Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Written during a short walk before work on…



By Phil Breidenbach


            Boards clatter as they are dropped in a pile

            a back-up alarm beeps on a truck or a tractor     

            on a distant road, tires go speeding by.


            All trying to cover up the chirps of the birds and the insects


            There is no wind today

            the sun provides above normal temperatures

            a few wispy clouds drift by.


            A short distance away, a squirrel runs through the leaves to his next tree


            I try to shut out the man-made noise

            but as Fall lengthens, it gets harder and harder

            noise travels easily, without the leaves to insulate.


            A bird starts chirping a song I’ve only heard a couple times

            What kind of bird is it?

            I couldn’t even guess.


            But it takes my thoughts off of the sounds of construction

            Like the gasping breath of a drowning man

            I suck it in.


            It gives me peace and serenity!


            Looking at my watch I know I have to leave

            the walk to the car will give me just enough time to get to work

            off to a world of noise.


            The bird chirps again

            giving me one more breath

            before I go under…

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Hidden Burial Ground

The Hidden Burial Ground


(pictures will enlarge when clicked)
                In a thick batch of woods, just a short walk away from Rt.79, is the hidden resting place of possibly over 1000 people.
                It is the graveyard of the former Woodville State Hospital.  Opened originally in 1854 as the Allegheny County Home for the Poor, it evolved into a county mental hospital.  The State took over in 1939.  It was eventually closed in 1992 and at that time was still caring for 460 patients.  Some were released and others moved to the near-by Mayview State Hospital.  The buildings were torn down and the property was sold.
                Now upscale housing sits on the grounds along with a school, a shopping center and various businesses.  A park is located at the top of one of the hills with paths cut through the fields.  Nice views can be seen from the tops of the hills here.  The only remaining structure from the hospital is a smoke stack from the power plant, sitting alone in a valley beside Rt.79.
                The cemetery has been neglected for years.  A clean-up was scheduled to tackle it.  A newspaper article gave a brief description of the graveyard and asked for volunteers to help rid it of the weeds and bushes that had taken over.
                I went looking for the graveyard and found it thanks to a friendly groundskeeper who took time away from his mowing the fields to give me some directions.  If I had been looking for it on my own, I would have completely missed it.  It really was overgrown!
                There is a marker at its “entrance”.  I use the term entrance loosely!  The entrance was a path leading into some high bushes.  The marker was placed there in 1987 and dates the cemetery between 1867 to 1949. 
              I pushed my way through the bushes and within a few paces I saw the first grave marker.  It was a rectangle of cement sitting about 5 inches above the ground with a tapered top. Three numbers were  recessed into the cement.  About three foot away was another one and turning around, I could see another row below it.
                The stones were worn and some were broken.  There were no names on them, only numbers.  Weeds and leaves hid a lot of them and in places, trees had fallen and hid even more.  Some were sticking up high, others barely visible through the leaves.  A few were laying on their sides.
               Going down the hillside I came across at least six more rows and I feel that there more below them hidden in the underbrush.  I walked further into the woods and the stones just kept appearing, hidden from view until I was almost on top of them.
               Most of the markers have three digit numbers on them, the first ones I saw were in the 600’s and they seemed to be placed in order. I came across one number that was five digits, but I seriously doubt if there are 12,000 grave sites here.  Most of them were unreadable and a few looked as if the numbers had been removed.  One grave site had a border of bricks surrounding it.  Someone had been here to care for it at one time.
                As I worked my way under fallen limbs and through branches covered with thorns, I couldn’t help but be touched by the sheer number of graves here.  One source says there are over 650 markers with a bunch more unmarked.  In the 15-20 minutes I spent here, I know I didn’t see them all.
                I returned on Monday to see how it looked after the clean-up.  Some men from the township were picking up the brush that had been removed.  I asked if they minded me taking some pictures and then went in to see what had been done.
                With the weeds and bush removed, the lines of the stones could easily be seen now.  BUT, only about a ¼ of the area was cleared.  Continuing to the edge of the cleared section, the markers beyond it were still hidden, lost in the brush. 
                The men said that the volunteers had spent 3 to 4 hours here on Saturday and the township crew was here even longer.  They are hoping to keep this clean and maintained but they don’t know of any plans to clean the rest of the graveyard.
                  Imagine all these people, living their lives in this hospital, considering it home, a safe place to live.  Hopefully they found peace from their illnesses here, hopefully they found friends and security.  When their time came to leave this Earth, they were buried on the grounds of the place they considered home.  They were buried without any marker other than a number, no names, no dates and now even the numbers are gone from a good deal of the stones.  The only memorial to their live is almost gone.  It is nice to know that there are some people who care enough to care for these graves, to help their final remembrances to live on a bit longer.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Crossing the Line

Crossing the Line


Dunkard Creek 
(pictures will enlarge when clicked)
                It was early Sunday morning, the sun wasn’t even close to rising yet.  As I looked out my front door, I could see a thin fingernail Moon hanging in the southeast.  Above it was Regulas and the planet Jupiter.  Most of the other stars were hidden by the clouds drifting past.  A half hour later when I walked the dog, all but the Moon was hidden.

