What Makes This Hombre Happy?

Pittsburgh South Vo-Tech public school field trip participants - May 2004, photographed by Jeff Zablow in Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Every time I scroll down, through our Media Library, all of maybe 900 images, saved to one day share with you, I pause for 2.2 seconds at this one. I don’t believe you know how happy this one makes me.

I was a Biology teacher at South-Vocational Technical High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For those of you from Sri Lanka, Kansas, Georgia, PRChina, Estonia, Britain, Israel, Slovenia and Peru, our school was an 8-hour drive west of New York City. It was once the world’s steel capital. When steel mills shuttered closed in 1980-1981, many left town, those that stayed endured decades of struggle and reduced situations.

The kids in my Biology classes? Most were from income-challenged homes, almost none had ever left the city, and almost none had ever been in a place like this one, Raccoon Creek State Park in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The Park’s 7,000 +/- acres were wild, undeveloped and rich in wildlife.

I had 5 classes then, with some 130 students. We went on 2-3 Wetland Study field trips, and from that first day in September, I told my students that only those who 1) Cooperated 2) Did Their Work and 3) Tried Their Best, would be selected to go with us. The ‘List’ of who was selected to go usually was announced in February of each year, and additions and subtractions were made as time went by.

There were times when tough (Very!) kids (Gang members and such) approached me, when the bell rang ending class, and once they made sure that no one saw, begged me to go, to have their name put on the ‘List.’ In this photo you see here, one of those more than tough kids in shown. I am amazed still, that that student turned around their performance those 4 months before the field trip, and cooperated 100% on those wilderness trails and on the bus going and coming! Amazed!!

One of those shown was a teacher who came along to insure that all went well. TBTold, that the first and only time that an adult, parent or student, ever accompanied us.

This memory, and those of our other field trips make me proud, very proud of myself. Make me Happy, very. Why?

Most of these kids had it rough, endured lives that were extremely tough, with near full absence of happy life experiences. They loved those hours, as well as the pizza parlor lunch that we enjoyed when we returned to the South Side of Pittsburgh. They loved the outdoors. They loved finally visiting wetlands, forest, meadow, fen and loved those trails, those mysterious trails.

These 16-year olds and 17-year olds were pleased, very pleased that they had pushed their boundaries, extended their personal space placing them, most for the first time, out of Allegheny County and here in Beaver County.  It was a learning experience, that a ‘County Line’ was not a hard boundary, but an imaginary line, that was imminently crossable.

More pleased than that, throughout those hours on the Wetland Trail and on other park trails, they savored the beauty of wild habitat, unfettered habitat, and we discussed why we needed to nurture it, ’til the time when they could return, with their own children, and again take in the sights, smells, sensations. They’d teach their children of the Park, and the need to keep it just as they found it that day.,

I remember, smile, for I was instrumental in launching new, responsible nature lovers, who to this day, will not abuse the Land, but will love it, and will search it for its wonders and such.

Back to Me and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Success.

Jeff

I Thought, ‘How Beautiful!’

Nerved-Calyx Stachys wildflower, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Ramat Hanadiv, Israel

I’m alone on a trail at Ramat Hanadiv. The end of winter in Israel, Middle Eastern winter. Winter rains and itsy bitsy snow was the ‘deposit.’ Wildflowers everywhere here was the ‘withdrawal.’ 2016 and I’m Blessed to be in Israel once again, March 2016.

Butterflies. My eyes are triggered to see them flying, perched, nectaring, mud puddling, here there and everywhere. These recent years, I’ve sought to be acutely aware of beautiful flowers and extraordinary native botany.

Here’s a bounty of that visual scanning thing. Saw it, liked it, examined it and concluded, Don’t know it but like it. Half way around the world, and it made me think: The Jews saw it here, the Romans saw it here, the Greeks saw it here, the Crusaders saw it here, the Christians saw it here, the British saw it here, the Turks saw it here and the Arabs saw it here. Sobering.

Nerved-Calyx Stachys is found north of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and all the way to the upper Galilee and the Golan Heights. It blooms predictably in March and April. It’s demure and fascinating.

Come in 2017 and we’ll search it out. Serious. You know who you are.

Jeff

Our 2016 Jamestown Butterfly Presentation

Jeff Zablow at Audubon Center & Sanctuary, presenting at First Fridays, June 2016

Did you notice? I lead with the word “Our.” Good reason for that. Our June 3, 2016 presentation at the Jamestown Audubon Center was sheer pleasure. The room was filled, and more chairs had to be gotten, and then some people were left standing! Imagine how pleased I was, as more and more people joined us.

