Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Handmade by Jean

This is just one design of dozens of Jean's handmade gift
enclosure cards for weddings, births, graduations, or any
other occasion you can think of.  She really does beautiful
work, if I do say so, but you're welcome to agree.  Many
are hand-painted, making them real collector's items.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Kings Gap Mansion

Kings Gap Mansion from the front lawn.  A tent is set up to the
left for a wedding.

The James McCormick Cameron summer mansion at Kings Gap, PA, is but a footnote in this long trail of old money, but an impressive footnote well worth the visit.  To start at the head of the trail, James’ grandfather, Simon Cameron, was Abraham Lincoln’s first Secretary of War and a United States Senator four times.  The family began buying up land around Harrisburg, Carlisle, and Lancaster, PA, having five simultaneous summer estates available for the family’s use during Simon’s life.  A son, James Cameron, served as Secretary of War under Pres. Ulysses S. Grant.  James McCormick Cameron was born in Harrisburg in 1865, the end of the Civil War.  He attended Harrisburg Academy and Exeter and Harvard College, and studied law under his father.  After college, he decided to enter the steel business, which had also been part of his grandfather’s commercial enterprises.  James operated steel furnaces, owned the Iron and Steel Company, owned the Elk River Coal and Lumber Company, was director of the Buffalo Creek and Gauley Railroad Company, was director of the Harrisburg Bridge Company, director of the Harrisburg Railway Company, and a member of the Dauphin Deposit Trust Company bank.

The front of the mansion as seen from the driveway as approaching
the entry portico.

The panorama of the surrounding countryside as seen from the
flagstone patio.

Wanting to escape the summer heat in the city of Harrisburg, he decided to build a mountain-top mansion in 1908 to enjoy the cooler breezes.  Being afraid of fire, the mansion was built of Antietam quartzite stone, which was quarried from a nearby ridge.  Being innovative for the time, it was also the first structure in the area to utilize a new construction technique employing steel-reinforced concrete for interior elements of the building to make it as fireproof as possible.  It was originally designed as an Italian villa of 32 rooms with large windows and a huge flagstone terrace to partake of the cooling breezes coming up the mountain.  While caretakers remained at the mansion year-round, the family only stayed there from May until October, between 1908 and 1948.

Another view from the terrace, half of which is covered for shade, 
leaving half open in full sunlight.

The water tank and tower to supply water to the gardens and the
mansion.  An apartment sat below the tank.

The property also includes a water tower, large gardens, ice house, caretakers’ house, generator building, and carriage house.  The first floor of the mansion is open to the public on Sunday afternoons from Memorial Day until October, and both floors are open the first two Sundays of December for the Christmas celebration.  The 200-ft. long building was enlarged to 38 rooms during a renovation project begun in 2000 to include an environmental education center.  The property’s 2,531 acres on South Mountain comprises the Kings Gap State Park with 18-miles of hiking trails.  Current uses of the mansion range from an orienteering course, conference center, educational courses, overnight lodging, and is a favorite venue for weddings.

Beautiful gardens included flowers, herbs, and a pond.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Monarchs

It was a Sunday bike ride, part of my 3-P-100 (paddle, peddle, or plod 100 miles/month), that took me by several fields of Helianthus, a lower classification of sunflower.  In this one, I found a bunch of late migrating monarch butterflies.  I was hoping to get a picture of one with its wing outstretched, but there was enough of a breeze that as soon as they landed, like a sailor furling his sails, they would immediately flatten their wings.  The breeze would swing them into the wind where they could then pretty much ignore the wind as they inspected the blooms.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Low Overhead

The huge I-beams and hanging channel iron made it clear we weren't
going through here with the canoe intact.

We were on our way to a family reunion at Nockamixon State Park, near Quakertown, PA.  It was a convoluted route, so I had sought the assistance of Google Maps routing, and so the memories flooded in.

I drove tractor-trailers cross-country for several years to meet certain financial objectives.  It was in the early days of commercial GPS, and the first routing programs were of course for automobiles.  Regardless, trucking companies immediately latched hold of the technology, and so for many years drivers of eighteen-wheelers found themselves unwittingly following routes designed for compact cars.  If this led to a problem, both the solution and the consequences of any resulting wrecks fell on the drivers’ shoulders.  The driver is always responsible for everything.  The further one got to the North and East, where many remnants of the Revolutionary and Colonial periods of our history still remain, the more common the problems became.  Where roads were designed for horses and carts, or at most a team of horses and wagon, the driver of a 65 or 70-foot long vehicle would occasionally find himself facing a dog-leg in the middle of a railroad underpass where the kink in the roadway was too tight for anything much larger than the normal family car.  Or, a railroad grade would be so high above the roadway that a truck couldn’t cross it without getting hung-up on the tracks.  Or, the time my route brought me to an underpass that was literally so low a horse would have to duck its head to pass under.

