Pivoting to Virtual Education

When most schools in our area began the year with virtual learning, our environmental educators were faced with an extraordinary challenge: how can we translate a school field trip in our forest into an engaging virtual experience for students learning at home? 

“Half of the experience is just being outdoors,” explains environmental educator Patti Dunne. “Any observation that relies on a sense other than sight—the feel of a pelt or the scent of a leaf, for instance—you have to figure out how to get that across in a different way. Many of the lessons we’re rewriting entirely.”

Our education team responded to this challenge with creativity and innovation, breaking down lessons into basic concepts and rebuilding them with a mixture of live interaction, pre-recorded videos, and self-guided outdoor activities. Through the end of January, educators have reached over 700 students through virtual school programs.

The addition of pre-recorded videos offers the opportunity for students to observe habitats, organism interactions, and scientific concepts in action. A watershed lesson, for example, can include a video recorded during a rainstorm, capturing the movement of stormwater runoff from street to storm drain, as well as the use of interactive maps to allow students to visualize the watershed they live in. 

Teaching in a virtual format has also had some unexpected advantages. Educator Rebecca Deegan remarks that with in-person field trips, “you’re limited to what you have on hand; you might need something that’s being used by another class. With virtual programs, you have access to the entire internet to assist your lessons, so it’s less about your individual resources.” Manager of School Programs Eduardo Dueñas adds that with virtual classes, “We can give the students lots of time to ask questions and indulge their curiosity. There’s not as much pressure to rush, so some students really take advantage of that and ask lots of questions.”

One thing that hasn’t changed with the new dimension of virtual school programs is the rewarding sense of fulfillment that educators feel when helping students make a meaningful, impactful connection to nature. As part of a self-guided “homework” assignment for Lankenau High School’s AP Environmental Science class, students had to go outdoors to collect a soil sample, make observations, and answer questions about it. One student commented that they enjoyed the homework because it was the first time they’d been outdoors in weeks. Not only are these programs providing engaging educational instruction, but they’re also helping to keep students connected to nature at a time when they are indoors more than ever before.

Executive Director Mike Weilbacher notes, “We have been leading school field trips for over fifty years. This is one signature program that has been consistent throughout our existence. Even with COVID, we continue to engage students virtually in our passion for the environment.”  To learn more about having a virtual education program in your classroom, contact Beatrice Kelly at 215-853-6249 or beatrice@schuylkillcenter.org.

 

By Aaliyah Green Ross, Director of Education

Nature’s Music At-Home Activities

This week’s nature kits focus on the different sounds that we hear outside. From the calling of birds to the whistling of wind to the crunching of leaves—nature is alive with its own special type of music. 

Every Saturday, nature kits have been given out on a first-come, first-served basis from 10:00 am–12:00 pm. Nature kits focus on a different theme each week and are meant to be done along our trails. If you can’t make it out to the Center to pick up a kit, make sure to check our blog each week for ways to get in some nature exploration at home.

Activity #1: Sound Scavenger Hunt

In our own neighborhoods, there are sounds specific to nature and sounds not specific to nature.

  • Print out a sound scavenger hunt and go on a hike to see if you can hear the sounds on the sheet.
    • As you hike around, pause at a few points and cup your hands around the back of your ear to look like the ears of a deer. This helps to amplify sound or make it louder.
    • Animals like deer and rabbits have large cup-shaped ears so that they can listen for predators such as foxes and coyotes.
    • Which sounds on your scavenger hunt sheet are sounds from nature? Which are sounds that are not from nature? Are there any sounds that you hear that aren’t on the scavenger hunt sheet?
Activity #2: Animal Charades
  • Take a piece of paper and cut it into strips.
    • Brainstorm some animals that make distinct sounds and write (or draw for younger children) one animal on each piece of paper.
    • Put all of the slips of paper in a brown paper bag.
  • Go outside and find the perfect stage to perform your charades.
    • Have one person from your family pick a piece of paper from the brown bag and make the sound that that animal makes.
    • Can everyone else guess what animal it is?
    • Have another person take a turn.
      • For an extra challenge, split your family into teams and see who can get through the most animals in a set amount of time.
    • Which animal sounds were really easy to guess? Which were really hard?
Activity #3: Family Nature Band
  • It’s time to create your very own rock band!
  • Have each member of your family find a nature instrument.
    • Some examples include: using a rock and stick for a drum set, making an xylophone out of different sized sticks, or just grabbing some leaves to crunch.
  • Have one person from your family act as a conductor.
    • When the conductor moves their hands quickly, the music should go faster.
    • When the conductor moves their hands slowly, the music should slow down.
    • The conductor can also tell certain people when to stop or start playing.
      • Point to someone to tell them to start playing.
      • Act as though your hand is a mouth and clamp your fingers together to tell someone to stop playing.
  • Can you put together your own family song?
Activity #4: Jingle Sticks
  • Find a Y-shaped stick in your backyard or a nearby park.
  • Tie a piece of yarn onto one side of the stick.
  • String materials that would make sound through the yarn.
    • Some examples include: dried pasta, beads, or buttons.
  • Once your materials are added, tie the yarn off on the other side of the stick.
    • You can wrap the bottom of your stick in yarn or color it with paint.

