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Life in the Fast Lane


Rising Waters

Andrew WeidmanSaturday, Facebook wanted me to mark myself "safe" in the Lancaster Flood Event. At first, I blew it off, unconcerned by what I considered a minor situation.

Then the news reports and photos started rolling in, making me sit up and take notice. This was bigger than I had realized, apparently National News worthy big.

rain event

We've been having an unusually wet season this year, the second wettest on record. The wettest season happened in 1972, thanks to a 100-year event hurricane (Agnes, for those familiar with Pennsylvania). We are only now coming into the part of hurricane season that typically affects us.

Ballfield stream

In the past couple months we've received week long periods of rain interrupted by frantic intervals of lawn mowing. Right now my lawn is stretching — and too wet to mow.

Several cornfields on my work commute have standing water that never drains or dries. One field flowed water onto the road for a week and a half, and a softball field has been flowing water all summer, its infield a shallow sea, no Casey at the bat this season. The land is saturated and can take no more, but more keeps coming.

standing water

Flash flood and river flood watches and warnings have become the norm in my area, and we're learning to take them seriously. Before, flooding only happened once in a very great while, thanks to hurricanes and rain driven snow melts. Flood warnings used to be rare, and rarely fulfilled.

That wasn't the case on Friday. The Labor Day weekend forecast promised for hit-or-miss rain showers through Monday. Friday dawned sunny and humid but cool, hardly the scenario for a heat-pumped storm generator.

By the forenoon, the humidity had reached 100 percent, and was falling hard. Doppler radar showed rain blossoming in greens, reds, yellows, and the never before seen (at least by me) pinks and whites.

Parts of Lancaster County, where I work, received 10 inches of rain in a 3 hour period. Cars and trucks were overwhelmed by flash floods in a matter of seconds.

One motorist reported his truck being disabled by 4 feet of water within 30 seconds. Main Streets flowed like rivers in several local towns.

stranded car

As I left work, I knew none of this. All I knew at the time was that the rain was unusually heavy, and that I might need to rethink my way home.

Normally I take back roads from Lancaster to Lebanon. There's far less traffic, and the scenery is far more picturesque than the main avenue, State Route 72.

The catch, of course, is that they cross several small to mid size streams and travel through low areas. The wiser course seemed to lie in taking 72.

flooded roadway

72 passes through Manheim, a small town predating the Revolution by about 50 years. That means Main Street is narrow, too narrow to allow parking on both sides. Main Street also crosses a stream large enough to masquerade as a small river anywhere else.

Traffic through town slowed to a crawl, each light cycle allowing only three or four cars to pass in the driving rain. As I crossed the stream, I saw it had swollen to overflow its banks, flowing 4 or 5 feet below the underside of the bridge.

A second, temporary stream ran down Main Street, leaving only the center crown of the street above water. Had the water ran much higher, travel would have been too risky. As it was, I was traveling uphill, so there was nowhere else to go, any way.

By the time I got home, 45 minutes later than normal, the rain had finally stopped, or I had driven out of it, I'm not sure which. Later, I saw drone footage of Manheim, streets filled with standing water, the stream out of its banks AND across the road, passage impossible, footage typically only seen on National News. You can see it here.

Later, I learned that in addition to flooded roads and stranded motorists, the rain brought washed out bridges and houses shifted off their foundations.

We forget that rain can turn serious, even deadly, and fast. Take severe weather watches and warnings seriously. Load a local weather app onto your smart phone and check the Doppler radar, past and projected.

If you must travel, even for a short distance, avoid low areas and stream crossings. Never cross standing or flowing water — there's no knowing what lies beneath the surface.

Keep alternate routes in mind and reroute as necessary. And keep in touch with someone as you go.

You never know when Facebook will ask you to mark yourself "safe." These things don't always happen "somewhere else."


Photos property of Andrew Weidman.

