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The contents at this location are archives only, as this blog was reformatted in April 2019. To find new posts, go to the new URL. Comments have been disabled on this site, however, I still want to know what you think, no matter how old the post. Please email your comments and feedback to blogger @ Thanks!

They're Here: Spotted Lanternflies Hatching

May 30th, 2018
Last summer I considered myself lucky. I had been spared the experience of living inside a swarm of the latest (and possibly greatest) pest problem to fly into my region of Pennsylvania. I found something this week, however, that proved my luck has ended. The lanternfly is here.
(image obtained from Beyond being a significant public nuisance, the Spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is likely to ruin agricultural orchards, grapes, and some lumber products wherever it lives and feeds. If you haven't already heard about the problem, familiarize yourself now, because we must come together to battle this enemy. Here are two key resources: The authorities have taken this threat very seriously, and they are reaching out to the public for help. For instance, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is looking for contractors to bid on the work of removing tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima). The tree, like the lanternfly, is considered an invasive species and has long been an enemy of our healthy, native ecosystem. However, research has now connected the tree to the sustained survival of the lanternfly. Destroy the Ailanthus and you reduce the lanternfly population. Additionally, PA's Dept. of Ag posted its latest Order of Quarantine and Treatment, which can be found by jumping to Page 28 (i.e. 3094) at this link: PA Bulletin of May 26, 2018. It essentially states that it is the responsibility of every property owner in the region to help control the lanternfly. Since the adult pests die off over the winter, last season's initiative was to find and destroy the egg masses. I looked but didn't find any. Sadly, I hadn't looked close enough. About a week ago, a tiny insect clinging to a pruned branch in my backyard caught my eye. Having seen many photographs of the nymph-stage lanternfly, I immediately knew what it was. I tried to crush it, but it hopped free with the quickness of a flea. Suspecting that nymphs don't move far, I vigilantly searched the area again. Within a few days, I found two nymphs hanging on the side of my shed. Then three. Then four. I was getting closer, perfecting my swatting technique to a 90% kill rate as I went.
Spotted Lanternfly Nymph
I returned to inspect and slap the shed numerous times over the next few days. Then one morning, I found a congregation of about 29 nymphs clinging to the bottom of one of the shed's wooden shingles. There was the egg mass, hidden cleverly from view.
Spotted Lanternfly Nymph
Spotted Lanternfly Nymph
I have killed about 100 lanternfly nymphs and removed three egg masses over the last five days. Some nymphs were found on the nearby woodpile, which represents thousands of hiding places. I've come to realize there are two ways of looking at the matter. One is to feel hopeless about the obvious fact that I've removed only 100 drops from a bucket that is about to overflow. Add this to the numerous other bug battles to contend with, such as the Emerald Ash Borer and the disease-carrying ticks. The other way is to be motivated by the fact that I am certain there will be 100 fewer of the buggers come summer. Add this to the work of the many dedicated individuals who are tirelessly seeking a solution as well as the everyday people like me who are multiplying my meager efforts. Thus, I am sounding the alarm: the nymphs are hatching! PLEASE take the time to educate yourself about the lanternfly, including identification at all stages and methods for eradication, mechanical and chemical.
Spotted Lanternfly Nymph
Spotted Lanternfly Nymph
Same shot as above from a greater distance to show how tiny these creatures are.
Spotted Lanternfly Nymph
The diameter of this log is less than two inches.
Spotted Lanternfly Nymph
Spotted Lanternfly Nymph
The visibility of the white dots depends on the nymph stage (1 to 4). At nymph stage 5, the black begins to turn red.

Assault Weapons, Entertainment Violence, and a Culture We Must Change.