                Ann Marie came over around 7:30 and we loaded the dog and a couple other essentials in her car and then took off.  The sun was low to the horizon and gave the trees and scenery those special morning colors.  The clouds were almost completely gone!

                We were heading towards the Mason- Dixon Historical Park, just a bit south of Mount Morris, PA.  The park is just over the border in West Virginia, beside Dunkard Creek.  It is the location of the last marker placed by the surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon as they were working on what would become the famous Mason-Dixon Line.  This happened nearly 250 years ago.  Pete Zapadka leads a hike here yearly.  On it he tells some of the history, some of the facts and a bit about the men who made this historic line.

                We made good time, stopping once in Canonsburg for a coffee break and once for a short walk in the village of Mount Morris.  We pulled into the park about 15 minutes before things were scheduled to begin.  There ended up being around 50 people who showed up for the hike, including 5 members of the astronomy club! ( WWW.3AP.org )
“Catfish” telling us about Indian lore
Ann Marie took Red off a ways so we could hear
Pete telling us about the line
Group shot “on the line” 
                There was a short talk about the history of the site and a demonstration given by 3 Indian re-enactors.  Then we proceeded with the hike.  We went down to the near-by Dunkard Creek and along an old dirt path.  We hiked in to where the Mason-Dixon Line crossed the creek, (1 of 3 times) crossing into Pennsylvania on the way, where Pete told us a little more about the area and the surveyors.  Then we went back a short distance and started climbing Browns Hill, up to the site of the final marker.
Old oil well equipment
Site where Mason and Dixon placed their final marker
                It was a steep trail going through a nice wooded area.  The foliage was mostly brown and our footsteps made nice sounds as we walked through the fallen leaves.  As we got closer to the top, the sunshine brightened everything up for us.  We passed an old oil well site, the equipment was still there, slowly rusting away, slowly getting covered over by Mother Nature.  At the top of the hill we came to where Mason and Dixon ended their survey and placed their final post.
Working our way back down
Ann Marie, a happy hiker
                We posed for some pictures and BS’d a bit before we started back down.  We took a different path, the scenic route.  It followed the ridge of Browns Hill, at some places the ground on either side dropped off dramatically, showing us nice views into the woods below us.  At its end, we came out of the woods on the edge of the valley with a great view in front of us.  Blue skies, nicely colored hillsides, sunshine, it all came together just perfectly!  What a nice day!
Dunkard Creek
                After saying our good-byes and returning to the car, we headed east to Rt.19 which we followed back into Pennsylvania.  Eventually coming into the town of Waynesburg we stopped for lunch.  Since we had earlier, “crossed the border”, it was only fitting that we ate at a Mexican restaurant.   After some good Mexican food and a Dos Equis, we took Red for a short walk around town and then returned to our journey.  Further north, in the town of Washington, we returned to Rt.79 to speed up the drive a bit.  We got back to my house around 5:30. 
                It was a day long trip down south through Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  We had perfect weather, LOTS of great scenery, a good group of people to hike with, saw some friends and made some friends and we hiked from one state to another!  That is what I call a GOOD DAY!  It was a good day to go south of the border!
For more info on the Mason Dixon Line, Pete Zapadka has an excellent site, well worth checking out!




Thursday, October 9, 2014

Into the Shadow of the Earth

Into the Shadow of the Earth

(Total Lunar Eclipse)


                Getting up at 3:45 in the morning used to be easy for me, but when you go to bed at 2, it can be a little tough.  Those covers are just SOOOO warm!  This morning though, I had something special to wake up for, a total lunar eclipse.

                I went out the front door and saw shadows of the trees on the sidewalk.  Looking upward I saw Orion above me and the bright full moon off to the west.  Clouds were not going to be a problem!

