HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.

Roots: Tripping Hazard or Erosion Control?

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Muddy Boots and Exposed Roots

Spending 2 full days watching the E! Sex and the City Marathon has me reading the title above in Carrie Bradshaw’s voice and imagining it being typed across a pixelated computer screen. Not that Sex and the City ever focused on nature or that Carrie Bradshaw would be caught dead in hiking boots. But thinking about the duplicity of something in a particular circumstance certainly was Carrie Bradshaw’s forte. This binging happened to coincide with the 10th anniversary of me moving into my home sweet home.

Roots and the Reservoir

This anniversary of setting down roots, my surprise at being in one place this long and recent reflections on impermanence had me thinking differently about the roots I encountered on a recent hike in Maryland and along a trail I was walking for my annual participation in the first day hike. Really I cannot think of one trail I have hiked that didn’t have exposed roots along the way.

A particularly root-filled section of trail along the Gunpowder River in Maryland

No one has ever accused me of being graceful. Like most hiking humans, I occasionally trip on the trail (no, not that kind of trip, I can’t walk and do that at the same time, I have trouble enough simply walking) failing to raise my hiking boots above random rocks and roots in the trail, perhaps caught deep in thought, perhaps lost in conversation with a hiking buddy, perhaps tired after the miles. On this solo hike, I tripped on a root and stopped to notice the network of roots crisscrossing the trail which ran along a reservoir.

Roots holding a bank of soil along a trail.

Those tripping hazards are so much more than annoyances. They are keeping the soil from falling into the reservoir through the process of erosion. Erosion, of course, is the process through which water and wind move minerals and soil. Through an intricate network of tap roots, lateral roots, feeder roots, fibrous roots, minerals, water, organic matter, microorganisms, macro-organisms, fungi and bacteria soils are being created and held in place. These roots provide more than a sturdy place to hike. They support an ecosystem while keeping the reservoir clean for the recipients of the drinking water stored within.

What’s left of a massive root system of a Coastal Redwood

These roots are also providers, storing nutrients and water in the winter. When the leaves are gone and the tree cannot produce its own energy, it is okay, the roots will provide when the time is right. When the temperatures rise and sap starts to flow it is from these roots. They provide exactly enough sugars and water for the tree to grow new leaves so it can create its own food once again.

Roots used as steps up a steeper part of the trail.

There is a saying about roots and wings we were given as young people, that children should be provided both roots, for a sense of place and grounding and “home”, and wings ,to explore and find freedom and make their own way. Whether or not they were provided, we are able to create our own roots.

It is roots breaking through rock that is the genesis of soil and a foundation of life.

It is true that our roots, whether given or created, can be tripping hazards. They can be complicated. Much of the good they do happens out of sight, below ground and mysterious, often revealed only with trauma. Sometimes they are severed, intentionally or not. Roots alone cannot stop all erosion. Sometimes the roots that trip you, maddeningly or embarrassingly, may not trip another single soul on the journey.

Roots of a beech tree find their way over a boulder.

But those roots can also prevent the erosion of connections you make and the happiness you create around you. They are sources of stability, they can become part of a network that nourishes, even when we are not able to nourish ourselves.

The roots that may cause us to stumble along the trail are reminders that what may cause us problems may also be beneficial in ways we will never see.

Back on the Trail

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A golden Sugar Maple leaf, Acer saccharum, manages to perch perfectly on a twig between the creek and the trail.

For many the pandemic inspired people to get out on the trails, into parks and exploring nature, maybe for the first time, maybe to places they have never been. For me, the pandemic had the opposite effect. All of the places I usually find solace in a quiet exploration I found teeming with people, uncomfortable, crowded and unpleasant. The trails that brought me peace and an opportunity to contemplate and observe were now obstacle courses of bikers, joggers and walkers. And so I avoided my favorite places.

6 months into the pandemic, my friend and I began venturing on early morning bike rides. The area was opening up. Group activities and businesses were finding their new way to engage people and less people were hitting the trails, especially early. Eventually, after quite a few bike rides, I felt I could walk, and contemplate and recharge and observe out in my favorite natural places again.

Ahhhhh… Breathe in…. Breathe Out…

Listen to the crunch of the gravel under your feet…

Listen to the rippling of the creek down below…

Stop every five seconds to take another photo of the beauty that surrounds you.

