A New Lens on Nature: Community photos in “Citizen’s Eye”

It almost could be another tree, except for the ears. Look a little closer and you realize it’s a deer, stock-still and staring at you through the morning mist. As autumn leaves rustle, its silent appraisal reminds you: you are not alone. These woods are a shared space.

This encounter is captured in a photo by Peter DeStefano, one he submitted to the upcoming community show, “Citizen’s Eye — A Kaleidoscope of Nature.” More than 400 photos taken by over 200 people—Schuylkill Center staff, members, volunteers, neighbors, friends—document surprising encounters with nature from the past 10 months. Every photo is included in the exhibition, making for a truly kaleidoscopic display.

Photo by Peter DeStefano, submitted to “Citizen’s Eye”

Director of Environmental Art Tina Plokarz and her team have been sorting through these images, arranging them in our gallery, while looking for patterns. Some photos show structures of bridges and buildings; many are close-ups of animals or plants. They all come from a heightened sense of awareness to our natural surroundings and a willingness to stop and focus on smaller things. Taking such a photograph of nature requires that you not just move through the world but slow down enough to notice it. That you become a reciprocal part of it and live in it.

While each image reflects its photographer’s interest, collectively they begin to tell a story, one that begins with people going out to find nature—whether for peace, solitude, or recreation—and discovering that it’s always right beside them. Nature with a capital ‘N’ may conjure up romantic notions of sublime landscapes in National Parks, grand mountains, and expansive deserts. But nature with a lowercase ‘n’ encompasses everything around us. It’s “the small things we’re experiencing every day,” Tina says. “It’s not only about blooming flowers, it is also about the little weed on the sidewalk.” 

A number of photos feature kids and adults outside—playing, building, exploring, living. Some are posed; some are candid; one is a silhouette. “When we really think about ‘nature’ and where this term comes from,” Tina says, “we quickly see that it’s not only the ‘natural world’—it’s also our world context, it’s also our body, it’s our human interaction with the environment. And I think that’s what I was really interested in seeing through other people’s eyes.”

Photo by Walther Vera, submitted to “Citizen’s Eye”

Nature is also around us, inevitably, in death. One particularly striking photo is of a funeral with masked mourners holding big red umbrellas and carrying a casket down the street. At first, it may seem like it doesn’t belong in a show of nature photography. But it made Tina consider how other nature photos capture death and decay. Several images, for instance, show mushrooms sprouting from dying trees. The rotting wood provides the nutrients necessary to grow a network of fungi that spreads throughout the forest—itself an offering to trees and a vital connection between them. “It’s this circle of life,” she says, “and death is part of our lives.” 

Photo by Peter Handler, submitted to “Citizen’s Eye”

That topic of death is “hard to grapple with as it relates to the pandemic,” Tina says. But that’s why offering a place for people to share their experiences with nature is so powerful. “I think it allows us a space for grief, and for thinking how, when a tree is dying, it is not dying, it is just transforming into something else.”

Ultimately everything in nature is interconnected, everything shared. “Citizen’s Eye” reflects this in its community display, ready to welcome you in and transform your own encounters with nature.

 

“Citizen’s Eye —A Kaleidoscope of Nature” will be available to view in person in our gallery and online from January 21– March 21, 2021. Join us for a virtual opening reception on Thursday, Jan. 21 at 7 pm for a conversation with mythologist and social practice artist Li Sumpter Ph.D., John Heinz National Wildlife refuge manager Lamar Gore, and designer CJ Walsh, moderated by Tina Plokarz. For more information and to register, visit: https://www.schuylkillcenter.org/blog/event/citizens-eye-a-kaleidoscope-of-nature/

 

—By Emily Sorensen

 

MLK Day of Service — Projects from Home

Martin Luther King, Jr. dedicated his life to the nonviolent struggle for racial equality. In his honor, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service is observed on the third Monday in January. On what is termed “a day on, not off,” we are encouraged to engage in volunteer service to our community. While we can’t meet in person this year, we know that you don’t have to go far to make a difference. You’re invited to join us at 10 am on Monday, January 18 over Zoom to connect with community and honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. before setting off on your own. More info and register here

At that meeting, we’ll answer any questions you might have and  encourage you to complete one of the following service projects to help your neighbors, your community, wildlife, and the environment.

