Another Haven

About 15 minutes my house are the Whitemarsh Foundation properties, preserved land that includes an open space area, a historic farm, and the Dixon Meadow House. This farm is privately owned but protected from development; the open space is for the public to wander and enjoy; the house is used for various activities related to the land.

This location is very near Chestnut Hill College, Morris Arboretum, and the beginning of the Green Ribbon Trail. All of these locations lie in or near the watershed of the Wissahickon Creek.

Earlier this week I took a short trip to this peaceful spot. Here’s a view from the house, where I parked the car:

and here is the view from the opposite site of the open space – you can see the house off in the distance.

There is a boardwalk across the wetlands section and I saw a lot of milkweed.

 

I also saw a LOT of large milkweed bugs. The season is coming to an end for them.

Whitemarsh #7 10-3-17002

 

Whitemarsh #6 10-3-17001

I noticed tiny orange insects on a few pod stems.

I did a little research and I think these are milkweed aphids. Opinions seems to be that they are not harmful, or maybe they are a little harmful, but what it takes in getting rid of them is more detrimental. It also seems that not much is known about these insects. Maybe people are paying more attention now that milkweed is being grown on purpose, rather than being seen as just a weed taken for granted. Monarch butterflies have friends and friends of monarchs like milkweed, so I have the feeling there will be more information coming along.

I am happy to have this location for me to enjoy and for the monarchs, other butterflies, grasshoppers galore, and lots of birds to have a place to thrive.

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Walk Through A Changing Landscape

Since my husband changed offices, from the city to the suburbs, he has been exploring different places to walk – necessary rehabilitation of his serious knee injury nine months ago. He has found some places we never knew existed. I’ll show you one today.

It’s the Gwynedd Wildlife Preserve, a property of Natural Lands, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and restoring land in the eastern PA – southern NJ area.

This property was a farm for over a century. It’s now located in suburbia, about five minutes from Montgomery County Community College (of poetry marathon and Senior Games fame). The idea is to return the land to a native state. The site has different areas in transition; there are a lot of open fields as well as some wooded areas.

The preserve also connects to the Green Ribbon Trail, which winds along within the Wissahickon Creek watershed. (We hope to connect with and check out this end of the trail soon; you might remember me mentioning it in connection with a section I frequent, some miles away, nearer my house).

My husband was very enthusiastic about the site. So we went for a walk there on Sunday morning, October 1. We parked in their tiny lot and started out up the blacktop road.

There are several well-marked trails designated by color, but you can wander around without worrying too much about it, as long as you have some sense of direction. I think I’ll just show you pictures and describe them, since we did just that – wander.

Here is what a lot of the place looked like. Mowed paths and long views. You would have no idea that a lot of people live very near.

This caterpillar crossed our path. The photo is blurry because my hand shook, not because he was moving so fast. We saw a lot of these little guys on the ground. I love them; I like their outfits and their sense of purpose.

There was a pile of split wood near the office/garage. Look at the insect holes – what a pattern.

I do not know what kind of tree this was but I liked the leaves.

This bush also is unknown to me, but I like the dark berries and the sparkly sunlight coming through the leaves.

How about this birdhouse? I loved the look of it up there on this tall pole.

A good portion of the site is wooded. We went through two sections, this one pictured here, and then we crossed the road into another section.

After we finished walking in the woods, we came to where a woods is being created. These trees have been planted with the idea that they will turn into a forest. We saw oaks, maples, sassafrass…of all ages and sizes. The white sheaths keep them safe from hungry deer.

I do know what this tree is. Hickory. This specimen was at the top of a hill, alone. A farm tree in the middle of fields, that has been its life. The big green cases hold the small brown nut; they dry on the tree and split open, and the nut falls to the ground.

And my favorite – milkweed. They are drying up, splitting open, and spreading their seeds. I LOVE milkweed. Just saying.

And here is some more milkweed, with some really well-turned out insects hanging on. I researched them and learned they are specimens of…the large milkweed bug. Yes, that is truly their name, and they feed on milkweed. There is something very satisfying about this straightforward name they have, isn’t there?

All right, there you have it. I’ll come back to this spot. It was tranquil, a place for contemplation and enjoying being alive.

Bur Oak Update

The bur oak saga continues. Look here for our initial meeting…

I put the acorns into a bucket of water for 24 hours, as advised by some research my husband did on the internet about planting them.

