Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Oyler Reunion June 29, 2017

Copyright © 2017 John F. Oyler

June 29, 2017

The Oyler Reunion

Thanks to my nephew Paul I was able to get to the Oyler Reunion, in Chambersburg this year. He volunteered to drive his parents (my brother and his wife) and me down and back, an offer that was greatly appreciated.

Another passenger on the trip East was his niece Michaela, who had spent the previous week with her grand-parents, and would meet her parents at the Reunion.

The event is actually the reunion of the descendants of my father’s parents – Adam Douglas Oyler and his wife Annie Malinda Smith. After the last of my father’s generation passed away, my cousin Harry initiated an annual reunion of our generation and our families.

Originally this consisted of six cousins, their spouses and children. Three of the cousins and four of the spouses are gone, but those of us remaining are happy to get together regularly. This year the gathering amounted to thirty of us.

Harry is now ninety seven years old and lives in Menno Haven, a retirement community run by the Mennonites; that facility served as a perfect venue for the event.

The Oyler roots run deep in the Chambersburg/Waynesboro area. Four of Harry’s children and their families live in Chambersburg; his eldest child, Rick, and his wife Koko live in Maine, but made it a point to schedule a trip here for the Reunion.

I was especially happy to see Alson Bohn, who is now ninety two. He married my cousin Jeanne after he returned from World War II. Three of his children and theirfamilies were there, having a Bohn mini-reunion.

The trip was full of nostalgia, being one that has been made many times for as long as I can remember. Before the Turnpike was constructed, our itinerary was a combination of Routes 51 (which lacked a nickname), 31 (the William Penn Highway), and 30 (the Lincoln Highway) to McConnellsburg where we were faced with a decision – How should we tackle Tuscarora Mountain?

Although Allegheny Summit was at a higher elevation, somehow Tuscarora seemed to present a more difficult challenge. Ascending its western face one invariably passed numerous cars stopped along the highway, emitting clouds of steam because “their radiator had boiled over”, hoping our 1937 Ford wouldn’t encounter the same fate.

At McConnellsburg we could continue on Route 30 to Fort Loudon and then Chambersburg or take Route 16 (the Molly Pitcher Highway) to Mercersburg and Waynesboro. Our ultimate destination, Quincy, was about halfway between Chambersburg and Waynesboro. Both routes promised adventure climbing Tuscarora; I have no idea what ultimately dictated our choice.

Our rest stops were at the Ship Hotel, beached precariously on the southeastern face of Allegheny and either Shorty’s or Bill’s Place on the high valley between Rays Hill and Sideling Hill. At each place we pestered our parents for money to buy souvenirs.

After the Turnpike was opened, a new family of nostalgic sites was added to our memory bank, especially in the stretch between New Stanton and Donegal where my father had worked. He is deeply in my consciousness each time I pass through that section.

As always, popping out of the Blue Mountain tunnel and seeing the Cumberland Valley, Oyler family heartland, spread out before us produced a big thrill. I could hear my father pronounce “Now, we are home!” as he honked the Ford’s horn.

Updating the family tree is a regular event at these reunions. Years ago my brother drew up a neat diagram and mounted it on foam board. Cousin Harry is the keeper of this official artifact and brings it to each annual event. At the top are the names of Johan Georg Euler and his wife Anna Pobb (accompanied by the modifier Ressler?).

Four levels down are Adam Douglas and Annie Malinda Oyler, followed by their six (surviving) children, then the six cousins of my generation, then our seventeen offspring, and finally twenty three members of the next generation. This year we added the first member of a new (tenth) generation – Macon Oyler. He is Harry’s first great grandchild, via son Bill and grandson Zachary.

Because this document has survived this long and been re-dedicated so many times, it is easy to believe it is correct and even easier to dispute any disagreements with its contents. Unfortunately there are several areas where information on it may be incorrect.

A few years ago I was contacted by a professional genealogist, Joseph Klett, seeking information on Johan Georg Euler, whom we believe to be our progenitor.  Our family tree leads through his son, “John”,  and his wife. “Marie Wetzel”, to their son Andrew Oyler. We know enough about Andrew to be confident of our information. We also know that his mother, Marie, is buried in the same cemetery as Andrew and his wife, at Grindstone Hill.

