Saturday, February 23, 2019

Environmental History: Donald Hughes Wrote the Book

When I was flailing around for my doctoral research questions my adviser suggested I consider my original set of ecological (native bees) questions reframed as environmental history questions. I had no idea what she was talking about. So she handed me this book by J.Donald Hughes.  I read it almost on a dare, lounging around on a cold day by a flooding river in New Hampshire. But something about this new (to me) field made me think that combining science and history might be kind of fun. A lot of work - archives, interviews, land labs, travel, more archives - but fun.

Image result for what is environmental history hughes

In 2016, I found the author of that book on FaceBook, posting pictures of his world travels, having conversations with students and colleagues. I sent him a friend request and we "friended" each other. I told him how important his socio-ecological perspective of  history has been in my own work on environmental pilgrimage and working/conservation landscape history. We had a few great email exchanges, "liked" and commented on each other's social media posts, especially when I posted pictures of my pilgrimage research abroad. He liked anything I posted on St. Francis - the patron saint of ecologists.  And, he was a reader of this blog.

Dr. Hughes frequently commented on the pictures I posted of my pilgrimage to Holy Island, Lindesfarne, U.K.

Unfortunately at the time I connected with him on social media  he was already sick with leukemia and was returning from what would be his last international trip. Even so, his last few years were spent immersed in the natural and human histories near his home in Lake Worth, Florida, while he kept up a very active online presence.  He passed on February 3, 2019 at home. He was 86.

What an environmental historian "sees" in the landscape is akin to reading a thick book on the history of that place.

Hughes began his work studying ancient Mediterranean histories that examined socio-economic relationship between cultures and the land. He crafted a new set of historical analysis "lenses" that enabled us to combine environmental and ecological issues of a place with the deep human histories that gave them rise. He was quick to point out that this kind of history was nothing new, that Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides wrote extensively on the environmental impact of people on the land and seas, and the punishments that the gods would and did exact on them. As his work intensified and expanded to include case studies from around the world, it was clear that he and a few others were on to something. He was a founding member of a slew of new organizations that began to emerge that identified environmental history as a distinct (but highly interconnected) field. These include the American Society for Environmental History (1976), the European Society for Environmental History, the East Asian Association of Environmental Historians, and the South Asian Environmental History Society. 

The Red Kite's remarkable return to Spain northwards to the U.K. is a complex story of environmental and policy change. 
I realized early in our social media exchanges that when I posted pictures of my travels, Dr. Hughes was not just seeing the beauty of the landscapes but the mutli-layered socio-ecological stories they contained. And not just landscapes. Pictures of Europe's great raptors, some making historic recoveries in our lifetimes, spoke volumes to him about the conservation practices of monks of the Middle Ages as much as changes in modern European conservation policy. A photo of my son standing atop Hadrian's Wall on the great Whin Sill,  arms outstretched and huge smile on his face, elicited the comment "So many moving parts to this picture, but most of all -I know a Roman historian when I see one!" 

"I can see all the way back to the Iron Ages in this one!" (Iron Age hill fort at the top of an Eildon Hill near Melrose.)

Dr. Hughes was also a minister, very devoted to his church and congregation, interested in the intersection of faith, sacredness, and nature. When I began my trek to investigate one of the Church's earliest conservation thinkers, 7th century St. Cuthbert of Lindesfarne,  Donald was right there on social media looking at Northumbrian landscapes and artworks. Tracing his interest in sacred ecology and environmental ethics through various papers and reviews, his work gave me the courage to dive deep into waters no self-respecting historian would dare enter, but we're talking environmental historians here and I felt I knew the language and the strokes to stay afloat.

 Cuthbert's own spiritual ecology predated Franci's by hundreds of years.
It was Hughes' deep dive into the spiritual ecology of St. Francis that prompted me to investigate the life and times of St. Cuthbert, where I found such complexity in how Celtic-Anglo religious of the early middle ages thought about nature. I continue to wade through this cosmic wilderness and wonder if I can find the roots of Francis' thinking five-hundred years before he was born.