Alien Invaders

Andrew WeidmanI have seen the enemy, and it is — a bug. Well, a plant hopper, really, a big one. It's the Spotted Lanternfly, and it's pretty well entrenched in Southeast Pennsylvania by now. They were first reported in 2014, in Berks County, not very far from my home. The best guess is they hitchhiked into the country as eggs on a skid of landscaping stone.

sign

The PA Dept. of Ag is doing its best to stop them, enforcing a quarantine area of two or three townships in Berks County. Today, the quarantine covers 13 counties in Pennsylvania, including Lebanon county, and they've been reported in New York (a dead adult), Delaware (a live adult), and Virginia (multiple live adults and eggs). I've been told the Virginia sighting is just off Interstate 81, in Virginia's fruit and wine country.

adults

Father's Day weekend, I got to see the little beasties live and in the flesh. "Little" is a relative term, here; the adults are about an inch long and just under a half inch wide, with a wingspan of just under two inches, pretty impressive for a plant hopper. They're pretty distinctive, too, decked out in red, white, black and grey wings.

The ones I saw that Saturday, however, were a good bit smaller. They were little jet black nymphs adorned with stark white polka dots, and could have sat comfortably on a pencil's eraser. By now, they've most likely added bright carmine red to their color scheme.

nymph on trunk

They're lively little buggers, too, scuttling quickly up and down the tree trunks and even rocks. They must be camera shy, as I couldn't get close enough with my macro lens for a good shot. I think my breathing must have been the issue, because they didn't seem to mind pictures taken with my cell phone.

As tiny as they were, they could jump surprisingly well, reaching at least two feet of travel. At least, that was our best guess. A tiny little bug tends to be hard to track when it takes a flying leap.

One of the places we visited was the site of a research experiment to test control measures. Apparently, the nymphs migrate up and down tree trunks daily, and can be captured on sticky traps. This site had several different trees outfitted with different sticky trap materials, from duct tape and fly tape to commercial whitefly traps and tanglefoot traps. Judging by the bare duct tape, and tanglefoot paper covered in thousands (yes, you read that right!) of nymphs, commercial traps seem to be the way to go. Too bad there were still lots of free nymphs crawling up and down the trunks.

yellow trap

I've been following the news on Spotted Lanternflies, and they have the potential to create a nearly Biblical plague. They feed on just about any plant, sucking sap from walnut and apple trees to grapes, eggplants and even horseradish. The only constant seems to be that they apparently need to feed on Tree-of-Heaven at least once in order to breed. They tend to feed in swarms numbering in the thousands,, and produce so much honeydew that fungal disease outbreaks soon follow.

nymph on leaf

They also hitchhike like a boss. Remember how they got here? The adults don't fly very well, but they do hang on like nobody's business, clinging to cars, trucks, cargo, boats... you get the idea. More to the point, the females lay their egg masses on anything, and I mean anything. They seem to prefer rusty metal, rough wood, and concrete, but they aren't awfully picky. Each egg case holds a few hundred eggs. In other words, it's a self contained invasion force roughly the size of a big postage stamp

If you live on the Eastern Seaboard, keep an eye out for these alien invaders. If you see one, catch it, photograph it and kill it. Call the PA Dept. of Ag at (717) 772-5205 and ask for Dana Rhodes, even if you're not in PA. Inspect your car, truck and trailer for hitchhikers, and don't transport firewood long distances.

They're headed your way, but maybe we can stop them before it's too late.


Photos property of Andrew Weidman.

The Spring Push

Andrew WeidmanI hurt today. My hands ache, my fingers stiff and swollen, rings tight, refusing to be removed.

Judging by how my arms feel, someone stole my biceps, replacing them with lead bars. While they were at it, I think they slipped some coil springs under my shoulder blades, drawing them tighter than a drum head.

Maybe that explains the string of Christmas lights strung along my belt line, threatening to blaze whenever I stoop to tie my shoelaces – or sneeze. And did I mention sunburn? No? Yeah, that, too.

backyard

It's been a heavy three weeks, but that's nothing new for this time of year. Spring weather is in full swing, sun and rain pumping energy into every green growing thing in sight, and plenty more out of sight. You can almost see the grass growing, and you can definitely watch thunderheads stacking up on sultry afternoons. When you see that, you know if you don't get the lawn mown before they break loose, you're probably going to need to rent a hay-bine by the time the grass dries out.

fig corner

As warm as it is, and it's been plenty warm enough, summer's heat hasn't gotten here yet. It won't be long in coming, and that's where all my aches and pains come from. Jessie and I have been driving hard to get the yard into shape for the summer.

