Lessons on Moving

My life has been one big box of junk for the past three months. I’ve posted enough about that move. If you’re like me and you’re behind on your blog reading, here’s a list of my previous posts. Just click on the title to read.

Thoughts on Moving

Saying Good-bye

Mountain Living

Mindful Monday – Discovering the Truest Pleasures

We’re still in transition with a part of us in North Carolina, some sections in Pittsburgh, and a whole lot in a storage unit waiting to move to Florida (sorry, furniture, but you’ll have to spend the winter in Freedom, PA).

Leaving Pittsburgh

Leaving Pittsburgh

But at least the packing is done, and we are grateful to the family member who is allowing us to stay in an empty condo while my husband continues his job, and we’re grateful for that little piece of heaven down in Murphy, North Carolina. Along the way, I learned some important lessons about one of life’s most stressful events – THE MOVE.

Minions1. Minions – Every night when I went to bed, minions entered the house and added more stuff. I would clean a closet, a cupboard, a shelf, it didn’t matter. Yet, when I returned in the morning more items appeared on the shelves I’d emptied the day before.

hangers2. Hangers – Hangers are the rabbits of inanimate objects. I figured out that for every hanger left on the rack, ten more reproduced in the course of a day. This phenomenon is real and not imagined by me. Ask the minions – they come in at night to watch. Creepy little dudes.

3. Windex® – Windex is a miracle cure for everything. I learned this from watching the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. One day, while in a frantic state to finish all the tasks for the buyers of our house, I was stung by a wasp. I had to mow the lawn before the rain came, yet all medical supplies had been boxed and moved, except for the few things the minions left on the kitchen counter the night before. I ran in the house and saw the bottle of Windex, sprayed my chest and the bite, and ran back out to the mower. The bite disappeared without redness or swelling. I guess the minions can be helpful after all.

4. Scientists – My husband with his brilliant engineering/scientific mind surprised me when it came time to get those boxes packed. He finally went down to the basement and garage area of our home and began sorting and putting things in the boxes I provided. I presented him with his own large Sharpie® and packing tape. “Why do I need these?” he asked. I explained about taping boxes shut, which he thought silly when he could just fold down the four sides. “But movers are putting these in the storage unit, so they need to be taped.” He understood, but he stared at the Sharpie as if I’d brought him a cockroach. “Why do I need a marker?” Again, I explained that we were moving things to three different locations and the destination needed to be designated on every box. Plus, I wanted him to indicate what might be in the box. “We’ll just move everything to the storage unit and open them up to see what’s inside,” he said in his very logical scientific mind. No, we won’t is the paraphrased version of my response. He did mark his boxes, but still questioned the necessity of such a thing. He didn’t understand that we had more than one hundred boxes going to different locations. His mind was on getting all of his junk treasures off the shelves. I love that man, but his mind works at angles so very different from my own.

Somehow we pulled it off, and now we spend a few months in transition between Pennsylvania and North Carolina. It’s a suspended sort of time until he retires and our home in Florida becomes available. At first, not really being settled for months bothered me and my A-type personality. But when I came to the mountains, I gazed out over the Smokies and something changed. I don’t know if it’s the mountain air or the realization that hit me as I sat with my husband amid the boxes and chaos of our current life. With him, no matter the location or situation, I am home. Forget the minions, hangers, Windex, and Sharpies–home resides somewhere beyond the physical. Perhaps that’s the sole reason our timing was so screwed up this year. I needed this time to realize my real home is right where I am at any given time.

My daughter visited our new home recently. A day after her arrival, she looked around the cabin with boxes strewn here and there. “You’re different here, Mom.” How so? “You aren’t worried about making everything perfect,” she said.

No, I’m not, and that’s because it already is.

Happy #Earth Day – Pay Dirt – #Composting

Happy Earth Day 2015!

