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Archive for May, 2012

I am leaving the Lehigh Valley, here in Pennsylvania for the remote West Canada Lake Wilderness in Adirondack State Park, New York. I will be a back country steward; maintaining the trails, educating hikers about proper use, reporting wildfires, and ultimately just enjoying myself in the woods. The position requires five days and nights a week in the back country. As the nature of the position is to be far removed, this may be my last post for quite some time. I intend to keep journals, and to report here and there, but I am guessing it will be spotty at best.

 

In any case, I hope that there have been a few out there who read this, and consider doing their part. I hope that in my absence, you will consider taking part in the Bake Oven Knob monthly clean-ups or volunteer with the various land management, conservation and nature appreciation groups around the Lehigh Valley.

 

When I return in the fall, I hope to see many of you at these events, making what difference we can. Pennsylvania can be just as beautiful a state as Vermont or New Hampshire, but it needs our help.

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Thunder Clouds, Lehigh Gap

4/22

Spent the weekend in the city. Not too fond of the place these days. Everyone staying up all night, waking up too late, never taking a minute to take it all in. I’m not sure where everyone has to go so fast. We’re all going to the same place  in the end. All the while I was there, I was hoping to get home. I have a few projects I’d like to get a good start on. I’d like to get some sourdough started this week and I’ve been meaning to start organizing the hawk watch data from last fall. (I am collecting weather and quantity data, and I’ve averaging the weather data and totaling the sum of birds per year. I’m expecting years to get warmer — excepting occasional anomalies — and hawk numbers to get lower. Maybe, having conducted the study myself, I will make a few believers).

 

Now I’m home, and its a hell of a rain outside, but damn well needed. I’m much grateful, as it should save me the trouble of having to do much watering.

 

4/23

I’m still on light duty, after hurting my back last week. It gave me the chance to wander in the woods today. I was happy to get away–even in the cold and rain. I found the old Appalachian Trail (where it ran before it got re-routed), and followed it. It was quiet and the fog seemed ominous, but after discrediting my dark premonitions, I decided to proceed. All the trees were finally showing leaves and the ferns had come up from the ground in a glorious display. I felt grateful to be amongst such a place. I wandered low, where the mountains were above me on either side and thought how lucky the eyes who first laid sight to such a place. The valley opened to the west, like an invitation to my itching feet. I followed the path east, since I am not a free-agent, though I lingered some time in the open meadow.

 

The clouds opened up and a light mist fell all around an mated the dead grass against the earth. Everything was turning green and the mountain took on the mood of provider. I was lost in the scene when I stumbled on the others. I was disappointed to hear we had to work amongst the old Zinc Smelter, after lunch.

 

We went down in the afternoon, and I felt a deep growing sadness as we signed in at the security booth. The smell of burning  metal left a stink that festered in my nostrils. Everything it came into contact with was dead. The grass would not ever grow on the hill, and there were only lichens and moss. We spread seed and I felt sad knowing what a waste it was. I never felt so happy to leave any place I’d ever been.

 

4/25

I fell asleep on a rock away from the convoy today–despite Trevor’s warnings of snakes. It seems some men wish to scare others with imaginary bogeymen, in order to show their own bravery against these figments of the imagination. I have yet to meet an aggressive snake. Mostly they seem to avoid contact. One cannot blame an animal that strikes in self-defense. In any case, I saw no snakes.

 

I fell asleep with the sun shinning on my face, and a gentle breeze blowing over me. I was happy to be alone. I was awakened by a shivering rain, and though it passed in a moment it showed the mountain in her finicky strive between provider and destroyer. Her rain was like an alarm clock, waking me from pleasant sleep, to the living world and work.

 

4/29

Friday was spent working on the home front. I fed my sourdough starter in the afternoon, let it rise and took the spillover for pancake batter. I whipped it up and set it away to rise. Next I harvested starter for bread. I mixed the started and warm water, added salt and stirred in flour until it was ready. I punched it down and let it rise overnight. In the morning I punched it down again and let ir rise again, and set to baking it in the morning. While that was underway, I stirred blueberries into my pancake batter, fried up some bacon and made the pancakes in the bacon grease. It was one hell of a breakfast.

 

Right on time for bread, Annie came and we drove to the Delaware Water Gap, stopping once on the way, at an antique store. We bought mason jar salt and pepper shakers and talked with the woman about a bald eagle’s nest, before getting on our way.

 

It was a great day for a hike. 70 degrees and mild wind. Straight off we stumbled upon a pair of snakes stalking the bullfrogs in Lake Lenape. The snakes were almost completely submergedbesides their heads. The Northern Water Snake has

Northern Water Snake, Lake Lenape, Delaware Water Gap

a similar, but duller coloration to a Copperhead, but with a smaller head and beady eyes. We watched them for a short while, but as they seemed irritated with the attention, we moved on and let them be.