April 3rd, 2018
I don't believe outlawing guns is the answer. I don't believe arming teachers is the answer. I don't believe any one faction is to blame for the atrocities that keep happening in our safe zones--such as our schools and churches--and other places where the public gathers. No solution is that simple. Instead, the change we need is far more drastic and difficult. We must abolish our cultural affinity for madness. To do this, each of us must move away from acts of aggression and toward acts of kindness. This includes how we behave when we are driving, what we say when campaigning for office, how we phrase opinions on social media, how we shop on Black Friday, and what we shout from the sidelines. It also includes what we demand be done to our enemies. And it includes banishing the ferociousness, hysterics, and injurious disorder in that which we are willing to call entertainment. We reward violence in this country by the mere fact that we light it up on our television, movie, and gaming screens ... seemingly everywhere and all the time.
Like a raindrop in a pond, the energy wave of every action (thought included) has the power to alter the entire surface surrounding it. Which energy do you want to be a part of spreading? My post today was launched last Saturday night. The groceries were put away. Our stomachs were full. The dinner dishes were washed. The doors were locked. Our cozy, comfortable clothes were on, and it was time for a quiet night. Relaxing on the couch, I grabbed the remote and turned on the television for a little entertainment. That’s when it all went bad. I got caught up in a documentary on CBS called 39 Days. Here was my chance to learn more about what the activist students from Parkland, Florida wanted after a gunman opened fire inside the place where the students were mandated to spend their day. I had been hearing about them on the news. Who were they exactly, and what was their message? Like any effective documentary, 39 Days had a limited focus: the student-led, grief-to-action campaign for gun control following the February 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Not surprisingly, I was left with mixed emotions. Did they fully understand the implications of the constitutional change they sought? Was there really some corrupt force in the National Rifle Association hiding behind first amendment protection? Could this innocent-yet-violated emotional experience bring about the change so many other citizens have failed to achieve in the recent past?

Terrified Parents

You must remember, I am not a mother. I do not have to send a child or grandchild out into the dangerous world every morning. Also, I am not adept at navigating through teenage drama to find authenticity in their fears and concerns. In short, there is distance between me and the current state of affairs inside America’s public schools. I do know that I rarely hear good things. Almost every parent I talk to has a personal story about a bully. Almost every parent I talk to has a story about a letter that came home communicating a district-wide concern about safety and security. Almost every teenager I speak to seems a bit agitated, nervous, and self protective.

Terrified Citizens

Plus, as I watched, my mind applied a broader experience to the context:
  • Texas First Baptist Church Shooting (Nov. 2017)
  • Las Vegas Slaughter (Oct. 2017)
  • Orlando Nightclub Massacre (June 2016)
  • San Bernardino Massacre (Dec. 2015)
  • Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting (Dec. 2012)
  • Aurora Colorado Theater Shooting (July 2012)
  • Virginia Tech Shooting (April 2007)
  • Pennsylvania Amish School Shooting (Oct. 2006)
  • Columbine Colorado (April 1999)
...just to name a few. And I was thinking about more than just shootings:
  • The Austin Package Bomber (March 2018)
  • A truck driver who plowed through a crowd of protestors in Reno, Nevada (Oct. 2016)
  • A car driver who plowed through a crowd of protestors in a Ferguson suburb in Minnesota (Nov. 2014)
  • The Boston Marathon bombing (April 2013)
All this along with thousands of no-less-disturbing stories of random acts of death, big and small. Violence. Weaponry. Aggression. And media coverage that feeds a warped sense of glory.

Terrified Students

I don’t think anyone would argue that the Parkland young adults don’t deserve to be heard. Every voice matters. And when that voice comes from a direct witness to such pain and fear, it shall be heard with compassion and a sincere ear. It shall be heard with a quest to understand so that the proper, preventative changes can be made. However, whatever your opinion of gun control, whatever value we may receive as a benefit of keeping assault weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill, this won’t fix the hard fact that America is not just in serious pain, it is in love with serious pain. 39 Days ended with a dramatic reading of the 17 names of the dead, timed to the very few minutes it took for the shooter to inflict his carnage. My heart ached. I wondered how frightening it must be to go to school today. I prayed for a resolution.
Peace Sign

Media Exploit

Then, after a commercial break, CBS seamlessly moved into the next item on its broadcast agenda. I didn’t know what I was watching, but I could smell the tension in the first scene. Pretty adult cheerleaders, a hug from a coach, a glare from a fellow girl in uniform, lights and activity and cheers from the crowd as the squad jogged into the stadium’s back hall. “This is a crime show, isn't it?” I said, appalled at timing. “Here comes the next killing, right on time.” Flash to the coach-hugging cheerleader in her bath rob. Candles. Soft music. A test of the water’s temperature. I was about to see death unfold fewer than three minutes after an hour-long, heartfelt plea to stop the killing. I didn’t want to watch, yet I had to know if my hunch was true. A few seconds later, her face was underwater, eyes bulging, resisting, struggling, pure fear...death. In that moment, I became furious. Enraged even. And I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. How dare they? How dare the network flow from one ratings grab to another with such immunity to consequence? How dare they air entertainment from murder within moments of an exhibition on the heartfelt campaign to stop the murdering? When the students chanted “enough,” they were referring to assault weapons and the like. Although I missed the beginning of the special, I heard no mention of outrage about the culture of violence behind the spark that ignited a young man’s desire to send bullets into his peers? It turned out that the second show was a rerun of the criminal law series called Bull. This was one of a thousand drops in a lake of shocking scenes, the energy of which has turned our hearts to ice. Most people--myself included--would say that’s a pretty good show. We are numb to the violent images that exist to grab our attention and keep us watching.