Celebrating Earth Day is a little bit like giving canned goods to the homeless at the holidays as if that’s the only time the food is needed. Same with Earth Day. We get all warm and fuzzy inside thinking about doing things to help the environment, but then May comes along, and we forget that the Earth still struggles under the weight of human weight and consumption, just as the homeless need food as much, if not more, once January 1 rolls around.

Here’s something to do year round to help you, the environment, and maybe even those who have less than you do. Food banks welcome fresh produce and making compost surely helps you grow your own.

I’ve been composting kitchen waste ever since I had a small rooftop garden in my efficiency apartment in Ann Arbor in 1979. Since then, I’ve composted on a 20-acre homestead, in an urban backyard, and behind the shed in my current home in Pennsylvania. It’s a simple process and begins with finding a container with a sealable lid to keep in the kitchen for the food scraps.

Not all of your waste from the kitchen makes good compostable material. Avoid the use of meat scraps, fish byproducts, cheese, bones, fats, oils or grease because they all attract wild animals and take a very long time to break down. Egg shells, coffee grounds and vegetable matter make the best material to start the process of minting your very own black gold.

Once the container is filled, take it to the compost bin and put it inside and cover with either brown or green organic material. Making the rich topsoil requires a balancing act between green materials and brown materials placed on top of the kitchen scraps. Think of the green things as those still close to the live stage: grass clippings, food scraps and manures. The browns have been dead for a while and consist of dry leaves and woody materials and even shredded paper. We use the ashes from our fireplace. Layering these elements, with the browns taking up the most space, leads to the decomposition of the materials. Air and water are essential in assisting in this process, but usually there is enough liquid in my compost container and in the air to not worry about wetting the materials. If you notice the material in the bin looks dry, go ahead and water it.

There are products you can purchase, from shredders to rotating drums to three-stage bins. You can spend from $50 upwards to several hundreds of dollars. If you live in the extreme north, you may need to invest in the more sophisticated type of equipment to ensure the success of your compost bin. But I’ve composted in Michigan, Florida, and now Pennsylvania and managed to do it successfully without expending lots of money.

When I lived in an urban setting in Florida, I did the simplest thing. But it could easily have been expanded. I bought a plastic garbage can for under $10 and cut off the bottom. I drilled holes all over the lid and sides to allow air flow. A nail and hammer would have accomplished the same thing. I dug a hole about three-inches deep in the soil the diameter of the can and placed the bottom into the ground, filling around the sides to make it secure. I covered the bottom with the dirt I had just removed, making sure it was nice and loose. Then I placed my kitchen scraps on top. I covered those with leaves from my yard and put the lid back on the garbage can. Every time I put new material from the kitchen into the bin, I stirred the whole thing with a shovel.

Here in Pennsylvania, we bought a simple compost bin from Lowes for under $50. It has panels on all four sides that slide off for easy removal of the dirt from the bottom.

I fill my flower pots full of this healthy rich soil where grateful petunias and pansies thrive in the dirt that started in my kitchen. Our vegetables and herbs will receive a healthy dose of the soil when it’s time, and then we start the process all over again.

Earthworms are the essential ingredient for turning the scraps into rich dark soil. If I see a worm in the yard, I’ll pick it up and carry it to the bin, but mostly the earthworms find it all by themselves. If you don’t see any in your pile, buy a small container of earthworms from the local bait shop and let them loose. They eat the organic matter, and quite graciously poop behind nice dirt. Maybe that’s what I love most about composting. It’s a way to be a part of the cycle of nature without disturbing or destroying it.

When I began pulling together information for my book, From Seed to Table, my copy editor read the part on composted and was amazed that she could very easily start a small pile in her urban backyard. Just be sure to cover all the food scraps and keep a secure lid on the heap or you’ll have wildlife other than earthworms wanting to eat your scraps.

Do you compost? What’s been your experience? Any tips or suggestions to add?

Click here for paperback Click here for KindleClick here for paperback
Click here for Kindle

And in honor of Earth Day and in remembrance of all we lost during Deepwater Horizon, I’m offering an eBook sale (either $.99 cents or free on Smashwords) on my novel Trails in the Sand. This contemporary fiction chronicles BP’s oil spill in 2010 as environmental reporter Caroline Carlisle races to save her family from the destructive forces of their past.

