Tag Archives: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

I hear things are just as bad up on Lake Erie

4 Aug


Put-In-Bay from Perry’s Monument

As I write this my friend Laura is on an adventure kayaking in the Lake Erie Islands. Laura set out on this adventure several reasons, some of them deeply personal, but one goal of her journey is to reconnect to the place she grew up, which incidentally, is also the place I grew up.

So our home was on my mind yesterday when this article came across my newsfeed. A quick summary: The City of Toledo has told about 500,000 residents that they can’t drink their tap water, due to high levels of toxins caused by algal blooms in Lake Erie.

Lake Erie already had a bad reputation when it comes to water quality, and this isn’t completely unfounded. The most famous incident happened in 1969 when the Cuyahoga River became so polluted that it caught fire near it’s confluence with Lake Erie. Although this fire was only one of several that happened on the Cuyahoga, it gained the most public attention. The fire certainly tarnished Cleveland’s reputation. It’s what led Dr. Seuss to include the line “I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie,” in the first published editions of the Lorax. I travelled all the way to Germany in 2006, and when one man learned I was from Cleveland the next thing he asked me was “Didn’t your lake catch on fire?”


Station Road Bridge, Cuyahoga Valley National Park

However, something good did come out of this fire. It sparked river cleanup efforts, both at the local and national level, and was the main cause for the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. It also led to the creation of a National Recreation Area (now a National Park) that is very near and dear to my heart; Cuyahoga Valley. Dr. Seuss even removed the line from later editions of the Lorax after Ohio Sea Grant wrote to him to tell him about improvements on Lake Erie.

Even knowing this, I didn’t need the Reuter’s article to remind me that while pollution on Lake Erie has greatly improved, it still leaves a lot to be desired.


Lake Erie from Kelley’s Island

I remember taking a trip with my family to a beach near Point Pelee on the Canadian side of the lake in the late 90’s. There were dead fish, hundreds of them, floating in the water and washed up on shore. In what has to be one of our more questionable life decisions, we still went swimming. Today the Ohio Department of Health publishes beach advisories based on bacteria levels, and these are reported rather matter-of-factly on local news stations.

Even today Lake Erie is still plagued by a number of environmental problems; combined sewer overflows, invasive species, agricultural runoff, loss of coastal wetlands, and contaminated sediment. A few news sources have also connected climate change with the recent spike in algae related toxins.


East Harbor State Park

After so many decades, we Ohioans have just become pretty numb to it all. Maybe we just feel like it’s all too hopeless. Maybe it’s because we were hit so hard by the economic recession that we aren’t ready to tackle environmental issues. Maybe we’ve decided that Lake Erie simply isn’t beautiful enough to be worth saving.

The drinking water ban lifted today when tests indicated the toxins were back to lower levels. I hope that, like the Cuyahoga River fires, some positive change can come out of this. Environmental problems, including algal blooms, have gone unnoticed on Lake Erie for so long. I hope this changes. Because Lake Erie is worth saving. It’s where we get our drinking water, where we go to swim and boat and play, and it still has an important part in our economy.


Lake Erie Sunset, Old Woman Creek

And yes, it is beautiful.



Photo Adventure: Cuyahoga Valley

1 Jan


Snow Covered Bridge on the Blue Hen Falls Trail


Honey Combed Sharon Conglomerate Sandstone, Virginia Kendall Ledges


Ohio and Erie Canal, near Ira Trailhead


Cloudscape, Everett Road


Treescape, Towpath Trail


Blue Hen Falls Trail


Kristina, Tree hugging near the Octagon


Blue Hen Falls


Frozen Trees, Beaver Marsh


I adore this place.


Fall Frolic

18 Oct


I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am to see the government up and running again. I was so giddy Thursday morning that I dashed down to the Canal Towpath to go running. Seriously guys, I don’t run. Ever. That I did so cheerfully just goes to show how delighted I was to have my national parks back.