We've been busy cutting new flowerbed edges and re-cutting old ones, pulling weeds before they can explode into jungle (we hope), and hustling compost and mulch over everything that doesn't see a lawn mower, all in an effort to minimize the amount of necessary maintenance through July and High August into September's cool-down into fall.

cold frame

Believe it or not, it does work. Sure, a few (okay, more than a few) weeds get away from us and do their level best to take over the borders, but for the most part, we can spot and pull them on an individual basis through the summer.

Well, except for the poke berry and crown vetch. And Scotch thistle. They need an attack plan and a shovel, and sometimes gloves. Although I have been known to pull Scotch thistle barehanded on occasion... No sense, no feeling, they say.

thistle

Still, after five loads of plant bedding compost from the Landfill's green waste operation, and a third of a load of mulch from the Township's operation, we were finally finished mulching the borders, all the flowerbeds, and the new burning bush "hedge." The Landfill material is superior in every way, but the Township's is free to residents — and I misjudged how much we'd need to finish, an oversight we didn't discover until after closing time at the Landfill. Yes, I should have listened to Jessie, I admit it — in writing, no less.

Then there was the old cold frame we removed, the two fig trees we planted where the cold frame had been, the espalier pear trees we pruned, the tomato trellis we installed, — It's no wonder we hurt.

isaak rocks

And I got off light. Jessie did the lion's share of the work, digging, weeding, cutting, hauling, and mulching every day of those three weeks that it didn't rain, and a few when it did. She always had help, from me, from the boys, from her mom; but every day she was the constant.

I'd join as soon as I got home from work, sure, but she'd already put in an easy six to eight hours by that point. And we'd keep going, together.

rain guard

We hurt today. But that's okay. We're done for the spring. Nothing quite compares to the feeling of accomplishment, the pride in surveying a freshly tailored yard, the joy of knowing the weekly yard work can now be done in an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Bring on the backyard fire get-togethers and lazy afternoons on the swing, iced teas and ciders.

espalier

But first, bring on the ibuprofen and ice packs. And ignore those weeds in the back bed. For now.


Photos property of Andrew Weidman.

Birds of a Feather

Andrew WeidmanLast week I promised a gallery of bird pictures. True to my word, I dug through my photo stacks, looking for some birds to share. Before long, the search parameter shifted from "Can I find enough to share?" To "Which ones fit together?"

It's not that I think I have a lot of great pictures to share; there's just so darn many of them! Most aren't worth mentioning — blurry, out-of-focus, bad lighting, subject caught half out of the frame or mid pit stop. It's the curse of the spaghetti method: lots and lots of photos to wade through.

Even removing the poor shots that I just can't bring myself to delete left me with hundreds of mediocre to okay photos to dig through, looking for a few gems worth your time. I selected eight to start with; I'll share more soon.

baltimore oriole

A theme would probably be a good place to start, and in the future I foresee themes of waterfowl, raptors, warblers and sparrows. Today's gallery follows the theme of "There Is No Theme." I just liked each photo for itself. So here goes nothing:

I think every budding birder falls in love with Northern Cardinals. They're just about everywhere, and they really pop, especially the males.

cardinal

And who doesn't love acrobatic little Black Cap Chickadees, bouncing from branch to branch and flitting in and out of feeders?

chickadee

Early spring wouldn't be the same without Red Winged Blackbirds calling from the marshes as they guard their nests and quarrel amongst themselves.

blackbird

Then there are the woodpeckers, like this Red Bellied, more often heard than seen. They do seem to prefer the other side of the trunk, high in the tree tops.

red bellied woodpecker

This American Goldfinch enjoyed a game of hide-and-seek with me, keeping plenty of leaves between himself and the camera lens before settling down for a snack of buds.

goldfinch

Killdeer have the oddest, yet most effective camouflage I've ever seen (or tried to see), boldly marked, but still vanishing in plain sight. How do they do it?

killdeer

Oddly enough, there were a few birds who seemed to like posing for the camera, like the Baltimore Oriole at the top of the post, or this tree swallow. Go figure.

tree swallow

If I've misidentified any birds, I apologize. I'm still new to birding, with a lot to learn. Feel free to correct any errors. Have you spotted or photographed anything new and exciting lately? I'll even take new and/or exciting.