3-D1web

Click below to be taken to the purchase site of your choice.

Amazon Kindle

B&N Nook

Apple iBook

Kobo

Smashwords (use coupon code FR84H)

Paperback (Sorry, I don’t set the price on this version!)

Winter Gardening Blues and Greens

???????????????????????????????Usually by this time of year, hubby happily starts a multitude of seedlings and places them under grow lights in anticipation of planting time. It’s different this year. He’s planted a few seedlings–onions, greens–but nothing like in years past because this year our house and, of course, our garden are for sale. We don’t know if we’ll be here in the spring. We certainly hope we’re not here in the summer.

He couldn’t help himself though. When I asked him why he started the onion seedlings, he said he wanted to plant them, so the new owners would be able to enjoy them in the summer.  I’ve joked that we should sell him with the house. Not that I want to leave my sweetie behind, but he could maintain the garden and share half of the produce with the new owners. After all, after five seasons of living here, he has the soil just where he wants it. Besides, it would make finding our new smaller digs easier. Try finding flat and sunny plots of land in western Pennsylvania. It’s not an easy task. In fact, it’s one reason we bought this house much too large for two people. But we have a wonderful side yard–flat and sunny.

The seed catalogs arrive daily now, and I’m proud that he’s showing restraint. The magazines arrive, but so far no subsequent delivery of seed packets. Unless, he’s shipping to his work address.

I added a few recipes to my guide on gardening, From Seed to Tableand gave the book a face lift for spring. Here’s one of my favorites for a cold winter night.

Drunken Butternut Squash Bisque

1 butternut squash, roasted – cut into several pieces (seeded). Dribble olive oil and maple syrup over the top. Roast in 350 oven until done. Roasting times vary by squash, but it usually takes from 45 minutes to an hour.

1 TBSP olive oil

1 TBSP butter

1 onion, chopped

¾ cup celery, chopped

½ tsp ginger (if you have freshly grated, it’s always better)

Cubed pieces of cooked butternut squash

½ cup Bourbon

2 TBSP maple syrup

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 ½ tsp vanilla

Salt and pepper to taste

Ground nutmeg to taste

½ cup heavy cream (optional – I rarely use it and the bisque is still wonderful!)

Heat oil and butter in large pot. Add onion, ginger, and celery and cook until onions and celery are soft. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the cream) and cook together for 15 minutes, until flavors are well blended.

In a food processor or blender, puree until smooth. Return to heat and stir in cream, if using. Heat thoroughly, but do not bring to boil. Serve hot.

Yummy.

Click on cover for Amazon page

Click on cover for Amazon page

 

Great News as Earth Day Anniversary Approaches

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Environmental stories usually leave me frustrated and disappointed – with both sides. But not today. Finally, I read something that gives me hope for civil discourse in this country on the issues that matter most. If we’re all shouting at one another to make our point, who’s listening?

In western Pennsylvania, where fracking for natural gas is becoming commonplace, a group has formed to help raise the standards of the fracking industry so the practice is sustainable and safe for humans and the environment.

The Center for Sustainable Shale Development, formed on March 20, is comprised of a combo of representatives from energy companies vested in fracking and representatives from environmental groups dedicated to safe practices. Their goal is to adopt higher performance standards for fracking companies in the areas of air quality, water resources, and climate. Folks from Consol Energy, Chevron, and Shell are sitting at the same table with members of the Clean Air Task Force and the Group Against Smog and Pollution. Even better than sitting down together – they’re getting something done without shouting.

By September, they will begin certifying companies following exemplary practices. The certification will be a badge worn by companies to show they are practicing safe and sustainable methods of fracking. So if a company comes knocking on your door offering you a lifetime of riches for drilling on your property, you can ask for their CSSD badge. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says the “CSSD endorsement will be similar to the LEED certification given to energy-efficient buildings.”