 

With all the rain all the little streams were overflowing into waterfalls, that swept down the side of Mt. Minsi in a torrent. What was a tickle out of the east of Lake Lenape on my last visit was now a cascade of whitewater. It was good to see such a healthy flow.

 

On the stream banks, near the base of a Norway Maple we found wild Violets, and further on in the brush we found wild Geraniums.

 

 

 

We followed a blue-blazed scenic trail up the side of Mt. Minsi, with old growth Hemlocks and Chestnut Oaks. We stopped often finding catnip along the rock cliffs, and up on an embankment, off the trail, but well within sight, columbines were glowing red and yellow against the forests’ dreamlike backlight.

 

Mt. Minsi is an old growth Deciduous forest. The predominant trees are mature Oaks and Maples. The rain has unfurled their marvelous leaves, some of them giants. There are many Hemlocks reaching heights of 150 feet or more. Many of them have large claw marks in them, likely a sign of bears foraging for grubs, though the bears are elusive. Here and there, there are White Pines, and as the elevation rises there is Red Cedar, Serviceberry, Pitch Pine and Grey Birch. Unlike many of the younger forests, decimated by extractive industry, there are few Sassafrass to be found.

 

About halfway up we took a switch-back to another lake, where we found Swamp Buttercup, White Wood Sorrel, and a couple of Jack-in-the-Pulpits along the outflow creek. The lake was full of lillypads and Cattails, and again, many Bullfrogs.

 

 

Rhododendron

At times the trails on Mt. Minsi become almost like trails through the jungle, where the Rhododendron grows so thick that it crosses overhead. There is a mystical quality to being so enveloped by the forest. The further up you go, the less voracious it is. Toward the top it is replaced by Low Bush Blueberries and Mountain Laurel.

 

We did not linger overly long at the peak. It is unfortunate that time always calls us back, but I vowed to myself that I would get to know this place better still.

 

We took the easier trail down with heavy rain clouds approaching from the south. Still, we stopped to identify wild mustard, strawberries and honeysuckle. We left just in time, as the sky opened up, just as we got to the car.

 

5/3

This week started well. On Monday, I planted many Choke Cherry trees, and felt good to do a pleasant task. Early I saw a Kestrel hunting, though it seems their migration has moved through. In the early afternoon I spotted a red-tailed hawk kiting. The contractors thought it was an Eagle from the size. I am always amazed to see such a large bird hovering so completely still on a mountain updraft. In that stoic pose, they are forever etched into my mind, as the truest image of a hawk.

 

Tuesday took a turn. Bad omens when one of the contractors ran over a black-throated green warbler, breaking its wing. They callously joked that it was now snake food, leaving it to die. My spirits were somewhat lifted to see a common flicker in the afternoon, as he dove along in a bounding flight. I later heard his meticulous drilling, searching for insects.

 

Unfortunately, I came home to a querulous family and have been avoiding the situation which arose from a patio set my mother had to have. I have been gathering my things and making my preparations for my summer in the Adirondacks. There are so many things that must be settled before then. I must find a car and hopefully a kayak.

 

Wednesday rained heavily. While I enjoy rain more than most, it was difficult to work in so constant a downpour. I was cold and wet when I got home, and it took a long time to get warm.

 

In the evening I sharpened my ax and packed my camp bag. There are still many more things to do. I made two loaves of sourdough bread, which rose overnight and baked in the morning, keeping the excess starter for pancakes.

 

This morning I ate the pancakes and had coffee. It has been uneventful so far, but we are expecting thunder and lightning.

 

Over lunch I identified several plants: fire cherry, witch hazel, quaking aspen and northern red oak. Each one a mystery that I am happy to solve. There is no end to the things one must learn about the world.

 

5/7

Last I left off my co-workers chased a poor, lonesome porqupine up a tree. I never cease to be amazed at their ignorance, as having him up the tree was apparently not enough to prove it. They followed that act by throwing rocks at the defenseless rodent and taunted him. This turned out to be a very bad omen.

 

Later that evening, while trying to comfort a friend, he mistook my sympathy for mockery. It is very hard for those going through hardship to accept a friendly gesture. In his state of despair, he allowed his pride to destroy our friendship.

 

It was difficult for me to regain my self-confidence all the way into Saturday. I thought that maybe I was unable to comfort people correctly. So I went on a tree identification tour at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, and though I learned little that is new to me, I learned some, and it was good to learn from Dan.

 

After the tour, I walked around the nature center for a short while, watching the clouds of an approaching thunderstorm roll over the mountains and down into the pass–each gust of wind shivering through the aspen leaves.

 

The quacking aspen is a great harbinger of a storm, as its flat petiole and broad leaves cause each leaf to bristle in the wind, independently of each other. Other trees, like Maples, seem to catch the wind all at once, swaying together, leaf and tree as one. But the aspen accentuates each leaf, and while the whole tree sways but very little it is as though it were purring on a clamorous comedy.

