cook forest moss (1)

Bryophilia: A Moss Love Story

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

I’ve had a moss fascination as long as I can remember. Friends find me difficult to hike with, as I’m often hanging back crouched down over a mossy growth. I have taken more photos of moss than most people would probably find reasonable. In college, I did a research project on the ‘moss line’ in a montane stream – the bright line I observed where moss stopped growing on the creekside rocks. I own more than one piece of moss jewelry.

Moss on stones of river, Puerto Rico

Why moss? I think I’m fascinated by how often overlooked these life forms are, and the unique niche they occupy. I love their scale – tiny, yet complex. I relish encountering patches of moss that feel like entire, tiny little worlds in themselves.

Moss on stone in Cook Forest, photo by Christina Catanese Forest floor moss in Cook Forest, photo by Christina Catanese Moss between rocks in the Great Smoky Mountains, photo by Christina Catanese

Emboldened with a newly acquired moss field guide, last fall I started gathering my own samples and trying to get into the identification. I’ll tell you, it isn’t easy to do as a wannabe bryologist. Pleurocarp or acrocarp – are they large or small? (They are all small). Leaves – are they hair-like, lance, ovate, sickle or tongue shaped? (You call those tiny things leaves?). Do the leaves have a midrib? (Yikes). Growing on a rock, log, or bare soil? (Shoot…where did this specimen come from again?).

Examining moss in the Great Smoky Mountains

Our summer gallery show, Bryophilia, has given me a wonderful excuse to immerse myself even more in the world of moss.   We’re thrilled to present a gallery show of artist Marion Wilson’s stunning photographs of microscopically enlarged mosses. Wilson prints intricate and lush photographs of tiny sprigs of moss on treated mylar sheets, hundreds of times the normal size. From afar, these magnificently scaled up prints appear to be alien forms; they invite a closer look to interpret their curious shapes and structures. We’ll even have some real, live moss growing in the gallery.

Moss on rock photograph by Marion Wilson

I’ve also been reading Gathering Moss, by renowned bryologist Robin Wall Kimmerer, professor of environmental biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and collaborator of Wilson’s. It’s a beautiful natural history read even for those not involved in a mossy love affair. Kimmerer blends botanical, scientific knowledge with her indigenous heritage, encouraging discussion of diverse ways of knowing; this is on full display in a recent podcast through On Being, a terrific listen.

Having my moss antennae up, I’ve started to see moss everywhere: cracks in the city sidewalk become an opportunity to notice nature thriving in unexpected contexts. What most would call unkempt roof shingles become a de facto green roof, with moss left to do its own, slow thing.  As I tell friends about our upcoming gallery show, closet moss lovers are coming out of the woodwork, sharing their own cherished moss facts.

When you look small, the world gets large.

Heart shaped by moss, photo by Christina Catanese

Bryophilia opens at the Schuylkill Center in the gallery with a reception on Saturday, June 11 from 4-6 pm.


Art in a Changing Climate

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Bill McKibben wrote, in a 2005 essay on climate change and art, “But oddly, though we know about it, we don’t know about it. It hasn’t registered in our gut; it isn’t part of our culture. Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?”

Climate change is abstract, cognitively complex, with no clear single villain; dialogue around climate change often induces self-defensiveness, the steps needed to respond require long time horizons, and many of the victims are distant, in either space or time.  More so than many other environmental issues, climate change is a social as well as scientific challenge, making it even harder to wrap our minds around. For decades, climate scientists have tried to make their work resonate, but too often, the result is either data overload, or fear and warning of dire and disastrous consequences, which people tune out. Mounting evidence shows that our brains are simply not wired for this kind of abstraction – we respond subconsciously based on emotion, not data.