I love it when we participate in civil discourse, particularly in areas of great diversity of opinion. I applaud both sides for coming together to find a way to get natural gas out of the ground without wrecking our water and future.

I hope this group can put a stop to things such as what happened in Ohio a few months ago when Hardrock Excavating illegally dumped thousands of gallons wastewater from a fracking operation into the Mahoning River. A mishap of miscommunication occurred, and no one let us folks know just across the border here in Pennsylvania. (Beaver County Times, March 31, 2013) The Mahoning River feeds directly into my beloved Beaver River where my husband and I spend many summer days kayaking and boating.

Beaver River

Beaver River

Lupo owns Hardrock Excavating. Lupo also owns D&L Energy, the company that operated the injection well that caused the 2011 earthquake near Youngstown, Ohio.

It’s time companies, such as Lupo are stopped, and companies who practice exemplary fracking operations are rewarded. We need to encourage the good guys and put the bad guys out of business.

When we do, all sides win. Our communities get much-needed jobs, we receive cheaper methods to heat our homes, and we protect our water from harm.

Another Dangerous Side to Fracking

Frac-2

Fracking drill site

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I don’t usually post on Sundays, but I wanted to share this series of articles from the Beaver County Times. Saturday’s story explores “brine” or wastewater disposal. Sunday’s piece (not yet posted online) profiles a driver of one of the trucks hauling away the wastewater. The disposal of what comes out of the ground is another layer in the controversy over fracking.

The U.S. Geological Survey released a study recently linking fracking wastewater disposal in deep wells to recent earthquakes in the United States near these wells. Another website EcoWatch also presents information on this subject.

To be fair, I checked the Marcellus Shale Coalition website and put in “fracking wastewater.” Here’s what came up: http://marcelluscoalition.org/2012/11/what-theyre-saying-natural-gas-creating-significant-environmental-benefits-sparking-a-manufacturing-renaissance/.

My searches haven’t turned up anything else in response to this. Please let me know if there’s another side to this issue. I’m a journalist, and I want to be fair. I also live atop the Marcellus Shale and want solid unbiased answers.

Glaciers create landscape drama

Slippery Rock Creek

 

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

When my daughter visited me recently, I wanted to show her some of western Pennsylvania’s landscape without driving very far. Serendipity intervened by delivering to my mailbox “The Sylvanian,” the Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania chapter’s magazine. An article on Slippery Rock Gorge offered me a solution. A forty-mile drive from Pittsburgh, McConnells Mill State Park is home to some of the state’s most dramatic landscapes along Slippery Rock Creek and the gorge that was created by glaciers some two million years ago.

slope leading to the creek

The glaciers left behind waterfalls, Homewood sandstone boulders, and a whitewater creek. The Pennsylvania State Parksystem offers trails and picnic spots where nature puts on a theatrical show for visitors. And it’s free since Pennsylvania doesn’t charge an entrance fee into any of its parks.

Homewood boulders in the gorge

There are nine-miles of hiking trails within the park – some are more vigorous than others. We decided to hike the two-mile loop of the Kildoo trail, which begins/ends on either side of the 1874 covered bridge. Opposite the trail heads sits a gristmill constructed in 1868.

covered bridge and grist mill

We didn’t have time to make it to the falls because this “moderate” hike took a little longer than we anticipated and our schedule required us to turn back. Even though it’s marked as moderate, the hike can be slippery and narrow at some points. Slippery Rock Creek roars below so falling off the edge of the gorge is not an option. If we had made it to the falls and crossed over the foot bridge, we would have been on the North Country National Scenic Trail, which runs through the park. This trail, a part of the National Park Service, goes from New York to North Dakota.

whitewater awaits in the valley of the gorge

Next time I visit – and I will – I’ll plan my schedule better and be prepared to stay the whole day.

a waterfall in the sandstone

Serendipity is welcome in my life at any time.  I’d love to hear about times this has happened to you.