"Francis' devotion did not immediately dissolve multiplicity into oneness, but glorified God in each created being and delighted in their individuality. He advocated that praise be expressed by acting in ways consistent with respect for created diversity, not only by observing a strict rule of abstaining from harm to living beings, but also in positive treatment of all creatures. Nature took its meaning not from its serviceability to mankind, but from its expression of the multiple forms of God’s benevolent presence. "  -  From: "St. Francis and the Diversity of Creation," (1996)

 I think Francis and Cuthbert would have been great friends.

A gentle man, a gentleman, an adventurer, teacher and guide, prolific writer and speaker, and life-long pilgrim, he was giant among environmental historians, a genuine founder of the field. I hope that wherever in the cosmic wilderness he's roaming now, he's writing on human history and the ecology of the universe. 

"The human species evolved within the community of life by competing against, cooperating with, imitating, using, and being used by other species. Thus our species is an offspring of the interacting forms of life on Earth. This means not only that human bodies achieved their forms through evolution, but that the ecosystems of the Earth provided our ancestors with sustenance, set problems for them, sharpened their wits, and to a large extent showed them the way they must go.

-  From: An Environmental History of the World, (2001/2009)

Photo credit: Donald Hughes/University of Denver

An Environmental History of the World: Humankind's Changing Role in the Community of Life is available online in PDF format  at:  An Environmental History of the World - J. Donald Hughes

"Francis of Assisi and the Diversity of Creation," Environmental Ethics 18, No. 3 (Fall 1996): 311-320

University of Denver Publications List:

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

DE Fork Branch Nature Preserve

Well the coonhounds don't care for short walks but we're at least up to two miles consistently several times a week. My leg is almost healed but steep up-and-downs will have to wait. The first half of February here in South-Central PA has brought a mixed bag of the old favorite "wintery mix," some brutal cold, and spring-like days. No one I know, except maybe the coonhounds, are very happy with our sloppy, muddy, slushy opportunities for a decent walk. But on St. Brigid's Day we made a new discovery in the sunny wilds of Dover, Delaware!

Daughter Emily and Grandson Aiden in front of the new signage at Fork Branch Preserve in Dover.

We arrived late in the afternoon to low, glorious sun and cold, crunchy snow.  Located within the city limits of Dover, the area is developing around a low floodplain forest that a local family deeded to the state DNR in memory of their parents Anne and Dr. James McClements. Everything except the forest is new - gates, signage, trails, parking - and we felt kinda special counting as one of the property's first winter visitors. There's even a school bus parking spot for school groups - a perfect use for this natural oasis near the Air Force Base and NASCAR Speedway.

River Birch.

The two-hundred fifty acre tract is stunningly quiet, though swamp and vernal pools are all around, so it could get quite froggy and noisey come spring! We want to come back for that. Winter flocks of chickadees, titmice, sparrows, and nuthatches followed us along peeping and tittering. Emily called in a red-bellied woodpecker which followed us around for the better part of half-a-mile, sure it had discovered an early spring rival.

Emily and brother George are both wildlife photographers.

The walk was so pleasant and quiet. We were the only ones there. I enjoyed having both my children out on a hike. We rarely hike all together any more as everyone has families and busy lives of their own, so I treasured every minute of it. Both were raised outdoors and have kept their passion for wildlife art, photography, and hiking. I'm really very proud of them both!

Turkey Tail growing in a recent wound.

The frigid temperatures in the days leading up to our hike revealed several trees with fresh frost cracks. I remember living in northern Vermont and listening to the rifle shot sounds in the night as thin-barked trees like paper birch burst their skins.  Some trees, however, showed human damage, probably caused by machines or equipment. It's amazing to me how quickly a wound can be populated by fungal spores with fruiting bodies appearing within months of a gash.

Sunset in a Young Woods.