Luckily, artists are good at appealing to these parts of ourselves, with the ability to activate our imaginations, catalyze mindshifts, motivate change and action, and develop outside-the-box solutions. Continue reading

Image 3 Late June 2015 (1)

Time + Art, Part 2: As an Anniversary Approaches

By Catalina Lassen, Art + PR Intern

As spring bounds in again, another year has come and gone, and almost a year has passed since our LandLab artists in residence installed a variety of exciting environmentally minded artworks last April. This cycle of a year signifies not only an anniversary, but is also a reminder of the changes that have occurred during the time in-between. As far as the art of LandLab goes, the works have been activated by nature, shifting as the seasons do. Back in November we took a look at the progress of one of these installations, but it’s now time to turn our attention to Interwoven, a project created by artist-botanist duo WE THE WEEDS. Woven from invasive vines, this installation is an exploration of invasive plants, examining the history, perception, and impact of such species on local environments, while working to remove and recycle this flora. As the year has passed, there has been exciting movement among Interwoven, as the natural cycles of the earth activate the framework of this large sculptural work.

(Before Photographs): If you’re interested in more discussion of this project, or of the ecological and cultural roles of native and non-native plants, please join us on April 14th for a Botanical Cocktail Hour with artist Zya S. Levy.


Featured Image, The Foragers

The Foragers: A World of Enchantment and Intimacy

By Catalina Lassen, Environmental Art & PR Intern

The Schuylkill Center is proud to present Melissa Maddonni Haims and Josh Haims’ latest venture, The Foragers, a whimsical exhibition featuring photographs and delicate yarn sculptures of regional fungal life. In my time helping prepare and install this exhibition, what has stood out to me the most has been the enchantment and intimacy of the world the Haims’ create. As I step into the gallery now, the show completely set and ready to go, I sense myself stepping into the deep of the forest. Quiet, but flourishing, The Foragers takes the viewer on a charming adventure through a magical wood grown from the investigation and imagination of this wife-husband duo.

1st Image

Although sporing from a place of academia, scientific curiosity, and a fascination with fungal forms, the exhibition is artistic and romantic. While Josh’s photographs create immersive expanses of forest imagery, Melissa’s sculptures work as an anchor between image and space, completing the illusion and bringing the forest to us.

2nd Image

As can be seen in Melissa’s Shelving Tooth sculptures, there is an exciting fusion of gentility and action occurring within each form.

3rd Image

Even Melissa’s more subtle, soft pieces—which allow you a quiet moment to reflect—are vibrant and alive, rich in color and texture.

On the other hand, Josh’s photographs work to set the scene and create an overarching tone. One of my personal favorites lies at the entrance of the show. Depicting a small toadstool in a large, green wood, this image is welcoming—it happily invites viewers into the world of The Foragers, a world mimicking and so closely related to our own beautiful earth.

4th Image

Please join us January 28th at 6:00 pm to unearth for yourself the fascinating fungi-filled forest brought to you by Melissa Maddonni Haims and Josh Haims, The Foragers.

About the Author: Catalina, the Schuylkill Center’s Environmental Art and Public Relations Intern, is a recent West Chester University graduate, having finally earned her BFA in December 2015. Her passions (beyond art, of course) are numerous, but often include writing, nature, concert-going, and, most importantly, eating burritos.

Sassafrass alternate

Hackensack Dreaming: Big & Small

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art

Nancy Cohen’s Hackensack Dreaming has transformed our gallery space into an immersive experience evoking the complex wetlands of the Hackensack River.  One of my favorite parts of this installation is how it is big and small at the same time.  I feel enveloped in the space, and at the same time there are seemingly infinite details to discover the longer I look – in a similar way to being in nature itself.

There are upwards of 120 individual pieces in Cohen’s installation, all handmade glass and paper.  I asked a few staff and students of the Schuylkill Center to tell me about their favorite piece, and why it speaks to them.  Don’t miss the installation, on view until December 19th, and tell us about your favorite.


Anna Lehr Mueser, Public Relations Manager
I love this piece because each time I approach it it’s become something new.  Because it hangs, it rotates slowly, showing me perspectives.  When I first saw it the profile was boney, spine-like, rising from the ethereal blue surrounding it.  The next time I looked, I was peering into a pale cavern within it.

