Elfant

A Valentine to Bob and Nancy Elfant

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

It’s Valentine’s Day, that day set aside to think about the things we love. Bob and Nancy Elfant, local residents and strong supporters of the Schuylkill Center’s Wildlife Clinic, love animals.

“We both have a soft spot in our heart for animals,” said Bob last week. “And needy animals,” chimed in Nancy, noting their adoption of two rescue dogs 11 years ago. The Elfants were making a visit to the Wildlife Clinic, being given a tour by Chris Strub, the clinic’s assistant director.

“If I pass an animal along the road that has been hurt, I tear up– it’s just so sad,” Bob said, continuing, “humankind does enough to destroy and harm the animal world that if there is something we can do to give back or make them better, that’s our obligation.”

Bob is a founding partner of both Elfant Pontz Properties and Elfant Wissahickon Realtors, the latter with its cheery yellow “For Sale” signs (note the squirrel logo– there’s that love of  animals again) visible across the region. Nancy, a former social worker, is recognized by many as a former owner of Germantown Avenue’s Trolley Car Diner, where she ran the front of the house for many years. In the fall, the couple make a generous leadership gift to the Schuylkill Center that helped us reopen our Wildlife Clinic, closed, as noted here many times, through much of 2018 while we searched for a new director.

“It’s nice for us to donate to something concrete,” Nancy noted, pointing to the clinic, a bricks-and-mortar place that rescues wildlife. “It makes a real difference.”

Their support for the Wildlife Clinic became even more concrete recently when the Elfants brought a cardinal there a few weeks back. Outside of their family room, they’ve long maintained a series of feeders where they watch chickadees nibbling on suet, blue jays noisily eating seeds, goldfinches working the thistle feeder, hummingbirds sipping nectar, and more. And yes, they have decals on their windows to lessen the odds of window strikes by birds mistaking reflections in the glass for sky.

Even with the decals, they recently heard a thud against the window, and Bob had “that feeling where your heart goes into your stomach. We ran to the window, and the cardinal was laying there outside, clearly alive, clearly stunned.” They carefully placed the bird in a box and brought it immediately to the Wildlife Clinic.

“The best part,” continued Bob, “was watching (new clinic director Rebecca Michelin) examine the bird. Her touch was amazing, the way she can hold the bird in just the right way and blow on its chest feathers looking for bruising on the skin underneath, checking out the legs to determine they were not broken. She shone a flashlight into its eyes– it was like a human medical exam on an animal.”

The cardinal stayed overnight for observation, and the next day Rebecca called the Elfants with the happy news to “come get your cardinal, you can bring her home.” Bob was especially excited that Rebecca referred to it as “your cardinal,” giving them ownership of the experience. They released it that day in their backyard, Nancy capturing a photo of the bird shooting out of the box, the cardinal a mid-air blur of red.

While the Elfants give to a variety of causes– Bob is president of Arden Theater’s board, for example, with Nancy also a fellow board member– this particular donation is “dear to our hearts.”

When Bob was asked what he might say to other potential donors about the Wildlife Clinic, he didn’t hesitate: “Open your checkbooks,” he said. “If people can find it in their hearts to support animals, this is a great way to do just that.”

“We encourage people to do something,” Nancy concluded.

There are innumerable ways to support the Wildlife Clinic’s mission to protect wildlife in Philadelphia. Donations to the clinic are welcome– and can be offered online– but donations of in-kind materials can also be made; check out our website’s list. Plus there is an Amazon wish list there as well, so you can purchase a needed amenity for the clinic and have it shipped there directly.

You can also volunteer for the Wildlife Clinic, as almost 100 people have already done since the clinic reopened in November. Call the Schuylkill Center at 215-482-7300 to begin the volunteering discussion.

On Valentine’s Day, we join the Elfants in declaring our love for animals, and invite you to join the Elfants in showing that love by donating to the Wildlife Clinic.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

 

Celebrate Winterfest at the Schuylkill Center

By Mike Weilbacher

This Saturday– Groundhog Day, appropriately enough– the Schuylkill Center celebrates the reopening of our Wildlife Clinic with a family festival marking the day, Winterfest for Wildlife. Held at the Visitor Center on Hagy’s Mill Road and happening from noon to 4 p.m., the event includes nature walks, wildlife talks, face painting, wildlife-themed arts and crafts, storytimes courtesy of the Free Library, a bake sale, and more.

