Saturday, June 28, 2008

Celebrating The End Of June

Lewisburg has one of the most amazing end-of-June celebrations you could imagine. Here’s the plan for this year: Wednesday, Sousa in the park. Thursday, Yankee Doodle Dandy at the local movie theatre. Friday, a big band concert on the lawn followed by fireworks. Saturday, a parade followed by concerts on the lawn and picnicking under the trees.

If it sounds suspiciously like a 4th of July celebration, that’s because it’s not really an end-of-June celebration; it just happens to fall at the end of June. Lewisburg celebrates Independence Day a week early—and there’s good thinking behind it:

As a small town, Lewisburg isn’t a big draw for groups that might march in a parade here. Local High School bands tend to march in their hometown parades—and most of those are on the Saturday closest to July 4th. Bands travelling from Philadelphia or farther can find larger audiences on that holiday weekend than they’ll find in Lewisburg, so they aren’t available for the Lewisburg parade.

Move the parade a week before the holiday weekend, and you find a lot of open calendars. Several local high school bands participate, and a respectable assortment of bands comes from afar. In fact, the “week early” strategy has let the Lewisburg 4th of July parade to grow into one of the longest and most robust parades in the area.

With the parade a weekend early, it’s appropriate to hold the rest of the Independence Day celebration early as well. So, the music in the park program on Wednesday featured patriotic tunes as Sousa would have directed them. On Thursday, for a one dollar admission fee, residents could attend a screening of Yankee Doodle Dandy at The Campus Theatre—an art deco building that’s on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.

The fireworks show held yesterday was sponsored by the Allbright Care Center at Riverwoods. For 25 minutes they launched aerials above a soccer field that’s nearly surrounded by tall trees. Through one wall of trees, there are baseball fields where spectators started arriving more than three hours before the launch. A big band style dance band played until dark, and people took up positions with lawn chairs and blankets. It was a generous show—as it is every year.

The parade and picnic are a fine exclamation point for the celebration. (Immediately after the parade, patrons and participants gather on a lawn at Bucknell University where bands play and several vendors sell hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages, and other foods.)

We had packed a cooler and grabbed it from the car on our way from the parade route to the University. There, we met up with several friends and had a pleasant lunch in the shade. It was a fine end-of-June celebration.

For the complete City Slipper experience, please visit my web site at

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Music In The Park

Starting in June of each year, Lewisburg sponsors music in the park. This is one of the great entertainment bargains available anywhere: there’s no charge to attend, and you can take along your own seating and snacks. The park in question is Hufnagel. The music varies.

Hufnagel Park sits in the western third of the downtown business district. It is a narrow block, but quite deep with a creek along one side, and a railroad track along the other. Near Market Street (the main street), there are ornamental plantings and stairs leading down from the sidewalk. A level lawn stretches toward the back of the park where a gazebo sits at the bottom of a modest brick and concrete amphitheatre.

Music in the park happens each Wednesday evening at 7:00. Over the years, we’ve heard performances by the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, the Lewisburg High School Marching Band, the Susquehanna Valley Chorale, the Penn Central Wind Band, and more. We’ve heard big band music, classical, jazz, pop(s), and folk.

The performances are usually entertaining, if not, then at least technically very good or better. Some draw bigger crowds than others, but they always draw more people than could watch comfortably from the amphitheatre seating. So, the performers usually set up facing the level lawn, (rather than the amphitheatre), and patrons bring chairs and blankets with which they make haphazard patterns across the park.

Perhaps the most popular show each year is Stars, Stripes, and Souza performed by the Penn Central Wind Band. The band plays music that John Sousa’s band would have played—some of his original works, and some written by his contemporaries. I counted about 700 people in the audience this year which seems like a small number until you realize that’s nearly a tenth the population of Lewisburg.

It’s not surprising to find so many Sousa fans in Lewisburg. Many will return for upcoming performances by a brass band, a big band, a symphony band, a trumpet duo, traditional Celtic music, a jazz duo, and the Lewisburg High School marching band—all on the remaining schedule. If you live in Lewisburg, you’re bound to see people you know at these concerts. If you don’t live here, you’re still likely to feel welcome.

For the complete City Slipper experience, please visit my web site at

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Hunting Dog Swims!

With my wife, Stacy, teaching summer school, I had taken my kids to Ithaca for a week at my dad’s lake house. Stacy finished teaching on Thursday, and went north to join us for that evening, for Friday (summer school runs Monday through Thursday), and for Saturday morning. To the great joy of the kids, Stacy took the dog along.

Cocoa was thrilled to visit the lake cottage. There must have been thousands of new smells there, and she was clearly impressed to stand over a body of water that was larger than her water dish. That’s where the real fun of Cocoa’s visit came in: My daughter decided it was important for Cocoa to discover her natural swimming ability.

