Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Pilgrimage 2018: St. Cuthbert's Way with Cuddy the Eider Duck

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St. Cuthbert's Prayer by Kate Leiper

My long walk this year begins August 3 in Carlisle, U.K. with a visit to St. Cuthbert's Church near Hadrian's Wall in Beltingham, Northumbria, England. Then on to Melrose, Scotland, to start the pilgrimage path of 70 miles to Lindisfarne on the North Sea Coast and Holy Island. This long walk is sponsored by a generous fellowship from the Institute of Pilgrimage Studies, College of William and Mary, Virginia. This experience is part of my ongoing research into the ecology of pilgrimage, how environment and nature intersect with the spiritual and religious journey of intent. 
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A Wild Bird and A Cultured Man, illustration by Maria Sergunia for the forthcoming book by Alexandra Goryashko (2019).

Walking the newly established path of St. Cuthbert's Way will be a chance to explore northern pastoral landscapes, the edges of the wild sea, and to talk to the people who are the stewards and keepers of the sauntering saint's favorite routes that connected Holy Island at Lindisfarne to the Bishop's Abbey at Melrose. I'm taking an eider duck to keep me company. Really, there's an eider in my backpack...

Cuddy, carved by Mike Lathroum, ready to ride in my pack across Scotland!

Now that the English Reformation Era ban on pilgrimage has been lifted (Summer of 2017) it will be interesting to see how this nearly lost art of the sacred saunter will return to the landscape - who will take it up, when, where? Will we see a new body of poetry, art, and literature come of it? I hope to speak to church folks, wardens, and vicars about how they will welcome and support pilgrims who come through their villages and towns. In a conversation via email, a vicar of one of the Parishes of the Wall, wrote "It is high time we walk again with our beloved saints across this land."


Kate Leipet is one of my favorite illustrators, a Scot of the North Sea Coast, who explores the stuff of northern legend through our love and longing to connect with birds, sea animals, and the wildlings of Scottish mythology.   http://kateleiper.co.uk/

Excellent blog post by Dmitri Lapa for Orthodox Christianity on the story of Cuthbert,  Holy Island,  and the many places that carry his name. http://orthochristian.com/92028.html

St. Cuthbert's Way website for routes and sections. http://www.stcuthbertsway.info/

Parishes By The Wall is an association of churches near Hadrian's Wall (the path my son George and cousin Molly hiked in 2017) that has been very helpful in prior research to Cuthbert's travels along the Roman and Frontier Borderlands region. I look forward to meeting the church warden at St. Cuthbert's in Beltingham where the saint preached during a rest in his travels returning from from the Synod at Whitby as he made his way along Hadrian's Wall to the North Sea Coast. https://parishesbythewall.org.uk/

With deep gratitude to George Greenia and the Institute of Pilgrimage Studies for making this year's long walk possible! https://www.wm.edu/sites/pilgrimage/

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

PA Black Moshannon State Park: Wandering

On a recent professional training visit to State College, PA, I took a few hours before heading home to enjoy one of my favorite PA State Parks. Black Moshannon contains over 3,000 acres of Allegheny Front wetlands and forest.  Once the setting for multiple lumber camps, lumber mills, and a thriving 19th century village the main area of the park in the early 1990s had a large hotel-tavern, dry goods stores, post office, a bowling alley (!) and a school.  Now only the school remains while equally historic CCC structures replace the structures of Antes, a ghost town with only an historical marker to remind us of the busy logging town.  

The lower section of Black Moshannon Lake is marshy and fringed with bog habitat.

When the lumber ran out in the early 20th century (of course, no one ever believed that could be possible in the 19th century) the landscape was littered with the remains of forest and subject to frequent wildfires. I've lived in northern Vermont where the forest history is much the same. The devastation of slash fires, too frequent to allow the forest to recover, kept the landscape deprived of its pioneer growth. Erosion scarred the land and silt built up behind old mill dams. What is now Black Moshannon Lake is the silted-in expanse of mill ponds now covered in shallow freshwater marsh.

Button Bush, Cephalanthus occidentalis

During the 1920s, former Chief of the U.S.Forest Service, Governor of Pennsylvania, Gifford Pinchot tried out a new idea on this and dozens of other deeply damaged landscapes across the Commonwealth.  He and fellow Governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had devised a work-to-restore program that in both states served as the model for the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Present camp store was built by CCC and used as a park residence. Built to last!

When FDR became President, he made the CCC one of the premier New Deal programs that brought employment and much needed recovery to both people and the land. Black Moshannon though, was already under restoration thanks to 200 men encamped at the former Beaver Mill lumber logging camp site.  As one of the first official CCC demonstration projects in Pennsylvania those boys had a bit of a head start first fighting fires then replanting the forest. They went on to build park structures and develop the trail system.

A juvenile Eastern Phoebe hanging out in the shade of hemlocks.

I had no destination in mind as I wandered around the park, sampling this trail then another, in all about five miles. I walked a few miles on the Mosse-Hanne Trail, did the Bog Trail coming and going, then did the 1 mile loop on the Sleepy Hollow Trail. I made a mental note that the Allegheny Front Trail, a 40-mile circuit around the park through the state forest might make a great off-season multi-day hike. I checked out the cabins, available year-round for rent. Oy - I need to come back!

A bouquet of carnivorous plants - Pitcher Plant.

The Bog Trail boardwalk was a nice but short excursion into the acid tannin water bog of a side cove and there I observed pitcher plants, lots of flycatchers (Wood Peewee, Phoebe, Kingbird, Great Crested) all diving and zooming around catching winged things.  Hidden from view but startling me on the way out was a Great Blue Heron hunting just beyond the cattails. He didn't go far, however, and stalked along parallel to the boardwalk making short work of fish who thought they were safe beneath the lily pad cover.

