ExtremeTerrain’s Clean Trail Initiative program was launched in 2015. This program seeks to reward local clubs and organizations with small, project-specific, grants to be used for trail maintenance and restoration. In the approximately 4 years since it started, the program has given out $21,650 in trail project grant funds. The Schuylkill Center is very grateful to ExtremTerrain for their support. Click here to learn more about their initiative.
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
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The end is near! The world? No, just the winter season. And what bears such glad tidings you wonder? Our native plant friends. In February, the Schuylkill Center staff took its monthly nature walk down Ravine Loop hunting for the first tell of spring, skunk cabbage (above). I’m happy to report that we found it on February 9th in a particularly wet area just above Smith Run where the little stone bridge crosses a semi-perennial tributary. Just barely visible was its little purplish hood, the forbearer of the true flower. The first source of pollen in late winter, skunk cabbage attracts bees and other hungry pollinators looking for their first taste of spring. Continue reading
By Steve Goin, Director of Land and Facilities
See other Field Guide posts here.
As Director of Land and Facilities at the Schuylkill Center, the care of our trees rests on my shoulders. With 340 mostly forested acres, our tree population is large and diverse in both species and maturity. The recent nor’easters brought heavy, wet snow and a barrage of winds, impacting our trees and in some cases causing damage. The damage is as varied as the trees themselves. Some trees barely lost a twig, others had major limbs break, and some even blew completely over, known as windthrow. As a tree lover, I know the value of the services these trees provide—sequestering carbon, providing habitat for wildlife, and managing our property’s stormwater—is well worth the effort required to maintain them. Continue reading
Happy Black History Month! This February, we’ve been honoring Black leaders in the environmental movement.
Here are four of the many Philadelphia-based environmental initiatives led by Black educators, healers, scientists and activists you can support not just this month, but all year round.
By Claire Morgan, Volunteer Coordinator & Administrative Assistant
It’s early spring, just around sunset, and the conditions are just right—55 degrees and humid. A high-pitched trilling rings out in the distance. The shallow water of the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve stirs with excitement. The toads of Roxborough are ready to run—and ready to attract a mate.
On some evenings, as many as two hundred toads can be seen heading from the Schuylkill Center’s forest to the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve in a period of just two hours. The steady stream of traffic at the intersection of Hagy’s Mill Road and Port Royal Avenue (that separates the forest from the preserve) presents a huge obstacle to the toads as they cross the road in preparation for their springtime mating ritual. Continue reading
By Andrew Kirkpatrick, Manager of Land Stewardship
An excerpt from this piece was published in our winter newsletter in December 2018.
Now that leaves are falling, the giants are revealing themselves in the forest. No, not the fairy tale variety—the trees. Walking the Schuylkill Center’s trails in the summer months, they remain mostly hidden from view. They’re tucked away from sight, obscured by cork trees, devil’s walking stick, and their own young. But once the crisp fall days arrive, the giants appear. Continue reading
By Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art and Liz Jelsomine, Exhibitions Coordinator
Editor’s note: The Schuylkill Center produced a wall calendar for 2017 in celebration of the environmental art program. Throughout the year, we’ll run a monthly post on our blog highlighting the art works featured in that month of the calendar.
Rain Yard is an interactive artwork by Stacy Levy that has been on display in the Schuylkill Center’s Sensory Garden since October 2013. Rain Yard provides a function of mitigating stormwater runoff from our building, while highlighting the critical role soil and plants play in the water cycle. Its open steel platform allows rain to filter down, plants to grow up, and people to hover somewhere in between. Continue reading