Though the forest around us was typical for a Delaware lowland, it's easy to forget how forests we take for granted are being threatened by development. Delaware has seen building booms come and go and it appears the state is in the midst of another as new developments pop up, roads are constructed, and office buildings and stores seem to show up overnight. It's really a choice we have to make - to set aside things that are common now - before they become rare or even just gone when we aren't paying attention. A common woods is not so common when you consider the complex interplay of tree species and environment and how important forests are for all life on earth. Another office building will never be as important to our health as a fine parcel of woods to wander.

Typical Delaware lowland forest.

We took our time, stopping often to listen and look. Aiden was just a happy soul to have woods to explore and snow to play in - no structure or directions except to stay on the trail, so sometimes he was far behind investigating or far ahead trail blazing. The new bridges wet areas revealed smooth snow over swamp pools and animal tracks bee-lining from one side of the frozen pool to the other.

Fox tracks coursing across a frozen, snow-covered pool. 

The mile of flat track we slowly walked is one completed of two loops planned for this preserve. The trail will be simple enough, a figure eight of two loops for the future. Plenty of local wildlife have already discovered the ease of travel along a human-built trail as we intercepted White Tailed Deer, Red Fox, Raccoon, and 'Possum strolling along through the snow the night before.

Mature Polar canopy with a health understory of Holly and Sassafras.

We called for owls as the light faded from our walk. I called a Barred Owl but no answers. Em called a Pileated Woodpecker and presto-bingo! A big red-crested, feathered pterodactyl came right to her call. ( I always look left and right before we call - using our voices - lest unsuspecting fellow hikers be confused as to what the heck we are doing!). He swung around trees and circled us through the Poplar canopy, curious but not staying long. By now we were getting pretty cold and the car was only a few hundred steps away. Heat on - blasting - we looked forward to a slice of Shortbread Cake and lengthening daylight through the month on this St. Brigid's Day.

Shortbread cake with  elderberry jam for St. Brigid's Day!


Celebrating the fact we all were able to walk together, here are the links to Emily and George's websites. Emily was always entranced by the magic of the forest when she was small. Our hikes into the Shenandoah Mountains and Appalachian Foothill forays had me believing in fairies as she narrated what magical things happened along the trails after people had gone home. So its no accident that she named her woodworking business after them. George loved to walk so quietly that we could literally walk up on animals - and not frighten them off - to sit for long periods without a word between us in observation and fascination. His interests turned to wildlife photography and the art of the walk-and-stalk.

The Fairy Paintbox

George Eppig Photography

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

January Skies: Cold Fronts and Short Walks

On the road to full recovery...

Midnight dog walks of a mile or so, a few visits to the Gamelands flat 2 mile loop at Muddy Run, and a few miles every other day on the treadmill and I'm chomping at the bit to get going further and longer. No more walking boot or hard cast, nothing hurts, lots of stretching/yoga/PT. I'm soooo impatient! Lots of time to thin about what to make this year's hike theme, especially since I'll be sticking to flat trails and bike paths for a while.

Since I spent the better part of four months watching skies and birds from a window with my leg up, I decided to make this year's blog theme Year of the Sky. I'm dedicating this post to Louis Rubin, Sr., author of several great cloud and weather books. My favorite is The Weather Wizard's Cloud Book (1989) - it got me hooked on cloud watching and forecasting way back when I was in high school! Like a thousand years ago.

A cold front sweeps into Northern Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Jan. 8 

Cold fronts are much more dramatic compared to warm fronts and changing cloud formations signal  unsettled weather as they pass over. The following two days are windy and cold, but the day of its arrival packs a punch for cloud watchers. We've a bunch of strong cold fronts come through this month so observing the progression of events has been easy but the cold has been brutal.

Two hours after the cold front boundary passes over we had waves of Mammatus and bursts of sleet.