But the event kicks off at noon with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting. Since the Wildlife Clinic itself is typically closed to the general public as it is a hospital for ill and injured patients that need quiet and rest, the event occurs at the Schuylkill Center’s main building, where we’ll string a ribbon across our auditorium to be cut by clinic friends, marking the reopening of the clinic.

The Master of Ceremonies for the ribbon-cutting will be Kathy O’Connell, the award-winning host of WXPN-FM Philadelphia’s “Kid’s Corner,” one of the very few children’s radio shows in the country. Kathy, a long-time friend of the Schuylkill Center, will stay after the ribbon-cutting to meet and greet friends and engage them in wildlife-related activities.

Rebecca Michelin, our Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation, will present a slideshow on urban wildlife, and Ent Natale, an educator on the center’s staff, will lead walks looking for signs of local wildlife. In addition, the Pennsylvania Game Commission will be on hand to mark the day, as they are a key partner in the Wildlife Clinic. In fact, just this week clinic staff released a Cooper’s hawk brought to the facility by the Game Officer. (Since it was brought to us from the Naval Yard, our staff released it back at the Naval Yard.)

Since there are few patients on hand at the moment, small groups of visitors will be given limited-time tours of the Wildlife Clinic; vans will be shutting people back and forth from the Visitor Center to the clinic on Saturday. At Winterfest, visitors will be able to sign up for a slot on a tour at the event. Chris Strub, the clinic’s Assistant Director, will offer these tours while Rebecca presents wildlife talks at the Visitor Center. This will be the only time of the year when we will conduct this kind of tour at the clinic.

Cooper's Hawk

The Cooper’s hawk brought to the Schuylkill Center for rehabilitation by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. After successfully being rehabbed by the clinic’s skilled staff, the bird– a skilled predator of other flying birds– was rebased this week where it was discovered, at the Naval Yard.

It makes perfect sense for Winterfest for Wildlife to occur on Groundhog Day, the only holiday named for a wild animal. While folk legend holds that groundhogs– also called woodchucks– peek out of their burrows and look around that day; if they see their shadows, they scare back into their holes and we have six more weeks of winter. If the weather is overcast and there is no shadow, guess what: early spring. While scientific studies– yes, someone actually studied this– show no correlation between Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog, and weather patterns, there is a kernel of science embedded here, as male woodchucks have been spotted coming out of hibernation dens in early February to scout for the dens of females, likely getting an early start on the spring mating season.

With temperatures dropping back down into the single digits this week, let’s all guess that Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on Saturday– and winter stays. But who knows?

Speaking of spring and baby animals, this is also why the Wildlife Clinic is holding its public coming-out party in February. Gray squirrels will soon be having babies, and one of the annual rites of spring at wildlife clinics across the country is marking that time when people start bringing in baby animals (or calling us about baby animals)– and baby squirrels typically lead the parade, usually starting around Valentine’s Day (though baby squirrel season seems arrive earlier and earlier in the calendar).

So come to the Schuylkill Center at noon on Saturday, help us cut the ribbon and celebrate the re-booting of this critical area facility, the only wildlife rehabilitation center in Philadelphia and one of a very small handful in the entire region. Stay for some baked goodies, enjoy Rebecca talk, take a winter wildlife walk, bring your children or grandchildren for story times and crafts, and enjoy the day.

Then, consider volunteering for the Wildlife Clinic, joining the ever-growing group of great people who will help Rebecca and Chris take care of the thousands of injured, orphaned and baby animals that will soon come pouring into its front door.

Or go to our website, www.schuylkillcenter.org, to find the list of items the clinic is seeking to be donated to help it meet the needs of its wild patients: dog and cat foods, blankets, T-shirts, and more. There’s also an Amazon wish list of supplies you can have sent to us directly. It’s all in the wildlife clinic section of the website.