I write “Our” because that was how it felt to me. I cannot remember bringing my images and story to a more intensely committed audience. I felt it in the air, it was an elixir for sure, and trust me in this, I think every one of them picked up the same mojo.

How did we get There? The PowerPoint screen was the best I’ve ever used. Responsive, trouble-free, and, and the images almost made me Gasp! they were so real-time correct, color, background, each image caused me to smile inside, and that was so Good.

Some of the shares were taken at Jamestown’s own reserve (a real destination, that), many at Raccoon Creek State Park, others in Eatonton, Georgia, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, Maryland, and Big Bend Wildlife Management Area in Florida’s Panhandle and a couple in Israel, right up to the top of biblical Mt. Hermon.

Jennifer, Ruth and Barbara Ann arranged this presentation, brown bag lunch and field walk. They even contracted and got a sunny, wonderful day. Jamestown, New York has a fine, active Audubon Center, with an quality staff and legions of volunteers.

I did try to wish for a magic jet to scoot Virginia, Leslie, Cathy, Sylbie, Phil, Laurence, Jim, Stanley, Erica, Patti, Bo, Peggy, Kim, Dave, Curt, Paula, Marci, Traci, Joanne, Melissa, Holly, Karen, Sharon, Lois and all the rest of you to that place that day, but well, rain checks for all. Butterflies that make you smile! Who doesn’t need that?

Jeff

June 3, This June 3rd

Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at the Jamestown Audubon Center in Jamestown, NY.

When we spotted this Baltimore Checkerspot, I froze in place. Can this be real? Now how often does that thought confront you? I’ve learned to not hesitate, when a super-beautiful butterfly appears. No, hesitate not a 1/1,000 of a second. Act. Act quickly, but in that robotic slo-mo described in our Technique feature here.

This Baltimore is a butterfly high on everyone’s List. I hadn’t seen one for years. Not more than 25 feet from the entrance to the Jamestown Audubon  Center, it had chosen to stop (and rest?) on a small cut lawn, within several feet of the Center’s Butterfly Garden. I was introduced to the Jamestown Audubon Center last year, and quickly enjoyed the warmth and friendly greeting from its staff and volunteers. That welcome continued. I have visited other Audubon Centers. Jamestown’s might offer a Workshop = How to sustain an outreaching, friendly Audubon Center.

I was invited to do a Butterfly presentation and field walk at the JAC. Good. Very Good. That June 3rd program will include a PowerPoint presentation, field walk and brownbag lunch. Jamestown, New York is in very western New York state, east of Erie, Pa..

This NYC high school Biology teacher, and later Pittsburgh Public Schools high school Biology teacher comes with a full career of introducing youngsters to the living world around them. Our family photo albums include several photos of me, a child, hunched over, examining living things. I’m in, totally.

Euphydras phaeton (it’s species name) and its hostplant, Turtlehead are certainly not common, but, they lived side-by-side with this nation’s first residents, and they were probably there to greet the new, immigrants who came from abroad, to make this their home. Baltimore are still here, though a wee bit more difficult to find.

Oh, How I wish You could All join us for this program!

Jeff

Indian Pipe Wildflowers Revisited

Indian Pipe Wildflowers photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Photographing butterflies necessitates lots of time in the field. Searching, scouring, and even cajoling those reluctant winged beauties to leave their hiding places, and allow themselves to be photographed. Scores of hours are spent working the same trails. Trails that you know and enable you to anticipate where you will score good butterfly images.

You become familiar with those favorite trails. Your eyes know them. When something ‘different’ appears, those same trained eyes notice it. Spring in Raccoon Creek State Park, in southwestern Pennsylvania brings these ‘What is that!’ wildflowers. I spot them in a nanosecond. All else is browns, evergreen greens and nascent soft greens. Indian pipe is white, white, white. You’re almost tempted to have pity on these tiny little waifs, as in ‘Who or what has done this to you?’

They’re kind of friends of the Spring hiker, and their appearance each year, along wet trail margins, is comforting, reassuring. They force you to remember your old high school Biology: Plants use their chlorophyll to produce food. Find a plant like these, Indian pipes, and know that they must have some alternative method of manufacturing carbohydrates (food). How do they do that? They grow where they have found rotting plant material, and they intake those newly freed materials, converting them to usable food. ‘Nough said?

I smile when I see Indian pipe. They look so delicate, fragile. There they are, out there in the wild, not so delicate or fragile. Independent, earnest and successful. They also get an ‘A’ for causing the casual hiker to delve through sooo much stored in the head Biology.

Jeff