Facilitating spiritual and cultural transformation through connection with wild spaces, with the help of God and neighbor, to create a world where wildlife and wild spaces are known as neighbors worthy of our love, kindness, compassion and care.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Rock-top community (Pine Creek Gorge West Rim 1/30/2020)

Rock-top community of lichens, mosses, and a few other plants.

My saunter began at the Barbour Rock Trailhead. I followed the path and then went south along West Rim Trail. Then where West Rim Trail turns back towards the road I continued off-trail along the west rim of the canyon. I did this until I got to the place where a rock cliff juts out just north of where Bear Run makes its way into Pine Creek.

I followed a deer path that seemed to me more like the trail of a mountain goat, down a steep slope that eventually made a half-circle from the top of a sheer cliff down around below it. In that spot there is a hard-to-get-to ridge composed of deteriorating rock and some large flat-topped rocks.

I found a good perch on a rock about five feet long by five feet wide that must be anchored deep beneath the layers of sediment below. Being that this was a challenging spot to get to, requiring mental strategy and physical agility, it is a location that has been left relatively undisturbed by human activity. Because of this, an ancient process has been given uninterrupted space to play out.

As lichen (due to it's acidic nature) breaks down rock turning it into soil, mosses and some grasses and even a few flowering plants have colonized the thin layer of loose soil that has been building up for a long time.

If left undisturbed it will continue to thrive, but one misstep by me and decades or even a century's worth of this rock-top community can quickly be destroyed.

I sat there with that rock-top community for a while, marveling at the diversity and complexity of this low-growing mat of life at the edge of the Pine Creek Gorge.

I won't return to this place often, for fear that my visits may impact this vital community in a negative way. Now that I've paid a visit to this rock-top community just north of Bear Run, its enough to know that it's there, as I hope it will continue to thrive for many generations to come.

This experience reminds me of something Aldo Leopold said in his reflection on wild spaces: "To those devoid of imagination, a blank space on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part." (A Sand County Almanac. Aldo Leopold. Random House Publishing Group, 1966. page 294)

There are many other places like this in the Pine Creek Gorge, each with its own vibrant and vital rock-top community. The best we can often do to express our care for many of our wild neighbors is to give them space, and to be content to visit them once, or even perhaps not at all.

Here are some close-up photos of the rock-top community that's shown in the picture at the beginning of this post:

Here are some photos of the ridge I traversed to get to there:

Looking up towards the canyon rim.

Looking down towards Pine Creek.

Pine Creek Gorge from Bear Run Vista:

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Kinglet of the gorge (1/25/2020)

Golden-crowned kinglet on the hemlock branch, perched here with me at the edge of the west rim of the Pine Creek Gorge; watching you move about ever so freely up and down the canyon walls and happily along the rim; I covet your diminutive size and your capable wings.

I invest lots of effort to make my way to those hard-to-reach places in this steep rocky landscape. One summer's day I managed a trek by foot (more of a scramble really) from Owassee Road near the island, straight on up to West Rim Trail near Barbour Rock. Just yesterday I was overjoyed to have made a successful beeline ascent from Pinafore Run at the Pine Creek Rail Trail on up to Snyder Point Vista. I put in lots of time and effort, but there are SOOO MANY sidewall spots that are out of the question.

But you. Yes you with your little olive body and your capable wings! There is no secret ravine, no exposed rocky face, no utmost spray of hemlock or pine that is out of your reach! To me, you are royalty, the bird with little olive body and capable wings who surveys the steep forest kingdom of the Pine Creek Gorge.

So my little neighbor, if we spoke the same language we'd have much to discuss. I'd like to hear the stories of many a great adventure you've had up and down these canyon walls. I'd lean in as you tell me of secret domains under rocky cleft where creeping junipers cascade over sandstone and lichens galore thrive where the rocky face juts inward. You'd have my attention if you were to share tales of shaded ravine where the side-hill springs are just a trickle and mosses abound in nooks and crannies everywhere. I'd listen intently while you rattle off the long list of wild neighbors you've happened upon; some of them friends, a few to beware of, but mostly just fellow canyon dwellers who do their thing while you do yours. You'd share the spots and perhaps a memory or two, of where the bear dens up, where the fox raises her young, and where the bobcat walks each day.

Golden-crowned kinglet on the hemlock branch, I covet your diminutive size and your capable wings. I hope to see you again the next time I visit. Peace to you, and to this place.

