Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Goodbye, Ohio

On the brink, Bridal Veil Falls 
Kali's mom (my mother-in-law) is developing dementia and can't live alone any longer.  A year ago, after a plumbing accident in her house which simply overwhelmed Mom, Kali's brother flew to northeastern Ohio to gather-up Mom and a few of her things to take back to San Diego with him.  She's been there ever since, and her house has sat empty.

Because Mom can't move back to northeastern Ohio, we're getting ready to sell her house.  Over the week preceding and including  Thanksgiving, Kali, her brother, and I gathered in the house to get things organized and sort through a lifetime of possessions and memories.  It was a physically and psychically challenging seven days we spent together.

On the last day we were together, we finished up our work in early afternoon and had a few hours before we had to take Kali's brother to the airport.  I suggested a walk at my favorite natural area, Bridal Veil Falls on Deerlick Run in the Bedford Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks system.  Though it had rained in the morning, by late afternoon the wan autumn sun was shining.
I've posted images of the falls before.  When I was growing up, the falls and the tight gorge below them were my favorite summer hangout.  Back then, the Metroparks system had not yet built the elaborate boardwalk that now lets just about anyone who is ambulatory to view the falls.  Decades ago, I entered the stream above the falls and waded, slid and scrambled all the way down to Deerlick Run's confluence with Tinker's Creek.  A few hundred feet downstream of Bridal Veil Falls, Deerlick Run and another unnamed Tinker's Creek tributary each plunge over a shelf of resistant sandstone to create twin falls in an isolated hemlock-shaded glen, then course together with their waters conjoined.  It was a sacred place for me.
Bridal Veil Falls after morning rain
Northern half of Twin Falls on an unnamed tributary of Tinker's Creek
Because Kali, her brother and I were content to just explore the falls' environs and not take a long hike, we got off the formal trail (which, incidentally, is part of the state-looping Buckeye Trail) and wandered  through the woods along the lip of the gorge.  To my utter disappointment, I found that my sacred place has been desecrated--not terribly, but enough to cause me great sadness.  Many of the birches bore carvings in their bark, and a well-worn path traced the cliff edge.  The woodland understory was virtually non-existent, and all of the very few saplings and root-sprouts had been nibbled by deer.
Fungus-encrusted snag in the woods
There's a very good chance that this will have been my last visit to Bridal Veil Falls.  While my brother and his family and my sister and her family still live in northeastern Ohio, we are none of us particularly close and I have never returned to Ohio just to visit with my younger siblings.  (Nor have they ever come to visit me in 23 years, either.)
Hemlocks and sycamore
And it's not just Bridal Veil Falls; this may have been my last bittersweet visit to Ohio, too, since we have professionals dealing with the sale of the house and the transaction can probably be completed by attorneys via mail or email.  Though there are still tethers that can probably never be completely severed, I think it's time to move on.   

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Golden November

American beech now have their time to shine

The steep trail to The Peak

Monday, November 7, 2011

Eighth Floor: Green Roof

I had a chance to look over the 45,000-sq-foot (4,050-sq-meter) green roof that PECO Energy (the local utility) installed on its headquarters building in central Philadelphia last week.  Frankly, I thought that green roofs were mostly "tree hugger" hype, but this visit made me a believer.  The roof receives 1.5 million gallons (5.7 million liters) of precipitation during the year, only sheds 0.5 million gallons (1.9 million liters), and it sheds those half-million gallons over a protracted period that doesn't tax the city's stormwater system with excess runoff following heavy rainfall events.
The Cira Center, Philadelphia's most unusual skyscraper, a half-mile away
The roof has many other advantages.  It will last 2-3 times longer than a conventional roof, it is far cooler than a conventional flat tar roof, it absorbs air pollutants, and it actually provides some habitat for birds and insects; we watched honeybees gathering pollen.  The water management angle really captured my interest, though.
 Philadelphia Museum of Art across the green roof
The major part of the roof is planted with 12 species of orpines or stonecrops (Sedum spp.) (alas, no native species).  At this time of year, they are coloring-up beautifully.  The roof is three years old, and the designer knows and expects that some of the stonecrops will be better competitors than others, so the species diversity will decline over time, but right now they make an especially appealing mosaic.
The company also included deeper planting boxes along the edge of the roof where the building's structure could support heavier soil.  The boxes were planted with a mixture of attractive native perennials and native grasses.  Little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) has "escaped" the confines of its boxes, and spread its seed into the main part of the roof.  It will be interesting to see if it persists over time in the shallow, droughty, low-density "soil" in which the Sedums are growing.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tribulations of Restoring a Muncipal Grassland

The grassland to be restored delimited by fencing
Earlier this year, I was asked by a colleague to serve on an advisory committee that was making recommendations for the restoration of a meadow on parkland in a neighboring municipality.  The 10-acre park was created when the municipality's old stone-and-brick high school was demolished, leaving an open field of rubble buried under a thin veneer of imported topsoil.
Soon after the building was demolished, the municipality engaged the services of a well-respected, ecologically sensitive landscape design firm to create the meadow.  The design specified planting native warm-season prairie grasses on the two-acre meadow site.
View across meadow toward existing woodland
 For several years, the meadow performance was satisfactory (never spectacular), but inevitably the grassland was doomed to fail because the demolition debris had so sweetened the soil that the acidophilous grasses languished and were overrun with non-native grasses and weeds.

The new consultant who was chosen to re-establish the meadow did it "right" this time--she took soil samples and developed a seed mixture compatible with the shallow, rocky and lime-rich soil.  In preparation for re-establishing the grassland, the contractor fenced-off the area, and then herbicided the existing weedy patch in early-summer.  Unfortunately, the contractor used the "newest and best" herbicide, Streamline, which is formulated to kill broadleaved plants but to spare the grasses already present.  Only after the application of Streamline did an article appear in the New York Times that suggested that Streamline could be extremely toxic to conifers.  Sure enough, a huge and beloved ancient Norway spruce that had been near the old school and remained in the center of the new grassland died within two weeks of the herbicide application.
I'm so fortunate to be managing a private preserve (cf. public parkland).  At a meeting of the grassland restoration steering committee earlier this week, a quarter of the meeting was wasted discussing whose logos needed to appear on the sign describing the restoration, and which municipal bureau was responsible for giving final approval for the sign design.
Committee members reviewing plans for a native butterfly garden at the edge of the grassland