The Last Warm, Sunny Day in 2013 ?
by Phil Breidenbach
It is Sunday morning, I am sitting at the table in my "library", looking out the window at the rain splashing in the puddles in the back yard. The roads in the valley are slightly hidden by the rain and the low laying clouds. In the distance, everything is reduced to various shades of grey.
The fresh coffee and my Christmas tree gives the room a wonderful smell. The sparkling tree beside me and the soft music from the radio transforms the room into a nice warm, comfy place to spend the day.
Yesterday, Saturday, was just the opposite of today. Let me tell you a little about what we did during it...
The day started out early for me, the sun was still below the horizon and there were still a couple of the brighter stars visible in the sky. The eastern horizon was getting brighter, the day was well on its way. While walking the dog, I got my first glimpse of the sun. The clouds were tinged in pink just before it came over the top of the near-by hills. I'm pretty sure I have said this before, but it is worth repeating...There is nothing like watching the sun rise. What a great way to start the day!
I put the dog in the car, collected my gear, and headed over to pick up a couple breakfast sandwiches and some coffee for Ann Marie and myself. Then I picked up Ann Marie and we pointed the car towards Pittsburgh.
St. Nicholas Parish House
Driving into the Northside, we saw that the Parish House, beside the spot where St. Nicholas Church used to stand, was half torn down. There were no workers around so we stopped to take some pictures. They have blocked off one lane for access and they graded the land where buildings and sidewalks used to be. They had also uncovered a couple of the cold cellars that were exposed during demolition. Originally, they had piled dirt against the openings to either hide them or keep people out. Now they were exposed once again. I find these holes very interesting, hidden from light for decades, if not centuries, now exposed for the last couple weeks of their existence.
Most of them are rather shallow and usually filled with debris. There were three that we looked into yesterday. One was partially filled with fresh cement. Who knows why, it didn't fill the room beyond and it didn't hide the hole, perhaps it was just some extra cement that they needed to get rid of...I can't figure it out.
Exposed cold cellars
A bit closer to the Parish House were two other holes. These were at one time hidden by a auto repair company. Anyone who has driven down this road in the last 10 years has seen the orange building just past the Church. This was the last place to be abandoned, the owner holding off for years trying to get paid a bit more from Pendot. The building didn't last very long after they moved out.
The first of the two holes was rather shallow, though much taller than the next. Dirt nearly filled the back room, all that was visible was about 3-4 foot of the passageway leading into the room. The room beyond was dark and looked filled.
Inside the rectangular hole
The room inside
Tunnel leading to the outside
The second hole was rectangular in shape and a tunnel led into a spacious room beyond. I had to crouch down to work my way into the room. The passageway was only about 4 feet high., opening up to a much higher room beyond. The room was shaped like a Quonset hut. The walls were tapered a bit and then arched over as they became a roof. The room was hand hewn, the walls were far from uniform.
On the floor were puddles, empty cans, broken bottles and old car parts, evidence of the business that once hide this room from sight. Worn tires lay in the puddles giving me an idea of how deep the room went. I didn't go much further that the beginning of the room since my flashlight was back in the car. (duh) The light that filtered in from the small opening quickly dissipated moving away from the doorway. My flash on the camera barely made it to the back end. I would guess the room was about 30 feet deep and about 15 to 20 foot wide. After taking a couple shots, I turned around and returned to the bright day beyond.
We went over to the remains of the Priests House and looked around a bit. We kept our distance not wanting to get too close, not knowing how unstable it was. More than half of the house was removed. On the one side it looked like an average abandoned house, a couple broken windows with a hole in the roof. The other side looked like a crushed doll house, the walls removed and the floors exposed. Doors were cracked and broken, staircases were filled with wood and plaster. Curtains still fluttered in the windows. I am guessing that it will all be gone by the time 2014 gets here. As we left, 6 deer crossed the hillside behind the house. They made climbing the steep hill look easy!
Our next stop on this bright, clear day was the West End. There was a structure I've noticed numerous times when I was crossing the West End Bridge. It looked like the opening of a tunnel. If that is what it was, it went under the hillside below the West End Overlook. It is situated right along Rt.51. At some time, the opening was filled with large stones. The top of it is open and I was thinking I might be able to "see" what was beyond the opening.