                I called Ann Marie and told her I would soon be on my way.  The coffee maker had been set, I poured some in my travel mug and the rest in a thermos, took a big swig and then went upstairs to get my stuff.  A trip or two to the car and I was ready to go.  I checked my list, said good-bye to Red and headed for AMB’s place.

                Ann Marie was waiting on her front porch and with hardly any traffic on the roads, we were in Oakland in about 10-15 minutes.  We were heading to Overlook Drive in Schenley Park.   Looking at the map last night, I figured out the moon would be going down right behind the buildings in the city when viewed from this location.

                Pittsburgh is really nice at this time of the morning, you should experience it sometime!  Until we got to Oakland we didn’t see any pedestrians, there was a biker or two on their early morning trek to work, and a couple dozen cars, that was about it.  In Oakland, things picked up a bit with a few students on the sidewalks, either going to early classes or returning to their dorms after pulling an “all-nighter”.  We passed an empty gas station all lit up with glaringly bright lights sitting beside dark quiet apartment buildings.  Just down the street sat the Cathedral, big and dark and majestic, filling a city block with its presence. 

                There was one other car there when we arrived at our “spot”, a Pittsburgh Police car.  We pulled up beside it and asked the officer if it was OK to be in the park before sunrise.  He apparently already knew about the eclipse and had no problems with us being there.  We parked beside a no parking sign…with his permission.             

                We were high on a hill with a large sloping lawn below us with the cityscape beyond that.  A park bench was conveniently located under a tree giving us a spot to sit as we watched.  The darkness and the distance caused the buildings of Mount Washington to blend in with the ones situated in the city.  The Liberty Bridge could be seen but not the river that it crossed over.  Even at this hour there was a steady stream of cars on it, making their way into the city.  From here, it looked like a busy highway rather than a bridge.

                The sky had turned cloudy during our short drive, most of the stars had disappeared.  The moon could still be seen through the clouds but we couldn’t see any details on it.  Still, we had faith and I got the tripod and camera out and took a couple shots.
Moon and clouds (5:12AM)(2006)
(Pictures will enlarge when clicked)
                There was a clear patch or two that passed by as the time for the noticeable part of the eclipse neared.   A clear section of sky positioned itself just to the right of the moon.  It looked almost as if there was a fence there, the clouds on one side, the clear sky on the other.
The start (5:21AM)
                A little after 5:15 we started to see a small bite being taken out of the bright moon’s upper left side.  Using the binoculars we were able to see it much better.  Slowly it got larger and larger until it was obvious that there was an eclipse happening.
                Total lunar eclipses happen when the moons orbit brings it into the center of the Earth’s shadow.  The sun is on one side of the planet and the moon on the other.  Because the moons orbit isn’t right in line we only occasionally get to see this.  The next total lunar eclipse will be on April 4th, 2015.  (my birthday!)
(5:45 AM)
                 By 6:00 it was a little over half covered.  Four or five other people had joined us on the hilltop.  They set up their tripods and cameras and we all stayed pretty much to ourselves.  As the eclipse progressed more came and went, some staying for awhile, others taking a quick look and heading off.
                The clouds slowly dissipated before us.  Stepping away from the tree we were under, I was shocked at all the stars above us.  We used the binoculars to look at them as the eclipse slowly continued.
                The shadowed side of the moon was a dim rosy color.  With the binoculars we could see some stars near the moons disc including the planet Uranus (though we didn’t know it at the time) to its upper left.  Through the binoculars the moon almost looked illuminated from within.  As it neared totality, it looked like an eyeball, the bright section being the pupil.  At 5:27 it was completely inside the Earth’s shadow.  The right side looked brighter than the left for a few minutes.
Just before it disappeared into the haze (7:03AM)
                There was about an hour of totality before the moon started out of the shadow and it set.  Slowly it got closer and closer to the horizon and finally it just disappeared into the low laying haze.   The sky was getting brighter, the ground much easier to see, our fellow moon gazers more obvious.  There were about 30-35 people watching the moon and the city when it disappeared.  It never made it down to the buildings as I had hoped, but who am I to complain?  We had watched a great celestial event!
                We packed up our gear and took off to see if we could see the sun rise.  Unfortunately, the clouds had reappeared.  They had held off until totality was well under way, that in Pittsburgh is an amazing thing! 
                Returning home was completely different than our earlier ride.  Cars were standing in lines at the traffic lights, buses were stopping at the curbs to pick-up and disgorge passengers, bikes were coming and going from all directions.  Luckily we were heading away from the city and most of the traffic was going the other way, that sure helped!
                I dropped AMB off at her house and went home to my nice warm bed.  I had some sleep to catch up on!
                What a great way to start the day, to watch the movements of the earth and moon, to see proof that our planet is round, to watch a new day begin!  Oh yeah!!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Good Timing on the Lake - Forest Loop

Good Timing on the Lake - Forest Loop


                Friday was a rainy day, starting around noon and continuing on and off as the day proceeded.  Intermingled with the rain was blue skies and sunshine.  It was a day of extremes.

