• Category Archives nature journal
  • A look at the natural world, nature writing but mostly photoblogging.

  • Spring Sprang Sprung

    It was a perfect springlike day Monday, so I hopped on the Iguana to do a little OpenStreetMapping — there was a note on the website saying that a Moravian spiritual retreat just outside of town had been closed, and I thought if I could go there and confirm it on the ground, I’d go ahead and make the change when I got home. The former retreat was right next to a new park too, so I could also do a little exploring when I got there.

    My ride was pretty low-key: I was just out in street clothes and boots (and my helmet), something I’d been doing lately for casual riding; I was also inspired to keep it simple by Bike Snob’s recent article… I tooled up Main Street to Macada, then Altonah, then made a right onto Santee Mill Road, which is basically as bucolic as the City of Bethlehem gets. I was looking for a road/path off Santee Mill to take me into the park, but never found it (I saw later it was smaller than a sidewalk and very easy to miss). No matter, I continued forward, back into civilization, and entered the park from the front. Just outside the park entrance was a house where the retreat would have been; the house had posts out front, from which there might once have hung shingles, and the shingles might once have said “Spiritual Retreat” or whatever, but the shingles were gone now and there was a big “Private” sign by the driveway. So Phase 1 of my exploration was complete…

    That left the park — officially, “The Janet Johnston Housenick & William D. Housenick Memorial Park” but apparently just called “Housenick Park” by normal people. This is a parcel of land donated by Janet Johnston Housenick, granddaughter of Archibald Johnston, the first mayor of the consolidated City of Bethlehem (he was also chief architect of that consolidation, and a high ranking executive at Bethlehem Steel — he was as Bethlehem as it gets). The land was once part of the Johnston farm/estate, and it includes the old Archibald Johnston Mansion. The park is fairly new and still under construction/renovation, but there are a bunch of new footpaths and old carriage roads, and I cruised around for about an hour, taking pictures.

    It’s hard to believe looking at it, but the estate only dates from the 1910’s or 1920’s — it looks typical of a farmstead from about 100 years earlier — and the house was built using Bethlehem Steel beams. There was a boat house and tennis courts (or the ruins of them), but there were also lime kilns and the remains of orchards, ornaments in a hobbyist’s historical reenactment of country-squire life.

    The ride home was uneventful, and pleasant though the day was getting breezy. I returned via Township Line Road, which eventually becomes Altonah, and basically retraced my steps from there. I went about 16 miles all told, and total ride time was just over 2 hours

  • SuperWolf BloodMoon

    We watched the lunar eclipse the other night, going out every half hour or so for quick peeks — it was cold out! — until just a little after midnight. We used binoculars to get more detail, and we had a perfect view. We caught the very first appearance of the shadow, watched the gradually growing coverage until it was complete and the Moon was a dark red ball, and finally saw the shadow begin its retreat before we called it a night. (We saw photos later where the occluded Moon looked blue, but for us it was red, a deep and rusty, almost brownish red.) The show was awesome in all senses of the word, and “Superwolf Bloodmoon” sounds like a great name for a band — maybe names for two bands…

    Updating The Databases

    I’ve been updating my Sals trail map in QGIS, and I think I now have most of the new trail name/blaze changes, definitely all the changes I could verify on the ground, documented. I’m working on actually making a big paper map from all my data, which requires that I now learn some actual cartography skills. I put that project away to let it simmer for a while, and went back to my list of trail amenities.

    In terms of actual, usable data, that list is a hot mess: restaurants and bars have closed or changed names, new establishments have opened, many long-established places were still missing from the list (because they were never on OpenStreetMap, my primary source), and, worst of all, most of the amenities had no other information than name and location. I spent a good part of the last few days adding and removing establishments, and finding phone numbers and other contact info, and generally updating the list. I still have a ways to go, but Bethlehem is starting to look complete.