Mr. Klett was studying a family named Weaver in Pilesgrove, New Jersey, and learned that George Iler was their next door neighbor and presented enough evidence to prove that he was indeed the Johan Georg Euler who came to the New World in 1737 on the “Billinder Townsend”, the same gentleman we claim. He also proved that George Iler’s son John married Catharine Weaver and couldn’t possibly be the gentleman in our family tree.

When Mr. Klett published his findings in the Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey, January 2013, he courteously mentioned his discussion with me, in a footnote, and reported the apparent error in our document.

An interesting possibility is the fact that he has no information on one of George Iler’s sons, Jacob. The Oyler family tree mentions the fact that someone thought Andrew’s father was Jacob, not John. The German custom was to give all sons the first name Johan and then give them a specific middle name; perhaps his name was Johan Jacob.

A separate possible error is listing Jonas Eyler as Andrew’s brother. Jonas is a well-documented person, a Revolutionary War veteran. He is also claimed on another prominent family tree, the descendants of Conrad Iller, with a different set of parents. I’d be willing to concede him to the Illers, if we could retain Johan Georg as our patriarch.

Like so many other things since I have gotten older, the idea of making this trip seemed like too much trouble, but once we were committed it turned out to be quite rewarding. Family heritage is important and I am impressed that we now have ten generations of Oylers in America.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

J B Higbee Glass June 22, 2017

Copyright © 2017 John F. Oyler

June 22, 2017

Higbee Glass

A few months ago the Bridgeville Area Historical Society was contacted by the Three Rivers Depression Era Glass Collectors Society with a request for a program on the John B. Higbee Glass Company. Since I had done a workshop on Higbee glass last Fall, I was drafted to make the presentation.

A week before the event I dug out the Power Point slides for the workshop, made a few modifications, and figured I was in good shape. After all, a bunch of “Depression Glass” collectors would hardly know anything about Higbee Glass, which is of an earlier era, known as EAPG (Early American Pattern Glass).

I gathered up my meager collection of Higbee pieces, stopped at the History Center to borrow a handful more, and reported at Peter’s Place well before the event was to begin as instructed so I could “set up”. I plugged in my projector, connected my laptop to it, and confirmed my hardware was in working order.

Along one wall was a long table with a table cloth, just right for me to display the eleven pieces I had brought. I had printed out pages from my presentation to illustrate the various patterns of Higbee glass I had brought to put under each piece and was quite impressed with my display.

At about this point the members of the audience began to arrive and to set out their specimens of Higbee glass and to discuss them with me. I shoved my display together a little to provide them with room. This process I repeated two more times as more items arrived.

By now it had become obvious that I had underestimated the knowledge my audience had of the evening’s subject and was getting very uneasy about what I had planned to present. I was shaken further when a lady asked me if I knew the story behind the Delta pattern, also known as paneled thistle because of the prominent thistle in it.

She then proceeded to explain that Andrew Carnegie had engaged Higbee Glass to provide a set of table settings to commemorate the founding of Carnegie Institute of Technology. Since the thistle is the floral emblem of Scotland, Carnegie included it in the Institute’s crest and wanted it incorporated in the pattern of the glass. Apparently Carnegie was upset when Higbee called the pattern Delta rather than Thistle, his choice.

Another lady proudly showed me an ashtray with a very large version of the Higbee “bumblebee” pattern visible. My initial reaction was “I don’t think Higbee ever made ashtrays”, and promptly dug out my Higbee book to prove it. When I searched for ashtrays in the index, I grimaced when it referred me to page 184, on which, of course, was a photograph of the very ashtray she had.

Another lady had brought three versions of the same piece, a children’s ABC plate with the head of a dog on it. One was produced by Higbee’s predecessor company, Bryce, Higbee and Company; one by John B. Higbee Company; and one by Viking. The Viking piece had the bumblebee trademark and a “V” and the initials “SI” which apparently all glass collectors know denotes replicas commissioned by the Smithsonian Institute.

