Friday, November 25, 2016

Visit with JP (Pittsburgh is SO Hilly)

Kali and JP sharing home-made apple pie
Kali and I visited Pittsburgh two weeks ago so that I could deliver a talk about invasive plants to a garden club (see previous post).  Kali and I both earned doctoral degrees from the University of Pittsburgh (Kali: English; Scott: Biological Sciences) while we lived in Pittsburgh from 1976 until 1981, so we "know" the city and still have friends there.  On the way back home, we stopped to visit a friend from graduate school days  Jan-Paul (JP) was teaching English as an adjunct at Pitt when we lived in Pittsburgh and we became close friends.  JP has eclectic interests in classical music, literature, European languages, natural history (he's a much better naturalist than I), and especially gardening.  He even served as the gardener for Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer at their estate north of New York City for a few years.  Alas, JP was eccentric, peripatetic and couldn't settle down, so he never earned a really "good" living.  He loved Pittsburgh, and when it came time to retire he looked for a place he could afford there, finally buying a fixer-upper in the city's working-class Greenfield neighborhood for $120,000.
View of the back of the house
Of course, he immediately set about transforming the derelict yard into his own eclectic garden.
View toward the street of the garden between the house and garage
He spends much more time in the garden than in the house.

View from the back of the house through the late-October garden
The reason JP bought this house was for the expansive view from the back.  The house is perched 100 feet from the edge of a very steep slope tumbling down to the Monongahela River, affording wonderful views to the south.
Backyard garden looking southwest
The area immediately below JP's house was the site of the Homestead coke works when Pittsburgh was "Steel City."  His neighbor, who has lived next door her entire life, said that her mother couldn't hang laundry outside to dry or it would get dirtier than it was before it was washed when the coke works were operating.  Today, the coke works are gone and the area is being redeveloped for apartments and retail.

In the image below, a tributary valley is visible across the river at the left of the image.  The next valley upstream (just to the left but outside the range of the image) is the drainage of Hay's Run.  There have been a pair of Bald Eagles nesting in the Hay's Run valley for the last few years, and JP says he sees them cruising on the thermals occasionally.
View southward across the Monongahela River
Kali and I had forgotten how hilly Pittsburgh is.  If Pittsburgh were wealthier and had better housing stock, it would be celebrated as the San Francisco of the East.


Mark P said...

My brother lived in Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh area when he did a post-doc at CMU. I am pretty sure he was there as early as 1981, so he overlapped some. He lived in Pittsburgh when he was at CMU, then moved to New Kensington when he got a job at the Alcoa tech center. He lived across the street from a church with Revolutionary War graves, which impressed me. We don't have things from that early around here.

Once when I visited him we went to a rock concert at the stadium downtown. I think it was the Average White Band. The only thing I remember about the concert was that the smoke from everyone smoking weed was so thick that they opened the roof of the stadium.

Scott said...

Mark: I don't remember the stadium having a cover; perhaps that was after my time. I graduated in May 1981, and then I left the city to take a job in Florida four days later. It was a whirlwind!