So, on the way to Nockamixon, this is what Google brought me to.  While routing programs have improved greatly, problems can still pop up in front of the driver.  We had Ibi on the canoe rack, so even our pickup and canoe couldn’t get through here.  The objective of the height restriction is obvious---the 5-ton weight restriction posted to the left of the bridge.   One way to positively limit weight is to limit the size of vehicle that can pass through.  We found our way around the obstruction okay, but we couldn’t help but think about the fix we would have found ourselves in if we had been towing the RV with us.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dry Paddles in Pennsylvania

We made the trip east for a family reunion.  This is not be a paddle-trip adventure, but I hope there are things of interest to our readers.  Ibi, our Superior Expedition decked-canoe was on the Ram for the entire 2,802 miles, but with family commitments and the need to have the truck available for kid shuttles, the only time the canoe got wet was the day and a half that we had showers.

"If you don't mind, you're blocking the doorway."  This is a couple
keeping house from our last litter.

We got underway and stopped to provision the RV in Enid, OK.  Since Jean’s latest batch of four squirrels were making the trip with us, we paused for their feeding, which was still taking place every four hours.   While headed up the Will Rogers Turnpike (U.S. Rt. 44), I saw a huge cluster of red and blue flashing lights ahead.  That awesome display of lights had to be a wreck, so I slowed and pulled into the left lane.   As I got closer, the lights slowly resolved into a pick-up towed trailer with a porta-potty mounted on top.  It was a comfort station for convicts working on highway clean-up, although we never saw a road crew either before or after encountering the potty-mobile.  That was the first time I had seen that.  A deputy sheriff drove the pick-up.  I can’t imagine this trained professional showing up for work every day to be assigned potty duty.

Beautiful morning glories growing on a red honeysuckle vine.  The
hummingbirds love them during the summer, and the combined foliage
makes a great haven for small birds now that the days are getting colder
and windier.

We stopped for the night at Marshfield, MO, at RV Express.  It is convenient for its closeness to the highway, and also a number of points of interest nearby.  While it is a very clean and friendly park, it is very small.  It is large enough for us, but small by the standards of the average RV park, and this was to provide an hour of entertainment.  A giant motorhome came in right behind us.  As if it wasn’t large enough on its own, it was towing a large panel trailer.  This must have been the driver’s first experience with handling the rig in such a tight spot, and since it was bearing Florida registration, one had to wonder how they managed to get from Florida to Missouri.  Anyone but the driver would have figured that the larger the vehicle, the wider the turning radius that would be needed.  The rig had to be worth a major fortune, and again proves that money doesn’t solve all problems.  The park is a single oval loop with one way in and one way out.  He needed to make a 180-degree turn, but instead of taking the outside radius to make the largest turn possible, he took the inside radius.  He made it less than half-way around the turn before he realized he was stuck, and was then jammed with a high curb both in front and behind him.  He had no idea how to maneuver the rig, and little inclination to follow the directions of the park manager, who was trying to help.  He and his motor-coach had a strangle hold on the entire RV park for nearly an hour.

Such wonderful colors.

These beautiful flowers definitely contribute more to the world than the people we met in our next experience.  On day three, we were east of Columbus, OH, when we stopped at a truck stop for gas, lunch, and, of course, to feed squirrels.  We were sitting in the parking lot when a car came in carrying four scruffy characters.  The show started as soon as they poured out of the car.  They quickly made it clear that they were from effin' Philadelphia, but then that was an adjective they attached to everything.  They went on non-stop about how they had driven all the way from effin' Philadelphia.  They had stopped for effin' gas when they discovered that they had an effin' flat.  They were livid when they discovered that ‘the effin' truck stop ain’t got no effin' air.’  The car and trunk were stuffed with a wide range of items from chunks of wood to loose clothing, all of which they threw out in the parking lot.  A couple men walked by and spoke to them.  They had strong accents, likely Slavic, and yet spoke better English than our effin' Philadelphians, who were undoubtedly the pride of those who have dedicated their lives to maintaining the educational and cultural standards of Philadelphia.  They returned to the convenience store for a bag of ice for their cooler.  Naturally, after dumping the ice, they threw the large plastic bag in the parking lot to blow around.   As they limped off, I went out to retrieve their trash and dispose of it.  I guess this is just how they were raised in Philadelphia.  All the while, Jean’s birds were sitting on the dinette table looking out the window with rapt attention to all the yelling and screaming.  Jean was waiting to see if the vulgar language had added anything to their vocabularies, but apparently even the birds have higher standards.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Downstream Toward Home