Suggested Projects include:

Help the environment

  • Pick Up Litter: Grab a bag and a pair of gloves and set out to beautify your neighborhood or a nearby park, one piece of litter at a time. Try to fill at least one bag of trash.
    • While you’re doing this, reflect on the trash you create and how you might be able to minimize it. Find some suggestions here and here.
  • Write to a Representative: Let your representatives in the House and Senate know how important the health of the environment is to you by writing them a letter urging them to support climate change legislation, or—for younger children—drawing a picture of your favorite nature spot.

Help your community

  • Donate food to a community fridge: Community fridges have popped up across the city since the start of the pandemic. They provide fresh food for those in need.
    • Find a fridge in your area to donate food or donate money. Consider swinging by first to see what’s needed, and then come back with what you can supply.
    • Read more about community fridges here and find Philadelphia locations here.  

Help wildlife

  • Make Window Decals to Prevent Bird Strikes: Window collisions are a leading cause of death in bird populations. Birds fly into windows because the glass reflects the environment around it and therefore, birds do not see it as a barrier. Window decals can help to prevent this. Create some of your own window decals using the recipe below. Make sure to cover the entire window (no openings more than 4” vertically and 2” horizontally) when putting them up.
    • Ingredients: 2 tablespoons white glue, 2 drops of dish soap, paintbrush, plastic page protectors or wax paper, food coloring (optional), cookie cutters (optional)
    • Directions:
      • Mix glue, dish soap, and food coloring together in a bowl.
      • Use a paintbrush to paint designs on a plastic page protector or wax paper. If you have one, you can also lay down a cookie cutter and paint inside of that. The number of designs needed will depend on how many windows you have and the size of them.
      • The painted layer should be thick enough that there are no gaps or holes but not too thick or else it won’t dry.
      • Let sit overnight.
      • Peel the decals off and stick to windows in your house, making sure to cover the entire window so that there are no openings more than 4” vertically and 2” horizontally.
    • For more details and pictures, visit: https://teachingmama.org/diy-window-clings/
  • For more ideas, check out our article 20 Wonderful Ways to Help Nature.

 

Whatever you do, don’t forget to tag us @schuylkillcenter in a picture of the MLK project you completed using the #MLKDay!

News Flash: Beavers in Roxborough!

One of the feel-good stories on the environmental scene is the rewilding of large cities like Philadelphia, where suddenly peregrine falcons nest in church steeples and on Delaware River bridges, bald eagles pull large fish out of the Schuylkill River, and coyotes amble down Domino Lane.

In that vein, members of the Roxborough-Manayunk Conservancy were somewhat startled to discover that the restoration plantings they’ve doggedly placed along the Schuylkill River have been devoured by…beavers! Wait, beavers in Roxborough?

Once extirpated—a fancy word meaning locally extinct—across Pennsylvania, hunted because their fur was remarkably valuable and because we did not appreciate their ability to rearrange landscapes to their own ends. But beavers have been returning to our state over the last century, and have been seen along Tacony and Pennypack Creeks since about 2008. And now they have taken up residence in the Schuylkill River and Manayunk Canal around Flat Rock Dam.

“I first noticed beavers and their lodge in the winter of 2018,” observed Suzanne Hagner, Roxborough resident and member of the Roxborough-Manayunk Conservancy, “as I rode out the Schuylkill River Trail towards Shawmont. I could see where they had worn down a path into the woods on the far side of the trail and I guessed that was where they were going for food.” The lodge was near Flat Rock Dam, and they have been spotted—and photographed—as far down as Lock Street and as far up as past Shawmont Avenue, both in the canal and along the river.

“You can see their work from Lock to Cotton streets,” added Kay Sykora, another key Conservancy member, “particularly in the Cotton Street area; look for the damage on the banks and trees.” She offered that there was a “small dam in the wetlands near the upper locks” but that may have been damaged by heavy storms. Tom Landsmann, president of the Conservancy, offers that “the very best place to see the beaver or signs of the beaver’s visits is from the river. Take a kayak or paddle board and look for the damaged bark or the lodges. Look just above the flat rock dam on the Philly side, but on the Lower Merion side and up river as well. Can’t miss it.”