    The final database update was for my family tree, which I maintain in GRAMPS genealogy software. (The problem was that I might have “intercalated” an imaginary person into the tree: there is a Dorothy Murphy in my database, a distant cousin who might have had a niece Dorothy Mahoney, and either Dorothy Mahoney married Tom Hagenberg, or Dorothy Mahoney never existed and it was Dorothy Murphy who married Tom Hagenberg. My database had the “Dorothy Mahoney is real” version.)

    This issue came up a few years ago in conversation with my parents, but I never got around to fixing it in GRAMPS, and eventually forgot which version was correct. I happened to be looking at old photos the other day though, and there was Dorothy Hagenberg, handing out cake at a child’s birthday party in the late 1940’s, and the whole thing was back in my face… A little email correspondence this week with Mom got the family tree straightened out, and fixing it in GRAMPS was surprisingly easy — Dorothy Mahoney is no more. There’s a lot of missing information in this database as well, but at least that one known error has been corrected.

    Cello Time

    My cello playing has been coming along, not in leaps and bounds but I am progressing… I’ve got a few songs under my belt now, and I am working on possible duets with Anne, and my lessons are starting to get beyond the very basics — I’m now working on the regular basics…

  • Some Photos

    We got out for some walks a few weeks ago, and one of the walks took us through Nisky Hill Cemetery. This is one of the places where our friend Deb does her “walkabouts,” hiking around town and taking photos — she’s a prodigious walker with an enormous stride, and she has an incredible, artist’s eye for great shots. I might not have her skill or her eye (I don’t even walk that fast), but if you put me in the right place with a camera, even I might come home with a couple of keepers. Here are my favorites from that walk:

    The old Bethlehem Steel mills and blast furnaces look like they’re practically on top of the cemetery, but they’re on the other side of the Lehigh River. (By the way, this “looking down the hill at a giant industrial site, in a valley by a river” is a very Pennsylvania thing for me.)

    We took another walk a few days later, up the hill and through the University, up stairways past ancient stone buildings and frat houses, and at the top we explored Mr. Imagination’s sculpture garden, now starting to fall apart in the woods.

  • Rainy Day

    It’s another rainy day, in fact it came pouring down in buckets this morning, and I spent the morning doing some more OpenStreetMap mapping. There’s a new development in Bethlehem Township, mixed apartment buildings and single-family homes, with its own shopping center, swim club, bike paths and retention ponds, and I rode over there yesterday to gather information. GPS, geotagged photos, and now I’m just trying to put it all together. I think I need another trip over to get more street data, so for now I’m focusing on the stores in the shopping center — I did some last night, and a bit more today, and will probably finish the stores a little later this week. Meantime, here’s a photo from the yard:

    bee on flower
    Bumblebee on a Mexican sunflower.

    I took this a few days ago, playing with the “selective focus” on my camera phone since it doesn’t actually have a “macro” function… The summer is winding down, but the yellow and reddish-orange flowers are still doing great; the bumblebees are really enjoying the Mexican sunflowers right now, and there are usually dozens on each plant every time we walk by.

  • Some Photos From Our New York Trip

    I took a bunch of pictures in Watkins Glen and the Corning Museum of Glass, thought I’d show some of them here.

    In Watkins Glen, we camped at the state park, and there was a trail basically from our campground to the trails along the Glen, and then into town. It was cool and convenient, but the park was very crowded, overcrowded actually, and so it wasn’t as much fun as if we had the place (relatively) to ourselves.

    The Museum of Glass was also very cool, but it really wasn’t a museum about glass per se, with history of glassmaking, chemistry and physics of glass, etc, which I would have liked — they had that, but it was more geared for kids, and in the “kid section” — but more an art museum, and museum art history, where the common medium is glass. Early artifacts, modern creations… the craziest part was the gift shop, where I saw several items in the $10,000-$50,000 price range and fragile as, well, glass, just sitting out on pedestals where kids were running around and anyone could bump into them…