Donna and Mike

Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director
Walking through Hackensack Dreaming, my eyes keep coming back to one of the organically shaped  structures, one of the many jellyfish-like pieces that are actually not jellyfish, but inspired by ice forming on the marsh in winter.  What catches my eye is its deep cobalt blue color unique among all the shapes in the installation, and one of my favorite colors all time.  The cracks and lines in the shape give it the appearance of a turtle dragging itself slowly across the meadowlands.  Who doesn’t love a turtle, especially a deep blue one?

Donna Struck, Director of Finance & Administration
My favorite piece is a beautiful shiny, corally blue piece that is magical to look at.  (It’s on the right side as you enter the gallery, on the floor.)  It is my favorite because it caught my eye and held it with its beauty and shine.  It almost looks like sunlight is reflecting off of it.  The whole exhibit speaks to me because I love the ocean so much and while I know it’s not an ocean being represented, the blues and objects remind me of such.  Or perhaps it’s my overall love of water.


Elisabeth Zafiris, Manager of Public Programs
This is an almost overwhelming exhibition. The different stimulants grab at you upon entering. I spent my time in the gallery walking slowly, taking everything in. Or so I thought. It wasn’t until I reached one of the last objects that my attention was fully on the object itself. It made me question what I was looking at. Are those spoons? Trash? It’s something that was once something else, that much is for sure. This attention to detail,  intricacy, and demand for closer looking echoes what I love about being in nature. It gives you pause, slows you down, a focuses your attention. It’s a sensory experience.


Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art
While the suspended objects and forms on the floor immerse the viewer in the space, the large paper drawing on the back wall takes the eye away into the horizon.  Looking deceptively like paint, carefully placed paper pulp on handmade paper has an incredibly rich texture, and the rich red color stands out starkly among the bluegreengray of most of the rest of the space.  Shimmering portions evoke for me light in the landscape that might reflect off of water or human infrastructure, contrasting with the organic forms.


Rebecca Dhondt, Nature Preschool Lead Teacher
When I look at the show there is so much to see and process. One thing, however, really stayed with me after I left the gallery.  I just kept picturing the tiny spots of blue that were on the black paper next to the larger lakes of paper pulp. These little spheres were obviously splashed there when the ocean was being created.   Some might even say these dots were a mistake, but imperfections are what make things real.  Nature is not perfect, and neither is the best art.

Nature Preschool

The Sassafrass Preschool Classroom made a visit to the gallery.

“These look like fairy flowers. Look, they are floating!”

“I like the mushrooms on the walls because they remind me of mushrooms outside.”

“I like those hanging things… they are like butterflies!”

“I like the hanging things too!  They are like flying palaces… for, like, a good community”

“It’s so beautiful!” (several times)

In the Bird-seed Shelter

Environmental Art at Nature Preschool

Children Need NatureBy Rebecca Dhondt, Sassafras Lead Teacher

When people think of a preschool experience, art almost always comes to mind.  Children need art, not only for the development of their creativity, but as a support for growing cognitive, social, and motor abilities.

children at picnic tableAll high quality preschool programs incorporate art daily. Walking into a typical classroom, parents will see evidence of painting, gluing and sculpture.  Hopefully there will be a well-developed art center with various supplies that are easily accessible to the children.   Also, completed works of art will be clearly labeled and prominently displayed around the room and in the halls.

Our Nature Preschool is no different, except for this: from first inspiration to finished project art always involves nature. Continue reading

Diane Burko

Dear 2040: Diane Burko on art, the earth, and 2040

By Diane Burko


What our global environment in general and Philadelphia in particular will look like all depends on how and IF the public heeds the dire warnings about Climate Change all around us now in 2015. Today’s global temperature data keep 2015 as hottest year to date. When surface temperatures are combined with ocean heat content, scientists chart warming continuing at a rapid rate. On Tuesday, March 24, the temperature in Antarctica rose to 63.5°F – a record for the polar continent. More glaciers than ever are retreating throughout the world. Storms and droughts are more severe and sea levels are rising, threatening many coastal cites here in the US and around the world.

As someone who (incredulously) will be celebrating her 70th birthday this year I can’t help but wonder if I will be around to see that capsule opened… and if all my efforts and those of so many others will have made a difference to the survival of our planet.