As a Chocolate Lab, Cocoa is designed to float and swim easily in cold water. Thing of it is, she didn’t grow up floating and swimming in any water. I insisted that my daughter should coax Cocoa with patience. I’ve never read books on the subject of introducing dogs to swimming, nor have I seen instructional video. But I have seen several dogs who got into the water more quickly than they wanted to, and then refused ever again to swim.

I’d like to tell you that we walked down to the dock, waded into the lake, and Cocoa bobbed in after us, demonstrating her genetically-superior propensity for swimming. Of course, I can’t. We spent the better part of an hour wading into thigh-deep water, encouraging her to follow. Cocoa was obviously anxious to join us, but she pioneered every possible route along the rocks and dock to get near us without actually standing in water.

My oldest son and my daughter both swam into deeper water in hope that being farther away would increase Cocoa’s incentive to swim. This was no small sacrifice: The temperature of Cayuga Lake water in early June can’t be much above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and the days last week were overcast and chilly. For all their efforts, Cocoa remained enthusiastic and dry.

In her defense, the lake shore at my dad’s cottage is very uneven and rocky. The only wading entrances require a final step into water deep enough to touch Cocoa’s stomach. I suspect if she could wade down a gentle incline into the lake, she’d be less timid about the wetness.

My daughter would not abandon her dream. This morning, we were down at the lake again, encouraging Cocoa to join us in the water. After what must have been another hour of calling and cooing and otherwise making fools of ourselves, we finally coaxed her in—first standing in water up to her chest, and then swimming in short half-circles.

I don’t see Cocoa entering Olympic swimming events any time soon—or even retrieving birds from swamps. Still, I’m pretty sure the expression on her face and the bounce in her step when she got out of the lake were the canine equivalent of a fist pump and a high-five.

For the complete City Slipper experience, please visit my web site at

Friday, June 20, 2008

Art, Craft, or Trade?

Vacationing at my dad’s cottage on the west shore of Cayuga lake, I’m drawn to the dock that provides level access to the water. I love the water—it seems there’s always something happening on, in, or around it, yet it can have a very calming effect. I’ve been to the dock alone a few times during this trip.

Along this section of the lake, rock cliffs climb twenty to thirty feet from the water’s edge. Landowners build cottages above the cliffs where the terrain slopes up through woods and fields. You can drive from the main road down various private drives and access roads to reach lakeside cottages, but from there you’re negotiating steel ladders, elevators, or paths built where water has eroded its own channels down the cliffs. Few properties have actual beach areas. Rather, large strategically-placed rocks might hold soil or pebbles against the cliff face, or heavy pilings driven into the lake floor support boardwalks, docks, and other walkways.

Some years ago, a friend of my dad’s visited from somewhere out west. While he was in the dock area at the lake cottage, he selected and stacked six stones atop one of the large rocks that helps retain the landing area at the bottom of the path down from the cottage. I believe that was the last visit my dad would have with that particular friend.

The stack of stones has some character: It is stark against the backdrop of the lake and skyline, providing yin where there is already plenty of yang. It has me musing: is it art? Is it craft? Was my dad’s friend a stonemason who can’t leave his work behind when he travels?

The stone stack holds my attention mostly because it’s there; I can’t recall any free-standing stone stacks elsewhere in my life.

For the complete City Slipper experience, please visit my web site at

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Down The Gorge

My geology professor in college took our class on a field trip to Robert H Treman State Park just south of Ithaca, NY. Trails within the park run along a large stream that has carved a gorge in which you can identify several examples of geological phenomena we’d studied in class: rotational slump, landslide, bedding planes, rock fracture, plunge pools, freeze-thaw, running-water erosion, sedimentary deposition…

When we’d progressed a few dozen yards down the trail, our professor stopped us and shared what might have been just a good story: The scientist, Louis Agissiz had travelled the world studying geologic features. His exploration had led him to propose that earth had experienced an ice age, and that much of the land we now inhabit was once covered with deep glaciers.

With all his travels to so many amazing landscapes and vistas, when he first turned the corner into the gorge we were about to see, he had exclaimed, “This is the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.” Truth, or fiction, I wanted to share that moment with my kids. So, this morning we drove from my dad’s lake house to the upper entrance of Robert H Treman State Park and the head of the Enfield Glen trail.

I’ve turned the corner into that gorge about a half dozen times in my life. But you know what? When we made the turn, I was stunned. Few places anywhere have astonished me with their beauty the way I was astonished in that moment. That section of the gorge belongs in a fantasy story—as exotic and breathtaking as any real estate in any popular movie: The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the Star Wars films, The Quiet Earth—The Enfield Glen trail would fit in any of them without digital retouching.