NOTE: I’m cutting back on my blog writing starting this week. I’ve been writing four blogs a week – two for Living Lightly Upon this Earth and two for Writing, Tips, Thoughts, and Whims. While I enjoy writing the blogs and interacting with followers, I need more time for writing novels and nonfiction books. From now on, I will post two times – one for each of my blogs. Thanks for reading my posts. I’m always thrilled when I see someone has left a comment.

 

A Love Affair with Birds

great blue heron in the salt marshes of Florida

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

My grandmother taught me a love of birds many years ago back in Michigan. She had a bird feeder right outside the window so she could see it from her chair in the living room. She kept bird books on the table there and I loved to visit her in the winter to watch the colorful birds come to the white-covered feeder.

When I moved to Florida, I continued my love affair. I’m not an expert, but I know I admire birds, especially large ones. The great blue heron is found near any type of water, but I thought it was only in Florida. When I moved to Pennsylvania two years ago, I discovered they are year-round residents here as well. One morning when I woke in my new house, I looked outside the French doors in my bedroom to the balcony railing. A great blue was perched there looking down at the small pond below as small gold fish swam unaware of the danger lurking above. Too bad my camera was in another room.

Great blues forage alone so it was with surprise that I saw two flying over us as we cruised on the Beaver River recently. I assumed they must be migratory here, but according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, they are year-round residents in much of the continental United States.

great blue heron on Beaver River in western Pennsylvania

Right now, the males are searching for places to nest in the trees, which provides an explanation of why these two kept perching on tree limbs instead of the usual foraging on the banks of the river. It also explains why these two traveled as a pair. Most likely, the male is looking for the right platform while enticing the female to join him.

We also saw a great egret on the river the same day.

great egret on Beaver River in western Pennsylvania

I’d never seen one of those in Pennsylvania, but they are abundant in Florida. These are migratory birds, but usually travel in flocks so I’m not sure why this one was alone. According to Cornell, during mild winters the great egret will remain in the north. We did have a mild winter last year. In that case, the male may have been doing the same thing as the great blue: looking for a nesting site in the tree. Then again, this great egret may have just been resting for a bit before heading to its winter home in the south. No matter the reason, it’s good to see the great egret here. At one time, they almost disappeared because women’s fashion required their plumes in gilded age hats of the late nineteenth century.

This time of year anywhere in the world, is a great time to see the birds preparing for the change in season.

 

 

Ohio River Watershed Celebration – Eleven Years of Good Stuff

The Ohio River is a Working River

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Rivers are vital to our lives. For decades, as we grew into an industrialized nation, we gave little regard to what we put into those rivers. Now, we understand we cannot destroy what gives us life. As a result, many of our rivers are slowly improving as we balance the needs of industry with the need for clean water.

I was heartened recently to attend the eleventh annual Ohio River Watershed Celebration  (ORWC) in Pittsburgh. ORWC is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Stream Restoration, Inc.Funding for the ORWC is provided by generous donations from private businesses, industries, foundations, and citizens.

Consol Energy was one of the major sponsors for the event.

The event’s goals are

  • To promote watershed stewardship, energy conservation, environmental education, and outreach.
  • To provide networking opportunities that form lasting partnerships among diverse community interests.
  • To celebrate and encourage environmental initiatives that support the continual recovery of the Ohio River Watershed in Western Pennsylvania and neighboring states through an enjoyable experience on the rivers.

This year’s event in late September brought out hundreds of students, parents, teachers, environmentalists, government officials, and business partners on a rainy Thursday afternoon. They gathered at the docks in downtown Pittsburgh, and without complaint about the soggy weather, boarded two cruise ships bound for the three rivers of the Steel City.

A rainy day in Pittsburgh

Ron Schwartz with Pennsylvania DEP told the crowd, “This rain is nature’s way of purifying the waterways.”

Nowhere is it clearer why a city exists where it does than in Pittsburgh. The Monongahela River flows from south to north to meet up with the south flowing Allegheny River. The two rivers meet at the Point in downtown, and the Ohio River forms and flows almost 1,000 miles westward to the Mississippi River. This year’s theme “Our Rivers – let’s get to the point” focused on how those three rivers shaped the course of the region.