I have to believe in the affirmative – that my artistic practice – creating meaningful compelling imagery at the intersection of Art and Science will succeed as an antidote to doubt. My expeditions to the Polar Regions to bear witness to the melting of glaciers in our world serve to inform my practice as well as to communicate the scientific facts to a range of audiences. I bring my ideas to whomever calls, whether it be  4th grade classroom at Friends Central, The Russell Byers Charter School, the Nature Conservancy in Lake George or the Atlantic Council think tank in DC.

My message is clear and compelling.  I try to make my images as powerful. When speaking about my work I relate it to my own personal journey of how, as a lifelong landscape artist I realized about ten years ago that I had to do more than just present beautiful images of monumental geological phenomena throughout the world.  Global warming was already in the public consciousness with Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and Elizabeth Kolbert’s Notebook on a Catastrophe. I was moved to join that conversation.  I developed visual strategies to make my work relevant to the cause. With that decision has come a more purposeful existence and hope for the future.

I want the future to hold promise for my grandchildren and their grandchildren.  I want them to grow up on planet earth which is no longer on the brink of extinction due to increasing levels of CO2 and methane in our atmosphere.

I have to believe that the sleeping public will finally be aroused to change course and abandon the fossil fuel dependency that is sending us into the abyss.

Diane Burko,

August 12, 2015

Editor’s Note: Dear 2040 is a series of blog posts containing some of the letters included in our 50th anniversary time capsule, buried in October 2015.  Throughout the rest of 2015 we’ll be posting some of those letters, sharing what our leaders, thinkers, artists, and Schuylkill Center staff are thinking about the year 2040.  You can read all the posts here.

Time + Art: A sculpture Changes with the Forest

By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art, and Anna Lehr Mueser, Public Relations Manager

Since it was installed in April 2015, Jake Beckman’s installation Future Non-object #1 has been changing with the forest around it.  Created through the LandLab environmental art residency program, the sculpture was designed to address a local ecological problem.  In this case, a lack of woodland fungi.  The installation, involving over 1,000 small pieces of wood inoculated with fungi, will slowly decompose into the forest, providing habitat for the fungi.

By the way, Jake Beckman’s going to be leading a walk and lecture Saturday, November 14, titled Permanence/Impermanence: States of Flux in Art and Nature

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It’s not about the bees, it’s about the we

By Marguerita Hagan 2014 – 2015 LandLab Resident Artist, for the Native Pollinator Garden Residency with Maggie Mills and Ben Mills

Bee foraging Purple Hyssop: Native Pollinator Garden

Bee foraging Purple Hyssop: Native Pollinator Garden

“In the village, a sage should go about like a bee, which, not harming flower, color scent, flies off with the nectar.”  – Anonymous, Dhammapada

Native Pollinator Garden: blue mistflower zinc etched plate by Maggie Mills, handcrafted chemical-free Douglas fir post by Ben Mills & pit fired ceramic bees by Marguerita Hagan & the community

Native Pollinator Garden: blue mistflower zinc etched plate by Maggie Mills, handcrafted chemical-free Douglas fir post by Ben Mills & pit fired ceramic bees by Marguerita Hagan & the community

One year has circled around completing our complex LandLab residency.  We launched out of the gate enthusiastically to address Colony Collapse Disorder, the devastating loss of 1/3 of our honey bees with the Native Pollinator Garden.  Our discoveries informed our process while simultaneously bringing to light simple truths, more questions, our collective opportunity, and the gravity of our choices.

Thank you to our guide, the Bee and to you for following our journey.

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“We stand now where two roads diverge.  But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair.  The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster.  The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”  – Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Maggie Mills & Ben Mills as we start the Native Pollinator Garden along the Widener Trail

Maggie Mills & Ben Mills as we start the Native Pollinator Garden along the Widener Trail

What’s Essential?

