Tuesday, September 24, 2013

One Flew Over the Cockoo's Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest


by  Phil Breidenbach

Wetland Trailhead
(pictures will enlarge when clicked)
                It was a little after 2 in the afternoon and I was walking on a path in Boyce Mayview Park, located in Upper St. Clair.  I was on the first portion of the Wetlands Trail.  It is a wide trail that slowly ascends alongside a wooded hillside.  As it levels off, it takes you to the edge of a valley and a steep decent that is made easier by a wooden ramp built into the edge of the hill. After a couple switchbacks, you are level with the lake in the wetland.
                The trail near the lake is called The Duckbill Trail.  It encircles the lake and has a couple observation areas along the way.  You can see the lake through the brush, a bit dirty looking at its far edges, but clear and sparkling in the center, reflecting the blue sky above.  Where the Wetlands Trail meets the Duckbill Trail, you can go in either direction, I choose to head to the right, towards the observation area.
                As I neared this spot, I heard a splash and saw the unmistakable shape of a Great Blue Heron, flying away from me, its reflection mirrored in the water below. Of course, the camera was turned off and by the time it had fired up, the bird was long gone into the distance.
The lake
                Looking around, the view from the observation area is nice and peaceful.  There were lots of little coves in the lake along with a couple islands.  Reeds and shrubs surrounded it, overflowing into the water, providing lots of nice reflections.  There were no sounds from the near-by roads.  I had the place to myself!
Looking for dinner
Getting ready to strike
Got it! 

                As my gaze worked its way around the lake, I saw another heron!  Standing still as a statue, it was watching the water waiting for some dinner.  It was so still, I almost missed it.  Every so often, he (?) would take a slow, careful step forward and then freeze again.  In a little bit, he would repeat his steps.  Slowly, his neck started stretching out from his body, he had seen something.  Lightning fast, he pounced, his neck stretched out, his wings held high to balance him, his head entered the water and came out holding a fish. He lifted his head and it disappeared down its throat.

                Then, right back into his hunting stance.  Walking back towards the shore, like an ostrich his knees bending backwards, he slowly worked his way towards his next catch. 

                My time was running out, work would be starting soon.  I needed to head back to the Jeep.  I walked back to the Wetlands Trail and the hillside.  Through the bushes, I could see the heron, oblivious to me, waiting for the next fish to come into striking distance.  I took a couple more shots of him and then hurried up the hill to the car.  Work was waiting...like the heron.
Patiently waiting 
                When I was telling Mike, a co-worker about the first heron flying off across Chartiers Creek and over the remains of Mayview State Hospital, he quickly pointed out to me, that "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest"!
That had me laughing the rest of the night!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Messengers From the Gods

Messengers From the Gods


by Phil Breidenbach
I was walking in Wingfield Pines, land owned by the Allegheny Land Trust, through what used to be a golf course.  Now it has gone wild, with paths, a few ponds, a water purification area (mine water) and a wetland Boardwalk.  Chartiers Creek borders the area.

Chartiers Creek

                I had found a table and a couple benches underneath some large pine trees a few days before.  I was returning to it to sit for awhile and enjoy the quiet before going in to work. A little bit of pre-work relaxation time.

                The trail leading to the table passes a small pond and just as I was approaching it, a splash and the flapping of wings caught my attention.

The small pond

                At the far side of the pond, I saw a Great Blue Heron as he flew away from me.  These birds are unmistakable!  My camera was around my neck, but I wasn't fast enough to catch him (her?)!  Knowing that there was a larger pond a bit further into the area, I passed "my table" and continued on towards the next lake.  Nearing it, I slowed down and tried to walk a little softer.  This was easier said than done, with lots of large brown, dried leaves scattered across the path, an indication that Fall was right around the bend.

The Heron 

                I lucked out.  Through the branches I could see the bird, perched on a concrete tube, surveying the pond below.  I took a couple shots and then moved in a little closer.  I should have known better, he saw me coming and took off, and within a couple wing flaps, he was gone.