By now it was time for dinner. I had lost my appetite, worrying about what I was going to say. This obviously was an audience who knew far more about Higbee glass than I did. Eventually I realized that my best strategy was to acknowledge that fact.

I began by confessing that I was an amateur when it came to collecting glass and that I had been drafted solely because of my status as an expert on local history. My slide show began with the history of the Higbee company and its predecessors as well as of the Higbee family and their local connections, so I stretched that out as far as I could. Turned out the audience was interested in history after all.

At some point I mentioned that I had originally assumed that a bunch of collectors of Depression Glass were probably flaky and that that made me feel at home. After all who is flakier than an octogenarian who belongs to the Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Society, the International Brick Collectors Association, and the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills (and half a dozen more niche organizations)?

I then thanked the three ladies who had enhanced my knowledge of Higbee Glass with their stories and ended with a sales pitch for local historical societies in general and for the Bridgeville Area Historical Society in particular.

Feedback after the presentation suggests that this specific group of collectors was happy to think about something other than the specific manufacturer and year for a piece of glassware and that a brief history lesson was appropriate after all. I certainly heaved a sigh of relief when it was over.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Francis Marion Oyler June 15, 2017

Copyright © 2017 John F. Oyler

June 15, 2017

Father’s Day

Every year, when Father’s Day arrives and I begin thinking about my father, I realize I should record what I know of his life in a column. This year I planned ahead and was able to compile a modest biography of him.

Francis Marion Oyler was born in Quincy Township, Franklin County, Pennsylvania in 1891, the youngest of eight children, six of whom (five boys and a girl) survived childhood. Before he was a year old, his father was killed in an accident while working for the Cumberland Valley Railroad.

His mother was left with a farmhouse, some outbuildings, and five or six acres of farmland. With the help of her family, the Smiths, who lived on an adjoining farm, she was somehow able to keep the family together and see the children through to adulthood.

One of my father’s favorite books was “Five Acres and Independence”, a self-help book popular in the Depression. I am sure it reminded him of his youth when the family subsisted on a large garden, a couple of hogs each year, and a flock of chickens. To quote Hank Williams, Jr., “Country folks can survive!”

My father was able to graduate from Quincy High School in 1910 and then taught school in the Quincy Elementary School until the Fall of 1911 when he went to  Cumberland Valley Normal School (now Shippensburg State University) for a two year program in teaching. Following this he taught grades 5 to 8 in the United Brethren Orphanage school in Quincy for a year. In the Fall of 1914 he enrolled at Penn State in their Civil Engineering Department.

His college career was interrupted after three years by World War I. He was among the first men to be drafted and was sent to Camp Grant, Illinois, for infantry basic training. Fortunately, at this time General Pershing had been to France and had concluded the existing railroad system could not support the AEF. He had everyone in the service with either engineering training or experience working for a railroad reassigned to building a new (Army) railroad.

He was assigned to the 35th Engineers in La Rochelle, France, and spent his time overseas assembling railroad cars from subassemblies shipped from the United States. He returned in time to go back to Penn State in the Fall of 1919 and to graduate in 1920.

We think he initially took a job with the Pennsylvania Department of Highways but soon moved to the Pennsylvania Railroad. He had assignments in the Maintenance of Way Departments at Gallitzin, Renovo, and West Brownsville before becoming Supervisor, Maintenance of Way at Gallitzin in 1929.

In 1926 he was involved in a horrible accident in Erie. According to a newspaper clipping in the November 17, 1926 Kane Republican, “He was crushed between two cars … and was so badly hurt that he is not expected to recover”. Fortunately the prognosis proved incorrect.

When he was assigned to the Renovo Division he lived in a boarding house (Sis Troxell) in Emporium. One of his friends there was Philip Klees, a fellow World War veteran who had been gassed during the war. Through Philip he met my mother who at the time was a widow with a young son, Wilbur Bingeman.

They were married in 1930 and moved into the large railroad building close to the Gallitzin Tunnels. He was very proud of the Gallitzin responsibility which included the Horseshoe Curve and the tunnels. In later years I met two of the track gang members who worked for him and was pleased to hear how well liked and respected he was.