They famously cut down saplings and trees with their chisel-like teeth, building dams and lodges with the branches, chewing the inner bark of trees as their favored food source. That tree-cutting, of course, can sometimes interfere with our own good work.

“Beavers have good taste in trees,” Tom added, tongue in cheek. “They ate over 60 trees we planted along the canal last year. But we adjusted. Last spring, we painted the uneaten trees with latex paint mixed with a lot of sand,” the grit distasteful to the large rodents. “Many of the damaged trees grew out again this summer,” he continued. “We wrapped those trees in cages this fall. We installed 130 cages along the canal near both sides of Fountain Street.”

Bernard “Billy” Brown, author of Grid magazine’s Urban Naturalist column, told me that, in addition to the cages, Riverfront North, a group doing restoration work along Pennypack Creek, “has planted species that can rebound well after being cut down by beavers, like willow species in particular.”

The Conservancy recently hosted a walk-through of the area with a self-described “beaver believer” they brought in from central PA, and their takeaway was similar. “The other approach which I believe we will have to do,” continued Kay, “is to rethink our plantings. We need to put in more herbaceous plants on the impacted banks and see if we can add things like willows to the upper wetland areas to keep them in that area, which is better suited for them and for us.”

Suzanne Hagner agrees. “There are plants, several species of low growing willow that beavers eat that we can plant and hopefully, if we get them planted soon, we can entice the beavers to move further out the trail” and away from their restoration plantings.

Billy Brown has been writing about the beaver’s return to Philadelphia for a while now. “As a reaction, I’ll say that beavers and their return to Philadelphia show the importance of waterways in connecting urban habitat with the surrounding landscape. I think most people under-appreciate how severely our system of roads isolates habitat, an issue the Schuylkill Center contends with the Toad Detour project, for example. Waterways and the green corridors around them are exceptions to the fragmentation of habitat in urban landscapes. The ability of beavers to quickly disperse through the city shows that. It’s both tantalizing and frustrating to imagine how different our urban ecosystems would be if we could more broady connect to the surrounding landscape.”

Suzanne Hagner has been reading up on beaver, passing books along to Conservancy members. “They are amazingly skilled at creating waterways and irrigation systems that lead to ecological health,” she said. “Our consultant offered that the return of the beavers was a very good sign in our area, as the beaver is an ecological system in itself. I had lived in Washington state, and had heard that beavers were being reintroduced in eastern Washington to help curb the arid areas that are prone to wildfires.”

“The return of the beaver,” notes Kay Sykora, “along with a wide range of wildlife like herons and turtles underscores the health of our river area, once one of the most damaged and polluted rivers in the country. Beaver were virtually trapped out of existence for their fur, and there was no understanding of the role they played in the environmental balance of nature. They are key to the health of our wetland areas and the range of wildlife that needs those areas to survive.”

Go for a walk along the Schuylkill River Trail, and find for yourself the pointed chiseled ends of tree trunks along the canal and river. It’s evidence of Roxborough’s newest neighbor, the beaver.

 

—By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Photo/Video by Linda Lee McGinnis

White Christmas: Another Endangered Species

Last week’s snow was thankfully kind to us. Though 6.3 official inches fell at the airport, it was not the foot that might have been and was long predicted, nor the ice storm that was also possible, nor the gale force winds that were expected. My staff at the Schuylkill Center breathed easier on Thursday morning when they arrived to shovel us out, as snow, ice, and wind can conspire to cripple our work, toppling trees and branches while causing power outages. So frankly, we’ll take an easier storm.

But temperatures returned to New Abnormal levels this week, as predictions call for a balmy 61 degrees on Christmas Eve. No White Christmas this year. In fact, the last recorded white Christmas occurred in 2009, and even then it didn’t actually snow on the day, but earlier in the week. The last time we recorded an inch or more of snowfall on the holiday was 2002, with only an inch and a half. The record for snowfall on Christmas is a foot, which fell way back in 1966, more than 50 years ago.

And I’m sure you remember that famed Christmas Eve only five years ago when the mercury topped out in the mid-70s, breaking December records as carolers sang in Hawaiian shirts and Bermuda shorts.
So last week’s snowfall may be an odd time to revisit climate change. But it is timely: remember, last week’s snowfall was the first major winter storm in almost 1,000 days, and is 21 times the total amount that fell all last winter. The Schuylkill Center’s facilities team did not have to plow our driveway once last year.