                I am always amazed at their awareness of their surroundings.  I have tried getting a close-up shot of these birds numerous times and was always foiled in the process.  I often see one in the stream near my house, as I drive by.  He is usually standing in one of a couple different spots.  Knowing these spots, I always look to see if he is there as I pass by.  Occasionally, I stop the car further down the road and backtrack with the camera to try my luck once again.  But, he always knows when I'm coming into shooting range.  I have gotten a few pictures of him but never close enough to get a crisp, sharp shot.

                These are some smart birds!  I have tracked him down the stream and he always takes off just as I prepare to shoot.  I really think he is playing with me!    ;-)

                In Greek mythology, Herons are messengers of the gods.  The Great Blue Heron is the largest of the heron family.  You can find them in streams, ponds, trees, swamps and even in trees.  Standing statue still, waiting for their food to come to them.  Then, lightning fast, they grab their prey with their razor sharp bill and then swallow it whole.

                I have a bird book that belonged to my father.  It is called Report of the Birds of Pennsylvania, written by B.H. Warren M.D..  It was published in 1888!  It has some nicely colored pictures of birds in it.  I was hoping to get a picture of a heron to use at the top of this blog from it, but there wasn't one in it.  There were a few paragraphs about the bird though and these made interesting reading.  Besides the normal height, color and weights, he said that men and boys often kill these birds to get their feathers to sell.  He predicted (in 1888) that the bird will soon become a rarity in Pennsylvania.  He then went on to describe what its meat tastes like and how he has eaten it a few times.  He wouldn't go out of his way to eat it, but in an emergency it would be great!

                I should mention that the bird is now protected by law and can be found all across the country, so don't go and try to find out what it tastes like!

                So, instead of sitting in the shade under a pine tree, relaxing, I did a little stalking instead, I walked just a little further.   It was just as relaxing and I went into work with a clear and open mind.  "Nothing like a little nature before you head into a noisy, productive work day!"
              It is even better when you get to see one of Gods messengers...perhaps that is what he was trying to tell me!
Yours Truly, hangin' out under the pine trees before work




Monday, September 16, 2013

A Trip Back in Time

A Trip Back in Time

9/15/13  to 9/29/00

by Phil Breidenbach

                It is coming up on 13 years ago that Jim Clark and I decided to do an overnight bike trip.  We had been talking about this for awhile and we finally  got our acts together and did it.  I happened across the photos from the trip while I was looking for something else and then, decided to see if I could find my journal.  That was a lot easier than I thought it would be.  it was the 4th one I looked at.  (I have a BIG collection of notebooks!)   I thought it might be an interesting thing to put on the blog, so...here is my write up from my journal about those 2 days, back in the final days of September, in the year 2000.


(I noticed a few errors in places, but I didn't change them, just to stay true to my original writing.  I copied it as it was written. )