At War Always

What is remarkable about the campaign of the Parkland students is they are underdogs against giants. These meek peacekeepers are up against a government that has grown to lead the world in military action, the nation to call when there’s a need for warlike conflict. That started because we are willing put our might behind the protection of freedom and human life. Yet it has grown into a military doctrine that has failed our own citizens. Stirred up by the fear of terrorism, we have employed a hostile security strategy. Now, to our children who look up to us, we are the men and women who solve the world’s problems with grenades, tanks, missiles, and guns. Consider that our president just agreed to sign a flawed national spending bill only because it contains adequate funding for military conflict. Further, as our own public schools rot in disrepair or struggle to inspire kids under the constant stress of inadequate funding, America finds the money to build or rebuild foreign learning centers in the places it bombed to smithereens. This is the message to our young citizens: bombing deserves greater financial investment than they do. How are they to know the implications of peace when this is the path down which they have been lead for all of their lives?

Television Past

With each generation, fewer of us grow up with the leadership of creators such as those who made programs like public television’s Sesame Street. What once spewed from our picture sets while Mom or Dad busily completed the chores of daily life now has barely enough funding to survive. Still, its inner city main street community -- with its big yellow bird and cute little muppets -- hangs on as it strives to build the character of its audience. Yet, are we willing to send them even a few of our entertainment dollars? Name me a television show today on a major network that is akin to moral standards of Little House on the Prairie or The Brady Bunch. Who wants to watch that anymore? Sure, there are stories about communities and families, but the average program disguises cruelty as humorous insult or bad behavior as a necessary evil of the times. There is rarely a strong moral lesson. The characters in today's sin-based plots abuse and hurt each other in ways that John Boy Walton could have never comprehended. Meanwhile, the networks must do whatever it takes to maintain viewers. Since they can’t shock us with petty punches and innuendo any more, they must get tougher, more graphic. We need greater potency with each hit. This crescendo, designed for the adult with the pocketbook, effects every viewer, especially the young and impressionable with the developing personality. And unlike Sesame Streets’ desire to build character and knowledge, what does the CBS network strive to build? Ratings. And the formula it uses? Violence and vice. Can the young child tell the difference between what is virtuous and what it is self-indulgent? How can the new puppy tell the difference between the words “sit” and “stay” if the teacher doesn’t take time to explain? And for our teenagers, what do we teach when we flash without a moment’s pause from a documentary pushing for constitutional change to stop the killing spree to a popular television series that starts with a glamorous kill? We can’t point fingers at the weapons, the law enforcement, the legislature, or the parents. We are all responsible for letting this happen. Entities such as Hollywood keep giving us violence and vice because that’s what we keep tuning in to. Are we really surprised that some of our unstable children are aspiring to be the next murderous psychopaths? Entertainment is said to follow reality, but when do we pull the curtain in order to foster a new reality? How can we expect to raise the national level of human decency when we refuse to turn these images off? When do we shut down this nationwide attraction to violence and vice?