Spring is coming, in spite of this week’s freezing weather, and the Wildlife Clinic will be heating up along with the weather. We’d love your help in making this happen, by volunteering, by donating, or simply by coming to Winterfest to see what all the excitement is about.

Hope to see you here.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

Eduardo Duenas Reflects on Caravans and Life in Honduras

By Mike Weilbacher

While the Federal government remains mired in the longest shutdown ever (I am writing this on Sunday, so the fluid situation may change dramatically by the time you read this), a new caravan was scheduled to leave Honduras this week, thousands more beginning the long trek north to Mexico and the U.S.

This sad, hard, complex situation brought me to Eduardo Duenas, the Schuylkill Center’s Manager of School Programs, an educator on our staff who oversees a cadre of educators that help him teach school children on their visits here. A native Honduran, Eduardo has been in America for most of the last four years, the Schuylkill Center for the last two, and has permanent resident status with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He’s married to an American citizen, and they are raising twin infant sons.

And  he’s easily the biggest– or at least the most vocal– Eagles fan on our staff, bleeding Eagles green.

Eduardo Duenas

Of the caravans, Eduardo, who knows some of the people assembling in the current caravan, says, “I feel sad. These people don’t want to leave. They don’t want a car or a pool– they just want to eat, they just want their kids to eat. Seven out of 10 Hondurans,” he continued, “are eating only once a day, and foreign aid from countries like the U.S. is not getting to the people. They rather die trying to get into the U.S. than watch their kids starve. If they had most of the basic things they need, they would not come.” Joining a caravan, he says, for many is “pure necessity.”

He visited Honduras with his family over the Christmas break, some of his kin meeting his sons for the first time, and came back devastated– his home city of La Ceiba on the Caribbean coast “has never been so dirty,” and was surprisingly empty, almost a ghost town, as many of the Hondurans once there have left for elsewhere.

Like Eduardo himself. Born in Honduras’ capital and largest city, Tegucigalpa, he was mostly raised by his grandmother in a region called Valle del Aguán, literally, the valley of the Aguán River, a river Eduardo knew intimately. “I was happy there,” as a child, he told me. “I’d run to the river almost every day; I loved to fish, loved to swim. I caught snakes, I caught butterflies.” Like so many youngsters his age, he learned  how to make slingshots, spending endless hours aiming at poor unsuspecting lizards, an activity he now rues a little. Above him were the mountains, so between river and mountains were “animals of all shapes and sizes, birds of all kinds. I always knew I loved nature study down there.” (Today, as an adult on our staff, he has a great nose for finding turtles, snakes, toads and more on group walks.)

Eduardo Duenas

Valle del Aguán is also one of the most fertile regions in Honduras, its rich soil growing coffee, bananas, mangos, pineapples, and more. “But we made deals, stupid deals, with foreign companies for like 100 years for one dollar,” one of the reasons the economy is bankrupt– people don’t control land or agriculture.

He left Valle del Aguán after high school, moving to the larger coastal city of La Ceiba so he could attend university. After an ill-fated stint in law school, he finished a degree in ecotourism, where he could be closer to the animals he loves. He tried making a life in Honduras– he has been a tour guide for ecotourism companies, a fisherman (snorkeling with a spear to catch fish), a landscaper pulling weeds and planting trees, even a street musician and artist; he has tried many things. But after he was pulled over by the police and detained in jail for a full day for no reason, he decided to leave Honduras. “I had to explain to my mother in 2012 that I didn’t have any opportunities in Honduras,” he said.

He went to Costa Rica, where he enrolled in a La Salle University program that led to dual  degrees in environmental management and sustainable development. There, he met his wife, a native of Villanova who worked for a company that had offices in Costa Rica. They married in Honduras in 2013, and she soon pushed to live in the U.S., as she thought their chances of making a life were better here.

“But I don’t want to go to a place that doesn’t like me,” he said about his first reaction to America, but ultimately agreed. “I applied for a visa,” he remembered, “but it took more than two years to get an answer.” To his great relief, he has only received support for his being in the United States.

