I'll go with thee to the lane's end... I am a kind of burr, I shall stick. Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

I write not to teach but to learn. Rebecca West

drew's writing:

  • "Always Forever Now," Ideomancer volume 13, issue 2
  • "Black Sun," Black Static # 32
  • "Bread or Cake" and "Pride/Shame,"2nd Annual Philadelphia One-Minute Play Festival
  • "Copper Heart," Polluto Magazine issue 5, A Steampunk Orange
  • "The Accomplished Birder's Guide to Overcoming Rejection," Last Drink Bird Head, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
  • "Another Night With the Henriksens," Player's Theater Halloween One-Act Festival NYC 2008
  • "Hating the Lovers," and "Pipe Down!" Geez Magazine: Thirty Sermons You Would Never Hear in Church
  • "Beth/slash/Nathan," Paper Fruit Blogiversary Contest

Thursday, March 03, 2011

our sixth hike 2011: Tinicum, thorns, muskrats, I-95, and hattifatteners


So I said we'd be scouting for paw-paws and Brandywine blue gneiss this week, but instead of heading west into Wyeth country, we went south into Tinicum Marsh. We had planned to see the friends who gave us THE BOOK (of fifty Philly-area hikes we are sworn to complete before 2012), and when their plans changed, so did ours. They opted for a day of home improvement over Longwood Gardens, so we met them in West Philly, and stayed closer to home ourselves.

Tinicum has a giant circular trail that would be very hard to get lost on, so I brought my compass to practice using it. It's also home to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, which despite being a close neighbor to I-95--


--is a good place to see wildlife. Wild turkeys browsed behind the education center, a great blue heron stepped through the marsh, I think I saw an eagle, and we were excited to see muskrat lodges:


which the initiated may use to foretell the length and severity of a winter. Muskrats, otters, minks, bats, bobcats--the now-rarer mammals of this area seem as exotic and marvelous as unicorns to me--a sentiment my ancestors and some living people would probably find ludicrous. But how many changes can something--say, a geographic region--undergo before it's no longer the thing it was?

(Like the old joke about the man who has Sir Walter Raleigh's ax, though it's had six new handles and five new blades since the original owner.)

We watched the great blue heron for a while as it stepped so deliberately through the grasses, holding its beak precisely level. And though deer ought to be banal, the sunlight on the ones who bounded over the path before us made them golden--electric--strange. Red-winged blackbirds chattered in a tree; we watched for the flash of red on the males when they moved, and our patience was rewarded by a pair of downy woodpeckers. The female woodpecker left the tree and began tap-tap-tapping on reeds. I think I saw a red bellied woodpecker too.

We also saw some creatures I don't think are native to this area, hattifatteners:


Right, so those are native tree plantings, but--seeing these ghostly shapes lurching toward the water took me back to my childhood reading of Tove Jannson's Tales from Moominvalley, in which the mute, staring hattifatteners migrate to a secret island to worship a barometer and commune with lightning. The force and originality of Jannson's imagery is embossed so deeply on my imagination that decades after reading her book, in another life, in a freshwater tidal marsh with a boyfriend a compass and a camera, I can be pulled into a state of wonder at the profound weirdness of hattifatteners.

(I've been reading the post-Tolkein existential fantasist Micheal Moorcock, to understand his mystique and the draw he has for many readers, and writers like Neil Gaimen and Michael Chabon--but as I photographed the blue sheaths of the native tree plantings at Tinicum I realized:

Tove Jannson is my Michael Moorcock!)

Inscrutable, herdbound, driven, and dull, hattifatteners are the Scientologists of the Moominvalley.

Tinicum is a well-used park. All sorts of people were walking with all sorts of dogs--from pit bulls to small things who look uncomfortable outside of a purse. (We heard two kids playing on a heap of dirt, and laughed when one said I'm destroying more of your territory than you're destroying of mine). The Cusano Environmental Education Center has a museum that's just the right size, with information on native species, invasives, how Indians used the marsh, and the history of the refuge. The Education Center is also a showcase of sustainable and recycled materials; I've visited over several years and it's useful to see how they've held up and what the staff thinks of them.

At the end of our hike we noticed a sign for honey locusts, a native tree we tried to find at Ridley Creek, but were baffled by our guidebook. The photo at the top of this post is new red thorns of a Tinicum honey locust.

We are excited to have learned another tree.

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