As the cold air sinks into the warm, moist air mass it's replacing, mamma clouds sometimes form. According to Rubin in Forecasting the Weather (1970) this is considered a rare cloud type when not found in association with a summer thunderhead so we were pretty jazzed to see this form at the interface of warm and cold air during a frontal system early in the month.  For an hour we had sporadic sleet and gusts of wind as these formations appeared and disappeared rapidly overhead.

Jan. 9 brings big winds and snow showers.

The next two days the winds howled out of the northwest! Snow showers fell from the dark, racing clouds overhead, but nothing accumulated. The winds were so strong that the snow seemed suspended in the air, hardly reaching the ground before it was swept up again in a rolling line of wind. We had short bursts of "diamond dust" as the cold air was so dry that snow particles could barely form.

Jan. 12 sunrise shows snow on the way!  

After a beautiful clear and breezy two days the sun rose on Jan. 12 for Saturday's Harford Bird Club Kids Winter Count at Swan Harbor Farm. The skies announced that more snow is on the way! Cirrus fibratus, very high ice clouds, merged with an icy blanket of Cirrostratus to give the sun the look of shining through frosted glass. By noon the sky was solid white under the approaching leading edges of a winter storm - our first accumulating snow of the new year. A week later, the cycle is set - a storm a week...

January 18 - Another winter storm approaches - written in sunset clouds and colors.

On Jan 19, a week later, while on a Friday night dog walk, I watched a huge ice halo, a lunar corona,  form around the moon. It's shifting colors and growing diameter indicated the depth of height and thickness of the cold air mass above us - soon to collide with a major Pacific storm system that has made its way across the country. Pretty cool to see! But very cold temps are on the way again- gale force winds down on the Chesapeake Bay, but no snow for us as the storm lifts to the north delivering a punch to Upstate New York and New England.

A lunar corona - storm on the way!

Climate change is no hoax. Intensity of storms has been increasing over the last decade and winter storms in particular are packing dangerous punches of frigid cold, high winds, and heavy precipitation as they draw lots of moisture off warm oceans and combine with cold fronts pushed southward by a destabilized Polar Vortex.  Louis Rubin was able to match the skies he observed and the weather they produced with patterns of volcanic ash distribution after major eruptions, thus making his predictions incredibly accurate for forecasting days of rain and fair weather - sometimes months ahead of time! It's very different now some sixty years later with many new factors to consider that Louis may not have even known about. Predicting has become a much more complex process than simply watching sunsets and cloud formations.

Jan. 20, 9am - Wild Geese Sky (Rest in Peace Mary Oliver) as rain is pushed out by an approaching cold front

In the course of four hours on Sunday morning, Jan 20, a heavy Pacific storm system laden with moisture coupled to a cold front crashed temperatures from the mid-40s F to the low-20s. While the creeks were fat and full with heavy rain runoff from the night before, alerts were posted for below-zero wind chills. Clouds were racing across the sky. Gale warnings were again posted for the Chesapeake. The skies seemed to blow apart as clouds swept out to sea. By sundown the sky was clear and the wind fierce.

Jan. 20, 12:30pm - The cold front arrives and temperatures plummet!

This was the night of the Blood Moon, a full lunar eclipse, and I was excited to get out and watch it. My dogs, however, had other plans and refused to take their late night walk. Coonhounds and very cold weather are not friends. I tried to go out by myself but they set about baying and hollering inside, incensed that I would even consider it. Oh well. We all snuggled in bed together and watched through the bedroom window. I hoped that my son, a nature photographer, would capture the scene where he lives. He did!

Photo credit: George Eppig @ George Eppig Photography 2019 (my son, the photographer).