In 2015, he and he wife spotted a pair of baby owls in the middle of a road. Using cell phones, they discovered that the Schuylkill Center ran a wildlife clinic, and were able to rescue one– the second was sadly struck by a passing vehicle as they were getting out of their car. He volunteered for the Toad Detour program, became a Trail Steward, and is now a full-time educator.

So while his journey is uniquely his own, it echoes the tragedy of the current situation in Central America, that thousands of people from Honduras feel their best chance for survival is a dangerous trek north. As the latest caravan starts its long walk north, my thoughts are with Eduardo, his family, his friends, and all Hondurans.

 

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

Reflecting on Remembering Water’s Way: Artist Guest post

By Cassie Meador, Choreographer/Executive Artistic Director of Dance Exchange

Editor’s note: The LandLab resident artists of 2017-2018 (including this Dance Exchange project along with Kate Farquhar and Jan Mun) will be featured in a gallery exhibition at the Center for Emerging Visual Artists, opening with a reception on January 10, 2019. More information at: https://www.cfeva.org/events/cfeva-exhibitions/landlab2019

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Over this past year, I have been working with the Schuylkill Center as part of their LandLab Residency program to address an environmental challenge through dancemaking and community participation.

On our first research walk at the center, I noticed several large bundles of sticks being used to slow waters movement across the land and to collect debris that might otherwise end up in the Schuylkill River. We learned that these curious bundles are called fascines. I was struck by the fact that each stick individually does very little on its own; it is the aggregate of them that holds the strength and ability to slow and divert the powerful force of water.

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As part of the walking and performance tours we shared at the Schuylkill Center, we built a loom with designer Zeke Leonard to create large weavings of sticks and native plants. These were then rolled, bundled, and carried on our shoulders as audiences followed us in and through the woods. We placed the fascines in areas impacted by increased storm occurrences due to the warming climate; they will help slow the water that is cutting through and eroding the land.

DSC_0234-925x614The fascine has been useful to consider as we reflect on the times we live in, and our response to a changing planet. We know that strength can be found in the the ways we come together, that this will require us to slow down at times, and that our collective action can move us in directions that offer resilience and strength to each other and our communities.

As you view the fascines in the CFEVA gallery or on the Schuylkill Center’s grounds (along the Fox Glen Trail), we invite you to reflect on a moment in your own experience when the coming together of many has offered the resilience and strength to move in new directions.  

"Dance Exchange  has allowed me to be part of the creation of spaces where people can interface with environmental issues in non-traditional ways. Spaces where people can ask questions and search for answers in community, not just by talking but by moving as well. It's a powerful combination". --Jame McCray, Interdisciplinary Ecologist and Remembering Water’s Way collaborator

“Dance Exchange has allowed me to be part of the creation of spaces where people can interface with environmental issues in non-traditional ways. Spaces where people can ask questions and search for answers in community, not just by talking but by moving as well. It’s a powerful combination”. –Jame McCray, Interdisciplinary Ecologist and Remembering Water’s Way collaborator

Remembering Water’s Way was the culmination of a year of research and art making with Dance Exchange and communities connected to the Schuylkill Center as part of the LandLab residency.  The artists led a series of animated hikes on our trails that connect participants to local ecology and reflect on the ways that water shapes our lives. These hour-long experiences wove together performance, installation, science engagements, and other opportunities, surfacing concerns and questions about the Schuylkill River and local waterways, and contributing to our understandings about the impacts of climate change on the region. The project was led by choreographer Cassie Meador in collaboration with Christina Catanese, Elizabeth Johnson, Zeke Leonard, Marcie Mamura, Sarah Marks Mininsohn, Talia Mason, Jamē McCray, and Kelly Mitchell. Watch a video documenting the project here.

About the author: Cassie Meador is a choreographer, performer, educator, writer and Executive Artistic Director of Dance Exchange. Her works have tackled numerous social and environmental issues, like How To Lose a Mountain, which reflects on a 500-mile walk Meador took from Washington, DC to a mountaintop removal mining site in West Virginia to trace the impacts of the energy that fuel her home. Meador’s Moving Field Guides, an interactive outdoor experience led by artists, naturalists and regional experts in ecology, is being implemented nationwide in partnership with the USDA Forest Service. Meador has taught and created dances in communities throughout the U.S. and internationally in Japan, Canada, England, Ireland, and Guyana. She has worked with the Girl Scouts to enhance environmental curricula through the arts. Her work with Wesleyan University’s College of the Environment has influenced educators and students to embrace a cross-disciplinary approach to conservation and environmental education.