I’ve been missing fall weather since I moved to California. Don’t get me wrong, Yosemite is a great place to be in the fall, but it’s much less dramatic when most of the trees in your landscape are evergreens.

While I was unexpectedly furloughed and in Ohio I knew I had to pursue as many autumn diversions as I could. I was aided in this quest by Northeast Ohio’s network of regional parks. I am so often distracted by national parks that I haven’t given any of these attention they deserve. They really are spectacular places, it’s a pity that it took a government shutdown to make me notice them again.


We carved pumpkins at Nature Realm. We frolicked in the Metroparks. We drank apple cider. I wore jewel tones. I made an insane amount of apple butter. I indulged in pumpkin flavored everything.

As I write this I’m sitting in the airport, waiting to board a plane that will whisk me back to California. I loathe the circumstances that brought me to Ohio, but I am grateful to be here right now, and I wish I could stay longer. I will console myself by knitting socks in fall colors.


If this is what your outdoors looks like, do me a favor and enjoy it for me:



I’ve Caught Canning Fever

15 Sep


In case you haven’t noticed canning is in. I don’t know if this is the direct result of the Mason jar craft mania that’s been rioting all over Pinterest or because everything is in season and now is the time to can. In any case it must be contagious because somewhere in the middle of all the insanity of the past few weeks I decided that it was high time that I tried canning. (Also, I’m pretty sure April is at least partly to blame here.)

My quest began, as most great quests do, at the library where I found The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant. Of all the canning books I’ve scoped out recently (and there have been a lot) this book is my favorite so far. I love that he gives ingredient lists in grams, ounces, percentages, and regular old cups and spoons. The recipes are pretty enticing, and it doesn’t hurt that the photography is gorgeous.


I was visiting family in Ohio, so I headed to the Countryside Conservancy Farmers Market at Howe Meadow in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I was thrilled to see that the farmers market has more than doubled in size since I was last there.


I knew I wanted to start with pickling, so I just bought a bunch of whatever was in season and I had a recipe for.

After a few hours in the kitchen with the (much needed) supervision of Amanda I had my first canned goods.


Pickled Candy Onions and Grilled and Pickled Sweet Peppers.

Ironically, because I had to hop on a plane back to California without checking luggage, I couldn’t take them with me. I gave a few cans to Amanda; she’s going to have to tell me how they turned out because I won’t be able to taste them for awhile.

Any sane person would have probably stopped here right?


I am clearly not sane. After I had gotten settled back in Yosemite, I went on a canning bender of epic proportions. Brace yourself.


My Big Fat Cleveland Getaway

25 Jul

Just when you thought had a fix on my location I took a quick trip back to my hometown for a wedding.


It was a Pinterest perfect combination of sass and class.


My friend Kristina loves the yarn bombed trees in Cleveland Heights.


Elegant Lily pads at Cleveland Botanical Gardens.


We took a bike trip on the Canal Towpath in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This crazy structure is a lock for the old Ohio and Erie Canal. There is a really cool program in the summer where if you bring bikes onboard you can ride back on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad for only $3.


Apparently I was really into taking pictures of bridges on this trip. This is the I-80 Bridge, it is home to a nesting pair of Peregrine Falcons.


This is the Route 82 Bridge.


Details on the Old Station Road Bridge.


I was ready to gloat that this picture didn’t have a bridge in it when I realized that the boardwalk technically bridges the Beaver Marsh.


I’m sure there’s also a bridge somewhere in this picture.


Bats Man and Robin

12 Feb


I love bats.

Most people probably think that I just missed the last train to crazy-town but it’s the truth.  I love bats.

I still remember the first time I saw a bat.  I must have been about seven years old, it was dusk in the middle of the summer and my parents were wrapping up a day of yard work.  If I had noticed the bats at all I probably would have mistaken them for birds, but my Dad pointed them out and told me they were bats.  At first I was a bit creeped out knowing real live bats hung out in the safety of my backyard, because bats were well associated in my brain with Dracula, Halloween, and abandoned belfries.  (Did I even know what a belfry was at seven?)