 

If you do any of these activities, be sure to snap a picture and share it with us on social media (tag us @schuylkillcenter)—we’d love to see what you discover in your own backyard!

Valentine’s Day Nature Kit: At-Home Version

Happy Valentine’s Day weekend! This week’s nature kits focus on the unique ways that animals find mates. Whether it’s by impressing their partner with elaborate courtship dances, showing off their brightly colored feathers, or by serenading them with beautiful calls, “love” in the animal kingdom stretches the gamut from cute to quirky to downright bizarre. 

Every Saturday, nature kits have been given out on a first-come, first-served basis from 10:00 am-12:00 pm. Nature kits focus on a different theme each week and are meant to be done along our trails. If you can’t make it out to the Center to pick up a kit, make sure to check our blog each week for ways to get in some nature exploration at home.

Bright Colors to Attract a Mate

Most flowering plants require the help of pollinators, such as butterflies, birds, birds, and even moths, to make new flowers. When pollinators pollinate a flower, they move pollen in the middle of the flower from one flower to another. When pollen moves from flower to flower, eventually a seed is created, and a new flower can grow from that seed. Since pollinators help to create new flowers, plants want to attract them. One way that they can do this is by being bright and showy.

  • Draw three flowers on a piece of white paper.
    • Use crayons or markers to color the outside flower petals bright colors, making sure that each flower looks different.
  • Go to your backyard or a nearby park and place the flowers in three spots.
    • Your grown-up will pretend to be a bee.
      • While you are placing the flowers, have them close their eyes.
      • Make sure to not hide the flower completely.
      • Your grown-up should still be able to see at least part of the flower from where they are standing.
    • Have your grown-up turn around and try to locate the flowers by their bright colors.
      • Did the bright colors help them to locate the flower?
      • Which flower were they able to see first?
      • Was this the most colorful one?
    • Have your grown-up then move the flowers as you pretend to be the bee.
      • Activity Extension: Color the center of each of your flowers with a different color of chalk. Grab a cotton ball and pretend to be a bee by traveling from flower to flower. At each flower that you visit, rub your cotton ball bee in the “pollen,” or chalk, in the center. After you’ve visited each flower, look at the colors on your cotton ball. Is each flower’s pollen color represented on the cotton ball bee? If so, this means you’ve done a good job pollinating!

 

Dancing to Attract a Mate

The males or boys of some species will actually dance to attract a mate. These dances can often be really funny looking.

  • Use this courtship dance sheet to make your own funny dance.
  • Start by listing five movements that will be part of your dance.
    • Movements can be things like stomping your feet, patting your head, or snapping your fingers.
    • The number column is the number of times you would do that movement before moving onto the next one.
    • Fill out the sheet and then perform the dance as a family.
    • As an added activity, have each person in your family create their own dance.
      • Vote on who you think had the best dance.

 

Using Sounds to Attract a Mate:

Animals such as frogs, crickets, and owls will use mating calls to attract mates. They will call out loudly and their potential mate will decide whether or not to answer back based on if they like what they hear from the call. For this game, you’ll want to start out by finding a large field or backyard to play in. Have your grown-up close their eyes.