Terry Willard_5

Photographing faces in the forest

When I go for a nature walk in a local forest, I see trees, birds, flowers, deer.

Not photographer Willard Terry.

When he goes for a walk — which he does a lot — he sees faces, lots of faces, incredible faces. Gnomes, ghosts, demons, animals, dinosaurs, people, aliens, all staring at him from tree trunks, tree roots, broken branches, gnarly bark, rock walls, even fence posts and barn siding.

Amazingly, once you start looking for them, there are faces everywhere.

And Terry has been photographing them.

He just published a book, “Pareidolia: Spirits and Faces of the Wissahickon and Schuylkill Valleys,” which will soon be available in the Schuylkill Center’s gift shop (and on Terry’s website as soon as he sets one up). The book’s title, pronounced parr-i-DOH-li-ah, while a mouthful, is the phenomenon in psychology whereby people see patterns in inanimate objects — like trees — and turn them into things they are not. The Man in the Moon is perhaps the best known example of pareidolia.

I visited Terry in his Port Royal Avenue home just before the winter solstice, where the retired school teacher — he taught at Germantown Friends for 30 years — was preparing for his annual solstice party. His wife, Holly, also a retired school teacher, also a veteran of Quaker schools (she at Plymouth Meeting Friends), were preparing for a celebration with their three sons, all of whom work in the arts.

They’ve lived in their 1840s-era home for more than 30 years and have been careful and conscious stewards of their historic home and barn. But they’ve brought that home into a greener future, their front porch including a portable hoop garden bed where the couple is growing salad greens — in December — and their wood stove reduces their reliance on fossil fuels, which is admirable.

Terry walks “seven or eight miles a day, consistently over 50 miles a week,” he told me, much of it at the Schuylkill Center’s sprawling property across the street and along the Wissahickon.

“Years before I retired, I used to run,” he said, but after an injury forced him to reconsider that activity, “now I walk a lot, and walking has made me more observant.”

He took me and his dog, Lily, to visit a maple tree at the Schuylkill Center just off Port Royal, where he had his “aha moment.” He had walked past this tree many times, but one day, the wizened face of a gnome frowning at him “just popped out at me,” as the bark’s bumps and gnarls formed a cranky face. He’s since photographed the maple many times and in the book includes a photo of the tree in winter, a dusting of snow giving his gnome a bad case of dandruff. The book’s bio page features an action shot his son took of Terry photographing the gnome.

Photographer Terry Willard pauses on his walk next to the maple tree that started it all, the one with the gnarly gnomish face

Photographer Willard Terry pauses on his walk next to the maple tree that started it all, the one with the gnarly gnomish face

Willard Terry sees an anteater in this branch

Willard Terry sees an anteater in this branch

Where Terry sees a unicorn, the author sees a camel. What do you see?

Where Terry sees a unicorn, the author sees a camel. What do you see?

 

 

“Once I started photographing faces,” he reflected, “I became more aware of them. You’re sort of half looking, but then they jump out at you like a guy is suddenly staring at you.”

For example, he points to a Tyrannosaurus-shaped branch he’s walked by hundreds of times on the opposite side of Port Royal from his gnome tree — and suddenly he saw it, T. rex in profile.

When I asked him about the Freudian nature of seeing faces where none existed, he laughed.

“I looked this up on the internet,” he offered, always a dangerous thing to do, “and saw that while some people see this as a sign of instability, others see a more creative mind at work.”

(For the record, I’m going with the latter.)

He also noted it’s a bit of a Rorschach, like a photo he calls “Duck Dinner,” where two mallards on a pond look to me like they’re about to be eaten by a plesiosaur, an extinct reptile, but others see the branch emerging ominously from the water as just another duck. Not sure what this says about me … a sign of my own instability?

His photography embraces more than pareidolia.