My sketch from today. Looking towards east rim from west rim near Barbour Rock.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Laws of the Forest Community

Pine Creek Rail Trail near Darling Run 1/18/2020
As a student of wild spaces, I find forest ecology a fascinating topic of study. During a recent adventure in the Tioga State Forest, I wrote down a number of ecologically significant "laws of the forest community." I thought about how, as humans, we have a tendency to disassociate ourselves with the environments around us.

I wonder, if we are to consider ourselves as members of the forest ecosystems that surround our towns and cities, what do forest communities have to teach us about living well, and living responsibly in community?  

Here are the "laws of the forest community" as worded in my field notebook:

Laws of the Forest Community

1. Nothing shall be wasted.

2. What is taken from the forest must in some form be given back to the forest.

3. and 4. Competition and Cooperation among its members makes for a healthy forest community.

5. Daily and seasonal rhythms are to be observed by the members of the forest community.

What lessons does the forest community have for those of us who desire to live sustainably? 

What lessons does the forest community have for those of us who seek to follow Jesus by loving our neighbors as ourselves?

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Tardigrade for a day

The snow is flying on this winter's day.
Snow descends from clouds above.
Snow on roads.
Snow covering lawns.
Snow upon wooded trails and forest landscape.
Snow on moss covered rocks and logs, beneath which hidden worlds abound.

Our smallest wild neighbors are surely enjoying the insulative cover of new-fallen snow within damp lively cover of mossy abodes. Nematodaes, rotifers, and tardigrades thrive in such micro-climates as these.

Tardigrade. https://scitechdaily.com/researchers-discover-how-water-bears-survive-extreme-conditions/
Oh to be a tardigrade for a day! To experience the mosses of the forest floor as a great forest in and of itself; secret worlds inside of worlds inside of worlds! To bear witness to vast mycorrhizal networks that make terrestrial life possible for all!

Looking as closely as I possibly can through a hand lens at the surface of the mosses that Newton (our eastern spotted newt of 10 years) seems to enjoy so much, I can only imagine how vast and complex the hidden world of mosses must be for creatures so infinitesimally small from our human perspective.

How great and mysterious is the charge, amidst our human activities on planet earth, to consider all of our wild neighbors; from the enormous blue whale who rules the great ocean to the tiny tardigrade of mossy kingdoms.

We all need healthy homes that are free of pollution. May tardigrade, whale, and all in-between receive from us the love, kindness, compassion and care that is due a neighbor as Jesus did teach.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A walk along the tracks (Charleston Street to Hilboldt Street) Wellsboro, PA 1/9/2020

People in cars at stoplights in a hurried rush. Why? Why? Why?

Me, I'm in a hurried rush to leave the busy town behind.

Walking along Grant Steet, across East Avenue, continuing along McInroy Street, right on Purple Street.

Hopefully there will be no talkative people to greet along the way.

I seek community, to be sure; in the company of those who dwell in streamside thicket and woods along the railroad tracks.

Where the railroad tracks cross Charleston Street at the east end of town my saunter begins.

In the first hundred feet, I've found footprints in the snow left by crow, house cat, eastern cottontail, squirrel, and dog. I'm in good company.

No sightings of actual wild neighbors to speak of yet, but a quarter mile along the bark of many ash snags is flaked off, in many cases the better part of the surface area of the tree. Surely the work of multiple woodpecker species.

The first wild neighbor of this railroad saunter, a hairy woodpecker on an ash snag...

It is ecology in a moment.

One of the things that I often feel jealous of when it comes to trees is that even in death they continue to serve the forest in life-giving ways. Housing and food for insects which in turn benefits birds like the hairy woodpecker.

Emerald ash borers have decimated the population of ash trees in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and beyond. This is a sadness.

Ash snags stand erect in the forest still. Bark flaked off of most as woodpeckers forage for wood boring beetle larva.

Can we expect an increase in the population of downy, hairy, red bellied, and pileated woodpeckers?

We can at least expect to see woodpeckers, like the one I watch as I pen this field note, continue to forage heavily on the readily available food source of dying and dead yet life-giving beetle infested ash snags.

Continuing northward along the tracks, gray squirrel, cardinal, and junco greet me at the first trestle.

Near the ice wall, the delightful chatter of a kingfisher over riffled waters!

Deer are using these train tracks too; a path of least resistance between thickets of delectable vegetation.

A thought as I cross the second trestle; I've no good reason or it, but I find walking across trestles a little unnerving, eventhough I know those wooden beams were constructed to hold something far heavier than I and I'm not small enough to fit between the slats.

A pileated woodpecker announces his presence with bold and boisterous notes. Nothing like resting in the company of a pileated woodpecker while he forages, flying from one ash snag to the next, announcing his territory with monotonous clucking all the while.