Remember, one weather event is neither proof nor disproof of climate change, so a snowfall in December does not mean all is fine and the climate isn’t broken. What one has to do is look at long-term trends. As the accompanying graph, created by temperature measurements collected by Climate Central in Princeton, shows, Philadelphia’s winter temperatures have warmed by almost five degrees since 1970. Five degrees may not seem like much at first glance, but the planet’s finely tuned climate instrument reacts strongly to even tenths of a degree changes in weather averages. In fact, winter has changed more markedly in Pennsylvania than the other three seasons.

Globally, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies calculates that 2020 has a more than 90 percent chance of becoming the hottest year on record, while NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, gives the year a 54 percent chance, possibly losing out by only a nose to 2016, as NOAA says the first 11 months of 2020 were a mere .02 degrees cooler than record-hot 2016.

Santa, gearing up for this week’s worldwide flight, is in trouble, as his North Pole is warming faster than the rest of the world. “One of 2020’s notable hotspots,” reported Scientific American last week, “has been Siberia… At one point the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk reported 100.4 degrees F. If this figure is verified by the World Meteorological Organization, it would be the first time recorded temperatures above the Arctic Circle have surpassed 100 degrees F.”

Imagine that: a measurement of 100 degrees in the Arctic Circle. Santa is quaking in his boots as the ice caps melt below his feet.

According to NASA, the Earth’s average temperature in November was 56.95 degrees Fahrenheit, 1.75 degrees above the 20th-century norm. Again, these small changes matter.

No matter where 2020 ends up in the standings, it will be warm enough to knock 1998 out of NOAA’s top 10. When that happens, all of the 10 warmest years in their records will have occurred in only the 15 years since 2005 — and the top seven will have occurred since 2014. The statistical odds that this is a random occurrence are slim to none, and each year is now as hot or hotter than the year before.

A 2017 analysis in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society offered that between the late 19th century and 1980, new records for the hottest year would happen about every eight to 11 years, a reasonable rate that makes sense. Since 1981, however, they have been occurring about every three to four years. New records are now the norm.

“So if 2020 takes the top slot,” concluded the normally staid Scientific American, “it will not be entirely unexpected — and will be yet another stark example of how far the Earth’s climate has deviated from its natural course.” As a Goddard scientist told the magazine, “I work for NASA, but it’s not rocket science.”

May all your days be merry and bright nonetheless, though no, all your Christmases will not be white. Yet another casualty of climate change.

—By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Something Special in our Nature Gift Shop

There’s a special joy in giving someone just the right gift, one that makes their eyes light up with excitement. But finding that something can be tricky—so we’re here to make it easy for you. Nestled in a corner of our Visitor Center, our Nature Gift Shop is replete with eco-friendly, locally-made, and nature-themed items, from books to bird houses, earrings to mugs, puzzles to (recycled!) plushies.

FOR THE EXPLORER: The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook

This family-friendly book offers numerous delightful outdoor activities, explorations, and crafts. It’s great for injecting new life into tired pandemic routines (has anyone else done the same walk hundreds of times by now?) and for when you need that extra push outside in the cold weather.

FOR THE WRITER: Decomposition Notebooks

The perfect eco-friendly replacements for your classic composition books, these are made with 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper and printed with soy ink. Plus they feature gorgeous nature-inspired designs and spiral binding. Win-win-win-win-win.

FOR THE FOODIE: World O’ Honey’s Raw Local Chunk Honey

Honey doesn’t get better than the raw, local (Silverdale, PA in this case) variety, and the honeycomb adds a delicious crunch. If smooth is more your thing, never fear—we stock a number of other varieties such as creamed, blueberry, orange blossom…yum.

 

FOR THE CHEF: Bee’s Wrap Food Wraps

Bid farewell to plastic wrap forever and invest in a few Bee’s Wraps reusable food wraps. They come in a variety of sizes and patterns and are made with four simple ingredients: organic cotton, Beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin. A beautiful eco-friendly kitchen swap.

