A lyrical, boots-on-the-ground tour of the wild and wonderful Wissahickon, summer edition.
My last column was an introduction, and now we’re picking up here where we left off, nibbling some of spring’s new growth and looking out for baby birds and mammals…
As the seasons turn, we stroll the deeper trails wending & weaving through the hills of the fair Wissahickon. Several side creeks spread out from the main valley, from Cresheim to Monoshone, while a multitude of smaller streams & run offs cut across at intervals, forming spurs & hollows that reach from the ridgelines on either side of the valley.
Veins of crystallized quartz run like fingers through fissures in the igneous & metamorphic rock. Pelitic schist & gneiss glinting with mica flakes sculpt the contours of hills, exposed in places like bones jutting through the corpse of some mythical, leaf-bedecked behemoth lies at our feet, flowing like stoic waves frozen in time. Volcanic intrusions serpentine through swathes of schist: crystallized minerals common to the area, such as amethyst, beryl, feldspar, garnet, magnetite, and tourmaline.
Layered over ages of tectonic plates drifting on oceans of magma, deposits, upheaval & erosion, the landscape describes millennia of creation as far back as the Plestiocene age. Split by roots woven into seams, clothed in moss, lichens & sparse tufts of grass & flowers brightly shining in sun dappled repose, glistening with fresh raindrops of gentle summer showers.
As we stride along the rock & root-knotted trails we find remnants of old quarries as McKinney‘s (behind Alden Park Manor’s pink stone curtains & historic Rittenhouse Town) where the cold, rough grey stone so familiar to we wanderers of the “Wissy” was carved to supply the city with curbstone & decorative building blocks.
A number of striking boulders & small faces beckon rock climbers to test their skills and play. From “Toleration“/Ayers Rock (atop which a Billy Penn look-alike perpetually gazes over the treetops) north of Walnut Lane; to the classic “Livezey Rock” (along the aqueduct just downriver from the steep lane of the same name) with 110 degree overhangs, vertical cracks and faces, with anchors bolted for “top-roping” practice; and a multitude of smaller boulders to be found beside trails high & low (such as the section along Lincoln Drive from the entrance of the valley at the Falls up through Monoshone Creek).
As we venture off-trail to explore the more hidden recesses of the park, now is the time to beware of poison ivy, whose glossy, dark green, large toothed leaflets clustered in threes cover patches of ground and climb trees. The irksome itch (caused by urushiol oil) can be neutralized with a poultice of jewelweed — another common native plant which, ironically, favors the same locals as it’s cranky neighbor (and can sometimes be found growing right alongside!).
Drawing their name from the Algonquin & Narragansett “wuchack” (or “wejack”), solitary groundhogs prefer sunny areas for their complex, multi-roomed burrows with several exits. Emerging from their winter sleep in early spring to forage by day and mating at the outset of March, they may also be found in cemeteries and along railroad tracks.
There’s rainbow & brown trout, red breasted sunfish, and rock & smallmouth bass stocked by the game commission enjoy the cold, flowing waters and sand & gravel bottom they like to lay their 1000’s of eggs in. Feasting on insects, worms, crayfish (“craw-daddies”), small clams, snails, small fish (minnows, sculpin, daters, etc.) & other fish eggs, many spend their time under the protective cover of steep banks and overhanging boughs. Juveniles become adults in 1 – 3 years and most live for 4 – 6 years.
I used to dress my catch by cutting off head, tail & fins, gutting & scaling, then cooking. But I’ve found it much easier to simply wrap in wax paper and bake — the bones will just slide right out. I don’t use aluminum foil because of some research possibly linking aluminum to Alzheimer’s disease (and who knows what other ailments?). In the bush, the fish may be wrapped in leaves (not poison ivy!!) & buried in a pit of coals from the campfire; or even packed in mud and roasted on the open coals.
When the mud is baked hard, simply crack open and the skin falls away, ready to eat! Add some mustard greens, baked garlic, ramps, lemon and stinging nettles and you have a meal worthy of a true philosopher! The “hermit” would approve. Enjoy 😉
Martell Kelpius: naturalist and urban explorer, modern-day outlaw artist and self-proclaimed hobo. Practitioner/trailblazer of arcane occult arts; spiritually inspired by Indigenous traditions and culture. Traveler, journeyman and avid student of Life in General. An unsettlingly unconventional free thinker with experience in a bewildering array of trades. MK enjoys solitude, long distance cycling, used book stores, cemeteries, old urban honky tonks and military history. For fun, he busts chops and quaffs craft IPA’s. Read Martell’s last column here.
PRO TIP: Click the links in this post to learn more and instantly become smarter and more interesting.