Vision for America’s Future

The fact that we as consumers of entertainment have allowed our culture to spiral down this vicious path is very hard to swallow. It's easier to turn away and lay the blame on someone else. But while the reality of our part in America’s violence problem may be difficult to accept, it’s also remarkably empowering. I may not be able to fix how others act, but I can darn well do something about how I act. I can control my knee-jerk response. I can stop laughing when others fall down. I can stop yelling when others step in my way. I can turn off the screen before the act goes down. I can hug a friend, not as a trendy way to say hello, but as a means of spreading truly good energy. I can smile and hold the door, not just when I feel the warm beauty of spring, but when the ice of winter has made me cold and grumpy. And I can stop trying to pretend that I am bold, tough, admirable, and strong, and let those close to me see that I am timid, sensitive, flawed, and weak. I can talk openly about my mistakes as way to both fix them and to divert those who follow me from doing the same. “I was wrong, kid; be kind.”
Peace Lily
What kind of woman mauls down a crowd with her car? What kind of person ignites a bomb full of nails at a finish line? What kind of man opens fire on a fun-loving crowd from the security of his distant hotel room? The kind of person that enjoys watching a cheerleader’s face as she drowns. For the bulk of us who view such an image, we keep watching to find out how the detective solves the crime. But we cannot forget the consequences unleashed subconsciously when we see that image nor can we ignore the consequences of publicizing graphic murder, night-after-night, in the first place. Imagine where we’d be if, after every massacre, we debated the need to reinvent our culture with same fervor with which we point fingers? What if we campaigned for a grassroots effort to invite the ill and the outcast into a social club of good health? And if we do accept that the influence of violence hangs over all our heads, do we react to the problem with more violence? More anger? More fear? Or do we come at it with kindness? Do we dare? Can we be brave enough to lay down our arms? Can we trust in our assumptions that the majority of people are good? Can we seriously think peace could ever been as contagious as violence? It’s risky business, being a peacemaker. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Peaceful Shoreline
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The Case of the Missing Bat

October 27th, 2017
NOTE: For photos, I suggest you visit the various blue links throughout this post. Beyond the ghosts and goblins (and now zombies), Halloween is a time for bats. I'm not sure why this is so, but I can guess it's because they are spooky, elusive, misunderstood creatures of the dark. Our rare encounters usually involve the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus). Because, it's the least selective bat in my home state of Pennsylvania when it comes to habitat, it is often the lead character in the story that starts, "My wife screamed that there was a bat in the house." Yet, if you choose to go to a costume party dressed as a bat, you should do so with reverence. That's because the big brown and, more particularly, its cousins in the Vesper bat (Vespertillionidae) family are experiencing a mass extinction for numerous reasons. The most devastating is the deadly White-nose syndrome. For example, when all of Pennsylvania’s main hibernation sites became contaminated, 99 percent of the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) using those locations died. That's just in Pennsylvania. As of 2016, the fungus had spread to 28 states and five Canadian Provinces. To give you a better sense of the impact, the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), for example, hibernates in clusters of about 250 bats per square foot. White nose has killed at least 6 million bats in the Northeast and Canada. The fungus that causes it threatens hibernating bat species, of which there are six in Pennsylvania. For those that migrate (of which there are three), wind turbines are the enemy. Fortunately, responsible turbine manufacturers and operators have worked closely with scientists to reduce the mortality rate by 44 to 93%, just by implementing a few design and operation techniques. Regardless, we need bats. All of Pennsylvania's bats feed exclusively on nocturnal insects. This includes the disease-associated mosquito and the tree-killing Hemlock Woolly Adelgid. One study estimated that their insect management work contributes $3.7 billion annually to the farming community. Part of our problem with bats is that, like most nocturnal beings, we don't know them. We can't love what we don't know, and we don't protect what we don't love. So here are few facts to help you get to know them better:
  • Bats are the only true flying mammal.
  • Bats are NOT rodents.
  • The Indiana bat is the only mammal in Pennsylvania that is on the Federal Endangered Species list.
  • Some wild bats have been known to live to age 25.
  • A bat's body's flight mechanism differs from that of a bird's.
  • Bats typically weigh less than birds. The tri-colored bat (Perimyotis subflavus) weighs less than two pennies.
  • Mines and quarries have attributed to the existence of bats in Pennsylvania.
  • Bat boxes provide summertime habitat, but bats do not hibernate in them.
  • A bat sleeps through about 80% of its life.
  • A bat sleeps (hibernates) so deeply, its heart rate slows to one beat per minute.
  • It is believed that of the hibernating species, one bat consumes a million insects per year.
Researchers are greatly concerned, not just because of the implications of a sudden decline in bat existence, but because so few people are talking about them. Meanwhile, Jason Collins, a wildlife biologist with Normandeau Associates described this as, "the number one conservation emergency in the world." Foremost, humans must stay away from hibernating colonies. You and I must stay out of the caves. After that, ironically, one of the best things you can do to help the bats is to improve insect diversity. We need to improve their food supply. This means allowing space for tall grass in your yard. It means allowing water to pond in wooded places, which is the opposite of what the mosquito-control specialists advise. And it means avoiding fertilizers and pesticides in order to prevent the accumulation of toxins in their bodies (the implications of which are not yet fully known).
Bat presentation slide
Jason Collins' bat decline presentation to the 2016 Watershed Congress Along the Schuylkill, available for viewing on YouTube.