Pale purple flowers of Blue Wood Aster, Symphyotrichum cordifolium, and the bright yellow leaves of Spice Bush, Lindera benzoin. Note the empty trail.

The Perkiomen Trail, my favorite stretch being the Crusher Road Access to Spring Mount, felt peaceful and accessible and enjoyable again.

Poison Ivy Toxicodendron radicans crawls up a homeowner’s fence putting on a bicolor show.

It is not that I stopped exploring nature during my Pandemic Pause from the Perkiomen Trail. Interestingly early on in the pandemic car traffic became so light I felt comfortable walking the narrow, unlined, hilly, curving roads around my home and began taking suburban safaris finding two 3.5 mile routes that took me past all kinds of nature I hadn’t noticed before. Over the months I discovered native plants I thought I had to drive someplace else to see and watched the changing of the seasons right close to home.

Blue Wood Aster Symphyotrichum cordifolium edges the trail and a lone jogger in the distance.

On this day I managed to time my morning walk just right to capture the essence of autumn in the sunrise and the wildflowers. Back to my happy place, a little bit of feeling normal, in this crazy new world.

Dewy Spiderweb

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PS

There was some evidence of the crazy I missed while avoiding the trail over the summer. Notice the trashcan stuck high up on the trees in the photo below. A remnant of the intense flooding storms we experienced over the summer.

A Virtual Revisit: Grey Towers

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Gifford Pinchot, the first director of the US Forest Service was also a eugenicist.

Back in 2014, I wrote about visiting Grey Towers. I cannot believe I have been writing this blog for more than 6 years! And how times have changed. In that post I mentioned Gifford Pinchot, former governor of Pennsylvania, first chief of the US Forest Service, sometimes called father of the Conservation Movement.

Grey Towers, a National Historic Site, was Gifford Pinchot’s family home. While it was beautiful and full of history, there was a story lacking in the interpretation both in the house museum and in the gardens.

I am sharing some of that additional story here, because I think it is time that we all, whether on a national platform or through a blog that reaches a handful of people on its best day, need to start telling the complete stories of our history. If we do not know the complete story we can at least start telling MORE of the story.

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Road Trip – Cascades Trail – North Adams MA

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844d5bbc-6e09-4f6d-adc5-03c58c514c0bMy wanderlust is flaring up something serious right now. 45 work days working from home. Today is day 50 of the social-distancing, quarantine, stay-at-home order for the area I live. 50 days! I have watched the end of winter and the beginning of spring as buds swelled and flowers emerged.

I realized quite some time ago that inserting myself into nature is how I cope. When I am sad, depressed, anxious or angry I turn to trails through the woods and the delights of nature to restore my spirits, give me hope and grant me perspective.

My 50 days have not been without connection to nature. I am lucky enough to have a wooded back yard and gardens and live in a rural enough area to be able to see frogs and flowers along my daily walks. But there is no substitute for a good hike along a new trail.

Glimpses of wildflowers or waterfalls, and in the very best cases, both,  are frequent goals of mine on these walks. Arriving to an elevated vista is also something I look to find.

While we are still closed down, though there are murmuring of a slow reopen, I continue to think back to the trails I have explored and making lists of places I want to go.

The Cascades Trail was a funny trail. I followed signs for it along the sidewalk and through a suburban neighborhood. I felt kind of funny traipsing through a quiet neighborhood with my hiking poles and backpack walking past people raking leaves and moving mulch around.

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George Aiken Wildflower Trail

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Hunkered down in quarantine during prime spring ephemeral season has me thinking back to places I have been lucky enough to visit. It is also giving me reason to stay close to home and time to look back and write about some of the places I have explored.

In the summer a little more than a year ago I ventured solo north to Vermont for a week. Meandering the unfamiliar roads on the way home from a state park I saw a sign for this Wildflower Trail. I never miss an opportunity to get up close to wildflowers and decided to check it out.

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Change Along the Perkiomen Trail

The past lives on in art and memory, but it is not static: it shifts and changes as the present throws its shadow backwards. The landscape also changes, but far more slowly; it is a living link between what we were and what we have become. This is one of the reasons why we feel such a profound and apparently disproportionate anguish when a loved landscape is altered out of recognition; we lose not only a place, but ourselves, a continuity between the shifting phases of our life. 