What do you want to see next? Ducks, raptors, warblers or waders?


Photos property of Andrew Weidman.

The Accidental Birder

Andrew WeidmanI cant say I set out to be a birder; I fell into it by accident. For all I know, that's what every birder says.

That lead in makes birding sound like something shameful. It's not, and that's not what I meant. Bear with me.

flying birds

Nature and biology have always fascinated me. As a kid I spent my summers in the woods or the marsh, ducking farm chores, net in hand, mud to my knees if not higher.

In high school, aquaria and terraria dominated my bedroom, seashell and insect collections lining the walls. My goal on graduation was to "Save the Bay," before life got in the way and changed everything.

sunflower

Years later, I discovered a used book store with an impressive selection of Peterson and Audubon field guides. Talk about kryptonite! Something about the smell and feel of an old book in my hand takes hold of my soul, refusing to let go.

Need proof?I bought the "Peterson Guide to Western Bird Nests." I live in Pennsylvania.

bird nest guide

The final factor, the camel straw if you will, the one that pushed me fully into birding, was photography. In a plan to improve my meager photography skills, last January I resolved to take at least five pictures each week. I still practice the "spaghetti method" of photography — throw everything against the wall; something's bound to stick.

It turns out that not only are birds a lot more fun to photograph than flowers or old buildings, but it's also incredibly easy to burn through a lot more than five pictures over a chickadee or a heron. That being said, I have gotten a few nice plant shots: interesting tree roots, seed pod encased in ice, even a mushroom or two.

tree roots

So when do you know you're a birder? I doubt it involves dropping big money on new binoculars; at least, I haven't done that. Then again, I did drop big money (at least to me) on a 100-400 "monster" zoom lens.

Is it when you carry your camera bag everywhere? Check.

Or maybe when you drive half an hour out of your way home after work, on the off chance of spotting a new duck? Check.

Maybe it's when you start scanning the utility lines for raptors, or farm ponds for herons as you drive. Check. Facebook feed taken over with bird photos? Check (They're far better than partisan political memes by a long shot!).

When you not only know what a "lifer" is, you start using it in conversation. Check (It's a new bird you've never seen before, one you add to your "life list," in case you were wondering).

camera

I think I knew there was no going back the day I nearly dropped the camera (thank God for neck straps!) when an oriole dropped into the water for a quick bath 15 feet in front of me.

Or maybe that mass takeoff of snow geese, wings rumbling like a storm front.

Then there was the tern that surprised me with the mid-range lens mid dive. I did get a shot, by the way.

Let's not forget the osprey eating lunch, or the kestrel looking for lunch, or... Yeah, I've got it bad.

blue bird

Next week I'll put up a gallery of photos for you. There's more on my Facebook profile, too. Have a few of your own to share? I'd love to see them! In the meantime, if you get the chance to watch it, "The Big Year," starring Jack Black and Steve Martin, is a great birder movie.

Until next time!


Photos property of Andrew Weidman.

Making Little Trees

Andrew WeidmanA row of little trees has taken up residence in my backyard. There they stand, lined up in their pots, tucked in between the deck and the cellar entrance. Twenty-three of them to be exact: twenty apples and three pears, all freshly grafted this past March.

little tree

Grafting is not an exact science with guaranteed results. At last glance, it appears that one graft has failed, and two others look questionable. That's not half bad, actually, when you do the math.

Most grafters gun for 95 percent success, and feel happy with 90 percent. If those two questionable grafts fail, I'm looking at 87 percent that's awfully close to 90 percent. If they surprise me and grow, that rate jumps to the coveted 95 percent.

little tree

Surprises are pretty common, too. One of the pears pushed buds much too early, within the first week after grafting, long before the graft had a chance to knit the scion and rootstock together.