Just north of the pileated a red fox's territory, clearly marked, yellow snow at the base of a mullen plant at the third trestle (marked L108).

Tracks left at the outside edge of the bridge beams prove that the fox is bolder than I.

Beyond the trestle the tracks show that the fox has walked on the rail for fifty paces. Just for fun, or an effort at a higher (by three inches) vantage?

At the end of my walk, where the tracks meet Hilboldt Road, the mouse leaves a tail-print between two tiny footprints in the snow.

Just a short walk in the woods, but sometimes in the midst of a busy week that's all that can be had. And sometimes, that's all that's needed.

Community is what I sought out and community is what I found with my wild neighbors at the railroad tracks today.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Guest Post: Raise Your Eyes, by Cory Hanlon 01/08/2020

I hope you enjoy this guest post on the BestLifeCommunity blog as much as I do! written by my brother, Cory Hanlon.


To spend time in the woods right after a heavy snowfall is a good time to observe tracks, and know that they were sunk there by a harry paw not long ago. So today I left the house in the early afternoon hoping to maybe catch a glimpse of a deer or furbearer after doing my best to follow the signs.  I wandered up through the pines and across the field into a rough patch of eastern white pines.  I first noticed that spiraling black eschar on a few short pines; remnants of a porcupine having scorched its way up through these trees some time ago.  These ascending laps that neared the tops of trees began to change to a lighter shade.  The chew marks at the beginning of this narrow trail began to change form black eschar, to an almost white tissue just beneath the bark.

As these wounded trees grew in abundance, I stopped for a moment to take in my surroundings when I heard a light chipping through the quiet pines that lay ahead.  Just a few feet from my own, there were tracks planted by some furbearer or creature with a waddle in its step.  Could it really be?  I follow the tracks, ducking under branches and squeezing through the pines only to stop bent over at a ninety under a low-hanging branch, wondering where this ghostly creature had gone.
It was then that I heard a chattering of teeth, and so I take two steps and turn to my disbelief.  The porcupine is there at the level of my eyes only a few feet away!  I had stopped and bent over his tracks with his feet resting only about a foot above the back of my neck!  I took a few more steps back in awe, watching as he ascended his tree.  How great it was to run into my neighbor!

This was a short story of my own experience that kept me gleaming and audibly giggling all the way home.  This porcupine is beauty in life, as many things are.  It does take a willing mind to push a little further into the woods, or to veer from the main path to find a beauty more scarce, but don't forget to raise your eyes!  I had looked hard at the ground; bent over and looking in circles at my own clumsy feet while this beauty was right in front of me.  When we are obsessed and only looking down to focus on some small task, just listen.  If we listen, we can hear life scream and chatter at us, telling us to raise our eyes and see this big picture.  Like the porcupine, life tells us to share this moment and this beauty, but know that it is a beauty that is temporary.  A beauty that is temporary on the spectrum of time, but may live on in those willing minds.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Winter Woodland at Barbour Rock

A walk in a winter woodland at Barbour Rock.

The heartbeat of the winter woodland; the taps of woodpeckers against dead limbs of mighty red oaks.

Tap, tap, tap...tap, tap, tap...tap, tap, tap...the hairy woodpecker.

Tap...tap...tap...the pileated.

The arrhythmia of sapsucker will have to wait until Springtime.

The voice of the winter woodland; the deep throaty call of the raven.

The skin of the winter woodland; bark, evergreen leaves of pines, cedar, juniper, laurel, lichens, mosses and club mosses as well as some ferns.

The garment of the winter woodland; a blanket of snow and ice.

The blessing of the winter woodland; stillness for the forest community and for the human spirit.

While I'm happy to have the trail to myself on this cold winter's eve, I'm glad to see that I'm not the only person to have taken a sauntering pilgrimage through this blessed winter forest.

No matter how long I remain here I know that I'm going to wish I'd stayed five minutes longer.

A thin crust of snow covers the ground, trees stand tall around me, the gentlest of winds caresses hemlock branches. Between each breeze, all is at rest with a stillness beyond articulation.

Perhaps I'll stay until the first owl breaks the silence.

A barred owl in the distance...

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Camp Penn Environmental Education Program and Nature Center (New for 2020!)

Celebrating God's gift of biodiversity...

Teaching environmental education...

Modeling what it means to love our wild neighbors as ourselves...

Mobilizing and encouraging environmental advocacy as an expression of our love for God...

That's what will be happening through Camp Penn's environmental education program this Summer!