The grand finale for the month arrived with a burst of snow and a roaring cold front on Jan 29-30. Most of the snow action happened at night but the sunset a few days before had set the stage for another weekly frontal system - but this time, the northern system was much bigger and stronger. The upper atmosphere was cooling very fast as a strong dip in the Polar Vortex was beginning to sweep from the Mid West to the Mid Atlantic and high cirrus clouds dusted the sky with ice and contrails at 35,000 feet and higher. I caught a post-sunset panorama of cirrus clouds on Jan 28 just twenty-four hours before the Big Chill descended. The ice particles scattered low sunlight across the sky in a yellow-to-purple optical show that lasted only a few seconds. Many photographers posted later that night on Facebook some amazing shots of "sundogs" and "rainbow streamers" - it was quite a show!

Jet contrails everywhere just below a tropospheric (30,000 feet +) layer of cirrus clouds.


Louis Rubin, Sr. & Jim Duncan (1970/ 1989) The Weather Wizard's Cloud Book. This is the book that got me hooked on cloud watching. It's old and dog-eared at my house, but still in print and as popular now as it was a thousand years ago when I was in high school.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

PA Newlin Grist Mill: Hunting the Wren

“We'll hunt the wren,” says Robin to Bobbin,
“We'll hunt the wren,” says Richard to Robin,
“We'll hunt the wren,” says Jack of the land,
“We'll hunt the wren,” says everyone.
“Where oh where?” says Robin to Bobbin,
“Where oh where?” says Richard to Robin,
“Where oh where?” says Jack of the land,
“Where oh where?” says everyone.

For my first foray after breaking my leg back in October, I chose to visit Newlin Grist Mill in Chester County, PA, about an hour's drive from home. Today is December 26, Wren's Day, The Feast of St. Stephen, so of course I had to find someplace known for both the birds and some Celtic heritage.  It's time to walk some flat trails and Hunt for the Wren.

Just off the famous Baltimore Pike (Route 1) Newlin Mill is easy to find and enjoy.

Wren's Day is one of the many Celtic winter gathering days, celebrated by the Scots, Irish, English, Welsh, and Manx (Norse-English) in various forms that include parades of colorful straw men, evergreen rings, circle dances, wren-poles, and story telling. There a few different stories to explain the legend of Wren and why it is necessary to hunt the King of Birds, but my favorite is the fairy story from Isle of Man (Manx) which is known for the long song "Hunt the Wren" and the famous circle dance.  As I limped on to the old railroad bed - as flat a trail as I could ask for! - I was humming the song on my way to hunt for birds. 

Winter flocks of small birds scattered ahead of me on the old rail bed.

The Newlin family immigrated from Ireland to Penns Woods in 1682 and they would have been very familiar with this very old traditional dance-and-feast day on the day after Christmas.  Who knows, they may have celebrated it through the nine generations of Irish-American millers who ran this grand old mill on the the West Branch of the Chester River. There is plenty of evergreen to gather to make the rings and globes but I chose to investigate under every holly, cedar, and hemlock for an illusive Saw-Whet Owl but no such luck.  Instead, flocks of Chickadees, Titmice, and White-Throated Sparrows moved ahead of me along the old railroad bed scattering into the brush just as I raised my binoculars. Ah, the thrill of the hunt...

A mixture of White-Throated and Song Sparrows stirred up the underbrush.

Tufted Titmouse and his small gang taunted me from across the mill race.

By my first half mile of slow walking I had added several species to my hunting list: an immature Coopers Hawk (no doubt stalking the winter flock I was herding ahead of me), several Turkey Vultures overhead, Blue Jays, Chickadees, Song and White-Throated Sparrows, Kinglet, Sapsucker, Red-Tailed Hawk. But no Wren. I even spotted a Screech Owl in his Sycamore abode. But no Wren. 

Screech Owl sleeping snug in the faint sunshine.

I walked two trails which link the diverse wetlands and creek valley.  Just on these two paths I found spillways, a dam, mill races, mill ponds, and a diversion canal. The Concord Creek dam makes for a nice slow-moving river where I found Canada Geese. The old mill pond behind it is now filled in with sediment and plant material and is quite wide, making for a beautiful marshy wetland where I spotted a Northern Flicker flipping over matted leaves along the edge of an almost frozen puddle. But still no Wren. 