The idea is that the ones that sink to the bottom, well, they are eligible for planting. The ones that are floating after 24 hours, sadly, will not germinate.

After the time was up, four of the acorns were sinkers. OK, on to round 2!

Once again, guided by the internet, we put them into a plastic bag with some dirt, and stored them in the refrigerator until we can plant them. Maybe in the next day or so. My husband said he will get a few deep pots for them – apparently these little guys put out a tap root that requires room. No shallow yogurt containers will do.

Here is the refrigerator scene. We will see what happens next…

If You Live Across the Street from the High School You Are Never Bored

We live across the street from our high school. Great place to be. I have the girls’ lacrosse/field hockey and softball fields right there and I attend a lot of games, despite not knowing much about any of them.

We can also watch the marching band practice, walk on the track, go to swim meets…art fairs…and it goes on and on.

The latest event, to mark the start of school, was a festival of food trucks held in front of the school, yesterday afternoon and evening. Food trucks are a common sight in the city – lots and lots of people eat lunch from one every work day, and you can get about anything. Nowadays they go around to festivals and the like, as well.

From our house, here was the view:

We walked over and paid our (minimal) admission fee. There was food, food, music, food, food, silent auction, picnicking, food, kids running around, food, people waiting in line for food, food…

It’s fun to live in a place like the one where I live!

Let’s Get Better Acquainted

I’ve mentioned Norristown Farm Park several times in the past. It’s a county park not too far from my house; I’ve done several orienteering events there, including the Montco Senior Games in 2016 and 2017 and in July, I ran a 5K on its grounds.

But I never spent much time there otherwise. I found the network of roads and trails confusing and I had no idea how to map out a run that would get me back to where I started. Then…my husband changed his office to a nearby location after his accident in December, 2016. He started exploring local parks, the Farm Park being one of them. And guess what: A Boy Scout Eagle Project has resulted in a 5K course all laid out nice and neatly.

Suddenly a trip to the park was necessary, so that I could try this route out.

A bit of history. This park is the former farm attached to the adjacent Norristown State Mental Hospital. In the early days of the hospital (founded in the 1880’s) this land was a working farm that provided food for the patients as well as occupation. It was thought that healthy outdoor work of this type would be beneficial to their recoveries. The farm included crop-growing fields, dairy cows, a dairy, stables, and even a fish hatchery (still in existence).

If you want to know more about Norristown State Hospital, which is now in the end stages of winding down (all that will be left is the forensic unit, meaning people who are in the hospital as part of the judicial/correction systems), you can see my experience in an orienteering event I did this summer on the grounds of the hospital. I will say that every time I go into the park I remember the people who have walked over and worked this land in the past; there is a history that needs to be respected, I feel.

Anyway, today, though, the idea was to try out this route. It’s different from the one I did in the competition in July and covers a lot of the same ground I did in the Senior Games events. The start is at the same place, the pavilion area. I was amazed at how different things look with 8-foot tall corn in the fields:

September, 2017

Here are a couple of places in the park –  the same locations at different times of the year. Things change.

My husband and I parked in the pavilion parking lot and set out. We planned to walk the 5K route. Corn all around us.

There are still signs left from when the park was a farm. There are many buildings, bridges, and other structures scattered over the acres.

 

Our route took us over a freight line crossing through the park.

As I said, there are a lot of buildings on the property, many of them falling into ruin, though some are being restored for other purposes. We saw a small brick and concrete building covered by undergrowth and took a look. I don’t know what its purpose was; I later found it on a 1950’s map when I did some internet searching, but I could not read the blurry print to find out what its function was. I liked the look of it so I took pictures.

We passed along Stony Creek – it runs through much of the park. The Stony Creek Anglers now run the fish hatchery.

We came upon this building. It appears on the 1950’s map I mentioned earlier, as being a stable. We took a look around.

The building and adjacent sheds appear to be used for nothing, really, although some picnic tables are stored in the shed. They look very out-of-place with the architecture and feeling of the buildings. Jarring, in fact.

Details of the stable building:

We saw this wagon back under the shed.

Well, we had to take a better look.

And a closer look at that set of gears.

 

I also liked the appearance of this door – it’s to a room in the shed.