Under the West End Bridge
Due to construction on the road, we had to take a small walk to get to the structure. We parked under the West End Bridge and couldn't help but stop and admire its shape. Now this is the way bridges should be built! Standing tall and arched, it makes a beautiful frame for the city. It looks so much more distinctive, so much more regal than the plain modern bridges of today.
Was it a tunnel?
We walked along a slippery ice covered sidewalk to the cement fabrication. It was set into a stone wall on one side and a cement wall on the other. The stones that filled it were stacked rather amateurishly, taped away from the road as they rose up. The top 5 or 6 feet were open, the rocks here covered with dirt, small trees and dead leaves. The back end was hidden in shadow and I couldn't see if it was open or not. I was tempted to attempt climbing up the face but once again, my "fear" of pain and disability kept me on the ground. A construction ladder sat a short distance away... but then again, it was daylight and cars were going by. No, tempted as I was...I held off. I took some pictures and we continued on our way. Later, looking at my photos, I could see that it had a cement back hidden in the shadows. What it was...I still have no idea.
Nice day in the "burg"
Since it was such a nice day, we went up to the overlook above us. We gazed out at the city and its environs, talked about what neighborhoods were where and talked about some of our adventures in them. We decided to go down and visit the Northside next.
Driving towards West Park, we decided to take a stroll down Beech Avenue. This is what I have always considered one of Pittsburgh's hidden treasures. Bordered on one side by West Park and the beautiful Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church on the other end, it is a small neighborhood that is closed off from traffic by use of one way restrictions. The only way in is from the center of the blocks. The road is a one way street from here, in both directions, you have to go either left or right. You can't get in from the ends. This drastically reduces the through traffic! The neighborhood is an older one, I'm guessing the houses were built in the earlier 1800's. The buildings are well taken care of, painted nicely and they are almost always nicely decorated for the Christmas season.
Window box holder
While we walked up and down the street here, we saw a couple dog walkers and a couple pedestrians. Being Pittsburghers, everyone said "hi". Only one or two cars passed by. It was nice and quiet. The noise of the rushing traffic on the roads that bordered the area never made into the neighborhood. Brick paved sidewalks, their flatness marred by the roots underneath them add to the hominess of the area. A lot of the houses here have slender yards, with long side porches. All the houses have a fence of some type, most of them wrought iron, sporting various designs, each unique from the others.
We returned home then and hung out for a bit until it was time for Church. After Church, we drove over to the local cemetery to watch the space station go past. (What better place to observe the sky than a cemetery?)
The night before, I had gone outside with a couple friends from work to see an Iridium flare. We then returned later to watch the Space Station drift overhead. I get excited to see these things, I can't help it. I get even more excited to share them with others.
The ISS (International Space Station) was due to cross our sky about a half hour after Mass was over. Rather than going back home and watching it from there, we opted for the graveyard. I had the camera and a tripod and was going to try and catch it as it went by. I set things up, took a couple shots to determine my exposures and then waited. While I waited, I fretted. "Will it be where I think it will be, will it pass through the shot I have lined up?" I went over its path in my mind and then reset up the camera...and fretted some more. The sky was getting murky, rain was predicted for the next day. I couldn't see any stars yet. were they hidden by faint clouds or were they just not visible yet? The time slowly moved on.
Then, right on time, it appeared in the north west. Faint at first, it gained brightness as it rose higher and higher in the sky. I took a couple pictures, moved the tripod and snapped a couple more. The ISS slowly moved off into the east south east and faded away. I checked the shots and they looked good! Yeah! (Picture my fist pumping into the air)
Waving to the International Space Station above
We returned to my house for some dinner and a couple TV shows. I went outside to watch for an Iridium Flare but the clouds had moved in by then, not a single star was visible. Still, I saw the clouds briefly glow where the flare was predicted to occur. I'll take that as a "has seen"!
We played a game of Scrabble on our new game board (I got trounced) as we ate dinner and then AMB went home to the place where she would find herself in the morning. It was a good day, the sun shone, it was warm outside and the clouds held off until after the ISS passed by.
I woke up this morning to rain. Looking outside my nice warm room, I see that the rain is still coming down. The drips off the tree limbs make circles in the puddles below, like the ticking of a clock, ticking the last three days of the year away. Maybe we'll have another bright sunny warm day this year...but I doubt it. Just goes to show... enjoy the good stuff when you can, you don't know when they will return next!
Happy New Year!