The next year he was transferred to Dunkirk, New York, where I was born. That assignment ended in 1934 with a transfer to Pittsburgh. My parents and I moved into “the little stone bungalow” at 823 Bank Street, which we rented from Johnny Capozzoli on behalf of Silhol Realty.

One of my memories of those days is the 1936 St. Patrick’s Day Flood. My father showed up at home in midday to change clothes and pack a bag; a train was trapped inside a tunnel somewhere in Ohio. Three days later he returned home, exhausted and filthy dirty, carrying a long handled axe he had acquired. He promptly went to bed and slept for many hours.

At some point in these years my father decided that a job immune to regular transfers and the upheaval of moving was preferable to a career, so he transferred to the engineering department. I’m sure my imminent enrollment in first grade and the eagerly anticipated arrival of my brother Joe played a big part in this decision.

He was a passionate gardener and was frustrated at the lack of space at our Bank Street home to have a garden. One year he started a garden “over the hill”. Each evening we would walk down Chestnut Street to Chartiers and then go down the hill to a spot close to Chartiers Creek. Close by was a small natural pond that providing water for a garden.

Thanks to frequent tending the garden prospered and was approaching harvest when a severe summer storm forced the creek out of its bed and washed out the garden completely. I am sure this expedited his decision to find a new home with enough room for a real garden.

In 1937 we moved into 1953 Lafayette Street, a nice three bedroom two story brick house designed by architect James Wallace. It had a large, level backyard which soon became a highly productive garden. The 40’ by 40’ garden it provided was still not sufficient for my father; on several occasions he spaded up plots in nearby vacant lots to plant corn.

He was an excellent gardener, easily embarrassing the efforts of our neighbor Holland Russell (and later Joe DiMarco) to compete with him. We supplied the whole neighborhood with tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash and always had enough green beans, lima beans, carrots, corn, and peas to keep my mother busy canning.

Following President Roosevelt’s re-election in 1936 unemployment spiked again, approaching twenty percent. The railroad responded to this by temporarily furloughing employees, including my father. I have distinct memories of his frantic efforts to find another job, faced with a mortgage on a new house.

Fortunately he was able to find a good job with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, as resident engineer for two of the contracts (between Donegal and New Stanton) for the original construction of the highway. Ironically, the training for this assignment was back at Shippensburg.

This was a job he enjoyed considerably although it required him to live in a rooming house in Mt. Pleasant, commuting home only on Wednesday nights and weekends. On one of the Wednesday night trips home he announced that I was going back with him the next morning. I spent a memorable two days with him, bouncing around the jobsite in a pickup truck and getting rides in a bull dozer.

The construction was nearly completed when he was called back by the railroad. He worked in the Panhandle Division engineering office until he suffered a stroke in 1956, a few months before his planned retirement. During this period I had a lot of opportunities to accompany him on local jobs, frequently functioning as a surveyor’s helper.

I think he enjoyed this job although it lacked the variety and excitement of his earlier assignments. It did allow him to come home each evening and work in the garden and to share the day by day activities in which my brother and I were involved.

Being a farm boy at heart my father always carried a pocket knife; in my memory, a Barlow. I inherited the habit, feeling uncomfortable if I don’t have my Swiss Army knife in my pocket. The biggest difference between us is that his knife was always perfectly sharp, so sharp that a significant part of the blade had been worn away by constantly sharpening.

Once we were old enough to enjoy flying kites he showed us how it really should be done. In those days engineering drawings were made on linen cloth covered with paper. Properly “washed out” the linen was perfect material for box kites, covering splines cut from orange crates. We had many happy days flying kites with him.

Up until he had his stroke one of his greatest joys was small game hunting, taking Joe or me along to flush out rabbits or pheasants from brush piles. He carried a “poacher’s gun” in the back pocket of his hunting coat. It was a twenty caliber
Stevens that could be disassembled into two parts. Its barrel was sawed off to shorten it and the stock similarly made smaller.