FOR THE NEWBIE-NATURALIST: Tree Finder

This pocket-sized guide is convenient for walks in the woods, and its clear illustrations of leaves provide just enough detail to identify a whole host of trees. There’s also a Winter Tree edition, great for when leaves are, well, a little harder to find.

FOR THE BIRDER: Birdseed

Our Nature Gift Shop is a birder’s paradise, bursting with houses, feeders and guides. But it’s our birdseed that gets folks coming back over and over, so a nice big bag would be perfect for any birder in your life.

FOR THE WELLNESS GEEK: The Nature Principle

In his second book, Richard Louv shifts his focus from kids to adults and furthers his passionate argument for nature as the key to wellness, productivity, creativity, and community. It’s sure to convince even the most dedicated indoors person to venture outside, and to reinspire outdoors enthusiasts.

FOR THE PERSON WHO JUST DOESN’T WANT ANY MORE STUFF: A Schuylkill Center Membership

Not only do memberships help sustain the Schuylkill Center’s programming, they also create and connect an enthusiastic community. There are some great perks, too: discounted tickets to our public events, a subscription to our quarterly newsletter, and 20% off Gift Shop purchases among them.

 

For more gift ideas, follow us on Instagram, or stop by the shop yourself (just wear a mask!), open Monday–Saturday, 9 am. – 4:30 pm. Our Gift Shop manager, Michelle, is also assiduously working to get all of our stock listed online; keep checking back for more. Call 215-482-7300 with any questions, and order online and conveniently arrange for curbside pickup. Happy holidays!

 

— By Emily Sorensen, Communications Intern 

 

TreeVitalizing Our Forests

By Drew Rinaldi Subits, Land Stewardship Coordinator

You may have recently noticed a large clearing across the trail from Pine Grove, which has been steadily cleared and then mowed and maintained throughout the Spring and Summer months. If you have been there more recently, you may have noticed fencing and a young grove of trees and shrubs.

This newest planting effort was possible through the collaboration of our Land and Facilities team, a state-funded tree planting grant initiative from TreeVitalize, and a RJ Carbone, a local young man looking to complete his Eagle Scout project.

For the past five years, the Schuylkill Center has been the recipient of one these TreeVitalize grants which is intended to promote and develop sustainable urban forestry programs within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  We have planting sites all over the property, typically marked by black plastic deer fencing, that helps protect the young, relatively fragile trees.  The Land and Facilities team was certainly excited for this particular location as it is one of the most visible and popular sites on the property, just down the trail from the Hagy’s Mill parking lot and across from the well-known Pine Grove.  

Previously this planting site had been a grove of the equally infamous Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia elata), one of the more common, pesky, and aggressive invasive tree stands in our region.  These ecosystem dominators thrive by using rhizome root structures which means the roots continually spread and rapidly create new tree shoots underground in all directions.  In areas such as this, they quickly become the only species left standing, and totally outgrow, outcompete, and out-resource all other species, especially eco-precious natives.

These tree planting efforts came together on a beautiful September morning when Boy Scout Troop 177 of Wyndmoor, PA supported RJ in completing his Eagle Scout project.  There were a total of 51 people throughout the day, logging a total of 221 volunteer hours, to plant and mulch 100 native trees and 40 shrubs.  The team also constructed a deer fence around the perimeter of the entire planting site to give the young trees a fighting chance in this disrupted urban forest environment.

The planting was a great success, thanks to the efforts of all those involved, the Land and Facilities team, RJ’s planning, execution, and general leadership of a large group of eager helpers from Troop 177, and of course the crucial financial support of the TreeVitalize program.  It is these continued efforts that will make the difference and go a long way to ensure the slow and steady reforestation and next generation of forest canopy and native local ecosystems.  Many thanks to all involved, and here’s to the future forest!

 

Natural Selections: Manayunk and Manatawna: Our Lenape Place Names

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

5e544c255ef38.imageOne of the pleasures of teaching and talking about our Roxborough land are our historic place names, so many of them Lenape in origin: Wissahickon, Conshohocken, Manatawna, Cinnaminson, Manayunk. Widen the lens a bit, and Philadelphia maps burst with Lenape words: Shackamaxon, Wingohocking, Kingsessing, Tulpehocken, Tioga.