The plain beyond the creek was once a large mill pond.

Starting to feel the pinch of an overused ligament, I decided to turn back and follow the head race trail back to the mill. I tried to hide my slight limp from dog walkers but was walking extra slow just to be cautious. A nice lady asked me if I was okay and I told her I was out of the walking boot and hard cast by only a few weeks and she empathized completely, telling me the story of her one and only mountain bike adventure while on vacation in Wyoming two years ago. Listening to her recount injuries to both legs, surgery, and a year-long recovery reminded me how lucky I was only to break one leg and to be walking in 9 weeks. 

Mill dam just below a diversion canal that moved water into the head race.

Head race leading down to the mill and the return trail, an old road. 

According to the Welsh telling of the legend of Wren, the hunt must have three things: a trick, an absurdity, and a hostility. I was tricked several times into thinking I had finally discovered a Wren in the brush along the head race trail - first a twirling beech leaf then a very busy Song Sparrow who took on the flitting, darting behaviors of Wren. The absurdity came when I got as far as the spillway to the mill and discovered I had to walk backwards and sideways down the steep timber steps to keep from pulling my sore ligament any further. I was wishing for Ibuprofen about then. I wasn't looking forward to what kind of hostility I might encounter as I shuffled across the busy road to the mill. After exploring the old buildings, a beehive oven, and the mill I made my way back to the parking area, a little sad that I hadn't seen a Wren on Wren Day. But then I got yelled at - I mean really yelled at! The hostility!

The King of the Birds!
Less than fifty feet from the car, there he was  hollering at me to step aside so he could keep his place on the guardrail. Wren's tail bobbed up and down as he let out a furious rant. I was stuck on a narrow strip of grass between the road on a sharp, blind turn and trying to cross over to the parking area. All that stood between me and my Ibuprofen was Wren.  I gave the King his space as he worked a crack in the wood for insects. A full-bellied Carolina Wren is a happy Wren. The hostility passed and I was able to complete my first mile-long hike since October. Boy, it felt great to walk a trail on this Wren's Day - even if Wren really made me work for the hunt and I won't be able to join in a game of Cammag afterwards. 


Newlin Grist Mill has almost eight mills of trails, though I only did one mile using the flat railroad bed and the flat road along the head race. A great variety of habitats for birding! 

Isle of Man celebrations on "Wren Day"

"Hunt the Wren" long song:

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Them's the Breaks

Well, here it is. Look away if you must - the result of a trail failure/cliff dive. I walked two miles out and it never hurt. I didn't even think it was broken until the x-ray came back. Surprise! What hurt (and keeps hurting) is the injury to my shoulder when I fell on my crutches and jacked my shoulder up  to my ear. My cast is blue. My mood is blue. This sucks.

So now as I wait on the bones to mend I am looking at the variety of flat-track trails I can walk on until I am able to get back to hiking these Pennsylvania hills. I haven't really given the rail trail network much consideration before but am finding lots of possibilities for winter walking within a hour or two drive of home. Also there are some tempting tow-path trails along old canals that look good, too. I don't know who is more anxious to get back to the trail, me or the two dogs! It's been hard on all of us!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

PA Steinman Run Nature Preserve

Steinman Run Trail

It's been a while since I posted. Too busy for what's important, anymore, it seems, but I did get out today after the rain stopped. I needed to clear my head and think through a writing block I've had with a tricky chapter in my manuscript on pilgrimage. I think so much better when I'm hiking and this short two-and-a-half mile double loop trail did the trick.

Steinman Run Nature Preserve is a 350-acre park managed by the Lancaster County Conservancy. For a county that has few large woodlands, Steinman Run is an important woodland site that occupies two distinct areas. The loop trail north of Clearview Road (in the park it's an old woods road) is a former clear-cut area, while the loop trail south of the old road is a more majestic mature forest. The ridges contain outcrops of schist while the valleys contain limestone. It's an interesting mix of habitat, soils, and wood type.