  • Choose one spot on the field to stand.
  • Have your grown-up clap their hands.
    • Whenever they clap their hands, clap yours back, making sure to stay in one spot as you do so.
  • Have your grown-up use their sense of hearing to find you.
  • Once they’ve found you, switch roles and try to use your hearing to find your grown-up.
  • Instead of clapping, try to make a different sound.
    • You can stomp your feet, snap your fingers, or make your very own noise maker (dried pasta or rice in a jar works well).
      • What noises make it easy to find one another?
      • Which noises make it a little harder?

 

Animal Valentine’s Day Cards:

Animals will care for one another by providing food to their young, helping their mate to build a den/nest, or even by warning one another of danger. There are ways that we can care for one another, and one way to do that is by telling the people in our lives why they are important to us. Valentine’s Day is a great time to do that!

  • Print out the animal Valentine’s Day cards that you like best.
  • Decide who you want to give your Valentine’s Day card or cards to and write, or have your grown-up write, their name in the bottom box.
  • In the message box, write or draw a picture that tells why that person is important to you.
  • Try to think about the things they do for you or the things that you like to do with them.
  • Give or send your Valentine’s Day card to that person.

 

 

 

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

 

Pam DeLissio: ‘Voters Want to be Heard’

While razor-thin voting margins characterized so much of the electoral landscape this month, state Rep. Pam DeLissio, D-194, cruised to an easy reelection victory for her sixth term in Harrisburg, racking up more than 74% of her district’s almost 37,000 votes.

I talked to her last week over the phone, and she laughed when she told me that “a voter I met asked me if I had to work hard for this win. I told her I work hard every day.” And she does.

A self-described “moderate, centrist, middle-of-the-road” politician, she bristles when anyone suggests these traits show a lack of strength, or lack of an opinion. Clearly she has opinions. But she listens very hard to her constituents, and works to represent those interests in the capitol. “I take the input of constituents very seriously,” she offered, “because when citizens are informed about the process, they make better decisions.”

The COVID pandemic colors everything these days, including politics. “Here we are sitting and talking with 4,700 new cases only yesterday,” she said, pausing to confirm the number. “Yes, 4,711, higher than the highest high in the spring, and the legislature has spent an inordinate amount of time trying to correct the governor’s supposedly erroneous behavior. In an emergency like this, you need to be nimble, and putting the pandemic in the hands of the legislature is just not effective. As long as you have gerrymandering in place, you’ll have a skewed perspective on COVID.”

As an example, the state is currently sitting on a pot of $1 billion given to Harrisburg by Congress from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act with overwhelming bipartisan support back in March. “Our CARES money could have been 100% appropriated by the governor,” she told me, “but as an olive branch he gave authority to the legislature to spend it. So there’s still about a billion dollars to be spent that the legislature has not been inclined to deal with.” (They were waiting to possibly use it for deficit relief.) “And many sectors of the community – child care comes to mind – are acutely aware that this money has not been spent.”

Given that she is now a veteran of a full decade of service, she is in line for serving as a minority chair on one of the committees she belongs to. “I’m looking forward to that,” she said. Even though she will be minority chair, “if you do it well, do it right, and do it strategically, you could have some influence.”

When asked about her legislative priorities, she did not hesitate: “redistricting reform, because 2021 is a redistricting year. There is a transparency piece I am interested in, to direct the reapportionment commission to be more accountable by requiring public hearings and allowing public comments. I actually pushed for redistricting reform at one of my first town halls back when I was first elected, and people said, ‘Pam, that’s 10 years away!’ And here we are suddenly at the other end of that decade. But neither party seems very interested in this,” she added wistfully.

“I also see and hear a lot about equity and poverty. Our city’s poverty rate is 26%,” her voice rising. Philadelphia is often described as the poorest large city, not a badge of honor by any stretch. “Poverty stands in the way of our citizens breaking into the middle class.” For her, poverty becomes a lens through which she can examine other bills before her: “is this bill going to help or exacerbate the situation?” She noted that, “ I’ve spent some time understanding the social determinants of health, like the impact of housing, transportation, and food insecurity on health.” These play into poverty as well.

