opening ourselves with the hinging daylight hours

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Timberdoodle Habitat

In the beginning of November I turned in my keys, and moved to the mountains. For this season I am calling the region of the ridges and valleys of Central, PA home. Most specifically this place, between Penns and Brush Valley along the Elk Creek in the Upper Penns Creek (sub)Watershed, the class 1 trout waters, is where I lay my head.

To love a pristine place again is to find myself in right relationship with all the creatures within the systems and cycles of nitrogen, carbon, water, oxygen. It is a peridiocal placement in the cosmos, locating from one side of the ridge to the carving other stitched in place in the eye of Taurus, Plieiades, the Seven Sisters.   I spent the first 3 weeks in Penns Valley with Brush Mountain to the North and First Mountain to the South. There is roughly one traffic light within a ten mile radius, and found the most secret and beautiful mountainside road following Elk Creek up "the narrows" beside the water through the brush mountain pass. The coniferious groves must have welcomed the German's from the Bavarian forest, to the Millheim (Mill Home) region.  The creek feels higher than the road, the meanders allow one to see curve of the stream for a mile. When you come out of the narrows on the other side , there is the stretching and rolling northernside of Brush Mountain. I had been looking at the southside of Brush Mountain for my first three weeks in the valley. I had been interacting with it as though it were a two-dimensional plane, a large landscaping wall as backdrop for the flow of water and economy, all of my thoughts. When I drove beside the narrows at Elk Creek I felt the wondering of my self, an inversion of thoughts, a reimagining meander, and a rising and low  moving symphany of alluvial currents. And to come out the other side,  I could see Brush Mountain's contours, the way the ridge curves to the south on both the east and the west end of the half-pipe ridge, alive, moving, and telling its stories.

Brush Valley, on this northernside of Brush Mountain feels quite different than Penns Valley. It feels like the dessert, deepen golden fields and purple covered decidous and coniferous,  and I like Georgia O'Keefe. The valley between the ridges here is cornfield desert brown, the sun is perpetually setting on the southern Brush Ridge, dancing above the line as it nears its southernmost place in the sky, almost as looking at the sea's straighline. I wonder what day in December the sun won't climb over the ridge? What will the north face do in the snow?The shadows.. these are the sounds i hear when i see the northern face of Brush Mountain curving so far for so long.

I am meeting with two farmer ladies soon from the Over the Moon Farm, to look into moving into their cottage in Brush Valley. I want to be a student of the changing colors of the mountain seascape, i want to know the season by the shade of soil under my nails, and on the shovels.

I've spent most of my time so far in Penns Valley proper, the valley to the south of Brush Valley, still in the Upper Penns Creek (sub)watershed. There are three technical valleys of this (sub)watershed, Brush, Penns, and Sugar, and these valleys have valleys: George's Valley,an area on the southern slope of Penn's Valley. This area is of particular interest for the Penns Valley Conservation Association (PVCA) the organization that I am currently Directing. It is an area of particular interest for the PVCA Watershed Committee, and its three committed wildlife biologists. George a generalist, Lysle a watershed scientist, and Lisa the Pheasant and Grouse biologist for the Pennsylvania State  Game Commission. These three and a handful of others spend their days prioritizing restoration projects around the Penns Valley region , and their evenings discussing Land Ethic and Aldo Leopald at the local craft beer micro-brew cafe.



The first  four days in the ridge and valley region were overcast, no southern sun in the sky during the day, no stars at night. I was communting 30 minutes to work from my brother’s place at the edge of Happy Valley, near Stone Valley. The first night of clear sky I stopped on the way home, at the edge of an open field, and looked up, 100 billion, a trillion stars, stars I could see, stars that no longer existed, stars with stars, upon stars, more mystery then all the stars I had seen in the last nine years combined,  and the Seven Sisters Plieiades moving in the sky , following me home, pointing to the bull , leading me home.

Penns Valley is loaded with springs. Springs that are named, springs with no names that flow year round, springs that flow periodically at the surface, springs, that fill in the spring, vernal pools, seeps, ephemeral, soaked land, wetlands, sinkholes. Karst topography, a dance of sandstone, dolomite, limestone,and shale, ridge after ridge cutting to the south, to the meandering mother of the Susquehanna, tracing a quarter circle 125 miles. A period of sedimentation layered 300 million years of rising landmasses to settling seas. A large inland sea stretching from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico  deposited  for millions of years combined with the mix of rock deposits ,  sinking the sea after time.  Weight and heat fusing the marine life in limestones, clays into shale,  sand to sandstone,  swamp and forest into coal. The uppermost layer progressively softer, less rocklike. Gigantic horizontal pressures from the western Alleghenian, unleashed folding striations, and towering  waves,  moving up the mountains, where there was once the sea. busting and grinding with the African tectonic plates over a period of 100 million years, forcing the mountains to be birthed, cracking and shooting upward, shattering like broken bones.

The dancing stardust, and the nittany arch.  The uppermost soft folds, the “molasse”  were licked by the ancestral rivers, flowing in the opposite direction.  The buried rock buttresses  emerged from southeast to northeast, the oldest stone now visible,  sandstone molasse washing as far as the arctic sea. What had been mountain now became valley. The filled-in channel of the inland sea, marked by the nittany arch, an eroded dome centered from Nittany to Brush Valley. The valleys where we stand and plant, where the waters flow, was once the mountain. And the mountains were once part of the valleys.  The culmination of the (sub)watershed in the Nittany Valley divides east and west flowing waters, from Penns Creek into the Susquehanna West Branch to the Juniata.  The bedrock of these valleys are made of limestone, a porous material, eroding rock and sediment. Karst does not carry water well, as in the case of the Elk , Pine, and Sinking Creeks, part of their flow is underground, dimpled with sinkholes, swallows,  caves, and smaller conduits.  Clay soil atop limestone rock, channels of water underground, some of the best farmland in the world.  The oldest farmhouses are built against the edge of the mountain where the water is soft, the wellwater is easy,  the springs.  Once the waters reach the limestone they pick up carbonate ions from the karst they pass through.  Slightly alkaline the carbonate neutralizes the water, creating an optimal habitat for trout, and the insects on which they depend, such as the Green Drake Mayfly.
In Penns Valley on the southernside of Egg Hill, nestled to First Mountain on the south, sits George’s Valley. The springs and the streams dance across the farmland, for better and for worste. Farmers historically aren’t always the best caretakers of the land,, particularly when they started removing substantial forest cover; wetlands are filled, trees are cut down, new growth is discouraged. Ground nesting birds are plowed under. The Watershed Committee of PVCA has identified a significant habitat for the Woodcock in George’s Valley. The Woodcock prefers young forests in damp to wet soil. Certain sedges are indicators for optimal ground hydrology for the nesting wookcock, a shorebird that lives in the forest. In a field beside the Muddy Creek the Watershed committee has planted acres of young quaking aspen trees in the establishment of a young forest. This field is wet and full of sedges, upward sloping a few inches to goldenrods, milkweed, and crab apples. As the Aspen’s begin to outgrow their whips, the young forest in its 5th year of succession will be planted with species of dogwoods. The challenge is to find herbaceous species that propogate well, and that is deer resistant. The evidence of the hot buck is everywhere, rubbing his antlers aggressively against the larger aspen, killing the long awaited for pioneer succession species.  My brother , a certified tree expert, and i  think the crab apple would be well suited for propagation, JonnyAppleSeed style. I agree, and have a certain penchant for species of the native asclepias genus




1 comment:

C said...

Well, I was wondering. Thankful to see your writing.