Red Oak stump

From the shady parking area the trail to the right (all blue blazed) leads through a cut-over forest where standing trees are no more than twenty years old. Red oak stumps dot the hillside from the final cut. An old logging road serves as the return trail and ends at the other end of the parking area.

Tulip Poplar showing its age.

The first "big tree" I encountered was at the bottom of the descent from the clear cut woods. It was a grand old Tulip Poplar showing its age with twisted limbs and plenty of limb-drop. I figured it would take about four adults to hold hands at its base for a tree-aging hug but I'm not sure this tree has been surveyed as the PA Big Tree roster has no Liriodendron is currently on the list. Maybe I should suggest this tree to them?

Rock Lichen

Today was the first chilly day of fall, October 13. It's been a long while since we had cool weather. We had so much rain this year. One for the record books. There are springs near where I live that have run full all summer long. Here in the preserve, the trails are oozing with water as the water table is so high. In some places along Steinman's Run, a summer of flash floods has rearranged the trail, blocking it with log jams in some places. Trail crews have been quick to cut the trail open. The smell of sawdust is still fresh.

Leaves are finally beginning to show color and today, it seems, is the first day of leaf fall. The matrix of small streams that runs through and beside the preserve run high and are noisy. Geese have been arriving on the strong north winds. Wood warblers have headed south. The Wood Thrush is gone and so is the Waterthrush. But there are plenty of birds that will stay in this valley and the change in weather today brought them out. Pileated Woodpeckers hammered and laughed and swooped from tree to tree. I was scolded by a Northern Flicker as I stopped to photograph some mushrooms. Blue Jays rummaged through the leaf litter for acorns. No doubt these nut-planting birds have helped re-establish the woods here.

The north loop meets the south loop at Steinman Run below the old Tulip Poplar on the closed section of the old road. I walked up the old road to find the south loop trail, dropped down to the stream, and followed it over log jams and around flooded parts of the trail until it left the valley and climbed through a beautiful mature oak forest. Still, there are plenty of old logging sites to be observed, though most of the stump-sprouted trees are over sixty years old.

Stump sprouts are now mature trees but still circle the original stump of a cut sixty years ago.

I slowed way down through the older woods. The writing problem I've been wrestling with began to unravel bit by bit. I didn't think to bring anything to write on so I talked to myself with hopes that the solutions were being set in my memory. This is how Socrates did it anyway. He walked and thought and talked out loud until his ideas were planted like seeds.

Scoured trail after flash flooding.

Trail almost taken by high water.

The end of the southern loop ended near the culvert of the old road and Steinman's Run and just beyond was the ancient Tulip Poplar. I retraced my steps along the stream up the old road and bypassed the south trail cut-off heading into the eastern half of the northern loop. Up and up the trail climbed through a darkening woods. I almost didn't see the sweet little patch of Grape Fern as I passed over the ridge but the low sun burst through a bank of clouds just in time to illuminate the stalks of golden spore cases in a patch of a dozen plants and I stopped in my tracks to admire them.

Grape Fern, Botrychium dissectum

The trail descends into a rich dark hollow where more Turkey Tail sprouted from downed limbs and strutted its beautiful banded colors on the sun dappled forest floor. The sounds of the forest filled the cool air: crickets, Jays, leaves rattling in the breeze. A hunting dog bayed in the distance and a truck door slammed close enough to where I stood that I knew a bow hunter must be heading to his stand on the edge of the woods. I reminded myself, out loud again, to start packing my hunter's orange beanie and vest. It's fall at long last and it felt really good to hike in the chill of the waning afternoon.

Turkey Tail.

Return trail through old logging area.


Steinman Run Nature Preserve is one of many small preserves to explore in Lancaster County. The conservation of woodland is a priority with the Lancaster County Conservancy and this park contains a rich sampling of young trout stream, mature woodlands, and a recovering clear-cut.