Pam easily connects education to the issue, and reminded me that an education commission made recommendations in 2015 to change the formula the state uses to distribute money for school districts. Of the 500 school districts in the state, almost 200 are underfunded, according to the state’s own math. The new allocation formula, she said, “takes into consideration things that have never been considered before, like poverty level, and there’s even a factor in the equation for deep poverty.” But Harrisburg got stuck on whether the new formula goes into effect automatically or steps down over time, and she signaled she would like to champion stepping down, a gradual drop over time to more equitable levels.

When asked about Pennsylvania being in the national crosshairs over our election’s integrity, she said, “Out of the blue this fall, there came an effort (in the legislature) to create a select committee on election integrity. The way the language was written – it was so poorly drafted – it would have given subpoena power to the majority Speaker. The pushback, no, the blowback,” she said, her voice rising on blowback, “was tremendous, and that was shelved.”

About the fraud allegations, she says “nobody has shared one scintilla of evidence. Oh,” she remembered, “one person from one polling place called me with a complaint, and I need to track that down. But that’s it.”

She would like to see election reform. “I’d like to memorialize the drop boxes– there was unbelievable voter engagement this year because of mail-in votes. Many many states have mail-in voting, so it’s not new, it’s just new in Pennsylvania. Interestingly, it eliminates straight-ticket voting, which is no problem for me. But this engagement may just be what many legislators want to avoid – they actually don’t want engaged voters.” She also supports mail-in votes that can be opened and prepped early, so they can be counted on Election Day, avoiding this year’s multi-day wait.

She’s not a big fan of legislation crafted “for the sake of the base. I’ve never played to a base; I haven’t done that and will not do that, and that’s how I ended up with a robust percentage of the vote in a divisive election. Voters tell me, ‘I know she listens to me.’ That’s what most voters want, to be heard.”

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Bea Kelly Marks 20 Years at the Schuylkill Center

If you’ve visited the Schuylkill Center anytime in the last 20 years, there’s a great chance you’ve met Roxborough’s Bea Kelly, who this week celebrates her 20th anniversary as a member of the center’s staff. Our program registrar, Bea served as our receptionist for 15 of those 20 years,so if you’ve walked in the front door to come to an event, see our art gallery, drop off a preschooler, or buy our special bird seed, you’ve likely said hello to Bea.

To mark the occasion, the staff created a bee-friendly garden (pun intended, get it?) at the front door near our new seating area, which overflows with plants that birds and pollinators like native bees find attractive, like viburnums, small flowering shrubs with fruits craved by birds, and fall-blooming asters that nourish migrating monarchs on their way south. She also was given a gift certificate to White Yak, the delicious Tibetan restaurant that’s scoring a lot of attention on the Ridge. 

A native Philadelphian who grew up in Northwest Philly, Bea has called Roxborough her home for the last five years. Asked why she chose Roxborough, she responded, “well it’s obvious that being in close proximity to work is a bonus. The neighborhood is beautiful, vibrant, verdant, and conducive to sustainable living and healthy community. And it’s fun.

“My neighborhood,” she continued, “ is one of the most priceless areas of the region. I can walk just about anywhere from my house and find interesting nooks and crannies along the way. I love the views and the architecture and the history around every corner, and also the gardens. I enjoy the ease and comfort in exploring the area and I meet so many friendly neighbors everywhere I go.”  

Bea came to the Center in 2000 as a part-time educator but quickly transitioned to become the “face” of the organization when she took on the job of front-desk receptionist.  Bea recalls, “it was always satisfying to help anyone who came through our front door because everyone is usually surprised and delighted at what they find when they explore our trails.”

She’s also seen a lot of nature in her time with us, as the front desk is surrounded by glass windows. She’s the first to see new birds at our feeding station, often writing their names of an old-school chalkboard in the lobby, or deer coming too close to the front door, or Canada geese returning to nest on Fire Pond outside the front door, or blue jays stealing name tags from the native plants we sell at the front door (they love doing this, oddly), or fox droppings deposited on the front walkway by a fox likely snubbing his nose at us, and more.

She’s even our rainfall monitor, measuring how much rainfall comes each day in the rain gauge out by the solar collectors. And she’s been one of the go-to photographers I’ve leaned on for submitting alongside this column– you’ve seen her work on several occasions.

