Corn and Soy and Harvest

On November 12, my husband and I went to Norristown Farm Park to take a walk. The temperature was right around freezing; in fact, we’d had a hard frost the night before, first one of this season.

We wanted to see the state of the harvest. As you know, this park is a working farm, carrying on a 100+ year-old tradition. Formerly part of the state mental hospital property and tended by patients in years past, it is now a county park. Corn and soy are grown over much of the grounds.

My husband had been in the park earlier in the week and observed the harvesters at work. Now that they are finished and gone, things are very different. The roads in the park had felt very enclosed by the 8 ft. tall corn; now it is possible to see great distances across the land. The surrounding roads and suburban development are visible after having been hidden for the last six months from park-goers in the interior.

Still, the park is large and in most places you can imagine yourself quite alone.

The row patterns are revealed now that the corn is cut down.

Take a look at the same location with the passing of two months:

And you may be wondering about the soy crop, as so far I have only shown corn. Our walk did not take us up into the main soy fields, but we skirted the lower edge of one I showed a couple of weeks ago. The soy looked like this in the field at that time.

It has all been cut and the fields are bare now.

November.

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Soy. Just Soy.

Ho much do you know about growing soybeans? If you are me, not much.

I got curious about it as I’ve been noting the fields at the Norristown Farm Park, where we run or walk among acres of corn and soy. This park is still a working farm; its past is that of a farm attached to the Norristown State Hospital, where patients worked the fields as part of their treatment years ago. In the past, it was thought healthful for mental patients to have occupation, and this land grew all kinds of crops plus housing a dairy herd and trout farm.

These fields were green earlier this year and have turned golden and now faded to this tan color.

Details of the plants, photos taken last weekend:

I took a small stalk home, as I wondered when the harvest would occur and I wanted to inspect the plant more closely.

I learned through some internet research that the plants must be thoroughly brown and dried before they will be harvested. You can see the stalk of this plant is still a little green.

I took some photos for details.

Now I understand what will happen next. One day a harvester will come through the fields and the soybeans taken away, the fields shorn down.

I like being informed about what I see going on around me. Even if it is just – soybeans.

Bur Oak

On Sunday morning, September 24, my husband and I took a walk in Norristown Farm Park. I’ve written a lot about this park, especially recently. We are exploring here, though we have been acquainted with the location for some years.

If you are interested in some information about this fascinating site, the former farm attached to Norristown State Mental Hospital, look here for a start.

Anyway, today we were walking. Near the former dairy barn and milk processing area, now the park offices we came upon a snowstorm of these odd items scattered on the ground underneath a tree.

They were just littered thick under our feet. I picked one up. I peered at it. An acorn. Yes, it was.

Here they are in the tree.

There was a little info plaque nearby. We learned that this tree is a bur oak (or burr, sometimes spelled). This particular tree has a historic ancestor tree. The plaque tells you all about it.

Well, we picked up some acorns with the idea that we could come home and see if we could get any seedlings to grow. Now, we’ve tried this before with acorns from a chestnut oak. We were doing well there, too, until we got overconfident and underestimated local hungry squirrels. This time we will be smarter and will protect the acorns until any seedlings are BIG.

But I am getting ahead of myself. We brought the acorns home and now we are researching how best to get them situated. It seems we need to soak these acorns for 24 hours; any ones that are floating after that point are not going to germinate. So we’ll try that and see if we brought home any possibilities. If not, well, we can always go back for more, as long as we do it pretty soon.

I took some pictures of the acorns. I am entranced by their shaggy beards, their overlapping scales, and their ghostly look. See what you think.

In Which We Visit Norris City Cemetery

On Sunday, September 10, my husband and I ran/walked at Norristown Farm Park. In our continuing exploration of the park and its environs, after we finished we drove over to the Norris City Cemetery, adjacent to the park.

I’ll mention that it is so adjacent that in an earlier run, I got lost (as I do so often and so easily and with so little ability to stop myself) and did a loop through the cemetery while I got myself back on track.

I’ll also say that once I run a route, I don’t get lost again. I did like the detour through this peaceful spot and I’ll do it again, on purpose.


All right, back to the topic. The cemetery is located on a hill next to an East Norriton township park. The township now owns the cemetery and maintains it (beautifully, I might add). We parked at the back of the cemetery next to the bocce courts and went in the rear entrance.

The cemetery was founded about 160 years ago. It was non-sectarian and seems to have been most used during the period 1880’s to about 1920.  It’s not filled up and I gather you could still be buried here, if you wanted.

(For all information on the history of the site I refer you to the cemetery’s really thorough website, which is where I got my information, Norris City Cemetery . There are also some great then-and-now photos of the cemetery. Thank you to the creators of this site.)

It’s a simple, open site. It flows down a hill, with plenty of room between the rows. We wandered down the hill.

