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Looking at Pennsylvania

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bethlehem and Kunkletown, Pennsylvania are very beautiful towns. Although I've been to mainland Europe only for the briefest time, and that was Holland, I can't help but feel I'm being transported back to my ancestral Germany with the gorgeous architecture and lush plantings. 

An allee of hydrangeas. Really! An Italian villa, plopped down against the Kittatinny Ridge.

And yet a fieldstone house is so uniquely Pennsylvanian, and I celebrated that fact every time I went for a walk. My dad was so enamored of Pennyslvania's fieldstone houses. I remember as a kid wondering what the big deal was, what a house was made of. Now I get it. Local stone that nobody else has. And so beautiful. I'm so thankful to have been raised by parents who sought out and appreciated what was special about each corner of the America they knew. Dad, Mom, it sank in.

A John Deerey bit of Americana. I couldn't resist.

More Europe in Bethlehem, but with New England asters. 

Diane Husic and I went on a little tree safari around the campus of Moravian College, where she is Professor and Chair of Biological Sciences. This oak rang a distant bell, but I don't get to see many of them, so I held out a leaf and used Diane for scale against its magnificent trunk and rectangular chunky bark so I could check my Sibley Tree Guide when I got home.  It turns out to be a burr oak, which my dad always called "Vanguard of the Forest" because it was the first one to grow on the prairie. Sigh. Glad I remember all this stuff. Or maybe he's whispering in my ear. This photo makes me smile. iPhone as Naturalist's Companion. Note to self: identify this oak. Tiny Diane perched on my hand like a parakeet in her chicory-blue sweater. I had a parakeet named Bing. Chicory blue he was.

Diane showed me a fern garden growing in a London plane tree (sycamore, Platanus x acerifolia). Those little fern spores can blow around and land about anywhere. Moravian College's campus is absolutely loaded with plane trees, which glow golden in fall light. Their bark is distinctly yellower than our native sycamore's.

Ahh, I could look at their bark for hours. 

There are so many pictures in it.

Moan. These trees are such extravagant beauties, such a lovely choice for streets and campuses. Magical.

 We walked toward Moravian Academy, where soon-to-be-world-famous naturalist Corey Husic had his start. It was all so beautiful, so surreal, so very different from my low-slung brick elementary school, baking in a field next to a strip of loblolly pines in Richmond, Virginia.

 Diane showed me the building where I'd lead a creative writing class that morning. Wow. It was so...Harry Potter.

Out on Main Street, a duplex that made me laugh out loud. A schizophrenic house. Yes, we are joined at the awning and roof, and have had to live as Siamese twins for decades. But don't for a moment think we are ANYTHING alike. Hodge, baby, this one's for you.

I was also amused to note how thoroughly the birds had enjoyed this urban American Poke's fruit.
Stripped nekkid, it is. A fine bird food, makes for lovely purple poops to swoop down and put on cars. I tell anyone who will listen that American Poke is valued as a specimen plant in fine English gardens. And in not-so-fine Ohio gardens as well. I do pull it out of the main border when it tries to start, as it has a little problem with scale. It leans toward gigantism, then it leans toward the ground and flops all over smaller, weaker plants.

Just a few things I noticed and enjoyed on my Pennsylvania strolls.


Just discovered your blog. It made me feel that I was taking a road trip and enjoying the sights and experiences first hand. While remaining on my comfortable couch and clutching my iPad. Thank you for sharing. Well done!


I grew up on a farm in southeastern PA and loved the old stone houses with their wide windowsills for plants. Now I live in a much stonier part of PA but they didn't build stone houses here, guess they had so many trees they used them instead. We had 3 huge Bur Oak trees on the farm but we called them Mossy Cup Oaks (which sounds neater, don't you think?) They are wonderful trees. Thank you, Julie, for bringing back memories.

Reading your blog this morning left me with the feeling that I just attended nature's church service. Thanks for the inspiration!

You had me at Penn...
Mom is from western PA, a tiny town in the hills called Glen Campbell. We'd travel up in the summers and it was magic. Rushing cold streams, "mountains"... cherries.

My dad, too, was a lover of old and/or interesting architecture. He was drawn to brick.

I had a pale blue parakeet named Bimbo.

I grew up on a farm near Elizabethtown Pa, in Lancaster county. I have lived in Seattle for the last 22 years and your blog has taken me on a nice journey down memory lane.

Posted by Jeff Martin September 28, 2014 at 10:58 AM

Lots of plane trees in Pittsburgh, including on the plaza outside the Main Library. People would often come in and ask if there was something wrong with them because their bark was so different from the maples and oaks.
From my roots in south central PA I have always loved stone and wood and green.

I love burr oaks. We have several in our 72 mostly-wooded acres. I keyed one out since I hadn't seen them before. Also, my college, Swarthmore had fieldstone buildings all over. Now, after a building blitz, it is more of a hodgepodge--- too bad.

Will you be teaching any other creative writing workshops on the East coast? I love your writing, your blog, your art, and would be thrilled to take a class with you.

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