Several months ago I was invited to create an environmental education program for Camp Penn; a United Methodist Church Camp located in the Michaux State Forest in south-central Pennsylvania.

I'm grateful that my friend Sam, who is director at Camp Penn, thought to invite me to take on this project. I'm also grateful that a small team of people seems to be coming together to do a little dreaming and planning for this important project.

I see this as an integral component for Camp Penn, since it is through experiences in wild spaces that so many people have come to know God, self, and community in deeply transformational ways. I see this as an opportunity to tap into my background in Environmental Studies and to honor my call as an Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church.
At this time I'm working on the curriculum for summer 2020 nature education programs for elementary, middle, and high school aged campers while Sam begins to set up the nature center facility on site.

At present the plan for the nature center at Camp Penn includes the following: 
  • A library of books for wildlife identification and for inspiration (already copies of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac, and John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra have been donated as the first additions to the library).
  • Quotes from some American Nature writers as well as from Jesus and from the Psalms to be creatively displayed on the walls.
  • Pictures and other forms of artwork along the walls displaying native wildlife (which may include a mural).
  • A flat screen TV for viewing videos in keeping with the nature center theme.
  • Aquarium's and terrariums which temporarily house some of our smaller wild neighbors (like a five-lined skink) so visitors to the nature center can meet some of our wild neighbors there.
  • Information about environmental concerns of today, what's wrong, and how we can help.
  • Equipment for environmental education activities (binoculars, kick nets for stream studies, etc.)
  • A composting area just outside of the nature center.
  • A Camp Penn Wild Neighbor's Log where visitors can record their experiences of encountering wild neighbors at Camp Penn and the surrounding area. 
Plans for the environmental education and nature center at Camp Penn also include continuing work on two interpretive nature trails on the grounds at Camp Penn. Part of that continuing work is the placement of plaques that aid in the identification of trees and plants along the trail.

This is the initial post with regard to the Camp Penn environmental education program and nature center. In the coming months you can expect updates from time to time.



Thursday, January 2, 2020

Forest Runes, by Nessmuk

As we begin a new year, I'm excited to be reading a book of nature poems along with a number of friends who follow my blog or have participated in the Wildlife Tours I've led.

George Washington Sears, also known as "Nessmuk" was a prolific nature wtiter and outdoors person. Nessmuk lived in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania and he spent much of his time in the Asaph Wild Area and the Pine Creek Gorge. He also made trips to the Adirondack's in New York.

Today I've read the first pages of Nessmuk's Forest Runes.  If you'd like to read along, you are invited to purchase a copy which can be found at this link, or you can check out the free online copy of the book here.

I've often wondered how George Washington Sears came to adopt the pen name Nessmuk. Fortunately I've found my answer in the prologue of his book. It turns out that George Washington Sears became friends with a Native American member of the Narragansett tribe whose name was Nessmuk, which George tells us means "wood drake."

George's friend Nessmuk was very influential to him, mentoring him and teaching him the ways of the woods.
In George Washington Sears, a.k.a. Nessmuk's own words, "...I remain yours sincerely, Nessmuk, which means in the Narragansett tongue, or did mean, as long as there were any Narragansetts to give tongue, Wood-duck, or rather, Wood-drake. Also, it was the name of the athletic young brave, who was wont to steal me away from home before I was five years old, and carry me around Nepmug and Junkamaug lakes, day after day, until I imbibed much of his woodcraft, all his love for forest life, and alas, much of his good-natured shiftlessness...and this is how I happen to write over the name by which he was known among his people, and the reason why a favorite dog or canoe is quite likely to be called Nessmuk." (Forest Runes. George Washington Sears. Pantianos Classics, 1887. Page ix-x)
Wouldn't it be special if we all had a mentor in the ways of the woods?

Is there someone special who has, or who is helping you to get in touch with the beauty, the wonder, and the blessing of the woods; of wildlife and wild spaces?

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Second Winter Wildlife Tour of the season

Thank you for joining me on today’s saunter Les, Anna, Marge, Trudi, Laura, Mick, Rich, Debbie, John, and Theodora! What an experience! Snow, trees, turkeys, words from Henry David Thoreau, a moment to RELEASE others failures to love us and our failures to love others and a moment to WELCOME one thing that the Spirit of God might have us do in the coming year that honors God’s love for us and God’s love for our neighbors. I enjoyed sharing the trail with you today in the company of all of our wild neighbors in the full beauty of that wild space that is the Pine Creek Rail Trail adjacent to the Asaph Wild Area.