When asked about colleagues or mentors that influenced her, Bea gave a shout out to our diverse army of volunteers.  “I think there’s something miraculous when people give freely of their time.”  While the individual tasks may not seem significant, Bea notes, “their collective benefits are immeasurable. Their work over the years has made the Center run much more smoothly.”  When asked about working with Bea, Director of Education Aaliyah Green Ross comments, “I’ve relied on Bea in my time here. She is always a great resource when it comes to what works when we’re planning education and public programs.”

When Bea isn’t at her desk, you might find her walking along one of her favorite places at the Center, our driveway. “There’s a place at the bend in our driveway that’s really quiet and there are trees on either side,” she muses. “When I walk along the driveway, it feels like I’m on an old country road. The bend is a spot that has a nice mix of ‘wildness’ with a dab of civilization.”

 During her time, Bea has worked for three of our four executive directors, and just missed meeting our founder, Dick James, who retired in 1996. As the fourth in that chain, I think that it’s incredibly rare that people stay at one workplace for 20 years anymore, so the center is very lucky that Bea has been that warm, welcoming presence at our front door for all this time. In fact, Dick James, here for 31 years, may be the only other person in our organization’s history to hit this mark. 

I’m hoping she stays on another 20 more! We’ll write about her in this corner of the newspaper again when she does. 

Congratulations, Bea, and thank you.

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Halloween and Hermit’s Cave

Kris Soffa as the “Woman in the Wilderness” at the Hermit’s Cave. Photo by David Soffa.

It’s Halloween, a normally festive holiday that’s been made even scarier by the pandemic. Lots of Halloween events have sadly been canceled this year out of care and caution; one of those was typically set in a very special place in Roxborough:

The Hermit’s Cave along the Wissahickon. Which amazingly was created by a Philadelphian who immigrated here from– you can’t make this stuff up– Transylvania.

You may have heard of the legend that a hermit lived in a cave along the Wissahickon for some time. While much of the truth has been lost and the legend has been greatly embellished, Halloween is a great time to dig up the skeleton of the story. And our tale is told by Kris Soffa, longtime Roxborough resident and Trail Ambassador for Friends of the Wissahickon who typically did a spooky night at the cave, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Johannes Kelpius, as Kris explained, “was the son of a Lutheran minister, born in 1667,” she said, yes, in Transylvania. “He was a scholar, writer, alchemist, philosopher, mystic, musician, and scientist,” she continued, “and part of the Pietist movement, breaking off from Lutheranism during the Reformation. He was the leader of a hotbed of people studying the Book of Revelation.” The group decided through their intense study that the world would end in 1694. Inspired by a passage in the book noting the importance of the “Woman in the Wilderness,” which to them signaled they should await the end in the wilds of the New World. As Philadelphia was close to the 40th parallel, and 40 was mystical to the group, and the city was tolerant of religious freedom, they came to Philadelphia, bringing 40 men to start their celibate cult in the New World wilderness to await the end. As Kelpius went to college in Germany, much of his group were highly literate German men, and they found a German patron to buy them land, not far from Germantown, again finding people sympathetic to their story.

It was America’s first Doomsday Cult. They set up shop off now-named Hermit Lane at the bottom of Roxborough near the Wissahickon, erecting a tabernacle 40 feet wide by 40 feet long, the 40 men living (near the 40th parallel, remember) in huts nearby. Legend says Kelpius himself lives in a cave here; some legends even say the group lives in caves along the creek, but there are not many true caves here– it’s the wrong kind of rock.

And while (spoiler alert!) the world does not end in 1694, the group stays busy. Learned men in a small growing town– Philadelphia has only 500 buildings when they arrive– “they become successful doctors and lawyers,” continued Kris, “so they are visiting Germantown, people coming to them for healing.” They grow a large botanical garden that includes many of the plants they need for their medical work. Kris says the group sets up the first observatory in the New World, at Lover’s Leap in the Wissahickon, using instruments Kelpius brought with him. He wrote the first piece of music in the New World, a book of hymns, some still used today. His follower Christopher Witt, a Brit expatriate, painted his portrait, the first oil painting in the New World. Wikipedia adds that Witt also “built them a pipe organ… the first privately owned organ in North America.”