Final page of the journal entry and the guide book
(photos will enlarge when clicked)
Flickstand Tour d'Ohio
9.29.00 - 9.30.00
            Jim Clark and I had been talking about going on an overnight bike trip for a couple weeks.  After some research, we decided to do a tour of 3 collage towns in Ohio. I had found a tour , written up in a book, "25 Bicycle Tours in Ohio's Western Reserve". 
            We decided to split the 105 mile trip into a 2 dayer.   We would go through Ashland, Wooster and Oberlin.  3 collage towns!
            We left on a Friday.  early in the morning.  We arrived at Findley State Park around 9AM.  We stopped in the rangers office and asked if it  would be Ok to leave our car there overnight.
            We left, heading out into the great morning.  The weather was great.  We wore our jackets but didn't  get overheated as the tour progressed.  We passed an elk farm earl on.  A bunch of fenced in fields, some with females and others with the heavily antlered males.
            We took a nature break on a bridge on Rt. 851 & 964 & 360.  We had only hit one bad section of road up until then.  There was a stretch of gravel road that was real tough to get through.
            As we entered the 30 mile part of the trip, the roads got a little hillier, and the wind started blowing into our face.  We were on a road that continued straight for over 8 miles.  On one downhill, I looked over at Jim and realized that we had to pedal downhill.  The wind was nearly stopping us if we quit!
            Those miles took a toll on us.  We were beat!  These were on the outskirts of Ashland. 
            In the town of Ashland, we visited the Johnny Appleseed Memorial and ate lunch at a deli in the center of town.  Jim had the best chicken salad in the World!  It wasn't!  Mine wasn't worth mentioning either.
            Near the Johnny Appleseed Memorial, Jim lost one of his panniers, going over a speed bump.  It was rather humorous.
            The majority of our trip was through farmland.  The sky was a beautiful shade of blue, especially through my tinted sunglasses.
            As we neared the mid-point of the trip, we passed Ernies Bike Shop, located in Wooster.  I had seen it in a magazine and had checked out their web page.  It looked promising, so we stopped in.  The 2 boys that were taking care of the store didn't have much people skill.  They lacked what it took to keep a customer in the store.  We went in and left soon afterwards.
            A mile or 2 down the road from Ernies was the Wooster Amerihost Inn.  It was located at the top of a hill and along a high speed highway. (naturally)
            The room was nice, big enough to bring the 2 bikes in.  We hit the showers, and I have to say "Wow"  There wasn't much that could've felt better!  It was hot and came out hard.  It was like a massage! I think I could've spent an hour in it!
            We ordered a pizza and after that fell asleep in our beds.  After 5 hours and 57 minutes of riding time, 53.8 miles, we were ready for sleep!
            We awoke fairly close to the same time and got some breakfast in the lobby before we left.  Oatmeal, bagels and coffee, it got me going!
            The Ohio people we met and passed, all seemed real friendly.  We were on the road around 8:45AM.
            Our first rest break came about 2 hours later outside of Friendsville. We had passed a group of cyclists a few miles out of Wooster.  They slowed down & exchanged pleasantries.
            We took another break around 1.  I was feeling a need for food so we ate some of our apples. As we were sitting there, an 18 wheeler past us & the wind knocked Jims bike over.
            We hit mile 100 at 3PM, on the outskirts of Oberlin.  We stopped, sat on the guardrail for awhile and ate a Cliff bar.
            As we continued into Oberlin, a pair of cyclists past us, a rather unfriendly pair. "They were out for their spin, don't disturb us!"
            In Oberlin, we set ourselves at a corner table, outside of a coffee house and had some lunch and lots of coffee.  We sat & BS'ed and watched the college kids as they went about their days.  After an hour +  a half, and a pot of coffee, we headed out for the final 10 or so miles in our trip.  It was an easy ride, the land was flat and there was a nice wide berm on the side of the road.  Before long we were pulling into the Findley State Park.
            We had ridden 61.2 miles on Saturday, 114.7 total!
             It was a great trip!
            After reading this, I have to add two things.  The final 10 miles were real easy because of all that coffee we drank, and because it was Hawaiian Kona Coffee.  They wouldn't sell us just a cup of it, we had to buy a pot of it...but ya know...it was worth it!
            The second thing was...I have to say it again, "Wow, did that shower feel good!"
            Here are a couple shots we took while we were enjoying the sights of Ohio.
Oh how I wish I still had this map
My bike, packed and ready to go
Ready to spin
One of my favorite shots, taken by Jim, at the start of the 8 mile straight stretch (?)
Further down the same stretch
Jim coming up the final hill on Day 1
Another favorite, picture and friend!
Rest stop, Day 2
Mile 100
Sweet success!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Faces of Pittsburgh

Faces of Pittsburgh


by Phil Breidenbach

                Take a walk with Ann Marie and me as we go through downtown Pittsburgh, looking for some of the "faces of the city".

                If you want to just read about our walk, or do it yourself, that's your choice.  I've included a map along with the pictures so you know where we're going.