Whenever he spotted a rabbit sitting in a clump of grass, he would pull out the gun, assemble it, insert a bullet, and hand it to Joe or me to shoot the rabbit. Quite a thrill for a child too young to hunt legally!

In addition to meeting our mother there, he enjoyed his stay in Emporium because the bird hunting was so good. Joe is convinced he hunted ruffed grouse there; I thought it was quail. At any rate he was proud of his ability to flush a covey of birds and to get one with each barrel of a double barreled shotgun.

He also enjoyed “shooting mark” and even set up a short indoor range rifle range in our basement. By opening the door to the coal cellar we were able to set up a target thirty or thirty feet away from the rear wall and fire “twenty twos” into it.

He recovered from his stroke sufficiently to be able to enjoy five more years before dying in 1961 a few months before his seventieth birthday. Ironically Philip Klees, whose health had been precarious as a result of his World War I experience, lived long enough to come to Bridgeville for the funeral and to buy a round of drinks at the Legion Hall in my father’s memory.

My biggest regret about his life is that he passed away before his grandchildren were born. He loved kids and would have been thrilled to know them.

Although he has been gone over fifty five years he is constantly in my thoughts. Every time I pass a decaying downed tree in the woods I remember the Sunday afternoon drives we used to take. We would go south on the Washington Pike and turn off on some obscure side road. Suddenly he would pull off the road and remove a bushel basket and a shovel and head off looking for such a log.

He called the decaying remains of logs “woods dirt” and was keenly aware of its value as a supplement to the soil in our garden. I suspect that block of ground on Lafayette Street still contains the most nutritious soil in Allegheny County.

Recently when I dug up a tiny plot at my wife’s headstone in the cemetery, I sensed my father shaking his head as soon as my foot engaged the shovel. He was skilled at all the chores farm did, and he really enjoyed spading a garden, one more thing I failed to master. Splitting firewood into kindling is another skill I never picked up; I think of him each time I attempt it.

He was thrilled with technology. He talked about the miracle of being able to hear Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink sing “Stille Nacht” from New York, on the radio. Years later he was thrilled by watching Don Larsen pitch a perfect game for the New York Yankees in the 1956 World Series, on television.

He was always annoyed that both Francis and Marion could be considered girls’ names. His names came from the Revolutionary War hero, Francis Marion, ”the Swamp Fox”. His family, and my mother, called him Marion. Railroad associates called him Frank. He frequently signed his name “F. M. Oyler”, perhaps in mild rebellion.

Of all the things he could do well, best of all was his skill as a father. My brother and I are eternally grateful we had him as our father. Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Rite of Passage June 8, 2017

Copyright © 2017 John F. Oyler

June 8, 2017

A Rite of Passage

I spent an extended Memorial Day weekend in Champaign, Illinois, attending the celebration of my grand-daughter Rachael’s Bat Mitzvah. Although she and her parents are in the process of moving here from Champaign, logistically it was much easier to have it there than here.

Rachael, her mother Elizabeth, and I made the eight hour drive to Champaign one afternoon and evening after Rachael came home from school. When Elizabeth and Mike were married they were living in St. Louis, both teaching at Washington University. That was a ten hour drive from here, following I-70 to Indianapolis, then on to St. Louis.

The Champaign drive follows the same route to Indianapolis, then cuts  northwest on I-74. It has been a few years since I made the trip by car; this trip was certainly full of memories of past excursions.

We made our accustomed stop at Bob Evans in Zanesville, Ohio, where twelve year old Rachael was insulted by being offered a “Kid’s Menu”. Fortunately the Bob Evans in Columbus where we stopped on the way back automatically sensed the maturity she had demonstrated in the Bat Mitzvah and gave her an adult menu.

As is my custom I complained to the Bob Evans manager about the d├ęcor. When we first began stopping there I was quite pleased with the franchise’s policy of decorating each restaurant with historical photographs relevant to the location. When the one was built in Kirwan Heights, they followed this custom by requesting pictures from the Bridgeville Area Historical Society.

A few years ago Bob Evans management redecorated all the restaurants, replacing the historical photographs I liked with bland, generic Ohio farmland depictions. I think this was a major mistake and have made a point of complaining about the decision whenever I stop at a Bob Evans. One wonders if any of the local managers pass the complaints on to management.