Later, my brother invented a game of throwing a softball up into the air to watch the bats dive at it.  I don’t remember if I had already learned about echolocation or if that came later, but I whenever I teach my students about echo location the same image comes into my head:  A baseball and a bat, one arching up and curving back down in a steady, predictable pattern, the other swooping reeling, and changing direction at a breakneck pace, elegant contrasts profiled against the sky and the familiar trees of our backyard.

At some point I learned that the bats were diving at the softball because they thought it was a flying insect, their source of food.  Looking back I’m sure that if a bat had ever collided with the softball it would have died, and I’m equally sure I would have felt horrible as they both dropped out of the sky, but they never did.  The bat would always realize, often times at the last second, that the missile was way too big to be even the most succulent moth and swoop away.  It was a long time before I realized that this game must have been positively infuriating from the bat’s point of view.


As incredible as this aerial display was, I didn’t really fall in love with bats until I moved to New Hampshire.  I spent a summer living in the attic of a cabin in Fraconia Notch State Park, and early, early in the morning I would hear incessant squeaking coming from a corner of the ceiling.  I assumed it was one of the mice I was in a constant state of battle with that summer.  One evening as I was getting ready to go to bed, from the same corner I saw a bat drop out of the crack where the ceiling met the log wall.  I stood frozen in the middle of that room and I could hear the fluttering sound of its wings as it flew around the room for nearly half a minute.  Even in the confines of that tiny room it was an agile flyer, swooping around me, the furniture, and the walls without crashing into any of them.

While I was startled by this first appearance I didn’t really mind it. Maybe I truly did miss the last train to crazy-town, but a bat seemed like short change to the plastic-chewing, food-seeking, hantavirus-carrying, no-kill-trap eluding rodents that I was currently at war with.  Besides, if I couldn’t even rig a trap for a mouse, successfully evicting a bat was way out of my league.

That’s when I started doing more research.  Quite a few of the people I told about the bat immediately raised the concern of bats carrying rabies.  As it turns out, according to the CDC, less than six percent of bats that are captured and tested carry rabies.  That figure doesn’t even take into account all of the bats that are happily zipping around like tiny furry fighter pilots.  There is a high percentage of human rabies cases that are caused from bats, but in many cases the patient did not seek medical attention for a trivial little bat bite.  What’s more, in the majority of these cases the person was bitten while trying to remove the bat.  I made a mental note to go to the doctor if I got bitten, or saw evidence that the bat was diseased and stopped worrying about it.

I also was surprised to hear people say that bats made a habit of flying into people’s hair.  My own observations of their ability to navigate contradicted the idea and many sources dismissed it. I hardly pay any attention to my hair anyways, and a bat stylist might have been an improvement.

But I did learn something that worried me.  Biologists were concerned by something called “White Nose Syndrome.”  It had started with bats in New York State, and it was disrupting the bats during their winter hibernation causing them to be spotted flying around and eating snow.  It was killing enormous numbers of bats, and other than a few vague references to a fungus, no one seemed to understand what was causing the bats to die.  And no one knew what to do about it.

I won’t say we always got along perfectly during my summer of the bats.   For one thing, their habit of squeaking noisily in the ceiling at five in the morning got old fast.  I also remember waking up one night to realize that a bat was noisily rustling around on top of a plastic bag that had one of my knitting projects in it.  (I vaguely remember muttering “You can share my room, but stay out of my yarn!”)

But more often than not I was delighted when they (literally) dropped in.  I vividly remember watching one crawl around upside down using the hook-like thumb on it’s wing.  I was surprised, having been told that bats need to drop from a perch to be able to fly, to see a bat crawl around on the floor in the corner of the room and then effortlessly flutter back up into flight.  Besides, having a bat for a roommate earned me at least a few bragging rights.