                Ann Marie and I had talked about visiting Raccoon Creek State Park earlier in the week and we were hoping that the weather would hold out for us.  We could hike in the rain, but it wouldn’t be quite as nice as a rain free day.  It wasn’t really in our hands, we would just have to wait and see what Saturday gave us.

                We left my house around 9:30 and stopped on our way at a farm market not far from the park.  Janowski’s is a farm that caters to the public, setting up special events for the various seasons.  We were greeted at their front entrance by a man dressed as a scarecrow, directing cars towards their “Pumpkin Patch”.  We followed a couple tractor loads of pumpkins into the lot.   We got some apples and an assortment of vegetables and then, after petting and playing with their 4 month old Lab puppy, we returned to the car and the rest of our trip.

                It wasn’t long until we hit Rt18 and entered the park property.  The rain had held off for the most part, we did run into some misty areas, but nothing that we worried about.  We parked the car and let Red out and started down the road to the trail head.  Big puddles were on the sides of the road, but they reflected a beautiful blue sky.  Things were looking good!

Our Route- about 4 miles
(pictures will enlarge when clicked)
                We crossed a small bridge and then turning to the left, started uphill on the Lake Trail.  Eventually we came to the intersection with the Forest Trail which took us further uphill into a grove of pine trees.  The ground was littered with big pine needles which softened the path a bit for us.  Soon we moved into the hardwood trees and the ground covering changed to yellow and brown, the colors of the fallen leaves.  The leaves were just starting to change, soon the woods here will be a multitude of colors. 

                The trail parallels two valleys, dropping into the first only to re-climb the opposite side, cross over the hilltop and then descend into the second valley.  Both have streams flowing through them but we didn’t have any difficulty crossing them.  The second stream used to have a bridge, but it lay downstream crumbled in a pile, the result of past flooding.

                As we made our way around the trail, we saw only 4 other people.  It was archery season, (and we were wearing our orange vests) but we didn’t see any hunters, of course it isn’t often that you see archers.  They are pretty good at staying hidden!
Old foundation alongside the trail
                Near the top of the hill above the second stream, we came to the intersection of the Lake Trail.  Turning right onto this trail again took us back towards the lake.  Just before we came out to the shoreline, we hit a flooded spot that took a bit of balance to get through with dry shoes.  Balancing across half submerged logs, right beside jagger bushes, makes you extra careful.   We made it through without any problems, the dog, he just walked through the water…
Red and the lake
                The trail goes alongside of the lake for awhile before it heads back away from the water.  Rising up a bit you get a view down at Traverse Creek which feeds the lake.  A nice old wall, built by the CCC or the WPA borders the old road that the path follows.  Both of these organizations helped in the building of this park back in the 1930’s.  Raccoon Creek State Park is one of the biggest state parks in Pennsylvania with over 7500 acres.

                Back in the 1800’s, a near-by spring was believed to have healing qualities and a resort complex grew up around them.  The spring can be visited by hiking a short trail from Rt.18, not far from the park office.  The remains of the resort can still be seen above the spring.  On the eastern side of the park, along Rt.30, is a wildflower reserve.  Over 500 species of plants have been identified in this section of the park.  Unfortunately, pets are prohibited there.

                The park has 44 miles of hiking trails, good for short walks to overnight backpacking.  Horseback riding, mountain biking and cross country skiing, swimming and ice skating are just a few of the other things the park offers.

                About a mile after reaching the lake we could see where we had started.  Back at the car, we loaded the dog into the back seat (soon to fall asleep!) and left for home.

                Within 10 or 15 minutes it was raining fairly hard, hard enough that we could see waves of rain crossing the road.  We drove into a mist that looked almost like snow and a short time later, it started to sleet.  The windshield wipers made it look like snow, small piles of ice beads being pushed off to the sides.  Then the rain returned and followed us home.

                We had driven out between the rain drops and experienced only a few drops on our hike but there was nothing severe until we were heading back home.  The hike was great!  Somehow, we managed to time it JUST right!