    Anyway, here are my photos

  • Huckleberry Hounds

    Posted on by Don

    We just got back from a trip to Brady’s Lake to pick blueberries, the high-bush kind that may or may not actually be huckleberries rather than blueberries — these are big berries, and huckleberries are supposedly smaller (and grow on evergreens), so I’d still go with blueberries. Two hours of picking, and I think we got more than three quarts — and it looks like there’s a lot more to be had as the season progresses. No bear sightings, though…

    Yessssssss! Successsssss! The keyboard crapped out on my laptop a few weeks ago, with the “S” key sticking more and more — very frustrating. I finally brought it in to a repair shop yesterday, where I had the keyboard replaced, as well as the insides cleaned (like, the fan/air vents) and the heat sink refurbished. I thought it would be days, but he called in about an hour saying it was done, and I picked up my cool-running, feels-like-new laptop that afternoon. Sweet!

    No Bearings On The Case We rode to Anne’s orchestras summer picnic yesterday, along with Shari, an orchestra-mate who lives in our neighborhood. It was a reasonable distance, maybe 14 miles one way, but we were going slow and I wanted to be wearing normal clothes/shows when we arrived. So, I took the Iguana, for its first big ride since I re-worked the headset last Tuesday at the CAT office. That was a bit of a disaster: I took off the stem, lock nut and spacers, then as I was taking the upper race off all the ball bearings fell out of the bottom bearing and scattered bouncing across the floor. Turns out the seal was gone, and the bearing cage was mostly gone, so once I loosened the fork there was nothing holding them in. I managed to retrieve most of them and replace the missing ones, put them into what was left of the cage with a whole lot of grease to act as “glue,” and put it all back together. This is a temporary fix until I can get a new bearing/cage assembly, but despite everything, the bike’s steering feels better now than it has in years.

  • Scenes From The Urban Jungle

    I caught a bit of nature drama in the front yard earlier today: I walked out onto the front porch just in time to see a huge bird rocket by into the neighbor’s bushes. Out of the bush shot a little gray bird — across the street, into and through another bush, chirping as it flew, with a hawk in hot pursuit. The hawk basically got stuck or slowed down in the second bush and the little bird got away, and the hawk flew to a tree branch and landed, looking pissed.

    Meanwhile, a yellow cat was slinking along the neighbor’s house, like it was creeping up on the birds, until it got a good look at that hawk and just froze, and stayed that way — “don’t eat me I’m a statue!” — until the hawk flew off, then made itself scarce pronto. (There was a whole lot of commotion heard, but not seen, among the crows as well.)

    I’m pretty sure that that hawk is a regular, or some group of hawks are regulars in our neighborhood, since I saw one in the persimmon tree in the backyard about two weeks ago, and it stands to reason: there are purposely a whole lot of native plants nearby, and water, which attracts the native herbivores (not to mention all the squirrels our neighbor feeds), so the next step up the food chain is a pretty logical one. We’ve heard owls recently too, over near First Avenue after dark, which is where we see a lot of skunks — I’m pretty sure owls are among the few things that hunt skunks — and I haven’t seen any but there’s rumors of coyotes and bobcats down by the river, which is why the beavers, who made a comeback a few years ago, have become rare again.

    It’s a jungle out there.

  • An MBW Kind of Day

    Posted on by Don

    I did an awesome, and fairly long, MTB ride in Jim Thorpe this past Sunday. It was a beautiful summer day, and Anne and I went up to Mauch Chunk Lake; she did a long run on the Switchback and then visited her mom while I did my thing over Pisgah and Broad Mountains. I didn’t realize it until I was pretty far along — Mountain Bike Weekend is 11 years dead and gone — but this would have been the right weekend for my annual JT Epic.

    Ride stats: 27.49 miles in 5:56 (3:53 actual moving time), 2996 feet of climbing, 2387 calories burned. This doesn’t quite meet my old criteria for “epic” status (40 miles / 8 hours), but I’ll definitely call it a “solo mini-epic,” and like I said, it was a beautiful day: warm and sunny and breezy, really a perfect day to spend in the woods.

    Lake, mountain and sky
    Mauch Chunk Lake and Ridge on a bright June day.