There are not a lot of elaborate monuments here; this was the biggest one we saw.

Most of the monuments are marble or granite. As I’ve seen in other cemeteries, time has not been kind to the marble ones in particular. This stone was representative. To figure out the inscription you might be better with a rubbing rather than trying to decipher it.

But there is plenty to see, all the same. I’ll show you a few things that caught our eyes.

We noticed a bluish monument and took a closer look. I thought it might have been painted. But no; when I tapped it, it rang metal.

We didn’t know what to make of it at the time. We could tell it was hollow. Did that mean it was a container as well as a marker? My husband did some research when we got home and we learned that this monument was an example of a white bronze marker. (All information I mention on this subject is from A Grave Interest, “White Bronze – A Monument of Quality” – take a look, it’s fascinating.)

Long and short of it, the monument is hollow, does not contain anything, and is actually zinc. These markers were manufactured for only a short time around the turn of the last century and were a cheaper alternative to stone markers. Each one was custom made and therefore quite personal. Here is more of the Steiner monument:

Once we knew what to look for, we saw some more. This one:

This one, with a detail of the kind of information you could have included on your monument – the plates you chose were screwed into the structure:

And this one, which is big and elaborate:

All of these markers were in great shape. Apparently the manufacturer claimed these monuments would stand the test of time better than stone. From what I saw here, I would agree.


 

We saw some examples of cemetery symbolism: Lilies, for the resurrection of the soul:

And what looked like a dollar sign with too many vertical lines. (A dollar sign? A dollar sign? I thought.) Later research revealed it to be the IHS monogram (first three letters in Jesus’ name, in Greek.)

I’m glad this was cleared up, but not before I had some thoughts on “you can’t take it with you but maybe I’ll try…” I’m sorry, those thoughts just came into my mind and I couldn’t help it.

I had this thought about the life of Emma Louse Supplee – she lived one-half of her life on one side of 1900 and the other half on the other side. I liked that symmetry. I will need to live until 2042 to achieve the same.

We made our way down the hill. As we did, we noticed something I really liked: the view of the cornfield along one side of the cemetery. It’s part of the Farm Park.

We also saw remnants of stone piled along a section of the perimeter, in the brush. We knew that the cemetery had been derelict before the township took it over about 30 years ago. We figured these were broken/destroyed stones of various purposes and beyond saving. I say this because it is obvious that a lot of care was taken to rehabilitate all that could be, given the present look of the site.

Everything is transient, it says to me.

Here is a view from the bottom of the hill, near the front entrance of the cemetery.

I am glad we stopped and took the time to look around. There is a nice feeling to this location. The township park next door, with all the people and activity of today. The fields with their yearly cycle of growth and death and rebirth. The sky and the trees. The little American flags set on veterans’ graves. The care that today’s living are still taking for those gone long ago and to whom they have no connection other than living in the same city, decades and centuries apart.

Being remembered. It’s nice to think about.

 

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.

 

 

Return to Competition

My husband and I started running in 2008, I think, as part of our weight loss/get fit idea (in which we lost a combined 200 pounds or so). It was his idea, but we both took to it right away, and that led to trying out the racing world.

Mostly we did 5K’s, although we did some 10K’s, the 10-mile Broad Street Run in Philadelphia (twice) and a half-marathon (once). I found I was pretty good at running and I consistently won awards in my age group (50-59, me being at the time at the low end of the numbers).

Then, starting in 2012, things happened, and you have probably read about them if you have followed this blog: a fall, injuries to various body parts including my hand, an antibiotic resistant infection, two hand surgeries, four eye surgeries, hearing loss, a broken foot, complications from antibiotics, and so on. Each time, I would recover enough to start back to training but each time a new problem would arise, stopping me.

Nonetheless, I kept running, though not racing, until this last winter. When my husband had his fall at Christmas, 2016, that pretty much scrambled even getting to the gym; the final blow was a month-long giant bad cold in April, 2017.

Well, the point of all of this story is to say that my motto is never give up. I am one stubborn person. Once I got well in May, I decided to make returning to running a priority. But I needed to be realistic.

I am older now, I have some deficits from my various experiences, and I no longer have the motivation to run 6-8 miles a day, never mind if it would even be good for my bones and joints and… But, I think I’ve got some good races still in me; I just have to pick out my goals.

So, I worked out a week-by-week running plan based on walking/running. Started out with 2 minutes walking and 2 minutes running for about 2.5 miles. I am now up to 1 walking/9 running for 4 miles. I plan to keep that rest interval and get myself to 5 miles; then I will work out where I want to go next with it.

So far so good. I focus on persevering and not so much on speed (though I can’t help it, just a little). I want to stay injury-free and enjoy myself. But – I do like competition. That brings me to the subject of this post.