The Point where three rivers converge

When coal was discovered in the hills above the convergence of the three rivers, the city was poised to become a giant during the Industrial Revolution. However, giants leave large footprints and within a few years of steel mills spewing out poisons into the air and water, Pittsburgh was a coughing and sputtering mess. The once bucolic journey of the rivers changed to an industrial highway.

Pittsburgh is home to the most bridges of any city in the world.

Thankfully, with deliberate consideration, the city has been reborn, and the rivers are testament to the rebirth. Fish and wildlife have returned.

Two cruise ships set sail from the docks. The Imagination Cruise overflowed with students waving from the upper decks of the Gateway Clipper fleet ship despite the pouring rain.

Imagination Cruise

Adults boarded the other ship for the Networking Cruise.

Networking Cruise Ship

Booths and presentations for both cruises provided information on how to protect watersheds. Other booths celebrated the joys of paddling the rivers and enjoying their recreational value. Yet others passed out literature on how to best maintain gardens and lawns while not harming the watershed. Before walking down the ramp to the docks, several vehicles in the parking lot showed visitors how gas guzzlers can become fuel efficient vehicles.

school bus

taxi

Mr. Rogers’ statute watched over the ships from the banks of the Allegheny River on the north shore. The man who made Pittsburgh his home taught us all to love our communities. It’s a great day in the neighborhood, rain or shine.

 

Fallingwater – the melding of nature and man

Bear Run rushing over rocks at Fallingwater

 

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

There’s a missing element from the photos of Fallingwater in western Pennsylvania. The sound of Bear Run resounds through the trees as it races over rocks to meet the Youghiogheny River in the valley below Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece of organic architecture. Roaring waterfalls echo throughout the inside and outside space, impossible to capture in a photo.

Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann owned Pittsburgh’s largest department store, and they owned property ninety miles away in the Laurel Highlands, a part of the Appalachians. In the middle of the property, Bear Run flows over rocky waterfalls. The Kaufmanns brought Wright to the property in 1934. The roar must have left an imprint on the architect because when the Kaufmanns asked where they might build on the property, Wright gave them only one answer.

He told them he wanted to build their home over that waterfall, not to block it, but to become a part of it, just as a tree would grow out of the nearby hills. He envisioned a blending of the natural world using sandstone quarried right on the property and steel milled in Pittsburgh.

Bear Run under Fallingwater

I’ve visited the site twice now, both times in the summer. I’m ready to go back in a few months to experience the house surrounded in the glory of fall colors.

The dichotomy of Frank Lloyd Wright struck me on my most recent visit.

The man’s personal life screamed in tabloid headlines. His early success with the prairie house lay shattered as commissions dropped to nothing. Yet his vision for Fallingwater expresses tranquility, a peaceful joining with nature.

Wright wanted to blend with nature rather than to control it. He built around a giant boulder on the hillside. The boulder provides a shelf in the kitchen and a seat next to the fireplace in the living room. It also extends out from the house reaching toward one of the many balconies cantilevered out from the steel supports. Yet he sought absolute control over the layout of the house. Wright built the furniture – couches, headboards for beds, desks, tables –into the walls. The tour guide said Wright did that so the owners of the home couldn’t alter his design. Legend has it Mr. Kaufmann balked at the small surface area of the desk in his bedroom. Wright refused to change the design until Mr. Kaufmann told him, “The desk you’ve designed is too small for me to write the check to pay you.” Wright changed the design to expand the desktop.

House was built around the boulder to left of cantilevered balconies.

Wright designed Fallingwater not to encapsulate its visitors, but to open them to the outdoors. He hated square boxy structures, yet Fallingwater resembles a teetering tower of boxes from the outside. Inside is a different matter. Upon entering each room, nature greets the occupants, the Cherokee red steel supports give way to sandstone walls, and floors and windows open to the sky above, the trees around, and the water below.