The weekend was the occasion for a large family reunion.  Rachael’s father’s side, the Finkes, included at least a dozen and a half aunts, uncles, and cousins, congregating from all directions – Louisville, Kentucky; North Hampton, Massachusetts; Cornell University; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Philadelphia. A major motivation for Rachael to experience the Bat Mitzvah was her observation of several such events for her Finke cousins.

We are very pleased that she decided to undertake this responsibility, especially because it gave her a deep understanding of the heritage of her father’s family and people. Learning Hebrew was easy for her; she already is fluent in Japanese. Studying the Torah and learning about the early days of the Israelites is equally rewarding. I hope she shows the same interest in the heritage of her mother’s side of the family some day.

My daughter Sara and the rest of the McCances drove all the way from Fort Collins, Colorado, in two days, stopping in Omaha overnight. Although Sara was here several months ago, I had not seen the rest of the family since Christmas. Sara reported that, when they began to discuss buying special clothes for the event, fifteen year old Ian announced that he would like a suit, so he could “look sharp like Grandpa and Uncle John”.

His wishes were granted and he did indeed win the “sharpest dresser” contest hands down. Twelve year old Nora and nine year old Claire looked great in their new dresses, but, after all, that is what we expect from girls. Unfortunately my son John and his family were unable to join us.

The ceremony was long, but quite interesting. Rachael has performed as a musician so many times before large audiences that she participated in the service with no sign of nervousness. A pianist (Rachael’s teacher), a cellist, and a gifted female vocalist provided the music. I wished there had been an opportunity for Rachael to play violin with them on at least one occasion.

That evening there was a dinner in the temple for all the friends, neighbors, and family – nearly one hundred persons in total. Family tradition is to prepare the dinner themselves, rather than risk trusting a caterer. We witnessed the preparation of it the day before the ceremony and were impressed with the way everyone, including two young ladies obviously auditioning to become Finkes in the future, chipped in and churned out dish after dish of delicious food.

Following the dinner there was a party honoring Rachael. It was quite loud, provided by a “D J”, in accordance with Rachael’s playlist. One of the guests asked me what I thought of the music – my response was “So far I haven’t heard anything that remotely resembles music!”

Fortunately my tastes were not typical of those young folks at the party, including my own grandchildren. Nonetheless I continue to be grateful that I was young at a time when music was melodious, harmonious, and sentimental. To each his own! By coincidence, that was the title of a big hit for Eddy Howard in 1946, very popular at teen age dances that year.

After the dinner and party the leftovers were transported home and served admirably at an open house the following morning. In addition to all the family members I was impressed with the large number of neighbors, friends, and colleagues who came to compliment Rachael on her achievement.

All weekend I felt a wee bit sad that my sweet young granddaughter had begun to make the gradual transition to adulthood. Fortunately the morning we were packing to drive back here the combination of fatigue and constant stress of the weekend finally got to Rachael. She threw a tantrum over some trivial problem, and I knew we will still have our spoiled little girl for a few more years.

The day we drove back was the first anniversary of my wife’s passing. Some cultures mandate a mourning period of one year; that certainly would not be sufficient for me. She was in my thoughts all weekend. At one point I was about to enter the sanctuary when I got a strong message – “For heaven’s sake, get your hands out of your pockets. You’re not in a pool room!”

Even when I was with a group of people, her absence made me feel alone. I was reminded of the Langston Hughes lyrics to Kurt Weill’s song, “Lonely House”. “Funny, how you can feel lonely, with so many people around”.

All told it was an exciting weekend with a wonderful performance by Rachael and a rewarding opportunity to see family and old friends. Nonetheless, when we pulled off I-79 at the Bridgeville exit, my reaction was “I am glad I am home.”

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Spring Comes to "My" Woods June 1, 2017

Copyright © 2017          John F. Oyler

June1, 2017

Spring Comes to the Woods

For the past forty eight years it has been my privilege to live across the street from a fifty acre park, much of which is woods in its natural state. Thirty years ago my doctor, concerned about cholesterol, prescribed two things for me – some magic pills to be taken each evening and a brisk two mile walk once a day. I compromised, replacing the brisk two mile walk with a pair of nonchalant one mile walks in the woods each day, accompanying our dog.