I would have loved to have been able to see inside the stable. Maybe some other time it will be possible?

We got back on the road. We made our way to the finish of the 5K route, ending up at the pavilion area again.

I now feel I understand more about how the park is laid out, and I will be happy to come here and run on my own. I look forward to seeing how things look here later in the year.

 

 

I Continue to Practice Handwriting

You may remember my no-longer-secret ambition to improve my handwriting.

Here are a few recent samples – these from June:

and August:

I’ve got some thoughts on handwriting and what this quest has meant to me. But first, I’ll show you some of my tools.

I have learned a bit about pens and inks, enough to realize there is a whole world of handwriting that has been hidden from me until now. I now peruse pen and ink sites and read books on handwriting, not just how to do it, but also on the history of it. My tiny ambition has opened a whole new subject to me.

In my corner of the handwriting world, I have settled on medium nib fountain pens and rollerball pens as my favorites. Fine nibs and points scratch and drag at the paper for me. I like a nice thick flow of ink. Here is my current set of friends.

Top to bottom: Pilot V-ball 7 rollerball; Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen, medium; 2 different Lamy Safari fountain pens, both medium nib; a new pen I haven’t tried yet as I just received it in the mail today, the Pilot MultiBall rollerball medium; and the Platinum Preppy fountain pen medium.

I also am very fond of one of the cheapest pens around, too – Bic Cristal is my everyday go-to pen.

You may wonder about those pages of handwriting. I have developed a habit of practicing handwriting while watching television at night – I take notes on the show I am “watching” (when I’m not working a crossword puzzle or reading. You can see why I say “watching”.)

Anyway, I started the practice for…practice. But I have found handwriting to be a soothing meditative activity. I take my time and work to form the letters in a nice manner rather than in my hasty scrawl of the past. Writing has become a pleasant activity in of itself, not just something I have to do to get my thoughts on paper. I love seeing lines of nicely formed letters and words emerge and I love using a good pen full of quality ink.

Here is my ink filling station. I keep my inks on a shelf in the cabinet in the dining room.

And here are the ones I am using now. I can recommend all three of these inks. Beautiful colors and thick, intense color. That is what I like.

I am glad that at this later stage of life (I learned cursive handwriting in 1966) I can learn something new, I can improve a habit I was not happy with, and I can still stumble into an unknown world and find excitement in exploring it.

Handwriting is art to me now. I use it in my art, literally; I find inspirations in my handwriting practice for my poetry-writing; I enjoy the look of a nicely-written grocery list. I’m glad I took the step to try this handwriting thing out again.

Seeds of the Present

My husband and I took a walk in the Morris Arboretum on Saturday, August 12, a muggy, gray day. We didn’t spend a lot of time, about an hour; we wanted to walk around the wetlands area and see what things looked like.

We visited the arboretum about two weeks ago, and the wetlands section really caught our attention.

We circled this pond and then ventured out to the creek – a walk of about one and a half miles.

Two themes emerged: seeds/nuts, and insects. Let me start with the first category. I’m going to show what I saw. I don’t know the names of any of them, except for the walnuts and milkweed. I just liked looking at the seeds in their various incarnations. See what you think.

I think this tree may be called “button ball” but I am not sure. From our observations, the balls start off green, turn red-orange, explode into white, and then fade away in brown. Obviously they are attractive to bees.

I do not know what tree this is, but I have seen these brilliant red leaves on the ground later in the fall. Here are berries and one early-turning leaf.

Dangling seed pods. I LOVE the look of these.

These grasses were near the creek. I love the woven look of the seedheads.

I don’t know what these are. Are they related? I photographed two different trees and didn’t pay enough attention as I was doing it.

These look like they should come from a maple tree, but they don’t. Look at the leaf.

Walnuts! Walnuts! I love walnut season. I love kicking them with my toe as I go along the trails. Walnuts!

Now that I recognize milkweed, I see it everywhere in the wetlands. The broad leaves stand out almost horizontally; I liked how they captured the rain. And those seedpods…

What is this? I don’t know. I saw it next to the parking lot.

I am intrigued by the variety of seedpods and nuts and I am interested to see how these plants progress through the autumn. The shapes and forms are beautiful and functional. Plenty to look at here, isn’t there?

