Thursday, April 30, 2020

Morning at the Marsh

The best time to be at the marsh is early in the morning when it comes alive with activity. Having donned camouflage clothing, I headed for the marsh and once there put on a camo mask as well.

Some photographers scoff at wearing camo and it’s certainly not needed where wildlife is habituated to people, but this is a wild marsh where few humans venture except to hunt ducks in the fall. Here the wildlife is quite wary lest it become a predator’s next meal.

Part of the marsh blends into an extensive area of open water; there an osprey just returned from its southern wintering grounds soared overhead –

Sighting the osprey was a bonus for I’d really come in search of the wood ducks that nest in the nearby woodland. And so I set up in a patch of thick vegetation and waited. A short while later a pair of blue-winged teal landed off to one side of my location –

After about an hour a pair of wood ducks flew in to land across a narrow patch of open water –

It wasn't long before the wood ducks disappeared into a narrow channel in the cattails.

A wolf spider, eleven painted turtles and several red-winged blackbirds provided some diversion as I waited for the ducks to emerge – but they didn’t.

A second bonus of the day soon arrived in the form of two great egrets in full breeding plumage. One landed on the edge of the open water and proceeded in a stately way to stalk frogs, small fish, large insects and anything else it considered edible –


To the left was a male belted kingfisher that frequents a snag in the marsh, the snag is one of the large dead trees still standing after beavers flooded the area almost 35 years ago creating the marsh  –

While to my right, the egret’s partner remained in another snag

What a great morning at the marsh!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Fickle April

April 19, 1976, 1:10pm, temperature 93ºF, wind out of the west, an old powerline snaps, the broken end sparks as it nears the ground, the spark ignites the grass and leaves. From there the fire is off and running, rapidly burning eastward, pushed across the Allegheny Plateau by the wind. On the second day I was leading a crew that was backfiring in an attempt to control the fire which grew to over 3,300 acres before it was extinguished by rain early on the fourth day.

Fast forward to April 16, 2020, temperature 34º, gusty wind swirling beneath sleet squalls, some squalls with sleet falling so heavily it wasn’t possible to see across the valley, some sleet the size of BBs, the wind propelled the sleet to sting the face, sleet falling heavily enough that the ground in the Big Woods was covered with white in ten minutes.

Snow fell the next day, putting two inches of the white stuff on the ground – it melted later the same day as the temperature rose. April is the fickle month as flowers bloom, leaves emerge – and snow falls.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Stories They Could Tell

Throughout northcentral Pennsylvania the predominant size of the farms in the 1800s and early 1900s was between 50 and 100 acres, many were even smaller. Quite a few of those farms were on soils that were marginally suitable for agricultural crops, soils that were shallow or very acidic or on steep slopes.

Often it didn’t take more than a generation or two for those soils to be exhausted, having lost the nutrients and organic matter that had taken centuries to accumulate. That, in combination with several agricultural depressions and better paying jobs in towns and cities, resulted in a large number of farms being abandoned by the 1960s.

In other cases, especially on better soils, the economics of modern agriculture resulted in farms being consolidated and many of the buildings became superfluous to operation of the now-larger farm. The loss of old barns was the subject of this post.

It’s not just barns that have been abandoned and left to decay and collapse, it’s also some of the old farmhouses. Here are a few abandoned houses that can be found along the roads I’ve traveled –

Oh, the stories those houses could tell if they could but speak – of the children that were born and grew up in them, of joys and sadness, and the lives of the men and women who made their homes there, of the heartbreak of a failing farm.