“I’m interested in portraits and landscapes,” he said, “where I like to look for patterns,” like a photo he showed me of sycamore bark, its jigsaw puzzle-patterned bark always a favorite of mine.

He also loves to add a sense of humor to his work, like a framed color landscape photo in his home of a Mail Pouch tobacco ad painted on the side of a Pennsylvania barn, smoke rising from the barn as if it were a giant chimney — which it clearly is not. But hidden behind the barn is the cooling tower of the Limerick nuclear power plant, steam rising from it creating the optical illusion of the barn as a chimney.

While he first taught a sixth-grade class and then seventh-grade English, in retirement, he’s teaching a black-and-white film photography course back at Germantown Friends.

“The kids have never seen film before,” he chuckled. “They have no idea what it is.”

His pareidolia photographs have been displayed before and will appear in the Schuylkill Center’s upcoming “Community” exhibition later this winter. We hope you come see them then.

Meanwhile, Willard Terry will continue walking 50 miles a week in natural areas, finding faces where less creative people like me simply see bark and branches.

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Upper Roxborough, tweets@SCEEMike and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

Community: Creative Connections at the Schuylkill Center

Lauren Bobyock, Environmental Art and Communications Intern

What does community mean to you? Here at the Schuylkill Center, community means connection. We offer a wide range of ways for humans of all ages and backgrounds to engage with nature—whether you are spending time with your family outside at our weekly Schuylkill Saturdays, or attending our Meigs Environmental Leadership Award ceremonies to learn about strides our community members take to further environmentalism. Our community contributes to the Schuylkill Center in a variety of ways, and we are excited to honor all friends, members, volunteers, and staff in an exciting and creative way this winter.

A crucial aspect of the Schuylkill Center is our Environmental Art department. Using art, we are able to seamlessly pair science with physical movement, history with inventive up-cycling, and math with textiles. Art bridges the gap between all facets of life, and we especially value how it is connected to the environment.

Our gallery has been the home for a vast number of environmental art projects since its expansion in 2013. We’ve incorporated animals, mythology, botany, kinetic energy, architecture, geology, fashion, local history, and the Schuylkill Center itself as topics for many environmental projects. But none of these projects were created alone. Contributions from nature and humans made each gallery piece possible.

Community

Hayley Crawford’s “Love leaves.” uses materials from nature to display a love for local surroundings. Displayed in Community, 2017.

 

Community

Laura’s “Un Cerf Magique” captures a moment in nature using illuminating colors highlighting the magic and fantastical scenes found outside. Displayed in Community, 2017.

Art connects people to each other and to the environment, and these connections contribute to creating the invaluable community that we are lucky enough to consider a Schuylkill Center family. For the second time (after an extraordinary success), we are excited to invite our community to fill the gallery with their own works this February as we celebrate your dedication to the Schuylkill Center and your creative works. Community, this unique upcoming exhibition, will feature artwork of anyone and everyone involved with the Schuylkill Center. We welcome all art mediums—clay, weaving, photography, woodwork, painting, dance—the possibilities are endless. Read more about our guidelines and how to submit work here (deadline January 6).

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Kelsey Wimmenaur’s “Water Series 2/3” uses bodies of water as inspiration to express the comfort received from water in nature. Displayed in Community, 2017.

When previously done in 2017, we saw this exhibit bring the Schuylkill Center community to life like never before. Barriers were broken and expectations exceeded, and we look forward to seeing what our community has in store for us this time around. Community will be on view in the gallery from February 21 through April 27, 2019. An opening reception will be held on February 21, 2019.

Autumnal Stream Walk

By Lauren Bobyock, Communications and Environmental Art Intern 

It was the perfect fall day to get a little lost in the woods. There are two parallel streams running through the valleys at the Schuylkill Center Meigs and Smith Runs and that day two teams of staff and volunteers set out to learn more about them. On an artistic and scientific mission, we began this journey to contribute to our latest environmental art gallery exhibit by Stacy Levy: Braided Channel.