That dog is gone, plus her two successors, but my walks have continued. Mentioning the term “brisk” in the same paragraph as my walks would bring a chuckle to anyone who knows me. Incidentally I have made up for the breakdown in athletic exercise by adding a third component to my prescription – one glass of red wine with every evening meal. I am grateful to my Italian friends for discovering that red wine is an effective way to combat cholesterol.

There is a suspicion that my enjoyment of the twice daily walks in “my” woods is based upon a latent desire to emulate an English Lord, patrolling his manor. Could be, although I see myself more as the forester or gamekeeper in a manor that has thousands of Lords owning it.  In the British TV series “Monarch of the Glen”, that function was performed by a man called “the ghillie”. I do indeed enjoy checking up on everything regularly, especially as I watch the seasons change. Spring is particularly rewarding as old life is renewed and new life appears.

I frequently begin my trek by walking up our street four or five houses to a point where a trail enters the park at its northeast corner. The woods run roughly east and west with the north/south width being about a quarter of the east/west length. I like to begin climbing a hill along the east edge of the park. It used to be a very easy climb but the dramatic increase in gravity as I have grown older makes it difficult enough that I prefer to conquer it at the beginning of the walk while I am still relatively fresh.

About halfway up the hill I pass “fossil rock”. This is a very interesting flat rock, perhaps two feet square, with a fascinating collection of tiny ribs on its face, primarily in a dendritic pattern. I can’t prove it is a legitimate fossil, but it certainly is easy to postulate that millions of years ago a small branch from some Paleozoic Era tree got trapped in a layer of swamp mud and fossilized. Fortunately the rock is too heavy for someone to move easily, so it remains in its spot, a would-be artifact three hundred million years old.

The south edge of the park is bordered by a busy highway; fortunately there is a well-established trail along the ridge line paralleling the road. We have an aerial photograph of this area from 1939; this trail is evident on it. The upper trail crosses a seep, making the walking a little sloppy whenever recent rainfall has caused the water table to reach ground level.

Along this trail is a collection of large boulders, a spot where our children would play and pretend to be knights of old and their ladies. It reminds me of a similar pile of boulders that existed on the southwest corner of the Bank Street/Winfield Street intersection eighty years ago. It was apparently leftover raw materials for the construction of a nearby stone house. We called it “Keys Rocks”, a corruption of McKees Rocks.

The upper path is also the location of the first big display of wild flowers each Spring. A carpet of golden blooms extends for thirty or forty feet on both sides of the trail. I have concluded that these flowers are “lesser celandine”, a moniker that would seem more appropriate for a collection of small islands in the Caribbean than for a wildflower.

In Ireland the lesser celandine, a member of the buttercup family, is known as pilewort because it roots are effective at treating hemorrhoids. For fear of offending my Irish friends and my daughter Sara’s in-laws, I will refrain from making the obvious sarcastic comment. At any rate the pilewort is a welcome sight along the trail early in April each year. Later in the Spring pink and white phlox take over.

Historically the upper trail exited the park about halfway along the their southern edge. Years ago I cut a path so our boxer, Maya, could stay within the woods rather than taking her out onto the sidewalk. It was obviously a good decision for that trail has become a standard route ever since.

Thirty five years ago the community elected to build a soccer field in the middle of the eastern half of our woods, a decision that was vigorously opposed by folks living close nearby and by nature lovers in general. We were among the ring-leaders of this group in an unsuccessful effort to preserve the park as a natural treasure. It is not the only “lost cause” with which I have been involved.

Close to the middle of the woods, in an area the Conservancy is attempting to reforest, we planted a tulip tree last Fall in memory of my wife. I visit the tree each time I am in the park; it is an appropriate reminder of my wife’s love of nature. The tree is about fifteen feet tall, protected by a sturdy cage I installed when a buck scratched its bark trying to run the velvet off his antlers.