Photo Credit: Amazon

Downstream Toward Home: A Book of Rivers, by Oliver A. Houck (pub. by Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, LA, 2014, 214pp plus bibliography)

The author shares a lifetime of experiences along roughly 30 rivers and streams that are scattered all over the country, and spanning the years between 1954 and 2013.  The book is a series of short stories that show that rivers just don’t flow and eddy along banks and rocks, but through people’s lives as well.  They include things like describing the types of people and vehicles most likely to help with a shuttle.  He tells about driving down a lonely country trail to check out a potential take-out.  The road ended in a turn-around littered with trash.  As he got out of his car and began to explore, he was still concealed behind some bushes when he observes a man dressed in a business suit and polished black leather shoes throwing dirt into a hole.  His suit jacket is neatly folded and laid over a branch.  He shovels and shovels to fill a rectangular hole just the dimensions needed to bury a human body.  The author quietly turns and follows his tracks back to his car.

The book covers a lot of trips for whitewater drops, but also many where he investigates environmental problems caused by poor governmental planning, or human stupidity or short-sightedness where people kill wildlife just to be killing wildlife, like trapping large birds in leg traps and then shooting them and throwing their bodies out to just float about in large numbers, or crayfish wars.  There are also numerous trips into wild isolated places where humans rarely invade.  

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Keen Edge

This photo is just a prop, but for safety reasons, a blade should
be left sunk in the chop block.

The hatchet or small axe is a perfectly appropriate camping tool, but often gets inaccurately blamed for being unsafe.  The only thing unsafe about a hatchet is the user.  We’ll cover a few other safety points here, but the one we’ll concentrate on now is the flying chunk of wood aiming for your face and eyes.  Physics demands that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  When we chop down with the hatchet, anything unrestrained will fly up, frequently sending a piece of wood flying into the face to cause injury by breaking eyeglasses, puncturing an eye, or causing a cut or puncture wound of the face.  This is simple to prevent.  If handled properly, it is something that should never happen.

This picture demonstrates a principle, not an actual requirement in the way of essential elements.  How we prevent free-flying wood is the requirement, not how we accomplish it.  We start with a safe chopping surface that avoids chopping into the ground.  Anything in the ground will damage the hatchet or axe blade, whether gravel, rock, or even the sand and dirt itself.  This chopping block is a section of tree trunk I acquired from a neighbor after she had a dead tree cut down.   When chopping, we need to secure both ends, the ends on either side of where we are cutting.  If I am holding one end of the piece of wood, something is needed to secure the other end, or it will fly into the air.  At home, where I have them available, I’ve just stuck the free end through a cinderblock.  At a campsite, I can stick the free end of the wood I am cutting under the fire ring, under a rock, or a log, or anything my imagination can conjure, just so I restrain the free end once cut.

Now, some other points:
1.      Always stand solidly on both feet, not balancing, straddling, or reaching across something.
2.      Chopping motion should always be directly down, vertical, into a cutting block, not in a swinging motion or arc.  Swinging is how hands, legs, and feet get injured.
3.      Always make sure the hatchet head is firmly attached (handle solidly set in the head, wedged, even epoxied in place), but never chop around bystanders.  Even the handle can slip from your hands.
4.      Be sure the blade is sharp, and kept sharp.  The duller a blade is, the more dangerous it is, since more force is needed, and the more likely it is to skip or glance off the wood.
5.      When splitting kindling, don’t try chopping it.  The smaller the pieces being split, the more important this is.  Use the hatchet as a wedge by setting the blade lightly into the wood, and then tapping the wood against the chopping block or driving the hatchet head with another piece of wood or something that won’t damage the hatchet head or handle.  NEVER split a piece of wood being held in your hand or braced with your foot.
6.      Cutting requires full attention.  When you become tired, or muscles are fatigued, it is time for a break.  Wood cutting calls for finesse, not force.  Avoid knots, and look for straight wood grain or cracks in the grain that betray the wood’s weak spot.
7.      Always keep the blade in a sheath or sunk in the chopping block.  If you need to carry the tool a short distance, be sure the blade is turned away from the body in the event that you trip.
8.      Lending a hatchet or axe to someone else is not a good idea unless you are 100% confident of their skill and maturity.  It may be their leg they chop, but it will still be your trip that will be ruined.  If they are someone likely to imagine themselves an Indian brave and the hatchet a tomahawk, keep the tool secured so you don’t suddenly see it flying through the air.  This reminds me of an advertisement I saw for “tactical tomahawks and throwing axes for beginners.”  There’s a scary image.