Now, how about a few insects I met along the way:

I would love to have shown some of the many dragonflies I saw, with their electric blue features, but they were too quick for me…


I am intrigued by the variety of seedpods and nuts and I am interested to see how these plants progress through the autumn. The shapes and forms are beautiful and functional. Plenty to look at here, isn’t there?

Swim in the City

I made a trip to Center City Philadelphia on August 9 – my husband was going to a meeting and I took the opportunity for a chauffeured ride in.

I worked in the city for quite some time, but those days are in the distant past – 25 years ago I left office work. Still, those days at work here were some of the most important of my life. The memories are vivid and the streets of the city are full of places I have known for a long time.

I’ll give you a little tour of something new and old, all at once. Let’s start at 18th and Market, where my husband’s office was until his fall in December, 2016, and where he was going to his meeting today.

I started walking east toward City Hall along Market Street. City Hall is set in the very middle of the original plan of Philadelphia. Its location was originally the center square of five (the other five are still open space).

In the 1870’s construction began on City Hall and it took about 30 years to finish the building. It is monumental, to say the least, and a really interesting place. Courts and other functions are now handled in other more modern buildings around the square, but it is still full of offices, including the mayor’s.

In the early 80’s I used to cut through the building on the way to my office in the winter, coming from the train. That way I got to walk about a block in the nice overheated halls before I went back outside for the quick sprint to my office.

Anyway, I went east. Took a little detour through the Penn Center complex, but always there is City Hall in view.

But…things have changed here, too, at least outside the building. What used to be a grim granite plaza of varying levels, punctuated by non-fountaining fountains, desperate trees, and a lot of trash, is now a welcoming space. I’d been here last fall for the holiday events:

But I had no idea that in the summer – the plaza is a splash park! Fantastic!

There were tourists, locals, adults, kids…and one park policeman on lifeguard duty. I wondered if he wished he could take his shoes off and stand in the cool water.

There were “paths” through the jets to drain the water – I walked through the site for a while. This version of Dilworth Plaza, as it is known, is much better than the one I remembered from those years back.

OK, I’ll stop now. More later on.

Orienteering and Doing It Somewhere You Might Not Expect

Last week on June 14 my husband and I participated in an orienteering event. I’m going to tell you all about it. But first, I’ll talk a little about the sport of orienteering.

Basically, orienteering is following a course from point to point using a map and a compass. You progress through the points in order and check in with an electronic device at the marker at each location. It’s a competition, with the fastest person winning, but winning is also relative.

For one thing, at events, there are different courses set up over the same ground with varying difficulty levels. So there’s a “fastest person” in several categories. And then there is the idea of the personal challenge – getting around the course at all (my goal), figuring out how to manage obstacles, completing the course in the most efficient manner…all these things are achievements. Last, the pleasure of being outside, in the woods or meadows, and the fun of climbing or scrambling around or running on trails…that’s maybe the best part of all.

We belong to the Delaware Valley Orienteering Association and we are rank amateurs, having started last year and done maybe ten events. But we really enjoy it and I can’t say enough about how friendly, helpful, and encouraging the group has been to us.

Anyway, I participated in the orienteering event in the recent Senior Games. And I’ll take this moment for an aside: my photo appeared on the cover of the 2017 brochure from my 2016 performance – I am in the upper left corner wearing the pink sweatshirt.

Anyway, while there, I learned about a Wednesday night series the DVOA was doing this summer. The idea was to go to a different location each week, offer two courses at beginner levels, and shoot for an event lasting about 2 hours at most. It sounded like a great way for me to improve my skills. My husband’s participation is dependent on the course; he is still recovering from his fall and rough terrain is not good for him.

A couple of weeks ago, we did the event at the Schuylkill Nature Center – two courses in a traditional wooded trail setting. I did both courses and my husband cheered me on. But then – we realized there was one coming up we both could do. And it was something unusual for the club as well – the location was the grounds of the Norristown State Hospital.

One of the buildings still in use. The grounds are open and green with trees and lawns and plenty of space.

This facility is a mental hospital, founded about 140 years ago, a large campus located about 30 minutes from our house. The Norristown Farm Park, immediately adjacent to it, and where I did orienteering in the Senior Games, is now a county park. It was originally the farm attached to the hospital, where patients worked in fields, a fish hatchery, and with livestock, as was common practice in the past.