Our Route

                We did this walk on Labor Day so we had the added bonus of free parking!  Chances are you won't be as lucky.  We parked on Penn Avenue, across from the bus station. (P on map)


(pictures will enlarge when clicked)

                Our search started as we headed downtown.  The first face we saw was painted on a railroad bridge near 11th Street. It was poking its head over the wall, peeking out at us.  It was him (?) that got us thinking about looking for more faces. (A)

                Being an older city, Pittsburgh's buildings are covered with faces, animals, snakes, dragons and gargoyles.   The majority of them are on the upper floors, you have to crane your neck a bit to see them.  Some are sitting on the rooftops, some are guarding the windows and others are just scattered all over the buildings.

                Sadly, most of today's modern architecture doesn't include any extras.  The buildings are smooth, sleek and unadorned.  They might have a special shape that sets it apart but there are no fancy designs or figures on them.  It seems that today's designs look best from a distance as compared to yesterdays buildings, where the closer you were, the more you saw.

                Here are a few of the faces we came across on our walk.  There are countless others in the city. These are neither the best or the largest, just what we happened across on our two hour jaunt through the city.

Keeping an eye on the diners below

                Going towards the Point along Penn Avenue, we came to a bustling hotel.  People were eating outside on the sidewalk.  Porters were loading cars and taxis by the front door.  Above them all were a couple faces, bearded and regal, looking down at all the activity below them. (B)
On The Left...
and on the right

The Art Cinema

                We walked on, turning into the alleyway behind the Benedum Center.  Coming out on Liberty Avenue, we stopped to admire some of the old building fronts on this street.  The bottoms of many old buildings are modernized, but the top floors retain their original looks.  This is noticeable in a couple spots on this section of Liberty Avenue.   Often the original parts look a lot better than the" temporarily in style" looks of the up-dated sections.   On one building, (811 Liberty Ave.  built in the 1880's) about four or five floors up, are a couple faces that have been above the avenue for over a century.   Who they are is unknown, I doubt if they are modeled after anyone, just decorations.  A couple busts that are hardly ever gazed on... 
             To the left of this building is the Art Cinema, a small theater that once showed adult films.  Now it shows "cultural" films.  Oh, if some of the people who go there now, knew what used to go on in those aisles...anyway, on the marquee are two more faces.  They have been there as long as I can remember...one of them laughing at patrons coming in, the other crying for them as they leave.  OK, I know they are the faces of Comedy and Tragedy...  (C) 