You can also provide habitat by allowing dead trees to remain standing (some bats use them for roosting during the summer) or by installing bat boxes, high up, facing the sun. (email Jim Kerr of Feathered Friends Log Homes at for a price.) If you want to donate to or get involved with the cause, Jason recommends Bat Conservation International or The Save Lucy Campaign. Moreover, add this to the proof that protection of native species is our best hope for the protection of native ecosystems which have been protecting us all along. Learn about your native bats (Pennsylvania fact sheet). And this Halloween, take on your bat persona with honor.

The Ruins of Ego

September 15th, 2017
Wouldn't it be great if we could fix America's suffering of chaos and disarray? But how? The venomous president, the violent protests, and the incomprehensible injustices: these are all symptoms of a disease no one seems to able to get a handle on. And how is this country to lead the world when it has fallen so low? The only answers I have involve the only person I can control: myself. And each solution I find starts with one action: the proper care and treatment of that pesky troublemaker named ego.
The ego tells us we are good. It tells us we are bad. It tells us we need more. It says we have too much. While it's supposed to control the floodgates of our self-centered emotions, it can overtake the dry ground on which stands individual talent. Therein is where ego inflicts its greatest harm. Now, mastering the art of ego is not my forte'; I fail to meditate, nor do I fully grasp the teachings of the enlightened few who have the ability "be" without ego in control. However, the infection crippling America is no longer hiding elusively under the skin, where ego buries itself. It's burst into plain site. And thus, our best chance at recovery lies in the effort of each of us to at least try to care for our own egotistical sores. Obvious is the rampant egotism we read about daily, given the mental state of the president. Favorite words such as beautiful, tremendous, incredible, great, and fantastic are not used to describe tangible objects, but rather promised intangible benefits, assured to those who follow. For everyone else, there is disaster. The ego on display here demands that any "unbelievable" outcome reflects only the "fantasticness" of the self to such degree all the world shall envy it. Far less obvious and far more prevalent is the egotism that hinders the majority of the people I know. Called humility, it is the opposite of boastfulness. It is the squashing of our own talent with modesty. These people, like I, suppress the best of who they really are, for reasons that are hard to understand. Here the ego demands that we avoid casting an image into the mirror, fearing any reflection, negative and positive, that will surely come back, visible for all to see. The real me is an artist. The real me appreciates creativity that flows from other people. The real me cares about the real people around me. Yet, I offer too little of this to the world. My ego blocks much of it before it gets out.
Therefore, I submit that the majority of us subconsciously refuse to let our individual talents shine, whether they be artistic, analytical, emotional, mechanical, etc. And quite often, the greater the talent, the greater the suppression. Why? Is it because we were taught not to brag? Is it because we don't want to intimidate those less talented? Because we don't want to be associated with the boastful lot? Or are we just plain afraid of just how good we are? Americans judge, no doubt. A clear symptom of our ego disease is present in the popularity of television shows such as Big Brother, Top Chef, or America's Got Talent. Capitalists have tapped into an affinity to judge with entertainment such as this. They further pad profits by reducing expenditures once paid to writing talent for creating the programs, the sitcoms, the documentaries, the prime time fictional dramas these reality television shows have replaced. The result: the public owned airwaves are clogged with stages set to show a supreme winner rise above all the rest. Characters are teased into participation with the possibility of a huge payout, like a lottery, wherein all contributions are funneled to one. We judge; ego wins. Yet, when it comes to REAL life, who among us cares to compete? How many times have you been given a positive comment that you respond to with an argument? Like the proper hero we declare, "No, it was just part of the job." How many times have you belittled your own creation after someone compliments on it favorably? "It's really not that good," we say and then go on to point out its flaws in order to enlighten the observer to all its ugly imperfections. Forget competing, we don't even remember how to accept a positive sentiment with grace. This is ego. Further, how many times have you held back from caring about a stranger when your inner light begs you to help them? Maybe you see an elderly man struggling to load his groceries into his trunk. You know you can help, but before you offer you look around to see if anyone is watching, like weakened prey scanning for a predator. This, too, is ego. We are each good at some things and bad at others. While pretending otherwise, America has sadly become a culture in which it is better to accentuate faults than spotlight strengths. And so it is our faults that we speak of freely, quickly, before others can point them out. What happens then to the endowments of the selfless, those leadership-worthy people I'd prefer to follow? They are observed in private. Their talents are cloaked in secrecy, so that no pin-holder can burst the tiny bubble of hope that tells them, "Hey, we are actually good at this." This is ego. And the more it sees, the more it wants. Thus, the older we grow, the more difficult it becomes to control. For some, it latches onto lavish material things. For others, it beats down compassion, logic, and art. Meanwhile, for the few enlightened ones, it is a thing that is there, something to be both recognized and ignored. What America needs now is for us all to strive for the freedom of being our true selves. Yes, even the ignorant. Because only when we step freely can we trip on our mistakes and learn a thing or two.
I can't fix America's problems nor can I run away from them. All I know is that we are not who we pretend to be. We are not so harsh, so colorless, and so ugly. We are talented in a million different ways. I believe America needs us each to be our best right now. Unleash the wise. Uncover the compassion. And let the art flow.