Sadly, Phildelphians are taught too little, if anything, about the Lenape, the original people here, our First People, and too much that is taught is at best misleading and too often wrong. That statue of a Lenape chief that guards a bluff above the Wissahickon? He is carelessly outfitted as a Western Plains Indian, and historians agree there were no councils on Council Rock.

Deborah Del Collo, an archivist for the Roxborough, Manayunk, and Wissahickon Historical Society, and author of the excellent “Images of America: Roxborough,” wrote in its introduction, “The words manatawney and manaiung,” the latter her transliteration of Manayunk, “are intertwined with the beginning of Roxborough.” Manatawna is, of course, the name of a narrow street that connects Ridge Avenue just past Cathedral Avenue with Hagy’s Mill Road; you can see the road in the 1926 aerial photo of Upper Roxborough included here – it’s on the far right; that’s Ridge Avenue slicing through the foreground.

But an 1895 railroad atlas in my office curiously shows the word “Manatawna” used to mark the small village of homes near where that narrow street connects to the Ridge, as if Manatawna was a small town just outside the larger Roxborough. Readers, could this be true?

Del Collo wrote that “the Manatawney, which is currently Ridge Avenue in Roxborough, is a path from the native plantations of upper Roxborough to the Falls of the Schuylkill in the current East Falls section of Roxborough.” So she indicates that perhaps Manatawney was the original name of the Ridge. A tawney, she writes, is an open road and mana could mean “raging” or “god,” so she translates Manatawney as “an open road from our creator.”

While I love this, Wikipedia – I know, don’t believe everything you read online – includes a long list of Lenape place names under the entry “Lenapehoking,” the Lenape word for this land where we all live. They include Manatawny on this list, here with no “e” before the “y,” and use it to refer to a creek just outside Pottstown, and say the name means “place where we drink.”

Which is ironic, as many people know the derivation of Manayunk, which is usually said to be “place where we drink,” everyone ironically chuckling at modern Manayunk’s collection of bars and restaurants. Del Collo writes, “The addition of iung (water or stream) to mana in manaiung translates to a ‘raging river,’ which makes perfect sense since the waters of the Schuylkill bordering Roxborough were raging waters in Lenape days.” To make it navigable, the famous Falls of the Schuylkill of course were buried under water from the Flat Rock dam.

Wikipedia hews to the more traditional translation of Manayunk, “place where we go to drink.” I like Del Collo’s translations on both counts, but I’d love for Lenape scholars and native speakers to weigh in.

“Schuylkill,” of course, is a Dutch place name, translating to “hidden river.” But what did the Lenape call this important river? Pennsylvania Heritage published a 2013 piece by historian Joan Wenner, “A River Runs Through Penn’s Woods: Tracing the Mighty Schuylkill,” where she writes, “Once the grand watercourse was home to the Delaware Indians who called it the manaiunk meaning ‘rushing and roaring waters.’”

Apart from all the different spellings of the word, Benner indicates that the Lenape called the river itself Manayunk, and she backs up Del Collo on the “roaring” part. Manayunk: roaring water. Great name.

Nobody disagrees on Wissahickon; I’ve always heard it translated as “catfish stream.” But Del Collo writes that “Wisa can mean ‘catfish’ or ‘yellow,’ and hickon means ‘mouth of a large stream or tide;’ therefore Wissahickon literally means ‘a large catch of catfish found at the mouth of the creek.’” This makes way more sense to me: the catfish would have been in the Schuylkill – pardon me, the Manayunk – so the Lenape caught fish congregating in the Manayunk where the Wissahickon enters it, today where the Canoe Club sits.

Conshohocken translates to “pleasant valley” or “elegant land.” And Cinnaminson, that street that falls off the Ridge at the 5th District building, could either mean “rock island” or “sweet water.”

And my favorite place name? By translation, it’s Tulpehocken, the name of a creek and both street and train station in Germantown. That translates as “land of turtles,” as the turtle was sacred to the Lenape, all of us riding on the back of a giant turtle, the image that Roxborough often uses to describe itself, a la that mural above the 7-Eleven on Ridge. We all live on Tulpehocken.

And we all live in Lenapehoking, the ancestral lands of the Lenape, a people wrongly renamed the Delaware. The Schuylkill Center acknowledges that our 340-acre forest was once the haunts of the Lenape, and we would like to weave that story back into our landscape, and find more ways to connect more of us to that untold story.

