Monday, November 28, 2016

Flight 93 National Menorial

Entrance to the Flight 93 National Memorial. Grey stone walkway is the flight path.
On our way back from Pittsburgh to our home in southeastern Pennsylvania earlier this month, Kali and I detoured to visit the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, between Somerset and Bedford.

The memorial, which consists of a museum/visitor center situated directly on the path of the doomed flight, is embraced by a long, semicircular walk that leads to the site of the crash.  The walk eventually will be shaded by 40 groves of trees to commemorate each of the passengers and crew members killed on September 11, 2001.  To date, some of the groves have been planted, but the memorial is still a work in progress.

Nonetheless, visiting the site is extraordinarily moving and emotional.  There were lots of tears among everyone there--including Kali's and mine. 
View back toward the museum along the flight path
Crash site overlook at the end of the flight path walkway
The actual crash site is marked by a large sandstone boulder, which is barely visible in the image below, just short of the line of hemlocks.  The plane hit the ground at over 500 miles per hour, so the passengers' remains are in place and protected in the grassy field beyond the white gate.

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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Pittsburgh Botanic Garden

A decade ago, a colleague invited me to collaborate on a project at the site of what was destined to become the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.  The site was within Settlers Cabin Park, one of Allegheny County's parks in the southwestern Pittsburgh suburbs near the airport.  The land had largely been strip mined for coal and then abandoned until it was purchased by the county for a future park.  Since mining ended, the scarred hillsides had naturally reforested, although the streams draining the area were still poisoned by acid mine drainage.  Our collaborative project was to evaluate the site for invasive, non-native plants, and to develop a management plan.  After we completed our report, I didn't hear anything else about the garden.

Two weeks ago, I delivered a talk about invasive plants to a joint meeting of the Village Garden Club/Garden Club of Allegheny County.  In speaking with the garden clubs' members, I asked about the status of the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden - who better to know about progress on "my" project?  Few of the people with whom I spoke knew much, and I don't think any of the garden club members had ever visited the garden.  So, after my talk, I dragged Kali and our friend/host/former employee Rhonda out to the garden to look it over.  What follows are images I made there.
The attractive Visitor Center, used mostly for revenue-generating functions (e.g., weddings, etc.)
The garden is just getting off the ground.  The concept is in place and trails have been blazed, but the garden is in its earliest stages of development.  Most of the land is still covered in young woodlands and meadows, with trails cut through to provide access.  And, invasive plants are ubiquitous!  
Friend Rhonda under a pergola
Birdhouse in the goldenrod meadow
Kali and Rhonda in the goldenrod meadow
I liked this image because it looked very impressionistic
Backlit goldenrod
Backlit tuliptree leaf
A "folly" in the forest
Woodland trail
The garden administrators have decided to install environmental artwork throughout the trail network as an added attraction.  Most of the work is not of the highest caliber, and some is downright unappealing and shoddy (in my opinion).  However, the evocative wooden installation below was stunning.  (Ignore the bizarre thatched "tiki houses" in the background.)
We visited the garden during late afternoon, which illuminated the tops of the trees perfectly to capture autumn's glory.
The most highly developed section of the facility is the Oriental Garden.  Its central focus is a huge lily pond surrounded by a paved walkway.

Kali (left) and Rhonda on a boardwalk near the lily pond
Rhonda (left) and Kali on steppingstones crossing the upper end of the lily pond

The lily pond serves a dual purpose:  it is the aesthetic centerpiece of the Oriental Garden, and it is also an ingenious system to treat acid mine drainage in the stream that feeds the pond.  The garden received a significant environmental grant to create this treatment system.
At the end of our walk, we arrived at the eponymous "settlers' cabin," which has been lovingly and carefully restored.

We enjoyed a very pleasant late afternoon autumn stroll through the woods and fields, but the garden fells "raw" and has a long way to go before it becomes a real horticultural asset for the Pittsburgh area.  Maybe, by the next time that I'm invited to speak ten years hence, I can share more progress.