Hidden faces on Coffee Way
                We crossed the street and entered Strawberry Way and turned onto Coffee Way.  There we saw some of the oldest surviving public sculptures in the city. Hidden in a dark, dirty alley are four plaques, about 15 feet above the pavement, where hardly anyone would see them.  Originally on the Arbuckle Coffee plant, built  around  Civil War times, they were moved here when the building was rebuilt.  I wrote about these a couple weeks ago.  (click here to read Hidden Faces of History) (D)
The Old Gimbels Building
                Next we went up 6th street to Stanwick where we turned left.  On the way, we stopped to admire the 2 Churches and the old Gimbels Building sitting across from them.  We didn't see any faces on the Churches, I really thought we would, but across the street, it was a different story.  The building that is now where Heinz offices are, (built in 1914) is covered with faces.  Above doors and in-between windows and in a band crossing the building, they seem to be everywhere.  High above the street, where it can only be seen by the penthouse offices, is a nice green garden space. (E)
The Two Andys 
                As soon as we turned the corner onto Stanwick, we could see the next faces in our search, The Two Andys.   It is pretty hard to miss these!   A wall mural of Andrew Carnegie and Andy Warhol.  Interesting picture, it must have been taken on one of those days that they met up at the local beauty salon.  ;-)  (F)
                Going up Strawberry Way took us past some really old bits of Pittsburgh.  Though not architecturally important, they are a reminder of what Pittsburgh used to look like.  At the corner of William Penn Place, the Harvard, Yale and Princeton Club is a little brick building that just shouts old time Pittsburgh.
On the William Penn Hotel
                Further down the street we came to The William Penn Hotel. (1914-1916)  Above the windows are clean faced young men, stoically gazing out at the passing pedestrians.  Below the windows, close to the pedestrians are bronze plaques of William Penn. (G)
Modeled after The Bridge of Sighs in Venice
                Coming to Fifth Avenue, we turned left and crossed over Grant Street.  We passed the old County Jail and its Bridge of Sighs.  There were no faces here, but I can imagine many a sad face looked through that window as they were being led over to the jail. (H)
Two of the many faces on the County Office Building
                We followed 5th to  Diamond Street and then to Forbes.  Passing the Allegheny County Office Building (1929-31) we found more faces on the building.  Some were carved into stone and others were on the bronze plates above the doors.  (I)
Worms (?) are on the front of the old morgue, how appropriate!
                 Rounding the corner onto Ross we took a few minutes to look at the old Morgue.  Now empty, I can only imagine what it is like inside.  Oh, if only they would let me in for a few minutes..maybe an hour...  We moved on to 3rd Street and followed that down to Wood Street.
Cute face at the Times Building
Plaques on the walls of Lawrence Hall
                We passed a couple faces on 3rd, a couple of them on the Times Building, were right near the sidewalk . (1892) (J)  Across the street and closer to Wood Street were some plaques high on Lawrence Hall, one of the Point Park University buildings. (K)
The Bank Center (1902)
                Turning right onto Wood Street, we passed William Thaw's birthplace. (A plaque on the wall tells us that fact.  A bit further down the block another plaque shows us the high water mark of the 1936 flood)  At the corner of the next street, we found a couple more faces, these  attached to the rest of their bodies! (L)  This used to be the Peoples Saving Bank, wow, banks sure used to look nice!
Faces hardly visible on top of the building
Arrott Building from across the street
                On the opposite side of Wood Street is the Arrott Building.  Topping the building, hardly able to be seen from the sidewalk, is a line of faces.  They  look as if they are screaming, perhaps scaring away bad things from the building.  The building is covered with fancy stonework.  Inside, the lobby is a perfect example of a classy architecture.  Brass railings on the stairs, elevators and lighting fixtures, marble walls and a fancy floor.  Built in 1902, it is truly worth your time to poke your head inside the lobby and take a quick look!  (M) 
                Turning left onto Forbes, we walked down to Market Square where we stopped to enjoy an "adult beverage".  The square is surrounded by nice eating and drinking establishments.
Heinz Hall
                We then crossed the square, continuing on to 6th street where we passed in front of Heinz Hall.  There are more than just a couple faces on this building.  Once the Lowe's Penn Theater, built in 1927, it was dedicated as Heinz Hall in 1971.  (N)
Quilts on the 7th St. Bridge, the 9th St. Bridge is in the background
                Turning once again, onto Penn Avenue, we walked to 7th Street where we turned towards the river.  We crossed the bridge and enjoyed the Knit The Bridge Project.  Quilts had been placed on the handrails and after a couple weeks of being on display, they will be cleaned and then donated to homeless.  (O)  The bridge, now  known as the Andy Warhol Bridge, is one of three nearly identical bridges.  Known as the Three Sister Bridges, they are the 6th, 7th and 9th street bridges.  Built in the mid 20's, they are the only 3 identical bridges placed side by side, in the States.  Recently, they have been renamed after prominent Pittsburghers, the Roberto Clemente Bridge (6th), the Andy Warhol Bridge (7th) and the Rachel Carson Bridge (9th).
                We crossed over one side and returned on the other and then took the bike trail upriver past the Convention Center.  Once we went under the Fort Wayne RR bridge, (built in 1901-04) we returned to the streets and soon were back at the Jeep.  (P)
                A quick note about the railroad bridge, you can see where it was raised in 1918 to allow taller boats under it.  The new concrete is easily visible on top of the stone piers.
                A two hour walk and we were back at the Jeep.  we saw lots of nice architecture, including lots of faces.  Remember, the things shown here are only a few of the many cool things hidden in Pittsburgh.  To find them, all you have to do is get out and look! 
"Hope you enjoyed our little walk!"
(I'm always open to comments, feel free to let me know what you thought of our tour!)