Monoculture, tilling, GMOs/genetically modified organisms and chemical methods are standard conventional farming practices in the U.S. today and the belief is that chemicals are essential to growing food.  The conventional systems often means that farmers need to buy and use only modified seeds, rather than saving seeds from their crops – in fact, farmers growing GMO seeds are legally prohibited from saving and planting any seeds from those plants.  With the prevalence of GMO seeds, many wild plants are being pushed out of even the narrow margins alongside fields.  Healthy forage is essential to bees, all pollinators, and to us.

Bee gathering pollen.

Bee gathering pollen.

Finding Our Way Home

When bees and other pollinators come into contact with chemically treated flowering plants, their finely tuned nervous system and brain suffers dramatically.  The chemicals destroy the bees’ GPS system, a lethal move for a bee who cannot survive outside the hive over 24 hours.  This is just one piece of the complex issue.

Honeybees are something of an ambassador for other pollinators and their environment as they are the ones most intrinsically linked to humans through pollination of essential crops and wild plants.  For the bees, their life mission is mutual benefit for the hive community.

This puts them in a powerful position to get our much-needed attention.  And people are taking notice of the plight of the bees; and it’s about time since bees provide every 3rd bite we take.  Farming that is dependent on honeybee pollination sees bees as a source of profit or loss, rather than a living part of the ecosystem.  For example, almonds, California’s largest export are 100% pollinated by honeybees.  Without bees to naturally pollinate crops to meet industry demands, a new tier of stress has been put into motion.  To meet that demand, 90% of the bees in the U.S. are used as pollinating migrant workers, trucked from crop to crop around the country.  Consider the fuel and costs required to keep this unhealthy cycle rolling.


One of the first articles addressing the concern for our own health in regards to CCD: Our Bees, Ourselves- What Colony collapse says about chemicals and disease, New York Times, Tues, July 15, 2014, by Mark Winston.

One of the first articles addressing the concern for our own health in regards to CCD: Our Bees, Ourselves- What Colony collapse says about chemicals and disease, New York Times, Tues, July 15, 2014, by Mark Winston.

Genetic seed modifying began in the U.S. in the early sixties, over 50 years ago.  Since then it’s grown exponentially.  Today, it is often considered one of the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder.  Our tiny eco ambassadors seem to be the Ghost of Christmas Future shaking us to wake up.  The resilient honeybee has thrived for over 40 million years, until now.

The widespread collapse presents a clear message.  In the long run, how will it affect us?  We have Rachel Carson to thank for her decades of perseverance in making DDT illegal.  The insecticide sprayed openly from trucks through neighborhoods with children playing in the fumigated fog was originally developed for chemical warfare in WWII.

As Rachel Carson put it, “How could intelligent beings seek to control few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind?”

Positive Shifts under our Feet

Native Pollinator Garden: Purple Hyssop zinc etched plates by Maggie Mills, hand crafted chemical-free Douglas fir post by Ben Mills, and Pit fired ceramic bees by Marguerita Hagan & the community

Native Pollinator Garden: Purple Hyssop zinc etched plates by Maggie Mills, hand crafted chemical-free Douglas fir post by Ben Mills, and Pit fired ceramic bees by Marguerita Hagan & the community

Good News!

We are in an Agrarian Renaissance and holistic practices are on the rise with no till, chemical-free, and organic farming.  These principles are alive in our own practices.  Innovative farmers have stepped off the chemical wagon of conventional practices to weather the transition and investment in sustainable farming.  I’ve recently come across a few examples to share:

The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlsen is an exciting work sharing the journey of those listening and responding to our environment successfully.  It is a thrilling return.  Organic farmers working this way for decades are producing even during drought.  Their reciprocal-minded process is enriching crops with carbon rich soil.

The Farm to Table concept is being delivered to more tables both at home and commercially.  My LandLab teammates Ben and Maggie Mills have a year-round organic chemical-free garden- yes, even foraging in winter.  As a master craftsman, one aspect of Ben Mills’ practice includes custom built chemical free raised beds.