I’ll continue to share what I discover with you all.

 

 

Year of Action: Join us in Taking Action

By Mike Weilbacher

contratsting planet (1)The New Year 2020 promises to be pivotal on a number of fronts, but especially the environment. The increasing urgency of the climate crisis has sparked higher levels of activism by new, youth-led groups like the Sunrise Movement. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg’s lonely 2018 climates strike in front of the Swedish parliament have blossomed into climate strikes of millions of kids skipping school across the world.

The presidential election near the year’s end promises to be not only loud, but will have an out sized impact on environmental policy, with major implications for how America, and thus the world, responds to climate change.

But 2020 also marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Philadelphia was center stage for Earth Days in 1970 and 1990, and the global holiday is now credited with launching the environmental movement. Celebrated by over a billion people each year, this April’s Earth Day promises to be huge.

In recognition of all of the above, the Schuylkill Center declares 2020 as our Year of Action and will flavor much of our programming– including our own Earth Day festival– around this concept. Nature Preschoolers will take relevant actions; our Art Department will join in the fun too. So will Land and Facilities, and many programs coming from our Education team.

We’re also asking you to take personal actions at home and in your workplace. 

How can you personally assist in cooling the climate and preserving species?

We assume as a member and friend of our Center, you likely recycle and conserve water and electricity, probably try to create less waste. So what next? Say you’d like to step up in our Year of Action– thank you! What might you do?

Share your plans at scee@schuylkillcenter.org

 

 

Natural Selections: New Year’s resolutions from the Roxborough community

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

IMG_6294

2020 will see my continued fight for redistricting reform and to continue to work in a bipartisan manner to get good policy in place.” State Rep. Pamela A. DeLissio, D-194

With the calendar pages turning over to a new year – and a new decade to boot – it’s time for our annual roundup of New Year’s resolutions from community leaders across Roxborough.

Celeste Hardeseter, president of the Central Roxborough Civic Association, said that, “A century and more ago, people planted trees in their yards that, 100 years later, became magnificent mature specimens. Now, as these are becoming geriatric, we are seeing more and more of them cut down. I would like to persuade property owners to plant new trees, not the pretty little things that flower and mature in 20 years, but trees that are gifts to future generations of people and wildlife who live in Roxborough.

“So my ‘dream resolution’ for 2020 would be to see 100 large canopy hardwood trees planted throughout the community – oak, beech, elm, hackberry, horse chestnut, linden and Kentucky coffeetree, etc. – plus 50 large evergreens, which provide visual screening and year-round shade, like white pine, arborvitae, spruce, etc. I would love if people let the CRCA know what they have planted. Write to us at info@crca.us. Planting trees is such an important contribution to the entire community.”

Rich Giordano heads the Upper Roxborough Civic Association, and told me, “As a relative newcomer to the neighborhood (here ‘only’ 20 years) but also someone who has a genuine reverence for the unique history of our area, I’m focused on ensuring that what is important and vital is not lost and hopefully is in fact strengthened in the face of the very real changes that we are undergoing.”

Their compatriot Jamie Wyper is president of the Residents of the Shawmont Valley Association, and echoes Rich’s comments when he chimed in, “My resolution for the year is to keep reminding our community why we live in this corner for Philadelphia – for the beautiful landscape, the wildlife, the peace and quiet, the uniqueness – and why the only way to preserve it is to forego a small amount of personal benefit for the sake of the greater and lasting community benefit of preservation. This means sticking to the zoning code and not seeking variances to build larger, more, or inappropriately. Once we allow that, it is a short leap to maximal development and the permanent loss of this special place.”

Tom Landsmann, president of the new Roxborough-Manayunk Conservancy, offered that, “My goal for 2020 is clarity and balance. Clarity to determine what’s important and a better work-life balance. Nature will be my tool to help me realize these simple goals. Last year our RMC had a very productive year. We engaged many new community park stewards, and introduced them to like-minded people and new green pocket parks in the area. This year, we’d like to continue to expand our community stewardship network, continue to improve our little green spaces, and continue to promote the benefits of native plantings with high wildlife value. Every member of our community should be exposed to nature. Nature brings clarity, mindfulness and balance to a busy modern life.”