Stream Water Gathering

Stream Water Gathering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stacy Levy is an environmental artist with installations all over the world including the Schuylkill Center (read more here). Levy’s vision for Braided Channel includes multiple video screens that display a sample of her site-based works in action. Additionally, she organized this gathering of water samples to construct a “water library” of sorts to tell the story of these local streams. Our findings unearthed details about Meigs and Smith Runs that we never would have understood without delving further into them.

Stream Gathering

We began near Hagy’s Mill road and followed both streams down to the Schuylkill River Trail, taking a water sample approximately every 130 feet. Both teams began this journey with a bit of bushwhacking to find our starting points. It quickly turned into a lot of bushwhacking with the realization that we literally had our skin in the game! Our spirits high, we sojourned on, delighted to spend several hours in the woods. The time passed quickly as we filled our backpacks with Ziploc bags of water samples as we drank in the splendor of the forest and stream.

Stream Gathering

Stream Gathering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With 340 acres to explore, it’s easy to overlook our two stream corridors. Especially since most of the streams are off limits except for two access points on Smith Run for educational purposes; a condition of the conservation easement on the property.  There is no trail to Meigs Run. Ravine Loop offers ample opportunity to enjoy a view of Smith Run, although we ask visitors to remain on the trail to avoid damaging these sensitive habitats.

With special permission from the Land and Facilities Department we were able explore these unique sections of the property for the exhibit.  Our walks led us to note some important discoveries about these streams and the land surrounding them. We found four-foot high clay banks, gravel bars, and massive bedrock carved by the continual flow of water. Old deer fencing from abandoned restoration projects lay upon beautiful open hillsides. We experienced changing elevations and temperatures as we moved from forested canopy to open clearings. We met crayfish, frogs, and even a snake along the way. Our discoveries included sites of mass erosion, crumbling stone foundations, lots of moss, dams, and boulder-sized quartz rocks. All of our findings led us to a deeper understanding of the hydrology of the forest and we documented it for Stacy Levy’s display.

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Stream Water Gathering

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There was much to note on our journey and our efforts were an important contribution to Levy’s exhibit. Braided Channel is open in the gallery now through February 2nd. Stop in to see the water samples and learn more about our discoveries!

Stream Water Gathering

webelos into the woods

Ten Good Things about Trees

by Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

I’ve been thinking about trees a lot these last few weeks, in part because the leaves are turning color and falling to the ground, something I look forward to every year. But also because the Schuylkill Center just found evidence of emerald ash borers on our massive property, something that is deeply troubling, as we are now faced with hundreds of dead and dying trees.

And because not far from the Schuylkill Center, a sister nonprofit cleared about an acre of trees to make room for a playground. Playgrounds, of course, are wonderful things, but losing a whole acre of trees is, for me, the director of an environmental center, hard to stomach.

Because we just lost an acre of ecosystem services, something tough to come by in this environmentally challenged world.

And because, at day’s end, there are 10 great things trees do for us.

First, trees are natural air conditioners. Walking into the Schuylkill Center forest on a hot summer’s day, the temperature immediately drops. The ground is shaded by trees, and that umbrella of leaves protects the soil from the sun’s scorching rays. Trees are literally cool.

Trees also filter air pollution, pulling bad stuff out of the leaves—urban smog, say—and putting fresh air back into the world.

Those same leaves are air fresheners; when they pull pollution out of the air, they replace it with oxygen, one of the requirements for life. So leaves are oxygen factories, renewing our air. Two mature trees, it is frequently said, provide the oxygen needs of a family of four. That acre of trees that just came down? That’s the oxygen needed for about 18 people to breathe. They’ll have to get it elsewhere.

But while making oxygen, those leaves are also pulling in carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, the stuff that flows out of our tailpipes in car exhaust and is supercharging our atmosphere. Trees mitigate climate change: the more trees we have, the better our chances of surviving and beating climate change. Philadelphia hopes to plant a million trees in the next few years, and the Schuylkill Center has been doing its part in planting new trees on our property. This will not only improve the city’s smog but help us address the scourge of climate change.