Gotham Greens in Brooklyn is the world’s largest urban farm and expanding.  Produce is harvested and served in restaurants within a few hours.  Nell Thorn Restaurant in La Conner, WA has held the torch for years and is joined by sprouting conscious restauranteurs.  The present Hand-Crafted Movement is in step with its Agrarian Partner utilizing a material from earth to fire to table: CLAY.  It is my main means for sculpture and my line of Farm to Tableware.  Chefs classically have sous chefs and now some have personal ceramicists creating works for their original cuisine.

Farm to Tableware by Margueritaworks with Harvest Scene Petroglyph (Canyonlands National Park) - planting & watering seeds

Farm to Tableware by Margueritaworks with Harvest Scene Petroglyph (Canyonlands National Park) – planting & watering seeds

Forward Movement

Our immediate focus on the bees grew with the Native Pollinator Garden.  The problem is complex but solutions are often simple and best ones start at home.  The honeybee showed us it is not about the bees – it’s about the we.  We are a part of the bee’s lives and they are a part of ours.

The mini messengers that brought us to this residency speak loud and clear: We are in this together.

Our Native Pollinator Garden provided forage and food for thought- starting with healthy seeds, native plants, and organic soil in chemical-free Douglas fir raised beds.  As we wrap up our residency, we ceremoniously handed off the watering can to the Schuylkill Center.  Like ongoing adventures, it’s a beginning. As the Native Pollinator Garden embarks on a new season, we leave you with an invitation to pollinate awareness.


Thank you!

Marguerita Hagan

For the Native Pollinator Garden:

Maggie Mills, Ben Mills, and Marguerita Hagan


#StormSnakes – The Experiment Continues

By Leslie Birch, 2014-2015 LandLab Resident Artist

My LandLab project started with the idea of examining water quality and morphed into understanding and mitigating stormwater run-off, the primary water quality concern facing the Schuylkill Center’s streams. It’s been interesting to see the changes along the way, much like a meandering stream. There’s been discovery in understanding how storms are affecting the land at the Center, brainstorming around ideas to deter the run-off, and definitely a period of inventing. Last we left off, I had been in discussion with Steve at Stroud Water Research Center about the sensors for my stream monitor. I learned that Steve was going to pay a visit to a canal community in Delaware for a monitor installation, and knowing it would involve boats, I was all in!


This community was going to experiment with oyster colonies to reduce the amount of algae in the water. As you can imagine, algae can build up and make it difficult for boats, so they were looking for a solution. They would need to test the water before and during the experiment in order to see if the oysters were successful. So, monitoring devices that could detect oxygen levels would be just the thing. Of course, the monitors would have to be installed in canals which were filled with saltwater–unlike the freshwater at our Center. It was interesting to see how the monitors were placed using a pole driver, which caused a bit of clanging. One family was particularly curious about the project, so I actually went ashore to explain it to them. They were so amazed and happy to hear about this possible sustainable solution for their community. All was going well with the monitors until we started testing. We got a negative read on conductivity–what??. Apparently the briny water caused a different affect on the sensor and had to be accounted for in the programming. It was a great lesson in coding, and Steve was able to tweak it to get the correct reading.


Back home, it was time to make some decisions on parts for my monitor. Steve knew I needed a water depth sensor to measure the amount of stormwater coming in, as well as something to do temperature and conductivity.  For water depth, a specific ultrasonic sensor did well upon testing at Stroud, so Steve was excited about using it. Also, a new combination sensor for temperature and conductivity had come to market, and based on past sensors from the company, there was a sense that it would work well for my application. So, surrounded by some fun parts, I got started soldering.


I started with the main boards that would be used for the monitoring device. Since one little mistake in solder can cause a short circuit, I had Steve inspect each connection. Two opinions are better than one–especially late at night! Later I worked on soldering the parts for the XBee communication, which would allow the monitor to talk to another unit which would transmit the data to the internet. Besides soldering, there were also the project boxes that needed holes to be drilled. The drill will always be my favorite tool on the workbench :). It was a happy moment to be finished the assembly, but it was short lived when I moved onto testing. The ultrasonic sensor was definitely getting a reading, but the information was not transmitting properly. The data is supposed to get stored on an SD card on the unit and also transmitted to a website where it is formatted into a table. After double checking the hardware, Steve figured out that there was an issue with the Arduino code that had been uploaded. So, by tweaking one line, it was quickly repaired and we were back to testing. It’s so darn exciting when things work!


