digging a little further, I found the nursery tag from the tree:

I was right, it is an oak tree. I carefully cleaned around it. I will be paying special attention to this little guy. It has survived years of living under a thicket. It’s strong. I will help it grow.

Well, that is it for today. Until next time.

Museum Visit – the Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College

A nice summer day on June 27, and what to do with ourselves? My husband and I spent part of it on the campus of Ursinus College in Collegeville, PA, about 30 minutes from our house. We visited the Berman Museum of Art and toured the campus to look at the sculpture collection that fills the grounds.

This small liberal arts college has a big art presence due to its benefactors, Philip and Muriel Berman, who donated art and facilitated the founding of the museum in the 1980’s. If you want to know more, look here. I’ll keep moving on to our actual visit today.

We walked across the quiet campus (I can recommend it for a nice peaceful experience), looking at some of the sculptures. Sculpture was an important art form to the Bermans and evidence of this is all over the campus. There is a map and guide to the sculptures alone and a tour of the grounds to look at them is worth a trip in itself.

On our way we stopped at the labyrinth and did a walk.

This labyrinth featured a pattern I had not encountered before. Additionally, the lines of demarcation were not high contrast with the body colors. It was therefore necessary to pay close attention to the experience in order to follow the pattern. I liked how that worked out in practice, and I also enjoyed looking at the pattern the spirals made as a whole.

We arrived at the museum.

I had to wait outside for a few minutes while my husband went back to the car for his mask (turned out he didn’t need it) and noticed this face looking up at me:

Was it meant to be a work of art, underfoot? I don’t know. A companion a few feet away had no such personality:

I choose to believe that however it came to be, the little face was meant to be noticed, and I am glad I did.

Once inside we chatted with two students who were manning the information booth and learned about the exhibits currently running. I will show you my favorite one.

It’s called MAPPING CLIMATE CHANGE: The Knitting Map and The Tempestry Project. It’s a two-part experience, but both sections involve the use of knitting/fabric/tapestry to map out a visual picture of time and the environment. Here are the materials used.

In the first section, The Tempestry Project, knitting is used to depict, through colors, the changes in temperature/weather over periods of time. Each knitted strip represents a different time frame. Some strips covered decades and some one year. Others showed the changes over a large geographic land mass, the US, and then moving down to our state, Pennsylvania.

I found this concept fascinating and I began to wonder about doing something along these lines myself. Not just weather/climate change, but also, how this concept could make a visual diary of all kinds of subjects that evolve over time. Hmmm…

In the next gallery, the exhibit continued with The Knitting Map, a project done in Cork, Ireland, about 15 years ago. In this enormous textile, the variables are the weather and also the time of day. Weather conditions and the level of activity in the city were broken down into knitting stitches and colors, so that a rainy cool day at rush hour was depicted by a certain combination vs. a hot sunny day at the quiet time of dawn would be another combination. About 2500 knitters participated to make this fabric.

It’s truly monumental, isn’t it?

Taken together, the two rooms gave me a new way to envision the passage of time and how things change, and it is a way that I myself could take and apply to something in my own life or experience. I found the idea very exciting. I also took in the message about the environment in a way that I had not before, as a continuum that unrolls as time goes on. A lot to see and think about here today.

For information about the exhibit from the museum’s website, look here.

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