 

Another harbinger is the tree sparrow, who panics to find food before the rain, flying about in a seemingly endless fury. Amongst the tree swallows in the lower meadow, I saw the bird for which the trail through the meadow was named: the prairie warbler. He swooped into a pitch pine, seeming to make a meal of the seeds, locked away in the cone.

 

Tree Swallow

 

Blue Eyed Grass

 

 

Sunday was the Allentown Hiking Club’s Annual Trail Maintenance Day. I went to the 309 trailhead and hiked on in a ways before finding anyone else from the club. We hiked as far as the New Tripoli campsite and dismantled some of the excess fire rings, and packed the trash out.

 

Throughout the hike we kept seeing Red Efts, the juvenile for the the Eastern Newt. They stuck out bright against the forest floor. No hope of safety in camouflage from hungry birds, yet they seemed unharrassed and unhurried.

 

Red Eft

 

 

Afterwards we went to Leaser Lake for a picnic. I saw Jim there and told him I would be in the Adirondacks for the summer. I was glad to see him once more before leaving, as he is getting up there in age. He gave me a hearty hug three times and left me with some advice about day hikes in New England.

 

Sunday evening I camped overnight at the Outerbridge lean-to. Annie and I set our stuff down and went bushwhacking for dead firewood. With all the rain it was hard to find dry wood, so we went in search of pine needles and wood. I found my first tick of the year, a dog tick, after rumaging around under the white pine. On the way back to camp I spotted a Black and White Warbler, flitting about in the spring water. He looked as happy as any bird I’ve ever seen.

 

As we settled down to start our fire, a slow bushy marmot looking ball of fuzz started clamourously down the trunk of a Black Gum tree. It was another porcupine. Annie was startled at first, but then became excited to see the pleasant, humble rodent bumbling away through the briars. Despite their quills, they are always a welcome camp visitor.

 

In another tree we were joined by a pair of common flicker woodpeckers, who called out sharply before hammering away at the bark of a Northern Red Oak.

 

As it became dark the flicker’s call was replaced by the sharp, distinct call of a Whip-por-will. The call was constant and very near the camp, but I could not spot its maker. All night the call continued, and it was very difficult to fall asleep. Before long it was morning, and it seemed as though I hadn’t slept at all.

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compliments of bake oven knob facebook page

Saturday the 5th marks the second monthly Bake Oven Knob cleanup. I was very pleasantly surprised to see such a good turn out for the first installment and I hope we can all keep it going strong. “The Knob” as it is affectionately called by locals is an outcrop of 400 million year old Quartzite Conglomerate rocks, that jut about 100 feet above the ridgeline. It is a great place to get a scenic view of the entire Lehigh Valley, as one can see 30 miles, to South Mountain, on a day with clear visibility. It is also a great place to watch the fall hawk migration, and a good spot for warblers and other passerine birds. Unfortunately, human use has taken a toll over many years, and plastic trash has accumulated in the woods near the lookout and under the lookout. Last month we were graced by many brave souls, who traversed the steep terrain under the lookout, to gather a significant amount of trash. However, there is much that remains to be done. With everyone’s help we can really make a positive impact on a place that has been near and dear to the residents of the three counties that surround the area.

So please, if you have some time tomorrow, bring a spare trash bag up, and haul some trash out. Every little bit helps. Hopefully, over time, we can replace the culture of littering with one of stewardship. We all love this place, because it is a place of natural beauty. Lets keep it as beautiful as we can.

The clean-up is an all day event. Arrive when you can, do what you can, and stay to enjoy the view!

Also occurring Tomorrow, the Lehigh Gap Nature Center (just down Mountain Road from Bake Oven Knob) is holding a series of Natural History events starting with a beginners bird walk at 9am. The Lehigh Gap Nature Center will lend binoculars on a first come first serve basis. After the bird walk, there will be a Life In The Pond workshop, in which participants will visit the Three Ponds area, on the north side of the mountain, in order to observe wildlife and collect pond water to examine under the microscopes in the lab. Lastly, at 1pm, there will be a tree identification workshop along the new, “tree trail.” It will be a great learning experience for ornithologists and botanists of all ages, and a great way to gain a new appreciation for nature.

For More Information:http://lgnc.org/calendar/natural-history-workshops

Sunday is the Allentown Hiking Club’s annual Appalachian Trail Clean-up Day. This is a very important even, and I believe everyone who uses the Appalachian Trail regularly should help participate. Without your help, the Appalachian Trail would be impossible. Taking the time, to lend a hand, helps to ensure that these sections of trails will continue to exist for future generations. As though that were not incentive enough, there will be a potluck following the clean-up. The Allentown Hiking Club is a great way to meet new trail buddies, and it is also a great way to keep the trail thriving. I hope to see you there!

For More Information:http://www.allentownhikingclub.org/db_list1.php?featuretype=event

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