I could tell that despite my excessive build up to the moment, my kids also were impressed by the natural beauty of the gorge trail. The early part of the trail travels a walkway with stone rails, stairs, and bridges all built by the Civilian Conservation Corp during the depression. Moss has grown on the stonework, and it blends well with the natural rock of the gorge.

After passing several small waterfalls, plunge pools, and sandbars, the trail emerges at the top of a spectacular waterfall that splashes into a lower pool—stairs let you walk alongside the precipitous drop and provide several fine views both downstream toward a wooded valley and upstream along the trail we’d just walked.

On the trail, we encountered a red newt, a garter snake, and some workmen repairing some weather-worn stonework. I don’t envy them wheeling the cement, sand, and tools necessary to complete the maintenance.

If you’re in Ithaca for any reason, do yourself a favor and walk down the lower trail into the Enfield Glen gorge from the upper entrance of Robert H Treman park.

For the complete City Slipper experience, please visit my web site at

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Swamps Are Special

Until about ten days ago, my family was headed to South Carolina for this third week of June to visit my wife’s parents. My wife had offered to teach summer school if the need arose… and it suddenly did; so we postponed the trip. But could we find another week during which all the kids were available for a family trip this summer? Of course not.

So, to salvage any hope of a “family” vacation, I called my dad in Ithaca, and asked whether he could put up with us for the week. The “us” would be me and the kids as my wife’s teaching gig was to start on Monday. Thankfully, my dad accommodated, and we’re here at his cottage on the western shore of Cayuga Lake.

We spent the morning today visiting Cornell University’s Sapsucker Woods bird sanctuary. This is a research facility and observation center built on the bank of a swampy pond. Trails thread through the swamp and surrounding woods, providing various options for visitors who enjoy walking outdoors. We do, so we did.

I’d been to Sapsucker Woods many times as a kid, and have taken my kids there two or three times over the past fifteen years. On each of those visits, the observatory was closed, so we gave up, figuring to walk the trails another time when we also could enjoy the exhibits and views inside. On this visit, the observatory was gone!

I exaggerate. The observatory I’d known as a kid was gone. In its place stood an enormous replacement that far better fit the semi-wilderness setting of the bird sanctuary. For casual visitors, the main feature of this building is a large room with a glass wall facing a pond. On the banks of that pond, and in a small garden to one side, the employees maintain feeders that attract dozens of varieties of birds.

Within the observatory there are spotting scopes that let you get really close to the birds, and there are computers to help identify the birds you see. In about a half hour we saw, perhaps, a dozen types of birds. We also enjoyed the antics of several chipmunks who obviously enjoyed the birdseed as much as the birds did.

Finally, we walked the trail that circled the pond outside the observatory window. Much of the trail passes through forest, but eventually you get very close to some of the swampy end of the pond. Today was a great day to be there.

From a small spit of dirt that went right to the swamp’s edge, we saw many frog eyes poking above the water. We also saw frogs and turtles sitting on logs that had fallen into the swamp. While we were enjoying the turtles, a doe stepped out of the trees about halfway across the swamp and walked out into the water. She nibbled leaves as she casually made her way across the swamp, and eventually disappeared into the trees on the other side. Later on the path, we watched geese waddle from puddle to puddle, and enjoyed the water lilies that were in full bloom.

We’re very lucky that institutions invest in trails and other facilities to make swamps accessible. I imagine there are many more swamp walks in store for my family.

For the complete City Slipper experience, please visit my web site at

Friday, June 13, 2008

What Makes Golf Great

Discussions abound about what makes golf great: the history of the game, the challenge, golf course design, player personalities, character of the players, camaraderie with your playing partners… Some commentators wax poetic. Others speak with reverence, describing certain courses as “hallowed ground.”

Great friendships grow around golf. Generally, you meet other golfers when one of your buddies invites one of his or her buddies to play with you. Over time, your circle of available playmates can grow quite large. But beyond this obvious mechanism, golf is an amazing random matchmaker.

I’m not talking about traditional arranged marriage matchmaking. Rather, I’m referring to how golf can create situations that throw strangers together, occasionally resulting in great friendships. Here’s how it works:

Especially on municipal golf courses, but also on many public courses, single players or two friends might arrive hoping to play. In the interest of accommodating the most possible players, the golf course management pairs these people with other pairs or singles to create a foursome. As it takes about four hours to play a round of golf, this group of strangers has plenty of time to get acquainted.

Generally, people get along well because they’re all there to play golf; they have something in common. In most cases, they finish the round and never again see the people they met that day. However, now and again, the strangers hit it off, and lifelong friendships take root. Of course, if you regularly play at a particular golf course, you’re likely to get paired repeatedly with other players who also play there often. This gives friendship more opportunity to get started, and for a lot of golfers it’s the whole point of joining a club.

