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

Viceroy Butterfly at Woody Pond

Viceroy Butterfly on Sumac (Woody Pond) photographed by Jeff Zablow at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, GA

The trail skirted along the edge of Woody Pond. Laura was right, Harris National Wildlife Refuge was rich, rich in wildlife. It’s on the coast of Georgia, and those 6 days there in August 2018 delivered, big time. It’s a national destination for birders, anxious to see hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of wood storks nesting in vast rookeries there. Egrets, rails, anhingas, warblers, it’s dreamland for birders.

This image was taken in the 3-foot strip of vegetation that separates the trail I was on from the pond. That’s all well and good. What you need to know then, is that Woody Pond, just 3-feet away, is the home of maybe 100 alligators: 10-foot and 12-foot and 14-foot gators.

Looking at this gorgeous Viceroy butterfly nectaring on Sumac blooms that opened the day before was an unexpected treat. Ellen Honeycutt, for the Georgia Native Plant Society had just shared on Facebook of the high value of native Sumacs, and here I was watching a shmeksy butterfly! It was a Viceroy nectaring on day old Sumac blooms.

Know I was a bit cautious (Well very cautious) leaning into the Sumac-Viceroy OMG! moment. Why? Because that planted me less than 3 feet from Very, Very Big alligators, something that the mean streets of Brooklyn never prepped me for, Truth Be Told. Proof? You want proof? Well, that was the day after the News Media of the Southeast reported the death by Alligator of a woman in Hilton Head, South Carolina. She was apparently walking her little dog on leash at the edge of an upscale development pond, and the ‘gator charged them, and dragged the woman in, to her death.

Photographing Viceroys with blue spots at the very edge of Woody Pond on a native Sumac tree.

Jeff

Meadow Fritillary? Huh?

Meadow Fritillary Butterfly at Rector, PA

Just today, a FB friend posted an image of a Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly, ID’ing it as a Meadow Fritillary. That reminded me of how fortunate I have been to have seen several Meadow Frits in these many years in the field.

Here’s a male Meadow Fritillary that I met in the reserve of the Powdermill Wildlife Refuge in Rector, Pennsylvania (the Laurel Highlands in central Penna). There was a summer once when I was there almost every morning, ’til a hostile Director told me to not ever come back. Powdermill habitat is rich in wildlife, e.g. that’s where I met my first Eastern Timber Rattlesnake . . .

Meadow Frits are small, fly with dainty grace, just inches above the ground. They appear fragile, with that tiny head, and have those oddly arched wings.

You can understand why folks who encounter them go, ‘Huh?’ Despite Glassberg’s shared “East LC-C” my extensive experience is they are not common and never locally common. Moist meadows and grassy field disappear by the day ( a developer’s dream, no trees to remove ), so you see a Meadow Fritillary, and you have every reason to be pleased . . . “Jackpot.”

Jeff