According to James Harry Calamia, the executive director of the Roxborough Development Corp., good things are literally brewing here.

“As our Roxborough 2020 Plan’s life cycle comes to a close,” he said, “the beginning of this year welcomes an opportunity for reflection and analysis before new planning efforts unfold. The new decade also presents a fresh start for new business partnerships. The completion and opening of New Ridge Brewing Co., Night Shift Brewing, Vault Coworking as well as Ichiban Asian Restaurant are some of the most anticipated for the year.” His comments remind me that I need to have lunch at the White Yak soon, and I look forward to toasting the new breweries when they open!

Aaliyah Green Ross directs the education program of the Schuylkill Center and when I asked her what her New Year’s resolution was, she laughed. “I already broke my resolution! I resolved to eliminate single-use plastics from my life, and just bought grapes. I realized they come wrapped in plastic bags, and when I went to the Wawa, they wrapped my sandwich in plastic. So I’m going to redouble my efforts to reduce plastics – I’ve got my metal straws and my reusable produce bags, so I’m going to get better!”

Rebecca Michelin runs the Wildlife Clinic at the Schuylkill Center, the only clinic of its kind in the city, and she was philosophical about her resolution. She wanted to “recognize and be understanding of our personal and professional limitations. Understanding that, as caregivers and humans, we can only do so much, and whether big or small, positive or negative, everything we do has an impact on those around us.”

State Rep. Pamela A. DeLissio, D-194 said, “My goal is to continue to fulfill my commitment to my constituents to have an ongoing dialogue with them regarding state-related policy. It is the best way I know to truly ‘represent’ the 194th. Town halls (90 to date) and new in 2019, my book club gathering, are just two of the ways I fulfill this commitment.

Councilman Curtis Jones, our representative in City Hall, told me his “resolution is short and simple: talking less; fixing more!” We agree, at least with the fixing part.

And Autumn Goin, the kindergartner whose father directs the Land & Facilities Department at the Schuylkill Center, told her dad that her “revolution” is to “listen to more music.”

Which is also what we need in 2020: more revolutions! Amen to all of the above, and thanks to our community leaders for their extraordinary work on our behalf.

Nature Preschool meets our pileated woodpecker

By Leigh Ashbrook

Editor’s note: one of the largest– and rarest– birds in the Schuylkill Center forest is the pileated woodpecker, our largest woodpecker with a wood chipper for a beak. We’ve seen them here this winter, and Nature Preschool has become enchanted by them. One of our teachers, Leigh Ashbrook, also a great birder, teaches about birds in the school, and writes about her students meeting them recently.

pileated chris petrakPhoto: Chris Petrak

Sixteen Nature Preschoolers are meandering along the Widener Trail toward the bird blind, flanked by trees of the second growth forest. Out of the woods on their left an emphatic Kukukukukukukukuk rings through the woods. One of the teachers calls out, “What do you think made that sound?” As the children turn their ears toward the source of the raucous call, the teacher then calls out, “We hear you, pileated woodpecker! Where are you?” Some of the preschoolers laugh, some repeat the question. The class is treated to the sight of a pileated woodpecker flying through the woods, long, slow wingbeats and its great size making it easy to find and follow until it disappears past Founders Grove. 

Along the Widener Trail is one of the locations here at the Schuylkill Center where hikers and birders can often find these marvelous woodpeckers.

Some of the locations that the pileateds tend to frequent are some of the very tall trees beside Fire Pond, and they will announce their presence with their kukukuk call, or perhaps their irregular, sonorous drumming on a dead tree. We have also heard the pileateds in the woods surrounding the Butterfly Meadow, working the loop of trees by the maintenance shed, the lower section of the upper fields trail leading to the ravine loop, and as far down the slope as Polliwog Pond. The most delightful sightings of this striking crow-sized woodpecker for our Nature Preschoolers, however, where they have been most visible and accessible to the young feeder watchers, has been at the suet feeders just outside the Sweet Gum classroom on the back side of the building. There the preschoolers are participating in Project FeederWatch, and both the male and female pileated woodpeckers have made appearances at eye level and even on the ground at times, amazing the children and adults. One cannot remain unimpressed by the sight of these marvelous birds!