    We got up to the lake just about 11:00, and both started not long after, Anne taking off a few minutes before me — I had to stop and take a few pictures of the lake before I left, it was just amazingly beautiful. The pictures I took don’t really show it, but it was a pretty windy day, and the lake had whitecaps on it at times, but in the meantime the sky and lake were blue and the mountains were green…

    My plan was to take the upper switchback over to the Wagon Road, pick up the Rhododendron Trail and take that down to the RR tracks, and get up Broad Mountain via Rt 93 and the old James’s Run Challenge. From there I’d do some backing and filling to find myself at the Uranium Road, then I’d take Pine Tar back to the Broad Mountain jeep roads and down the Bear Trail to the pipe crossing and back via the RR tracks into town, where Anne would pick me up. I was budgeting four hours riding solo I was avoiding the more difficult, riskier (and slower) trails, and figured my pace would be quick enough. I set out after Anne about 11:15, caught up with her at the intersection of the Upper Switchback, and we went our separate ways from there.

    Woods, trail and mountain laurel
    Riding among the mountain laurel.

    There were a number of times on this ride when I was surprised by how much I liked some trails that I normally don’t rate highly, or ride much; the Upper Switchback was the first of these. It was beautiful, with mountain laurel blooming along both sides, with the mountain rising like a cliff on the left (and dropping like one on the right), and the little ribbon of brown dirt disappearing into the greenery.

    After a while I noticed something else too: there was a lot of noise in the air, and I finally realized I was hearing a brood of locusts. I had no idea that there even was a brood hatching now, but there they were, or at least I could hear them on the hillside, in among the mountain laurel.

    White mountain flowers
    A close-up of the mountain laurel blooms.

    I’ve always loved these guys, remembering them from many summer rides on this same mountain, and here is where I realized that I was essentially riding on what would have been Mountain Bike Weekend — it was always some time around Father’s Day, when the mountain laurel was in its glory and the locusts would be singing their song, which I liked to think was a familiar sound, and already ancient, when the dinosaurs heard it. In years when a brood hatched, you almost had to shout to be heard on the trail, but this wasn’t as crazy loud, and when I stopped I didn’t see any flitting about nearby. I took a few pictures of the blooms and continued on my ride.

    I crossed the cliff, rode to the top of Pisgah Mountain and down the Wagon Road (where I had my first “real” crash on a bike, more than 25 years ago), and picked up the Rhododendron trail behind the playground. Rhododenrons and mountain laurel are pretty closely related, at least in my mind, but these guys were nowhere in bloom — it was just a dense, dank jungle trail, though it seemed to be in good shape and get quite a bit of use. Eventually it dropped me down to where I crossed Rt 209.

    This next section didn’t look like it got any use at all; the last person on it might have been me, on my last ride through here, years earlier. I had to do a bit of bushwhacking to get to the RR tracks but from there it was pretty easy to follow, out to Rt 93 and up Broad Mountain.

    Eastern mountain vista
    You can just make out Jim Thorpe nestled in the mountains.

    About halfway up the Broad is where I picked up my next trail. I pulled into the Game Lands lot just next to the jail and decided to take a break and a photo opportunity. I took this picture in the general direction of where I just came from; the closer mountain in the background (on the right) is Pisgah, the further one is the one with the fire tower (you can barely see it but it’s there if you look) south of town, and you can see East Mauch Chunk, the upper part of Jim Thorpe, nestled between the two. Once again I was surrounded by locusts, but this time you could see them everywhere — they’re the dark blobs in the sky in this picture. I suspect that they’re attracted to the bright colors of bike jerseys, and soon they were landing all over me, singing for a second, and taking off. The first time it was pretty alarming, I’d forgotten how crazy and loud each individual song can sound. Then I got used to it, until I realized that they were all really horny, and singing to me… It took a little work, but here is a selfie with one of my many admirers.

    Man with locust on shoulder
    The locusts landed on my jersey and sang to me.