As 1694 passes without the world ending, some of the followers become disenchanted, and the group struggles. Kelpius dies in 1708, many blaming his ascetic life in a cave for his death in his 40s. The effort ends with the land being purchased by the well-established Righter family who operated a shad fishery, mills, and ferry along the Schuylkill.

In 1848, the Righters sold the site of the tabernacle and one “hermit” cabin to the son of a Russian count, who built a country house here he named the Hermitage. Evan’s son sold the property in 1895 to Fairmount Park for $1.

The cave is downhill of the Hermitage off Hermit Lane. Carefully lined with rock and lintels, it appears more like a root cellar. While several websites claim it was a springhouse, no spring emerges from its solid-stone floor. Kris doubts this was ever a hermit’s cave, but where Kelpius really lived and whether it was a hut or a cave has been lost in time. That said, the Rosicrucians, another sect that has claimed Kelpius, erected a stone marker to him here in 1961– which stands today.

In recent years, Kris Soffa orchestrated a special evening event there. A prop coffin was wheeled into the cave, as she described, “and spooky re-enactors in full Halloween regalia lit candles and incense and laid out artifacts which Kelpius might have used, like an astrolabe, crystals, and alchemy objects. The hermit himself, in Renaissance robes and hood, waited inside the cave at a small table and chair.” As her group walked to the cave, costumed characters joined them as escorts, and at the cave, a vampire of course emerged from the coffin, a joyful mashup of history and Hallwoeen.

But not to be done this year! Stay tuned for next year, and in the meantime, Happy Halloween.

By Mike Weilbacher. Executive Director.  Mike tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

A Life of Quiet Giving: Dana Tobin, 1946-2020

Editor’s note: Dana Tobin worked for many years at the Schuylkill Center from the 70s into the 90s, and was founding executive director Dick James’s right hand man for many of those years. We sadly heard he had passed away recently. Our friend Jon Roesser at Weavers Way Coop, where Dana was also very active, just wrote this essay for the Shuttle, their newspaper. We thought we’d share it with you, the Schuylkill Center family, as well. RIP, old friend.

A few years ago, Dana Tobin had an idea: Set up a way for Co-op members to have their five percent working member discount automatically donated at the register to Food Moxie, our affiliated non-profit.

From this idea, the Co-op’s “High Five” program was born. And every month since, a few dozen Co-op members forgo their working member discount and instead have it donated in support of Food Moxie’s various education programs. On average, it’s about $700 a month. So far, more than $66,000 has been donated.

The High Five program is emblematic of how Dana slowly, quietly made the world a better place. No grand gestures, no photo ops with bulky promotional checks — just steady, reliable support, delivered without fanfare and with no strings attached.

Last month, the Co-op lost Dana. He did not die of COVID-19, but his death in the middle of the pandemic adds to the sense of sorrow and loss we are feeling this year.

Up until the pandemic, Dana was a fixture around the Co-op, and while it was often to go shopping, just as often he was up to something else. Picking up cardboard for reuse. Dropping off used egg cartons for someone with backyard chickens. Returning a pile of slightly used paper bags.

A brilliant guy with an extraordinary intellectual curiosity, books helped him understand the world.

Above all, there were books.  If you had a conversation with Dana, chances are he’d be back in a day or two, a book in his hand about the subject of which you had last spoken, with a note attached recommending this or that chapter.

He didn’t share his personal beliefs often, and it drove him a bit nuts when others would venture opinions on subjects they barely understood, not an uncommon occurrence here at Weavers Way.
Dana was generous with his time and his money, but never in a showy way. His gifts were small and frequent, and always anonymous, never with an expectation of anything in return.

He earned his Co-op hours by putting together two weekly email lists —“Thursday Food” and “Sunday Food” — in which he would compile links to articles about local food news, agriculture, food systems and the environment. These emails kept us informed and made sure we didn’t miss important news related to our industry.

More than anything else, he was a good friend. When I needed someone to talk to, I could always count on Dana. True to character, he rarely gave advice or opinions. Mostly he would listen, smile, comfort and help me find perspective.

And now that he’s gone, I am truly, deeply sad.

By Jon Roesser, Weavers Way Co-op General Manager

Manayunk and Manatawna: Our Lenape Place Names

One 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.