~ Margaret Drabble A Writer’s Britain: Landscape in Literature

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The Perkiomen Trail is close to home and a regular haunt for me. The 20-mile trail is a place of recreation, exhilaration, peace, reflection, solace, and education. In the 9 years I have walked and biked the trail it has changed. It changes seasonally, trading carpets of spring ephemerals for the russet and burgundy of fallen leaves in Autumn. But I have not witnessed anything so drastic as the change I saw upon returning to my favorite local outdoor place in early June this year.

While away visiting the big trees of northern California at home destruction was being wrought by straight-line winds gusting up to 110 miles per hour.  The storm also came with flash flooding of the Perkiomen Creek and the many other smaller tributaries coursing through the region. Luckily, my woodland home was spared damage from downed trees, but the same cannot be said for many in the area. Homes along the Perkiomen Creek were particularly hard hit by both flooding and the strong winds toppling trees. Unlike Ms. Drabble’s statement above – in this case the landscape changed drastically and quickly.

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The William Scarbrough House and Gardens at the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, Savannah GA

J.B. Jackson said a landscape is “a portion of the earth’s surface that can be comprehended at a glance.”

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Detail of a bench back in the gardens

While in Savannah for a long weekend to celebrate my mom’s milestone birthday the group of us in town went to visit the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. It was on my dad’s list of places to visit while he was there and so we all went along.

Quickly I lost the group as my hunny and I were drawn to the call of the landscape, as does seem to happen – you too?  All it took was the hint of something well-pruned and a glimpse of a flower to distract us from the museum entrance, drawing us around the corner and into the garden. Though the garden is not large, it was at least an hour before we finally made inside the museum.

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The Tall and the Small – A Visit to the Redwoods and Finding Wildflowers

That tree in the background – that would be an enormous tree in our eastern forests.

“Like a flea hugging its dog” Richard Powers writes about touching a Coastal Redwood in The Overstory, I am certain no more accurate a description for anything has ever been written. Had I picked up this book prior to my visit to see these behemoths in person I may have thought this sentence pure hyperbole. After visiting I know now this phrase is as accurate as any scientific description.

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Winter Visit: Hoover-Mason Trestle, Bethlehem

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Bethlehem Steel Stacks

The Bethlehem Steel Stacks is a phenomenal place to visit and see just how well a place that has outlived its original purpose can become something completely different and equally important to the surrounding community.

According to their website: “Steel Stacks is a 1-acre campus dedicated to arts, culture, family events, community celebrations, education and fun. Once the home of Bethlehem Steel, the second largest steel manufacturer in the nation, the site has been reborn through music and art…”

While you can find comedy acts, art exhibits, concerts and all kinds of other events here, in the summer of 2018 you could also get an up close look at the industrial complex that was Bethlehem Steel as well as take in some horticulture.

The Hoover-Mason Trestle (HMT) began its life as a narrow-gauge railroad to carry materials needed to make iron from the yards to the blast furnaces.

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Winter Visit: Moravian Pottery & Tile Works

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Moravian Tile Works

A Small Section of the sprawling Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, notice the intricate tiles, different, adorning each chimney.

The wonderful thing about horticulture and being interested in and looking for all things plants is you find them where you least expect them. On this day we ventured to a place I have driven by countless times in my many years spent in Doylestown but have never ventured inside.

The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works is located in Doylestown, PA. Registered as a national historic landmark, this sprawling concrete structure still produces hand-made tiles using the methods and molds from when this factory began in the late 1800s.  After a welcome and paying a very reasonable admission fee, we entered the studio and watched a video about the history of the place and of Henry Chapman Mercer – the pottery’s founder and builder. I am particularly fond of Mr. Mercer, him having the same affinity for and appreciation of the powers of concrete as I grew up witnessing in my father.  If you are wondering just how that is represented all you need to do is look closely at the construction of Henry Mercer’s pottery works, home – Fonthill Castle – and the Mercer Museum all of which are built of the slurry of cement, water, sand and cast over structural supports such as rebar and wire mesh, some of which you can see in the nooks and crannies of the pottery works.

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