Of course the buds stalled and began drying out, a sure sign of a failed graft. Somehow, they both started growing again, a week ago. All I can say is these things want to live.

little tree

Even if some of the grafts should fail, the rootstocks typically survive and throw shoots of their own. In fact, that's why there's such an odd number of trees. I had three pear stocks from failed grafts held over from last year.

I don't know why, but I usually have low success with pear grafts, even though pears are supposed to be easy to graft. This year, that doesn't seen to apply; it appears that all three grafts are taking.

little tree

Most of those trees aren't even for me. I only need one tree, to fill a hole in my four-tree mini-orchard. This fall, I'll need to choose between an apple and three Asian pears to fill it in, assuming they all take. That's a "problem" I'm glad to have!

That leaves 19 trees. If they're not for me, then what are they for, you ask? Ten of them are for the Backyard Fruit Growers, to be sold at a local Herb Faire, hosted by Landis Valley Museum. Each year, I graft ten trees to donate to our Speakers' Fund.

This year I grafted five Paradise Sweet apples, and five Westfield-Seek-No-Further apples. I love that name, Westfield-Seek-No-further. One of the Westfields is the failed graft, but the rootstock is breaking bud, so at least it will survive.

little tree

The other nine are part of a rescue effort, to preserve the remaining three ancient trees of a centenarian orchard in Berkshire County PA. They are three each of Winesap, Jonathan, and a Red Delicious 'unlike any you'll find in the store,' according to the owner.

I know, grafting isn't something just everybody does. That's okay; we all have some hobby or skill that is different from the norm. Do you graft? Spin or weave? Breed unusual animals? Wildcraft? I'd love to hear about it!


Photos property of Andrew Weidman.

Time Slips Away

Andrew WeidmanWhere has the time gone? I recently realized I've been neglecting Life in the Fast Lane.

I knew it had been a while; I just didn't expect to find I hadn't posted since January 20th 2017. An entire year has passed, plus change.

Sure, I could make excuses: Life got in the way. Deadlines needed to be met. Work demanded more attention. And they were all true — to a point.

notebook

Then there were the rabbit holes and procrastinating. I've been spending more time outside with my camera, photographing birds and other wildlife. I also made two fairly major trips last year, to Monticello in Virginia in May, and to the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania in August.

One trip was in celebration of 22 years of the best decision I ever made, asking Jessie to marry me. The other was for my middle son's 19th birthday, hiking State Parks and photographing a solar eclipse, or at least as much of the eclipse as we could reach (about 60 percent occlusion).

Monticello

Which brings me to procrastination. Just those two trips alone should have provided more than enough material for several blog posts; but the words wouldn't come. How could I describe a glimpse of a black bear in the rear view mirror as Jessie and I drove the Skyline Drive? Or a night at Cherry Spring Park, neck straining and jaw slack from the spectacle of millions of sparkling diamonds spilling across an endless cushion of black velvet sky? My inner critic assured me there was no way I could put these moments into words anyone would want to read.

waterfall

There were more mundane moments, too, like painting the master bedroom to surprise Jessie when she returned home from three weeks singing for the Little Sisters of the Poor in Ireland and Scotland, a job we'd been putting off for 15 years at least. Or the back — and heart — breaking job of deciding which three gooseberries would stay when I tore out "Gooseberry Row," a thorny, tangled scrub of 14 varieties.

Would anyone really care about backyard barbecues? Were countless photos of herons, geese, eagles and ducks worth sharing on Life in the Fast Lane? Was there anything noteworthy of a late, slow and dismal Fall devoid of color? Maybe, but I was too self-conscious to try sharing.

porch

That needs to change. Now. I promise to start sharing more of this so-called Life in the Fast Lane. If you like what you read, drop me a line asking for more. Even better, share my posts with friends. And if you don't, if you find my ramblings unimportant, please drop me a note telling me why. I write for myself, it's true. But more importantly, I write for you. If stories are written, never to be read, then what are they, but ugly black scratches defiling a perfectly good sheet of paper.

Tell me: Do you want to know where the time went?