By Mike Weilbacher

Belated Earth Day at 50 exhibition in our gallery

“There is no planet B” was one of the many slogans calling for environmental action during Earth Day in 2019. Even if this year’s celebrations of Earth Day’s 50th anniversary have been subdued in the wake of the worldwide pandemic, its ideals and insights are more vivid than ever before. After a significant delay, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education is presenting for this occasion the new exhibition “Ecotactical: Earth Day at 50,” which opened to the public on September 21, in its newly reopened Visitor Center.

Since its beginnings, Earth Day has lobbied for an expansive view of the environment, ensuring both healthy habitats and healthy people, as well as fair housing, food access, and racial justice. The new exhibition “Ecotactical” offers a look into Earth Day’s legacy through the lenses of six artists whose works explore the connections between Earth Day activism since the 1970s and today’s concerns, responding in multimedia installations to the question of what this anniversary might mean 50 years later. At the Schuylkill Center’s gallery and on its trails, the artists present stories of nature, community, and environmental justice in Philadelphia and beyond. While reflecting on Earth Day’s origins, they underscore that memory and reflection lie side by side with activism and artistry at this milestone in its history.
The turmoil of our own time and the increasing urgency of the climate crisis gives the historical roots of Earth Day new relevance. “Both the artists and myself, we have been following and adjusting the exhibition to the ups and downs of COVID-19 over the last months,” says exhibition coordinator Liz Jelsomine. “Putting this into perspective, I believe the artists in ‘Ecotactical’ offer exciting new thoughts on the meaning of Earth Day today.”

Following in Earth Day’s creative footprints, the artist collaborative Tools For Action created inflatable sculptures for the People’s Climate March in 2014; they reference a “survival performance” the group Ant Farm presented in 1970. A documentation of their inflatables for today’s climate and earth-related demonstrations and actions is displayed in the gallery.

The activism of Tools for Action is mirrored in an outdoor installation along our trails, “For The Future” by Julia Way Rix, of cyanotype flags that draw on signs and slogans from recent climate strikes and environmental demonstrations. Also on the Center’s trails one can find fragile sculptures by Nicole Donnelly whose arrangements with invasive vines and handmade plant-based paper draw our attention back to the liveliness of nature.

“The objective is an environment of decency, quality, and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures,” said Senator Gaylord Nelson during Earth Day in 1970. These and other remarks and stories, particularly at Philadelphia’s ecological celebrations that were arguably the most vigorous in the nation, emerge from an archival arrangement by artist and teacher Kristen Neville Taylor. Her presentation incorporates historic ephemera and imagery of Earth Day’s demonstrations and activism in Philadelphia’s Powelton Village neighborhood, reminding us of the claims for environmental justice on our streets still today.
Another visual response is offered by local environmental educator and urban planner, Pili X, as he documents in a vivid photo album the rich community activities at the North Philly Peace Park. This self-identified ‘ecology campus’ champions alternative urban farming methods, fights for environmental and racial justice, and offers a holistic health approach in response to the Sharswood neighborhood’s profound needs for education, employment and food security. “We’re not going to be able to solve all these issues and answer all these problems overnight, but to begin to add some relief to people,” comments Pili X about his practice on philadelphianeighborhoods.com.

Close beside that series is Sophy Tuttle’s display “Solastalgia,” which offers a shrine for healing and grief. Resembling a cabinet of curiosities, Tuttle’s work is a memorial to the estimated 150-200 species that go extinct every day, and a prompt to reimagine our domination-based relationship with our surroundings. The gallery presentation is rounded out by “Curious: Think Outside the Pipeline!” a family-friendly eco-musical by music duo Ants on a Log that follows a young girl’s journey into community organizing, and “Water Ways,” a series of illustrations by Meg Lemieur and Bri Barton that depict water, health, and justice in relationship to fracking.

Calling for action, reflection and humor, the artists’ responses in “Ecotactical” demand our attention and accountability to the past, present and future.

Due to COVID-19 safety measures, masks are required in the gallery, with no more than three people per group, at 6 feet apart. The Schuylkill Center looks forward to belatedly celebrating this year’s Earth Day anniversary with you.

By Tina Plokarz, Director of Environmental Art