While Steve and I awaited a good-weather installation date for the monitor, I got together with Brenna to continue work on the larger Storm Snakes made of burlap. I remembered that the proportions had looked off on our small version, so I googled the dimensions of one of the largest snakes in the world for the new version. It seemed like each snake worked well with five coffee bean bags for length. Then, it was just a matter of trimming off the sides to create a skinnier snake. After I was finished stitching, I worked on stuffing the long casings of burlap with the mixture of coir, wood chips and stones. It took so long to shovel the materials into those casings, so my husband helped design a funnel out of a plastic plant pot to make the job easier.  I successfully filled three large snakes, and they were looking quite plump. For decoration, you may recall I was interested in having plant material growing on the outside of the snakes. Well, I learned about moss graffiti and talked to a moss supplier in the Poconos, Moss Acres, to be sure this would be viable. A few days later I received a box of moss and after getting some large containers of yogurt, I was ready to roll.


On the day of installation, it took a team of us on a utility vehicle to place each of the three snakes–they were heavy! Christina Catanese (the Schuylkill Center’s Director of Environmental Art) had surveyed the team at the Center to determine the areas of the path that were most in need of stormwater protection. One ended up in the meadow to deal with parking lot run-off, another was located on a steep curve of a popular path where water often gathered and the final was placed on a path near Wind Dance Pond to slow down the water coming off Port Royal Ave– the inspiration point for the entire project. The next step was decorating the snakes. I mixed a moss yogurt slurry and attempted to paint it. It was tricky to apply, and in the end, I gave up on a brush and just used my bare fingers. It was fun creating the patterns, and I found that simple shapes worked best, as the mixture would easily crumble with intricate lines. The families passing by on the trail found them quite interesting.


As for the monitor installation, Steve and I finally found a good day to get it situated. I helped to hold parts as Steve hammered a mounting pole in the stream bottom. Now that things are in place, it is time for my favorite part–gathering data. So far the stream monitor seems to be collecting data fine. In its first week or so, it transmitted to the spreadsheet sporadically. This was due to the fact that the receiving station is set up in a metal building, and having problems getting a signal. Steve is currently testing different antennas that might be more suitable for this location. For now, we fetch the SD card and periodically upload, so there is some historical data currently on Stroud’s site to view, if you click on the table. Right now it is not transmitting at all, so Steve is also checking the code as it might have something to do with the way the system resets. No matter what, the data is still going to the SD card, so we will definitely have it.

One of the interesting things I’ve already learned from the data is that the conductivity is almost identical to a stream behind Stroud. I would have thought that our stream would have been more polluted as it stands near the bottom of the chain of watersheds leading to the Delaware River. Also, I thought that when a storm would come that there would be a big change in depth for quite a while, but apparently with urban streams, storm water comes in rapidly, but also dissipates quickly. So, you really have to look at each day’s numbers in order to view a difference. My hope is that these figures will be used as evidence of stormwater run-off so that future funding can be obtained to really mitigate the water coming off Port Royal Ave.


It has certainly bStreamMonitoreen an interesting adventure and I’ve learned so much about stormwater run-off. I’ve also had an opportunity to get more involved with science, and use my electronic skills for sustainability. I don’t think I could have found a better match for my interests, and I’m so thankful that our Center makes environmental art a priority. Getting to meet other like-minded artists has also given me hope that there is still the possibility of change in this world. It’s not going to be from corporations or governments, it’s going to have to come from people like you and me. My next step will be to create a tutorial that will be posted on Stroud’s website for creating the storm monitor. Thanks to open source solutions and the web, we can all share information and build our own solutions for environmental problems. This all ties into the idea of being a citizen scientist, which organizations like Public Lab and NASA are embracing. So, don’t be scared to be the scientist or the innovator. At the end of the day it isn’t necessarily who has the degree, it’s who is doing the work. There’s a place for all of us here on this planet, so be bold.