Formally a tulip poplar, Liriodendron Tulipfera, the tulip tree was an obvious choice for this purpose. We had planted four tulip tree seedlings around the deck of our cottage at Conneaut Lake and soon saw it converted into a virtual tree house, with branches full of large tulip shaped leaves in every direction. We hope this tree grows as rapidly as they did.

In the same general area is the last bittersweet vine in the woods. The Conservancy has declared war on invasive species. Their vision for the park is a traditional second growth Eastern woodlands forest, with a minimum of understory growth. There is an Asian bittersweet vine that girdles mature trees with tentacles that are several inches thick, eventually the host tree.

We have no disagreement with removing those vines from the woods, but we hope this remaining vine which is too busy trying to survive to take on a mature oak or maple will be successful in its efforts. I harvested ripe bittersweet berries for my wife and her sister as autumn decorations for years – I hope the sprig I have in a vase on our living room mantle is not the last one I harvest.

We also are supportive of the Conservancy’s efforts to remove Japanese knotweed and garlic mustard. These are both “jungle plants”. They are unattractive, and grow quite tall and thick and choke out all other vegetation. In recent years the dog walkers and nature lovers have done a good job of pulling out the ones that are close to the well-travelled paths.

Fortunately these efforts still leave a few pockets of thickets, nearly impenetrable areas filled with briars and jungle plants. They too are part of nature and I hope we leave them a place to survive and to thrive.

Honeysuckle is another invasive species about which I am ambivalent. The Conservancy has cut down a large number of honeysuckle bushes and painted the remaining stubs with something to ensure they don’t come back to life. I hope we can spare a few honeysuckles; I think they add a lot to the woods, especially when they bloom.

The western half of the park is a classic Western Pennsylvania hollow, carved by a tiny stream that runs down its center. Before the soccer field was constructed the stream was fed by a swamp (we environmentalists would call it a wetland), that provided a constant supply of water year around. Now the stream disappears halfway along its course whenever we have a dry spell. Too bad, it is a marvelous place for small children to play and learn a little bit about hydrology.

There is a nice trail on each side of the hollow. We frequently take the path on the southern side on our way out and its partner on the north side on the way back. This year the Mayflowers popped up on April 11, right on schedule, and bloomed early in May, also on schedule. The blooms appear on the plants with forked stems, and will produce Mayapples later this summer.

The northern path is the home of the trillium. The white ones bloomed late in April; the wine colored sessile variety, two weeks later. There are several dozen white trilliums in this area, but only two of the sessile plants that we can find. We keep hoping they will proliferate, but there has been no evidence of this in recent years.

Although we don’t know of any native dogwoods in the park, the Conservancy has planted a pink one and a white one in an area they are trying to reforest. It was a real treat to see them in bloom this year. Another treat is a native rhododendron in a tiny, brush filled gulley that was covered with bright red blossoms, begging for a location where it could be admired.

Our woods seem to have an unusually large number of downed trees. Many of these are large black cherry trees that seem to be susceptible to being uprooted by high winds. For some reason their root systems are very shallow, perhaps because the underlying bedrock is so close to the surface. Occasionally a healthy tree fractures at a discontinuity, a weak spot. Five years ago a rugged sycamore lost its top, leaving a stump sixty feet high – apparently the result of a mini-twister. It immediately sprouted a new set of limbs and is prospering despite its unorthodox appearance.

Folks whom I meet in the woods ask me if I am going to get another dog; my response is “I don’t want to have to have another old dog put to sleep.” This opinion was reinforced recently when I had to do just that to our twelve year old cat, Dozey, because of massive kidney failure. Sad to lose another link to my wife; the only pet left is Dozey’s sister, Caput.

We have enjoyed watching a Pileated woodpecker this Spring. Its distinctive deep, rhythmic drumming evokes memories of Indian tom-toms in these woods centuries ago. This particular bird has found a bountiful banquet table at the top of a dead tree near the west end of the park.

A trek around the exterior of the park provides the trekker with about a mile and a half recorded on his Smartphone and the satisfaction of forty five minutes spent enjoying nature at his leisure. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how the Lord of the Manor feels, after all!