Standing inside what could be.

June 9th, 2017
To some, the place might have seemed like any big old woods. To me, it represented what we have lost, what should be, and what can exist when those with power recognize and protect a voiceless fortune that, if all men had acted sensibly, would never have dissipated. This wasn’t just a forest, this was a cathedral.
In the Forest Catherdral
After hiking through 11 miles of the northwestern Pennsylvania state park, I stopped to read the kiosk. It showed a photo from an old brochure. A man appeared pensively yet insignificantly among a glorious stand of substantial trees, only the tree trunks able to fit in the photo, the canopy towering far above the frame. The caption read, “The Last of ‘Penn’s Woods’; Save it for Posterity.”
Brochure Photo
Cook Forest State Park was dedicated in 1928. The memorial plaque read, “For years Anthony Wayne Cook, from whom this tract was acquired, with rare patience and idealism saved these great trees in hope and faith that they might become a public trust.” Of course, he didn’t do it alone. The “vision and zeal of Thomas Ligget” and other businessmen and citizens convinced the general assembly of Pennsylvania to appropriate $450,000 to preserve it, a healthy sum at the time.
Influential businessmen
Within a 171-acre section, some of the trees “remained untouched” by the booming lumber industry. Some trees there had been dated at 450 years old. Primarily the makeup was eastern white pine and hemlock.
Kiosk explanation
I have a penchant for hemlocks; they are my favorite kind of tree. Designated as Pennsylvania’s state tree, the number of living hemlocks around my home is dwindling, due in large part to an attack by a bug called the Woolly Adelgid. Man is not the only aggressor in nature’s collection. He is however, or should be, smart enough to control himself. For me, seeing a forest of hemlocks standing hundreds of feet tall and more than thirteen feet in diameter was like peering into the tomb of treasures of King Tut.
One Big Hemlock
Mohawk Trail
Inside the cathedral area, some giants had recently fallen. A lumberman would most certainly shudder to see such precious material lying on the ground, destined to rot in "waste." However, I imaged the park staff, the appointed guardians, when they found the monarchs. They must have been saddened instead by the simple fact that these ancient trees had been brought down.
Fallen giant
Still, regeneration and renewal was taking place wherever the sunlight could reach the floor. Four hundred years from now, will any of these babies still exist? Will man have allowed it? Will he still appreciate their existence, their age, their contribution to the continuation of life? Will posterity have anything left?
My vacation to Cook Forest, five hours from my home, was what is referred to as a “bucket list” experience. It took some coaxing to get my husband to agree to spend his hard-earned vacation in an area where “there wasn’t much” in the way of things to do beyond outdoor recreation. He feared that we might get bored. Instead, we got tired out. We hiked 15 miles, biked 15, and kayaked (floating and paddling) about 9. More than anything, though, we stood still in awe, breathing in fresh pine and listening to the breeze, the call of the warbler, and the trickle of the stream, all the while, very often, looking up.
Looking up
Meanwhile, the area surrounding Cook Forest State Park provided a stark contrast. It bled with the ever-changing fluid of economic desire. This is where I found names such as Oil City, Petroleum Avenue, and Sawtown, adversaries of old-growth forests. Billboards advertised legal assistance to coal miners whose lungs had turned black. Two hours outside Pittsburgh, resource-rich towns had been bargained by exchanging nature for cash. Titusville, the home of the modern day petroleum industry, where Col. Edwin Drake struck oil and birthed the industry, gleaned with its historic legacy. Good or bad? It depends on who looks, I guess. Dissatisfied with simply being a destination of historical significance, Titusville recently developed a 134-page strategic plan for what it believes will be "the second energy boom": the natural gas of the Utica Shale. Over and over again the document begged, "Come back to where it all started. We've been drilling here since 1859. We get it!" Get what? The means of selling out, of cashing in, of turning precious earth into temporary opulence? Minutes to the north of Cook Forest is the southern border of the Allegheny National Forest. The trees there are part of the nation's crop. Trucks loaded heavy with the latest harvest rumbled down narrow roads with such speed I could not help but imagine a disastrous scene should an emergency stop be necessary.