Corner of living room – sky above and water below

Steps from living room lead to Bear Run

From every corner, the roar of water permeates the living space as Bear Run cascades over the rocks under the home.

Contradictions aside, Fallingwater is a masterpiece of ingenuity.

Boxes on outside – open to nature inside

A hallway leading to the walkway to the guesthouse is host to skylights and an original Diego Rivera (one of two in the house, along with two Picasso’s). The back wall abuts the side of the hill where water flows from the hilltop. Instead of fighting nature, Wright created a wall as waterfall, which allows the water do what it will do.

He might have believed in controlling his clients, but he knew better than to tell Mother Nature what to do.

If you go:

Admission: $22.00

Location: Fallingwater is located in SW Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands and 90 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh. The home sits in a scenic, wooded setting on PA Route 381 between the quaint villages of Mill Run and Ohiopyle.

Phone #: 724-329-8501

Website: http://www.fallingwater.org

A View from the Creek

Raccoon Creek 2011Raccoon Creek May 2011

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Raccoon Creek winds for nearly thirty miles through the foothills of the Alleghenies in western Pennsylvania. During its course through valleys and woodlands, it picks up several tributaries flowing down the hillsides before it dumps into the Ohio River thirty miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

We recently kayaked five miles of the creek from outside Raccoon Creek State Park. We actually put in our kayaks in Little Traverse Creek in the park and paddled a short distance to Raccoon Creek which begins its flow seven miles upriver.

Downed trees made the first mile or so rather challenging but interesting. We managed to get by the majority but were forced to portage the kayaks twice – once pulling under a tree and once carrying over a split trunk of a large sycamore. We hit some small white water flows and a few places where stones and rocks required some fast maneuvering. It’s a pleasant cruise. As soon as a challenge is met, there’s a wide expanse of deep water and easy floating as the water carries the kayak downstream. We saw deer swimming across the creek. Great blue herons yakked in the air above us flushing out smaller birds from the bushes on the banks. Little blue herons sat on downed tree limbs basking in the sun. And catfish more than a foot long swam past us in the clear water.

Skipping stones

When I wasn’t figuring out how to wedge between tree limbs or how to dodge the large rocks on the riverbed, I gazed at the trees, birds and skies with gratitude and relief. At one point, tears filled my eyes when I considered how close we came to losing this creek. While it looks pristine now, it really isn’t. Surrounding us in the hills and in the woods are abandoned coal mines, both underground and strip mines on the hilltops. A decade ago, this creek was filled with acid mine drainage, and no birds sang. If fish swam, they were filled with toxins such as mercury and unfit for consumption by any living thing.

Since 1781, the entire area was mined for coal, and Raccoon Creek and all its tributaries were nearly killed by acids and metals draining from the abandoned mines. The Raccoon Creek Watershed covers 184 square miles in southwestern Pennsylvania and Raccoon Creek runs right through the middle of it. After a report was released in 2000 on the levels of poisons in the creek, major efforts began, resulting in the installation of  acid mine drainage pollution treatment systems. Those efforts in the past decade have made a big difference here and elsewhere.

I brought my back up camera on the trip and took lots of pictures of Raccoon Creek and its abundance. As I prepared to write this blog, I couldn’t find the camera to download the pictures. I’m using photos from our trip last year when we attempted to kayak nearly the entire length of the creek. It ended two miles from our takeout point when we both collided into a fallen tree with a fast current moving underneath it.

The tree that took us out.

The rescued kayak from 2011

My kayak got away from me and our paddles floated along behind it. A rescue crew brought us home although the only thing rescued that day was my kayak.

Raccoon Creek is only navigable from March to June when the water is higher. We’ve been in a drought here for most of the spring and summer so we had to wait this year to get out until the rains brought the water level up high enough. Now we’ll have to wait until next year for our next cruise. Thanks to wise environmental practices now being implemented, the creek will be there waiting. And so will the wildlife.

A living creek