    The next part of the ride was up what remains of the James’s Run Challenge, a difficult uphill trail and probably the hardest part of my day, but beautiful, and shockingly lush considering the hardscrabble look of the ground. More mountain laurel, more locusts, and now a whole lot of ferns and pines too, and then I was at the top. I cut through James’s Swamp and picked up the Deer Path. The Game Lands people have made a real mess of this area, with heavy stone put on the jeep roads, and big sections bulldozed or burned out (actually I’m OK with this one), but the Deer Path was in relatively good shape, and also looking beautiful, more woods and pin oak, but also big regions carpeted, under the canopy, only with ferns — it seemed you could see for miles. It was a surprisingly park-like look. (I happen to like trails best when they get some use, but not a whole lot. This way they are easy enough to follow but the surface stays pretty pristine and the vegetation stays tight to your sides. Most of the singletrack I rode today, but especially the stuff on Broad Mountain, was in this condition.)





    Hardscrabble dirt and power line
    About the halfway point of my ride.

    Eventually I came out at the power line right-of-way, and stopped to take a break. Here is where I looked at the time (maybe 3 hours in), noted that I was way behind schedule and decided to do a bit of reconfiguring. I decided to skip Shovel Head an the Uranium Road, and just use the Deer Path Extension to get to Pine Tar, and I texted Anne saying I would probably be more like 5 hours (after her run she was going to hang out by the lake for a while then visit her mom in town, and she would pick me up at the end of my ride). While I did all this I noticed how different the power line area looked compared to everything else I’d seen so far to I snapped this picture.

    Deer Path Extension came up next, and this was the second big, pleasant trail surprise of the ride. There were a few branches blocking the trail — which I attributed at first to lack of trail use, but then noticed a lot of dead looking small trees everywhere, not sure what was going on — but on the whole the trail was in great shape, covered in mountain laurel blossoms, and way more fun than I remembered. I was actually left wondering why I always ride past this trail to do the Uranium Road instead.

    Blooming mountain laurel and bicycle
    One last shot of the mountain laurel.

    This eventually brought me to the Pine Tar intersection, where I took my last photo of the mountain laurel. (By the way, up here on the flat top of Broad, you could hear the locusts in the distance, but they seemed to mostly be on the slopes rather than the flats.) Pine Tar turned out to be all that I remembered (and then some), but I managed to ride most, but not all of the difficult spots — I surprised myself making some, and I surprised myself not making some. I was getting a bit tired.

    Much of the stuff after Pine Tar was uneventful, mostly just jeep roads (with that stupid ballast covering them), but I id get to bump into two separate groups of hikers, somewhat turned around and miles from where they should have been (Glen Onoko). I was glad to help them get back on track.

    Eventually I came back to James’s Run Challenge, and I took the turn for the Bear Trail, which was actually much easier to follow than the last time I’d been there. Over the old ruined dam, drag the bike up the cliff-like bank and onto the trail, and I was on my semi-last leg. Down the hill, over the pipeline — one big regret is that I didn’t take a picture, it was perfectly framed by the creek and foliage — and then I was back on the RR track, texted Anne one last time, and (miracle of miracles) I had a tailwind all the way back to town. Anne was waiting at the station when I arrived.

  • Scenes From A Recent Hike

    Posted on by Don

    We both had a free afternoon the  weekend before last, the rain had stopped and the sun came out, and we were thinking of maybe doing a bike ride but the day seemed windy. So, we decided instead to go for a long, mushroom-hunting hike at an undisclosed location. Anne was hoping to find some morels, but since I can’t eat mushrooms I was just going along to look at the scenery and greenery…

    Yellow slime mold on twig
    The animated chewing gum of plants.

    It wasn’t very green, and this first piece of mushroom-related flora is not particularly edible (as far as I know) but its bright yellow color was very pleasing. I’m pretty sure it was a slime mold of some kind, which means it’s a symbiotic mix of fungus and algae, and it’s one of the few plants that can actually move. It seemed pretty immobile to us — maybe it was resting, or trying to hide, or maybe it really was chewing gum.

