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Beautiful Bethlehem PA

Thursday, October 2, 2014

 A September walking tour of the campus of Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA, with the ablest of guides: Diane Husic, chair of Biological Sciences. She knows all the best trees. Like this grand champion English elm, biggest in the nation. That's me beneath in the red top, for scale. YOWSA.

It looked very healthy, though it had a weepy stanky ooky place in the trunk at about head level. By the time you're that big and old, you're bound to have those. Hope it isn't anything serious. What a tree! Diane was going to plant a rain garden in a low wet spot along the building just to the left of this giant tree the very next day. She was hoping student volunteers would show up. 

It was one of those September afternoons where the light could cut glass. Everything was sharp and clear in the fine autumn sun.

I think Diane likes working here. She takes her classes on tree safaris all over campus. I used to love doing those with botany professor Carroll Wood at Harvard. It opened up such a world to me!

There's a venerability about the buildings that just awes me. They're so beautiful. For some reason I could imagine wanting to be married here. 

Maybe it was the old organ we found.

I was itching to try the keys. Wonder what Vox Humana sounds like? Or you could have angel voices, too. Either would have been fine, but I was afraid to touch it. It was so old. But I should have. That's what it's for.

In this beautiful performance space, a man was playing piano just to play. How wonderful, to be in a place where people do that for its own sake, for the sake of art or practice or just filling the space with music. Bethlehem is soaked in history and music; there's a huge music festival there each summer, and they were gearing up for a festival of all things Irish when I was there. It made me long to be nearer such a cultural treasure trove. But that's OK. Out here in the sticks, we make our own culture, because we have to. And there's a beauty in that, too.

Even the chairs were spindly and venerable. I'd never seen chairs like that in a concert space. The seats, gently scooped for comfort. 

Diane ended our epic hike through Bethlehem with a (perfectly timed) stop at The (cleverly named) Chocolate Lab, where she bought me the best dang pecan/caramel/milk chocolate Turtle I have ever, ever had in my whole life. I am still gnawing on it now. I have one 3/4" square piece of it hidden behind the fruit bowl. For tomorrow. And then it is gone. Waaah. Wondering if they mail-order. Because I discovered that a little piece of chocolate caramel pecan turtle is the ideal reward for, say, finishing a column or doing an extra-long run or just having the munchies.

Down to the smallest detail, Bethlehem is a gem. 

Lest you think that I was there simply to gaze up at London planes and English elms and eat turtles, Diane had invited me to give a public talk at Moravian College. On Thursday night I gave "The Bluebird Effect" to a wonderful SRO crowd, a really interesting interdisciplinary cross-section of the community and the college. (I loove the sound of people doing the Extra Chair Shuffle). There were people from the Religion department, Biology, Humanities, and a nice sprinkling of local conservationists and naturalists.

 photo by Clint Doyle

photo by Clint Doyle

And on Friday morning I led a creative writing class for Joyce Hinnefeld on writing about animals (and people, too) without getting all anthropomorphic and gooey. I read a bunch of my NPR pieces that illustrated the points I wanted to make. It was superfun. Could have gone on for about a week. Overprepared, as usual.

photo by Thomas Kopetskie

photo by Thomas Kopetskie

That's Joyce to the right of me. She is awesome, a wonderful writer and teacher. Diane is smiling at something (funny piece I guess)  to the right of Joyce. Makes me smile. 

Then on Saturday evening I spoke at Lehigh Gap Nature Center, and that was wonderful too.  All in all it was a most excellent and satisfying Zicktrip. I am very grateful to Diane for arranging the whole thing, to Diane and David for hosting me, to Pennsylvania for being her lovely self at the perfect season for walks and photoexpotitions. More photos and surprises to come.


This is one of my favorite 'travel' posts you've ever done… and odd since I generally prefer birds, landscapes, animals, etc. to people and man-made things, which this post is full of. I can't even pinpoint what made the post so "excellent and satisfying," except for the sense of being transplanted momentarily to a special tranquil place.

Be sure to come to the Bach Festival in May. Fantastic music. Authentic art growing out of an over 100 year tradition

Eons ago, I spent a year living in Bethlehem--I was in grad school at Lehigh University. I lived off campus with a local family, and hitched a ride to campus each day with a friend. My friend was a Moravian, so I went with her to church occasionally. I loved the elegantly spare church buildings. I see that same grace in the buildings you feature.
When the annual Bach festival rolled around (held in the Lehigh Chapel), I hung around outside, and someone kindly gave me tickets to a couple of the performances. But, sitting outside wasn't so bad either--I listened to the B Minor Mass that way!

That looks like a fabulous place! So many wonderful things to see and do. Also, I do love the word expotition - that and heffalump. Both words I use regularly.

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