About seven or so years ago, we participated in a July 4 5K held at Norristown Farm Park (look here  and here for other events, such as orienteering, I’ve recently done in this park and its locality). I’ll tell you right now I won an award and did the course in 25 minutes something. And the course is a hard one – hilly, exposed to the sun, requiring endurance and speed.

This photo is from the Senior Games at Norristown Farm Park, not this race, but you get the idea.

Well, I got to thinking about that race last week, and I said, let’s look it up and see…Now, I had no business trying a 5K, not having run 3.1 miles straight in four years or so. So…

 

We arrived at the race site a little before 8 AM today, July 4. I had some stage fright about the whole thing. My husband is not able to run yet, so he took all the pictures.

I picked up my number, my swag bag, and my race T-shirt (I so love a 5K t-shirt!). Here are some attempts at an official race portrait.

Let’s try an action shot.

Remember that cheerful expression and compare it to the actual race photos later on. All right. The race starts at the entrance of Norristown High School, crosses into the park, makes a big square, and finishes right in front of the school. My first goal was to run the whole way, no walking.

And, I was hoping to do 33-35 minutes and I felt it would take every bit of pacing I had in me to make it work. I lined up at the back of the crowd (the first place finishers do about 16 minutes, for some perspective, so I needed to hang back, oh, yes).

The weather was about 75 degrees at 8:30 AM and very humid. Another reason to pace myself.

OK, we started the race to the sound of a police car siren. I’m the lady with the orange arrow chasing her.

No pictures from inside the race. I needed all my strength to run! We started off bunched up and then I got some space around me. My past experience told me that quite a few people would start off fast and fade, and that is what happened here. I was able to pass people all through the first part of the race, a little at a time. That’s how I used to run these things, I thought, feeling pretty good.

Everything held together until about the 2.5 mile mark. Then I started to feel it. In the past I had had the resources to speed up at the end. Today, I was measuring out the last little bits of energy. I crossed out of the park and across the street into the high school’s entrance. Only a few hundred yards to go, shouted the policeman holding back traffic for me.

Now I reappear on the radar. The orange arrow is back to highlight me.

I make it up that last hill and around the curve. The orange cones are what I am looking for.

It seems to me that inspirational music ought to be playing as I come to the finish, with crowd shots of cheering people, maybe with tears in their eyes. But then, it would not be real; it would be a television movie. I would not be running along and feeling very bad about now.

In real life, I heard my husband cheering for me; that was plenty good enough. I keep going and I get to the orange cones.

I keep going. By the way, I am wearing a brand-new pair of running shoes and they did themselves proud.

I’m going to finish this race, it looks like.

Well, a few years back I would not have believed I could run so slowly. Or be so happy about it! I was right. I needed a lot more training. I was not ready for this race. I had no business doing it. And, I’m really happy that I didn’t listen to any of that nonsense, because look! I did it!

Re-Orienting Myself

It’s early May, and that means that the Montgomery County Senior Games have rolled around again.

You may remember that last year I competed in several days of this week-long event. I did orienteering, running, and speed-walking. I wrote a whole series of posts about my experiences:

Let the Games Begin

Orienteering Myself

I Run as Fast as I Can on a Track

Walk This Way

In my introductory post for last year, I wrote about how I had set the goal of competing to help me start back into regaining my former fitness levels – I was a good runner and swimmer and loved doing those things, but my various illness, surgeries, bad antibiotic reactions, stress fracture in my foot – all of these had slowly stripped away my strength and almost all of my ability to pick myself up and try.

I wrote about how I hoped the event would be the beginning of returning to my old ways. Well, it wasn’t. I experienced more eye issues later in the year and then, when my husband had his accident in December, 2016, for the next four months I pretty much gave up – exercise came near the end of the list.

All right. Here we are today and I am saying the same thing – I hope that the Senior Games mark the beginning of returning to normality as far as my athletic activities.

This year, I decided to do just the orienteering and walking events. My motto was to be: Complete, not compete, meaning – finish the event, not try to bust a gut winning it.

With that in mind, I arrived at the Norristown Farm Park this morning, site of the orienteering event. My husband accompanied me – his new office is very close, and so this year he was able to attend. That was nice, to have his support. We had an absolutely gorgeous sunny day, a bit chilly, but just perfect for this event. Compare it to last year’s day and you’ll see why all of us at the event were thrilled. Here is 2016:

And now, 2017:

Last year I was a green newbie at orienteering, but I liked what I had experienced of it. If you don’t know much about it, you run around the countryside from point to point (called “controls”) following a detailed map, and you are timed. I am not really able to do trail running anymore because of my eyesight, so this sport really appealed to me as a substitute.

This year I am a slightly less green newbie, and I am game. Let’s go, I said. We got signed up at the pavilion and received the all-important T-shirt.