    I think of slime mold as a “processing” plant, turning other dead plants back into soil, and we saw a bunch of them in various places, working away. I took it as a good indicator that there were so many signs of vegetation decay, even to where you could smell it — every so often you’d get a whiff of composting or whatever, along with a slightly warmer puff of breeze. The detritus on the forest floor was definitely being processed. The rainy weather was probably a good thing for all those micro critters, and so maybe it would also be a good thing for regular mushrooms.

    Jack in the pulpit.
    They were everywhere, and each was unique.


    The rain had also driven the green-up, which in this unusually cold spring seemed slower in coming, into overdrive, and there were many plants and flowers in bloom that were not around just a week earlier, especially along the forest floor. (Granted, we were looking down a lot more than I usually do, so I could have been noticing more at ankle level than I usually would. Also, I was with Anne, who has a greater affinity and appreciation — and eye — for these plants than I do, and knows all their names.)

    Anne really likes Jack-in-the-pulpits, and she spotted this one early on, as well as many more hidden under the taller plants. Some were a little farther along in blossoming than others, some had slightly different colors or patterns; it was strange to see how much they varied one from another, even as they seemed identical from even a short distance. I took photos of the first several –“ooh! there’s another one, and so different from that last one!”– before I got Jack-in-the-pulpit burnout, so I’ll stick with just this one photo, which I  think was a pretty good representation of our discoveries.

    A morel on the forest floor.
    This was the only one we saw all day.

    Pay dirt! We really weren’t too far along into our hike when we saw this beauty. No one really knows what morels like or don’t like, but they do seem to appear on hilly slopes, on sunny spring days just after rain, so we had our hopes up, and here was confirmation.

    Unfortunately, this was the only one we saw in 12 miles of searching.

    View of river and valley through trees.
    Across the river and beyond

    Not long after our single morel discovery, we came to the first cut through the woods, which I think is an old telephone line. I took the picture deliberately in this direction not just because this view was so pretty, but because, behind me as I took this, was where the power company had been refurbishing their own lines — bulldozers, gravel, a huge, mile-long scar maybe a hundred yards across…

    Anyway, in his view you can see the Lehigh River through the trees; in the background is the Lehigh Valley, with Blue Mountain at the horizon. A few more steps and we were back in the woods, and back to looking down at the ground…

    Close-up of two may-apple blossoms.
    Up close and personal.

    If you can see the ground! The may-apples are usually among the first things up, and they can get pretty dense. They form a knee-high simulacrum of the tree canopy above us, a mini-canopy which hides the  world just below. Up until a few years ago I didn’t know that may-apples even had blossoms, since they form about midway up the stalk, hidden under the mini-canopy, which is a shame because they actually are very pretty flowers. Here I stuck my camera through the leaves and close to the ground, and got a nice close-up two of them.

    May-apple blossom
    A single may-apple blossom.

    There were other places where the may-apples didn’t grow as thick, and you could see individual plants without too much trouble. Here’s one with its upper leaf and its blossom.

    Underneath the may-apple, you can see a bunch of even smaller plants, forming yet another canopy on an even smaller scale. In many places these plants — violets, garlic mustard — were very thick on the ground, the main plants in that area, and formed an almost velvety-looking ground cover.





    May flowers and last year's leaf litter.
    May Flowers

    Here are a few of the smaller plants, a regular violet and maybe some white violets, spread out and a little more isolated from any others. There were all sorts of little flowering plants everywhere you looked, these were just a small sample.



    Looking up a tree trunk to the sky.
    Tulip poplar? Oak? Definitely tall and straight.

    With all that looking down, I think ‘ll add one shot looking up at the real canopy. I’m not sure what this tree is, but there were many like it here and there, and they were impressively tall, with long straight trunks before you got to the first limbs. Maybe this is what it looks like to a bug under the violets, or a chipmunk under the may-apples.

    We were on our way back at this point, and getting a little tired and sore — when we got home we realized we’d walked about 12 or 13 miles. A nice little walk in the woods!