Route 132
Here and there, steel mechanical arms pumped up and down to supplement the bank account with proceeds from the natural gas cow. Roads, pipelines, and power lines all cut through the fields of expertly managed, mature trees, none willing to share space with the other, each requiring its own scar, some growing old, others freshly slashed. The towns to the west of the Allegheny Forest reeked of evaporated wealth, even if the odor smelled a bit different. “This place is suffering,” my husband said as we passed the vacant storefronts of Union City during our side trip to touch Lake Erie for the first time in either of our lives. It's common knowledge that reducing expenses makes for bigger profits. And so, whether it was the boss man's quest to get even richer or the consumer's desire to save a buck, America stopped making the things it needed. An unwillingness to pay Americans for American craftsmanship overcame our sensibilities, trickling down to flood the zone in poverty. Outside of town, I imagined the owners of the paint-pealed porches. Once highly valued, the people strong enough to get the job done—the hard-working, not-afraid-to-get-hurt roughnecks—now struggle to find a coin on our latest path, one being repaved for brains instead of brawn. Monetary success is a fleeting, ghostly thing to chase. One minute its attraction is distinct and tangible; the next it's gone. What price must we pay to keep the wheel spinning? We passed a video rental store, possibly the last one in existence. How soon before its inventory is dumped into the landfill, forcing nature to swallow our unnatural, forgotten creations? What will it take for us to re-evaluate our priorities? There is no denying that we are in an age when joblessness means starvation. The economy is our culture's sacred ceremony. None of us is capable of stopping this crazy thing. The boss man has been undercutting his workforce for as long as there has been a boss and a worker. And even after one grassroots campaign successfully limits the harm of a commercial endeavor, another scourge comes quickly to take its place. DDT became glyphosate. Coal mining transferred to fracking. River dams become beach nourishment. From the wind we removed ozone-depleting CFCs, only to release, however accidentally, plastic grocery bags. Still, everywhere I found a community sentiment of historic determination and grit.
Historic quote
Erie, PA
On our drive to Erie, I did see quite a few dusty clues of manufacturing; some of the previous century’s brick buildings were re-purposed for modern day production; some operated out of fresh pole buildings. On our way home at vacation's end, we stopped for a short factory tour at BWP Bats. There the trees were turning into baseball bats. Being the busy spring season, their regular inventory was nearly sold out. Baseball loving employees were hand crafting bats that both little and big league players could swing with pride.
BWP Bats
People are growing weary of foreign-made junk. Around the country, a prosperous workforce is downshifting the economic engine into a gear better suited for the environment, without choking abundance or wellbeing. Socially responsible businesses are gaining recognition and a higher market share. Organic food is in demand. College students are graduating with degrees that will help them design an economy that is both profitable and eco-sensitive. Citizens are still marching, demanding protection of the planet. This is where I saw Cook Forest as a profoundly invaluable "attraction," one that I needed to visit. It inspired. It reminded. It proved. It showed what nature will build when humans show restraint. By the hundreds, these ancient survivors stood in confidence. Where any DID fall—brought down by the storms of insects and wind—new growth had sprouted, ready to take over, the seeds and roots and flesh of the victims endlessly transferred to the lives of the future. I wish everyone could, at least once in a while, immerse themselves in the possibilities of a kingdom such as this.
Forest Catherdral
The kiosk back at the parking lot read, “As you leave the forest with memories of its struggles and endurance, commit to conservation. Begin a legacy of your own to last through the centuries.” Oh what could exist if only…