Everyone in Roxborough has been talking about stormwater in recent years, how the climate’s larger storms flood our streets with too much rainwater. Manayunk has a lot to say about climate change’s impact on flooding, as Manayunk too frequently receives Roxborough’s stormwater. A tree, amazingly, addresses stormwater—a mature tree’s large umbrella of thousands if not millions of leaves slow down rainfall, allowing water to trickle to the ground slowly long after the storm has moved on. And tree roots act like sponges to mop up water, the tree’s dead leaves on the ground underneath the tree also sopping up stormwater. Cool beans: the more trees in our landscape, the better we can address the increasingly intractable problem of stormwater.

Trees provide food for all kinds of creatures. A dogwood tree’s bright-red berries are eaten by some 90 species of creatures, including many birds who crave it in the nutrient-starved winter months when the berry is smartly ready. Black cherry fruits are craved by many kinds of birds; acorns are eaten by thousands of species of animals, not just squirrels.

A tree is also habitat, home to millions of living things. A woodpecker digs out a home in a trunk; that hole is later co-opted by a screech owl or raccoon. Squirrels are nesting high in the branches, chipmunks in the roots underneath, bats are behind the peeling bark (and those bats are eating the mosquitoes in your yard; trust me—you love bats.)

Winter’s coming, and trees can also help you address the cold north winds. Planting evergreen trees on your northern exposure can reduce that wind—trees lower your heating bill. (Yes, trees cool your house in the summer and warm it in the winter!)

Trees, of course, are aesthetically pleasing, lovely to look at—and healing. Evidence indicates that we are hardwired to relax when looking at greenery, so sitting in your yard surrounded by trees can actually lower your blood pressure and calm and soothe you. Trees are healing.

And the 10th good thing about trees: money actually grows on trees. According to the USDA, a large tree in front of a house increases that home’s sales price by about $7,130, and if that tree is part of a beautiful, well-kept landscape, your home’s value increases by about 10 percent. Plant trees and your home gets a higher resale value.

So, Roxborough, plant away!

Halloween Hikes and Hayrides

At nighttime, we go to bed. (That’s what I tell the kids, at least). We are diurnal mammals, awake only during the day. The Schuylkill Center’s annual Halloween Hikes & Hayrides on October 26 & 27 gives us a chance to be nocturnal, if only for a moment, and to give children the thrill of exploring their senses in what my son calls, “the deep, dark forest”. While we’re there, we learn animal facts from friendly creatures (our own environmental educators dressed up in handmade costumes) and take a hayride to admire the moon. All of the “treats” given are the non-edible variety (like stickers and erasers), but at the end of the evening, there’s always a chance to roast a marshmallow, relax by the fire, and bite into an oozy s’more.

Celebrate the season with us!

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Art as Environmental Leadership: Stacy Levy to receive the Meigs award

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Rain Yard

Every year, the Schuylkill Center gives the Henry Meigs Environmental Leadership Award to a deserving environmental professional for leaving a meaningful and lasting impact on their community and our region, and embodying a spirit of leadership, integrity, and vision.

In twelve years, we’ve never given this honor to an environmental artistbut that changes this year. On November 7th, Stacy Levy will be presented the Meigs award for her pioneering work joining the worlds of art and science throughout her career of creating compelling artwork, both site-specific and gallery-based.

In Levy’s words, she “use[s] art as a vehicle for translating the patterns and processes of the natural world.” Today, creating novel modes of revealing natural systems and solving ecological challenges have become critical, and artists have an important role to play in connecting people with nature. Levy is among the preeminent environmental artists working today, and is unmatched in the elegance with which her work reveals ecological processes that otherwise may go unnoticed.

She has broken new ground in working not just in but with the environment. Along with showing how nature works, Levy has created many projects that solve environmental issues in a place. For an example of this, we need look no further than out the back door of our Visitor Center, where we can experience Rain Yard, Levy’s 2013 artwork which manages stormwater runoff from our roof. Operating in this intersection, Levy has a spirit of collaboration and uncanny ability to galvanize community members and specialists across disciplines.

After being presented the award, Levy will be joined by a panel for a discussion on the intersection of art, science, and the environment particularly through the lens of water. Then, we’ll celebrate the opening of a new installation by Levy in our gallery with a reception.

We recognize that environmental leadership can take many forms, and in this year’s Meigs award, look forward to celebrating how artists can shine as environmental leaders.