After some explanatory remarks, we headed over to the start. Now, how this works is simple. You get the map when you start, you take off looking for your controls, and you just keep going to the end. You have to go in order, but you can get from place to place any way you want to. You have a small device that you insert into a reader at each control – it keeps your time. The race starts for you when you click in at the start control.

In larger events, there are courses laid out for different difficulty levels over the same plot of ground. Competitors choose the level desired and get the map for that course. So, the people you see as you traverse your course may be doing a different course altogether – you don’t assume their control is one you want for your course.

This event, though, has only one course. So it’s possible to follow another competitor and get to the controls without orienting yourself on your own. Remember this point – it matters in my story!

Here I am at the start point:

And looking over my map, having just clicked the start. You can’t review it beforehand.

And, running off down the path.

The trick to this sport is to stay focused and continue to adjust and re-orient yourself as you go along. Watch your map closely. I try to plan out what next landmark or location I need to hit in a series of moves to get to a control point. A straight line is not always the best route!

Well, I was zipping along. And very quickly I realized that another woman near me was, well, she was watching my moves. Plain and simple. And given how the course was set up, I could do nothing about it. Several times it was clear to me that she would not have found the control if I had not led her there.

Well, complete, not compete, went out the window. I guess I wasn’t surprised. I’m pretty competitive. Yes. So I got a little aggravated and that put some speed into my feet. Down paved roads, dirt trails, crawling up a trackless hill – we did it all. She was ahead of me at the last control but just a little; that cranked up the aggravation level and I took off for the finish. Hard. And I got there first.

I’m the tiny black speck. I don’t know who that man is who was caught up in our drama.

Well, I’ll tell you, it’s a small thing, but I felt as if I had done something big. I didn’t give up and I didn’t back down. Makes me feel that I am really on my way in this new start.

Thanks for reading. And Happy Orienteering, if you try it.

Orienteering Myself

Senior Games, first event: orienteering.

This is the first year for this activity. No one knew what to expect. I drove over to the park, getting lost only twice. Please remember, I have lived in this area for 35+ years and have been to the park as recently as one month ago. This getting lost business is relevant, I think, when you remember I am planning to do an event that relies on me reading a map and interpreting terrain in order to arrive at designated points. Let’s just say that orienteering doesn’t play to my strengths, but I’m going to do it anyway.

I made it to the park and followed the signs to the picnic pavilion where the event was organizing itself.

Senior games sign small 5-16

About thirty of us were assembled. Most had no experience of the sport at all. But – that had been provided for – an explanation and demonstration was given. I was pleased to find myself a relative veteran.

Group explanation 5-16 NFP small

I got my map, went to the start, and I was the second one off onto the course. It was cloudy and cool, with a little bit of rain falling every now and then. The course consisted of eleven controls – I needed to hit each one in order while being aware of the time. The course was pretty straightforward, as the organizers wanted to make sure the first-year event was something people could find interesting while also being successful.

This park has a history. Norristown Farm Park, as it is called, used to be the farm attached to Norristown State Hospital, a mental institution. In the past, patients worked on the farm in various capacities as they were able. The hospital depended on the farm for food and for therapy. This arrangement was common before the era of medication – it was thought that the patients would be helped by being outdoors and occupying their minds. Patients also worked in other areas,  such as the kitchen, sewing, wood shop, etc. The hospital functioned as a somewhat self-sustaining community, in an era when people went into the hospital for extended periods of time rather than the limited stays of today. Changes to this treatment philosophy occurred with the advent of drugs and other therapies, with the different way mental patients came to be viewed, and in how funding for treatment was allocated.

Today the hospital still exists but the farm is a park. Crops are still grown on the grounds and the agricultural buildings are scattered around. There is even the remains of a fish hatchery, but we didn’t go in that area today.

Here is the park office of today. One of the controls was set near this area.

Park office area NFP 5-16 small

Much of the course went through fields waiting to be planted. It was also quite hilly. Most of it could be done on the farm roads.

NFP hill 5-16 small

At the end, I took a course across this field rather than taking the road.

field NFP 5-16 small

Here’s the finish area, back at the picnic pavilion.

finish NFP 5-16 small

I think this course played to my strengths. I am a good runner and with the unambiguous course I could make time. I also realized that while I am pretty good at reading a map, I am not good at translating it to the actual ground, something I’ve known in other contexts, such as trail running, and getting to the park today! For example, when I went through the field, I was not exactly where I thought I was, though I did realize it later and make adjustments. But, I didn’t get all the advantage I could have by taking that route. I plan to focus on this map/ground relationship next time I try an event.

Still, I have good news. I did the course in 38.02 minutes and I won my age group. Yes, there were two of us in it, so it was not by default! And I got my T-shirt.

Tshirt small 5-16

Tomorrow, I’ll be running on the track at Gwynedd-Mercy University. Until then…

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