The hospital now is almost entirely closed down. There are still some patients who live there; some of it is used for day programs; and there is a heavily guarded forensic section (we did not go near this part of the facility). The remaining residential patients are transitioning out. Most buildings on the campus are closed and some are being torn down.

 

 

All this means for our orienteering experience is that acres of landscaped grounds with an array of buildings are there, waiting for the challenge. And, since it is a “tame” landscape, nicely mowed, my husband could participate.

OK. We arrived at about 6 PM and got ourselves set up. I planned to do course #2 first and he took course #1. We clicked the start and got our maps.

 

 

The control points are numbered and straight lines connect them (not that you should follow those lines, indeed. It’s harder than that). There is also a key to the locations’ exact positions once you arrive in the general area – I use the one written out rather than the one done in symbols.

 

You are looking for these markers. When you find the one you want, you insert your clicker into it to register your arrival.

 

 

I won’t go into the details of my two sessions – just a an overview of things. And while I talk, I’ll show you pictures of the grounds as I go along. (I took them after the event, not while I was running.)

Keep in mind that unless I say differently, every one of these buildings is closed and mothballed, no longer in use.

First of all, you need to understand that I am a good runner, pretty fast and with endurance. Number two, I am terrible at relating the map to the actual landscape. Just terrible. My technique is sort of like water circling the drain – I get close, I go around and around, I run back and forth, and I finally come in to the control point with a big flourish and an internal sigh of relief.

 

I ran over these stairs several times on my way to control points. They traverse a semi-sunken passageway between buildings in the older section.

I also have a tendency to miss the plain and simple things the map is shouting at me and so I often end up very perplexed; when I review the situation suddenly it is clear, and I would have sworn the map had changed, in my hand. This tendency leads me to explore a lot of places I didn’t have to on my way to the control points.

 

I did have a nice talk with two workers on a break who wondered what we were doing. I stopped for a couple of minutes to show them the map and they helped me by pointing out the control point I was looking for behind a hedge. Remember, they knew nothing of orienteering before I came along, but they could read a map…

 

This building is in a newer section – it has an interesting circular auditorium inside the rectangle form of the building, or so it looked, through the windows.

 

But I digress. My husband, on the other hand, though a slower runner than me even at his best, can go directly from point to point. Hits the target every time. It all just flows for him. He was held back by his walking speed on this occasion.

 

Anyway, I finished the course I was on and he was already in. I decided to go out again and do the course he had done, while he rested. I beat his time (I’m running, remember) by about 15 seconds. Well, if you run in circles, this is what is going to happen.

 

I’ve got a better idea now of what I need to do to improve. First of all, I know I can’t go from point to point. I do better when I pick out intermediate points in between and work my way along. Second, before I start running off, I need to slow my thinking down enough to focus HARD on the map so as to try to anticipate the places I will get confused and what will signal me that I have gone badly wrong. Third, standing and thinking is ok. I don’t have to let the clock ticking in the back of my head urge me on before I am ready.

 

I got very mixed up in this area. I thought the control point should be in front of me, in the grass to the left. It was behind me, hidden by a hedge (which was of course on the map…)

 

Nonetheless, I really love the focus and the exhilaration of orienteering. I love running along with a goal in mind and meeting the challenges of each segment of the event.

I also found that the experience of playing a game in this particular location led to quite a bit of reflection. Not that long ago these buildings would have been full of people – a whole society existed here. As I ran along I imagined what memories these buildings, all silent now, hold in their bricks and concrete. I wondered if it were disrespectful to the patients and their suffering that I was running heedless through their walks and courtyards or jumping over stair railings.

 

 

I noticed, though, that the outside world is seeping in. There is free access to the site now, with an open gate. Near our start point a large crowd of brightly-dressed children were playing in a soccer game while their parents cheered, sat on lawn chairs, and ate dinner from coolers. There is a community garden with greenhouses, worked by members of the surrounding neighborhood (they have signs advertising their plant sale at the gate). I noticed quite a few people obviously out for an evening stroll or walking a dog – people from nearby making use of the lovely grounds.

As my husband said, it is a good thing that we can add happy memories to the history of this location. I think he is right. I am very grateful for being able to have the simple pleasure of doing an outdoor activity with other people, all of us enjoying ourselves.

the insubstantial

It is what holds the pieces of your life together.

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