Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bluegrass 101

Sunday, June 17, 2012


IMG_4662We had a neighbor in St Louis, a scholar, an educator, and a gentleman. This equated to pretty boring for a fifteen year old, until he reported back from a sabbatical year in Pennsylvania that he was living in a HUNDRED-YEAR-OLD STONE FARMHOUSE. Now that was interesting. I couldn't wait to hear more.

 Were the walls cold to the touch in the winter?

Did it have a wood stove?

Were there warm nooks beside a kitchen hearth?

I had lots of queries about plumbing and maintenance and dry stone foundations to prepare for the hundred year old farm house (and huge stone barn) I would eventually own and cherish. The answers never came and it seems likely that the farmhouse will not replace Airstream in the years I have left. Nevertheless I have enjoyed these last few days driving the back roads of Berks County, marveling at the best stone barns I've ever seen. You must excuse me if I have WAY too many pictures of stone -- Pennsylvania Field Stone walls two feet thick, huge timber frames, little windows near the hearth that I thought were an Appalachian thing --a granny window--but I find at Valley Forge and learn they go back to Welsh farms and beyond.


Hearth window on General Varnum’s quarters at Valley Forge.


Massive walls of a failed  Anthracite furnace at Hopewell.


   Nineteenth century farm house at Crows Nest Preserve

IMG_4813On a Natural Lands Trust Preserve --Crows Nest -- we were lucky to catch the Preserve manager with a spare minute and he toured us through the barn renovated to house a day camp for visiting children.  He gave us a quick orientation and turned us loose to hike mowed paths along French Creek, among the fields being mowed for hay and other native grass fields that will  stand until July to give the critters  cover for nesting. Other buildings were being renovated for staff housing and several other stone barns stand ready for crops and educational uses.  The farm machinery was modern and the farm practices ideal for sustaining the land and the the creatures on it.  Surprisingly there was little of the sprawl  and clutter of  disused stuff around the buildings, something I had come to associate with every active farm. (Dad used to tell us to study the rafters of the barns we visited. "A farmer doesn't have time to run to town for a part.  He saves everything.  I bet you could build most of a tractor with stuff you find in corners here."  )

Here is a link to some of the sights at Crows Nest Preserve and stone parts from the last century.  There are so many, many more, but Patty won't let me stop on the narrow little roads.


Pounding Sand??

That phrase has always confused me; there is a little “Citation Needed” note in my personal Wikipedia, but I might be closer to an answer.  We have been encamped near Historic Hopewell Furnace, one of the “iron Plantations” of the late Eighteenth century.  This was a total economy devoted to making iron. Everything needed must be close by: huge acreages of hardwoods to be reduced to charcoal, iron ore and limestone, farms to feed workers, water for living and for power.  The place ran like a feudal economy with the Iron maker or founder at the head. Only slightly lower on the pecking order and the highest paid of the workers were the Moulders who formed the intricate cavities into which molten iron was poured to create finished pieces.  He did this by POUNDNG SAND around models and carefully removing it before pouring. It was hot, dirty work but the best job on the plantation, passed father to son.  So, Perhaps being told to “go pound sand” was a gentle admonition to strive for excellence….?
Our capable instructor.


An enthusiastic Apprentice


A highly credible first effort.
link to the park sitePark Link
Random sights…

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Marching with Washington

June 16, 1778 Valley Forge Pennsylvania.
Today His Excellency General George Washington, Commander of the Continental Army, marched a force of 12,000 well trained and united citizen soldiers out of winter quarters at Valley Forge….
June 16, 2012 Patty and Al and a slightly smaller force ambled along a historic road for a half mile IMG_4566and whimpered piteously about our pain and suffering. 
There were Rangers in period costume and volunteers,  federal safety monitors,  blue lights on crossing guard vehicles, shady picnic grounds and the buzz of derailleurs on passing bikes.  It was sunny, reasonably cool, and there were storytellers, lots of storytellers


Sunday, June 10, 2012

You Might Want to Skip this…


… unless you want to hear about...

Big Battleships with big guns and a barber shop and even a BRIG...

or Sleeping Queens card games, three handed with a puppet monkey who seems to be on a winning streak...

or the Tour de Cul  d' Sac  on the very latest  four wheel two wheeler ...

Fresh New Jersey Asparagus in cream sauce over fresh Pasta...