My summer in New Hampshire eventually ended.  I moved back to civilization away.  While I didn’t start liking bats any less, I certainly didn’t think about them as much.  I still heard snippets about White Nose Syndrome here and there, and it still worried me, but I was too busy with my non-bat life to really stay in the loop.

About a week ago a bomb was dropped on me.  I got an email saying that Icebox Cave in Cuyahoga Valley National Park was being closed due to concerns over White Nose Syndrome.  A confirmed case of White Nose Syndrome was found nearby in one of the Summit County Metroparks.  I hadn’t even noticed that another case of White Nose Syndrome was confirmed in Ohio nearly a year ago. Even worse a case of White Nose Syndrome was confirmed not far from my cabin in New Hampshire the same year that I was there.  The year afterwards bat populations all over the state plummeted.

Even though I’m thousands of miles away in California now it’s struck a nerve.  Those are my bats, in my favorite places, the ones that I used to play “dive at the softball,” with and yelled at to keep out of my stuff.  I want to do something about it this time around.

Although we have learned more about it, we still haven’t figured out how to stop White Nose Syndrome from killing bats.  It’s caused by a cold loving fungus that probably originated in Europe.  When the bats hibernate for the winter, particularly in caves and mine shafts, the fungus grows around their nose, causes lesions on their skin, and disrupts their hibernation causing them to waste precious energy stores flying around when there isn’t a food source available. White Nose Syndrome has devastated the affected bats, killing anywhere from 70 to 100 percent of their original populations.

Many efforts to protect bats have been focused on preventing people from spreading the fungus. Countless parks and preserves have closed caves and mines to prevent the spores from being introduced to places where bats are known to hibernate. The Fish and Wildlife Service is encouraging cavers to decontaminate their gear before entering caves.  Another way to help bats is by protecting their healthy populations. Avoid disturbing them when they are hibernating and protect the forests and wetland areas where they live and hunt. Hang bat houses to provide a place for them to live. Avoid using pesticides that kill the insects that they depend on for food.


Finally, even if you can’t welcome a bat into your house, at least welcome them into your heart.  As insect eaters and pollinators they play an important part in agriculture and our own food chain, not to mention mosquito control at your next barbecue.  They are truly fascinating critters that are often unnoticed or feared for all the wrong reasons. They could use a little more love.

You can find more information about bats and White Nose Syndrome from these wonderful places:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Bat Conservation International
National Speleological Society 
Encyclopedia Smithsonian

~Robin (with a nod to XKCD and Hyperbole and a Half)


28 Aug

I’m sorry, Robin can’t come to the blog right now. She’s currently having a marvelous time road-tripping back across the country to Yosemite. For a wrap-up of her her summer exploits please view the following pictures after the beep.


This summer I….


Visited the homeland.


Finished some old projects.


Finished some new projects. (This pattern, with some modifications)


Wandered in my favorite place.


Was pleasantly surprised to discover a hot air balloon festival.


Took time for reflection.


Had trouble following directions.


En Plein Air

23 Aug


“out-of-doors, n. That part of one’s environment upon which no government has been able to collect taxes. Chiefly useful to inspire poets.”  -Ambrose Bierce

I’ve been thinking about art lately, particularly the painters in the 1800’s that started painting outside. I think they were on to something.

Back in the mid-19th century the world was changing very rapidly. The Industrial Revolution was reshuffling the norms of society, bringing even more people into crowded cities, and rearranging “The Way Things Used To Be.” But at the same time it was creating fantastic innovations. Telegraphs made it possible to hold conversations across continents and photography was changing the way we saw the world. Innovations in transportation, most importantly, railroads, were making it possible for more people to escape from the overcrowded cities to the countryside or seashore for a holiday.


Reading (1873) by Berthe Moriost, on display at the Cleveland Museum of Art

Other innovations were changing the world of art. Rather than mixing their own paints artists could buy pre-mixed paints in metal tubes that looked like toothpaste. (Except, you know, prettier.) Portable box easels made it possible to move the painter’s studio outside. This trendy new way of painting “En Plein Air,” swept through artistic movements both in Europe and the United States. Claude Monet, Vincet VanGogh, Pierre-August Renoir, and Winslow Homer were all artists that painted en plein air.