I’ve had three great relationships that started through this kind of blind draw. I met my buddy Heber, who lives in Lewisburg, when we played together because we’d each gone to the course alone one day—much of my social circle in Lewisburg grew out of that friendship. I played many rounds over the course of three seasons with Bucknell’s women’s club champion because our abilities were well matched, and we tended to play well against each other.

Then there’s my buddy Roger who was a single paired with a twosome he didn’t know at a public course in Connecticut. On my way back to Pennsylvania from a consulting job in Connecticut, I stopped at this golf course and was put in with them. I can’t remember many rounds where I’ve enjoyed the company more. (On a later trip through Connecticut, Roger and I played a round together and discussed Non-Overlapping Magisteria… a topic we’d learned of independently, and one that I’d never expect to arise in a random social encounter.)

Roger has joined me, Heber, and a childhood friend of mine for a few golf vacations since then, and I try to schedule my trips to Boston so we can visit or even play a round on my way through. Twice I’ve invited myself to Roger’s place for weekends of golf at his home course. And, while I don’t get many visitors in rural Pennsylvania, he has made the trip twice—he’s here now… and that’s what inspired the topic: golf’s tendency to make great friends out of strangers is part of what makes the game great.

For the complete City Slipper experience, please visit my web site at

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bridge To Nowhere

I’d just taken the left branch at a fork in the road, when I glanced across a large field to my right and noticed what resembled a stonework aqueduct. Curious, I continued along the field, looking for a route toward the stonework, but none became apparent—until I turned around and went back to the fork. Driving along the right branch of the fork, I could tell I was nearing the unusual structure… but I might never have seen it at all if I’d taken this road in the first place.

I caught a few glimpses of the stonework through trees out the left side of my car… then came to what looked like an old rail bed from which the tracks had been removed—the road I was travelling ran across it. I stopped at this rail bed, and walked along it toward the stonework which I now assumed had been a railroad bridge.

The path was straight, but not well-worn. There was lots of poison ivy. If you’re going to walk along unfamiliar woodland trails, it’s important to know how to recognize poison ivy… I've included a photo here to help.


Only forty yards from the road, I came to what looked like a railroad bridge, but without railroad tracks. The path continued from there, but was severely overgrown. I poked around on the bridge for a while, admiring what I could see of the bridge support: a series of stone and concrete arches that let a small stream flow under it. Today, the stream flowed through only two arches, but I could see that on wetter days, the additional arches would let the adjacent farmer’s field drain quickly. The concrete was well-aged and leeching lime. As out-of-place as the whole thing seemed, it inspired musings about lost civilizations—about a bygone era.

Pennsylvania participates in the “Rails-To-Trails” program; they use public funds to convert retired rail beds into hiking trails. There’s a web site where maps guide you to converted trails—and even identify unconverted but deserted rail beds should you wish to explore them.

The converted rail bed I explored today doesn’t appear on that web site. Still, it looks as though someone intended it for hikers. I hope people making the walk notice the bridge supports and step off the trail to take it all in.

For the complete City Slipper experience, please visit my web site at

Friday, June 6, 2008

Fat-Head Flowers

When I was young, there were peonies in my parents’ yard. The extent of my fascination with those peonies was related to ants: as the flower buds developed and then blossomed, little ants crawled around on them. Each spring, I’d watch for a minute or two, and then find something interesting to do.

I must have liked those ants because when I finally moved into my home in rural America, I requested that peonies be among the flowers my wife added to our yard (in our division of outdoor domains, my wife handles decorative plantings, and I do the food-producing ones—oh, yeah, and the lawn).

In the nine or so years we’ve had peonies here, I don’t recall seeing ants on them. That puzzles me, because there were always ants on my parents’ peonies. That said, peonies are fine flowers. For those who don’t know peonies, the blossoms are quite large, resembling carnations, but fuller with bigger and looser petals. They are more elegant than carnations, but they last for only a few days—whether “live” on the plant, or cut and placed in a vase. Peony flowers grow on the ends of leafy, stalks that are dark green with hints of purple—and quite long… which is a little puzzling.

You see, I’ve yet to grow peonies that support their own blossoms. Those long stalks get tall and then bend under their own weight. They bend more as buds develop on them, and when the flowers pop out, the stalks bow to the ground.

My dad had some metal hoops that stood on 18-inch stakes. He’d install them around his stands of peonies, and the fat-headed stalks would remain upright. I once drove stakes near our peonies, and stretched twine to support the stalks… but it wasn’t an impressive display, so now I let them grow as they will. Beautiful as they are, they insist on falling over.

I’m suspicious of peonies: It seems unlikely that nature would create such a bone-headed plant. Humans probably bred peonies to grow this way… and peonies are so embarrassed about it that they bow their heads to the ground as if awaiting the executioner’s axe. We do them a favor when we cut them and display them in a vase.

For the complete City Slipper experience, please visit my web site at