FIREWORKS! from the front row of a village festival -- a village that has its own fireworks manufacturer...

Comely  city gardens with natural delights like turtles, Koi, water snakes and "Ginormous" big eyed frogs...

School carnivals with lots of games and inflatable climbing walls and obstacle courses and cool prizes  like WHOOPEE CUSHIONS....

Mulch -- lots of mulch -- and tales of the DUMP TRUCK that delivered it...

Graduation from Pre Kindergarten and the attendant Pomp and Ceremony (accompanied by tears and singing and even sign language)

building "rock men" 8 ROCKS HIGH

regular visits to the Airstream/playroom/ hideaway  in the driveway,  always
closing the screen door and opening everything else

building plastic block towers as high as Emilyn's historic structure

multiple, repeating, cyclical Easter Egg hunts with several dozen plastic eggs

"Check rides and moon launches" in Papa's gadget filled vehicle.

click here for pictures of the Fun at Ginger Lane

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Climbing Seneca Rocks (Nearly)


IMG_4008The Seneca Rocks are a knife edge sliver of Tuscarora Limestone rising 900’ from a wooded base near the town of that name.  They are the most climbed rocks in the Eastern US with several hundred routes described. (It’s treacherous up there; that V shaped slot collapsed in recent memory.)  On weekends the rocks are crawling with virile young men and lithe young women free climbing on sheer walls and working roped routes to the very top of every little finger, then holding  impromptu parties before rappelling down. It looked like great fun to Patty; she had once watched Em and Cassie climb an indoor wall at Huntsville AND there were tee shirts and medallions on offer …

So here is our climb. 











THEM IMG_4003 



(Actually we weren’t OFFICIALLY included in this group due to insurance concerns about age and infirmity, but they thought we were cute to ask..)


The climb was a nicely graded trail which switch backed up 900’ to an observation platform with views of the valley below. Patty was more interested in a STOP about halfway up where we could watch some climbers in action.



Here, the lead climber is setting a belay for “Black Helmet”  to climb.  (All “our” climbers have names)






“…this could be dangerous…”  voice of Marlin Perkins in background










We “summited” with a group of real outdoor kids. IMG_4024 Al’s favorite was this guy who had a whole collection of Seventeen Year Locusts clinging to him. There was talk of toasted and chocolate coated Locusts (and his mother very seriously walked me through the planned menu.) In the end, it was more fun to release them into the wind from the platform; he kept the Millipede for a pet.

His sister had already named hers. I guess IMG_4022it’s a girl thing.



Back at the Visitor Center, The Kliens were singing authentic folk songs collected in these hills, each song with a well told story attached. IMG_4040

Good music, comfortable chairs, and the soaring Seneca Rocks for background.    IMG_4033






All this mountaineering gets your appetite going, so we stopped by the local General store/restaurant for lunch with a mountain theme –American Lamb sandwich, Appalachian Wilted Green salad ( the bacon drippings replaced with “healthful” canola oil) and Apple Dumpling (no ice cream, Silly, just a traditional little pitcher of cinnamon milk).










Sensing a theme here?




Then, all that remained was the ceremonial awarding of the climbers medallion, awarded to the prettiest geriatric climber of the day.IMG_4057

Friday, June 1, 2012

Sodden at Dolly Sods

Bluebird days can’t last forever.  It started raining as we left the campground. We were armed with trail recommendations  from a new friend who dropped off a map and stayed long enough to teach us how to make rope from Milk Bane or Indian Hemp.  Very cool and very kind.
IMG_3945These mountains were once covered with dense stands of Red Spruce and Hemlock with roots down through several feet of accumulated needles and soil.  Once cut, the open heaths could form and create grazing, but too often fires burned the drying vegetation down to the bare rocks. Dolly Sods demonstrates the progression back from bare rocks through high elevation bogs to grassy heaths to Red Spruce. 
IMG_3947Even though it was drizzly and cloudy, we hated to miss the short Northland trail which shows each step.  Again, Maine.  Rocks, slabs shifting underfoot, wet Spruce limbs brushing us, but here, pink Azaleas blooming and Mountain Laurel just ready.



2012_0601DOLLY SODS
Down the mountain, it was less foggy and we returned to the pastoral scenes we have been getting used to in this beautiful state.  We left lots of appealing hikes untried in the Dolly Sods, but we will be back.