An October Day in the White Mountains (1854) by John Frederick Kensett, on display at the Cleveland Museum of Art

Now, I don’t pretend to be talented when it comes to drawing or painting. I enjoy it, but I’m happy when my trees can be recognized as trees. But I started packing art supplies on my hikes to see what would inspire me en plein air.


First, I learned that drawing is….hard. It’s one thing to sit down and decide you are going to draw a tree, but it’s another thing entirely to sit down in front of a real tree and try to copy it. No matter how much you erase and shade and sigh heavily, the tree still stands right in front of you stubbornly refusing to look anything like your drawing.


The second thing I learned is that drawing really makes you see the details. You notice the way the forest canopy changes the light. You see the way a color changes when the sun is shining directly on it. You see how the forest looks more blue from far away.  You see the world with a whole new pair of eyes, and it’s yours to capture in whatever medium you choose.


Finally, I discovered that if you bring friends along you will have a great time but get remarkably little art done. While this practice isn’t going to transform me into the next VanGogh, I am fine with it all the same.



“Working outdoors or from life puts you in direct contact with the life force, not just the light and the landscape, but also the vitality of the world around you.”  -George Carlson

Feathered Fly-By

3 Feb

I spent yesterday riding out Snowpocalypse 2011 in a hotel in Three Rivers Michigan.  (Did you know that when you give up on driving and pull off at an exit on the Indiana Turnpike the only signs helpfully directing you to local services are for campgrounds?  This may come as a surprise, but that’s not actually very helpful in a snowstorm.)

Weather aside, I had a great extended weekend with my family in Cleveland.  The highlight of my trip included a birding trip with my grandfather and my brother.  Birding with the two of them is like going to the art museum with Picasso and Michelangelo.  I’m pretty sure the only way they could know more about birds is if they grew wings and feathers and joined a flock.  (It is no small coincidence that I wound up with the name Robin.)

We started in the Cleveland Metroparks at the Brecksville Nature Center.   If you haven’t been there before in the wintertime you need to abandon all other pressing matters and get down there.  Why?  Because you can do this:


If you want to feed Chickadees from your hand you have every Saturday and Sunday until the end of February.  Feedings go on between 10 am and noon, and the naturalist tells me that the more miserable the weather the hungrier the Chickadees will be and the more likely they will be to feed from your hand….


….Or your head.

As if holding a wild bundle of feathered curiosity in your hand wasn’t enough for one day, we made our way down into Cuyahoga Valley National Park to see the nesting pair of Bald Eagles.  Since the eagles showed up and started nesting in a heron rookery they have been celebrities.  I certainly felt like a member of the paparazzi standing behind the barrier on the towpath using binoculars and a the greatest zoom my camera can manage to get a glimpse of them.


Clearly, they wanted nothing to do with the press that day.

We also ventured down to the Beaver Marsh where the Nuthatches were playing a game they like to call “Ha Ha!  I’m too fast!  You’ll never get a good picture of me!”


But I think I won at least one round.


To finish the expedition off we got to see what happens when a Red Tailed Hawk flies too close to a Peregrine Falcon nest.  It all happened too fast for a camera, but imagine a small gray streak of a falcon careening after a hawk at least twice its size and colliding in midair.   It was pretty awesome.  (Speaking of the paparazzi, this bulletin on the falcons sounds a bit like a snippet from a celebrity gossip magazine.  I had no idea that Peregrine Falcons could be such wanton tramps.)

What never ceases to amaze me about nature is how much it endures.  Although it wasn’t the coldest day we’ll see this winter, it was still one of those days where most people prefer to stay curled up inside with their hot chocolate.  It reminds me that even on the days when human civilization has ground to a stop because of weather, those birds are still out there living their lives and trying to do what they need to survive.


Stay warm little guys!