Wood Peewee.

Returning to the forest, I wandered down a trail with old plantation pine to one side and thick maple/beech/hemlock woods on the other side. Red-eyed Vireos followed me along above in the maple canopy while Chickadees followed me through the pine woods. My escort kept up until I came to the trail intersection with the Allegheny Front trail when - tempted as I was to go farther - I turned around to head back the way I came. I noticed all the mossy stumps of harvested trees scattered throughout the older forest.

Skid team at Star Mills. 

Lumber camp near Beaver Mill, later the site of a  CCC camp. 

Pine plantation.

I walked a shady lane lined with old cabins and cottages, a car pulled up and a nice lady asked if I was there to lead a group of kids from a summer camp. Now, I had had an experience with another nice lady in State College who, just hours before who - for the life of her - could not figure out my front registration plate as the Scottish national flag. She kept insisting it was a southern confederate flag - a symbol of racism. The nice lady at the park was insistent too, so naturally I was a little leery.  "Certainly you are our tour guide! You are!" I quickened my pace and she rolled along in her car behind me. "Where should we meet you?" Seeing another trail ahead, I politely explained I was there for a few hours hike and that I was sure a park ranger or naturalist would be by soon. She looked defeated. I ran for the trail head. A park ranger did drive up and a busload of LOUD kids invaded the bog trail. No wonder the nice lady was so insistent!

Woods minus the gypsy moth oaks. 

As I fled the scene, I entered another landscape transformed - Sleepy Hollow Trail - where once giant white oaks towered the valley. What was missing, however, were the oaks. The gypsy moth infestation of the mid-century had resulted in a massive salvage harvest of dead oaks in the 1990s.  A new forest of spindly maple and stick-wide hickory is taking their place.  A very nice ranger supervising a trail crew spent some time explaining to me how the loss of the white oak forest has taught him to see the woods in new ways, but he was worried. "The combination of losing our oaks, increasing summer temperatures, intermittent drought, and a longer growing season means we really don't know how to plan for new pests and invasions. If the gypsy moth taught us anything it was to ready for surprises." A few old oaks and giant pines persisted along this trail, however, and they sheltered tiny ecosystems in their root pools, stem hollows, and canopies. 

Mayflower and Partridge Berry in a pine stem hollow.

White oak offering space for a small fern and a carpet of moss. 

Back to my wandering, I tried to focus on the quality of the forest floor. Indian Pipes grew in clumps among the singular leaves of Mayflower and Partridge Berry.  A wounded but open and healing forest enclosed the trail but there was such vibrancy of birdsong and the mosaic of color in the leaf litter,  that when I happened upon a singing brook I looked up and saw such a beautiful glade of young hemlock that it almost took my breath away. The glade and the little brook seemed to hold each other in dappled sunlight, deep shade within a sun-filled forest of new growth.

Indian Pipe.

How can you not think of Gibran?

Think not you can direct the course of love, for love, 
if it finds you worthy, directs your course.
Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.

But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:

To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

To know the pain of too much tenderness.

To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart 
and a song of praise upon your lips.

- Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet (1923)

Black Cohosh, Actaea racemosa.

Kahil Gibran, 20th century Lebanese poet, came to mind as I sat on the shady bank of the small brook. The little stream had a song of its own that I hadn't been aware of while hiking down the path through the cut-over woods. Listening closely, I could make out verses and refrains, music of  water over root and rock so sweet that Gibran's poem came to mind of  "a brook singing its melody to the night."

White Oak stump crowned with moss.

I left the beautiful little glade and passed a final White Oak stump along the trail, crowned in moss like a bird's nest in which acorn caps were nestled along with the brown, thin leaves of black cherry. I stopped by the CCC-era camp store, once a residence and general store. The very sweet staff person at the counter shared her knowledge of the history of the place. She cooked a few hot dogs, one for me and one for herself. I love log cabins from that era, built tight, bright white chinking contrasting with dark stained logs. Just outside was the old school, its bell on a stand in front.  I walked back to the Bog Trail where I had parked along the road lined with tidy cottages.

Bullhead Lily, Nuphar variegatum.

Fragrant Water-Lily, Nymphaea odorata.

Rounding a bend in the road, Black Moshannon Lake came into view spanning the horizon from near to far, blanketed with pond lily and cattail. What great bass habitat - but not so much for fishermen who often grumble at having their lures tangle in the tangle of stems and roots below the surface. There were quite a few Great Blue Herons hunting! Mallards and Canada Geese paddled purposefully through the carpet of round leaves and blossoms, pulling up juicy bits and pieces of stringy roots. Among the white blossoms that were fully opened a riot of bees and flies hummed busily. 

Pond lilies as far as the eye can see!

Yellowneck Caterpillars snacking on blueberry leaves.  


Counted 12 Great Blue Herons for the day, many of them juveniles.

Wandering back to the parking area via the Bog Boardwalk one more time (I walked it three times as I love bogs so much) I met a young herpetologist and his dad enjoying the bog together. He had just seen and photographed a  Smooth Green Snake - a lifer! Hurray! So many Great Blue Herons along the way and a beggar of a Red Squirrel who was convinced I was about to share my trail mix with her. When I didn't I got scolded for being a rude human.

Red Squirrel

Not a very high mileage day, maybe four miles. But I do plan to go back with more than a few hours to spend in this magnificent area. The Allegheny Front highlands area has so much to explore, not to mention several multi-day backpacking trails and the large state forest that surrounds the park. Pennsylvania has a few ghost towns and Antes is one of a dozen lumber town sites marked. The park office has many historic photographs inside - worth a stop in to take a look.


Field Guide to PA Pond Plants http://wcdpa.com/wp-content/uploads/Pond-Field-Guide1.pdf

Black Moshannon DCNR