Philadelphia

Posted by Ellen

Yesterday, we caught the view from New York City's High Line rails-to-trails boardwalk, a park that winds along the western edge of lower Manhattan, thirty feet up in the sky.

Today's glimpse of a tracks-to-boardwalk project is in Philadelphia, alongside the Schuylkill River, where barge-mounted heavy equipment is currently driving pilings into the riverbed for a boardwalk that will soar out over the water to extend an existing twenty-plus-mile asphalt biking and walking path.

The asphalt path follows an abandoned railroad bed downriver from Valley Forge past Fairmount Park and the Philadelphia Art Museum and on into Center City. But at Locust Street, the trail ends abruptly, crowded off the riverbank by half a dozen railroad lines that are definitely not-yet-abandoned.

The plan is to extend the path southward by snaking it out over the river as a boardwalk with observation platforms and maybe some fishing decks. (Although the Schuylkill is a bit shy of what you'd call a pristine river, there are definitely fish swimming in it, and they are catchable, if not eatable.)

After about half a mile over water, the new boardwalk will pass under the South Street Bridge and then curve back onto dry land for the remainder of its route. It will terminate in southwest Philly at Bartram's Gardens, an eighteenth-century homestead where America's earliest botanists planted the New World's first collection of botanical curiosities.

Planned completion date for the boardwalk is . . . early 2013, or so it is written. Whenever.

Posted by Ellen

The writing high on the wall of the Advance Storage warehouse, as seen through the window of the elevated train in West Philly.

Posted by Ellen

Almost half of all the cocoa beans that come to America–shipped from cocoa farms mostly in Ivory Coast and other West African places–sail up the Delaware River to the Port of Philadelphia and nearby ports. In Philly, the cocoa-bean facility is at Pier 84, where a warehouse about as long as three football fields is dedicated to cocoa handling and storage.

The beans show up here in burlap-type sacks, which have to be manhandled out of the hulls of cargo ships and onto the warehouse pallets. There are cranes and forklifts, of course, but it's still the kind of job for which an awful lot of the hardest work has to be done by hard workers.

Why is Philadelphia the port of entry for so many beans? Because Pennsylvanians make chocolate out of them, at factories all over the state, including a Godiva plant in Reading and a Hershey's operation in some town near Harrisburg with an amusement park. . . .

Posted by Ellen

One variety of redwood tree, the dawn redwood, is deciduous, dropping its needles in the fall. This same variety happens to be the only kind of redwood that will grow in the eastern United States; this example of a dawn redwood appears to be thriving in the Fairmount Park arboretum in Philadelphia.

Dawn redwoods may be the midgets of the redwood family; coast redwoods and giant sequoias in California reach heights greater than 300 feet, while dawn redwoods, though very fast-growing, may not get much taller than 200 feet. Their potential height is not known for certain, however, because the oldest dawn redwoods in America are only about 70 years old now, descended from a single specimen found in China in 1944. In California, coastal redwoods and giant sequoias live for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Dawn redwoods were known to scientists from the fossil record long before the live specimen was found in China; they were assumed to be extinct. Fossilized dawn redwoods dating back to the Eocene, 50 or more million years ago, have been found in many parts of the world, including Greenland and islands in the Arctic Ocean, which had a tropical climate at the time. It is believed that the trees became deciduous in response to the extreme light-dark cycle of their high-latitude habitat; even though winters were not cold, they were very dark, rendering leaves or needles useless.

The young man in the tree, of course, is Hank, who is a college student studying ecology and climate change.

Posted by Ellen

New Years Day morning was cold; I begged off watching the parade and slept in. But just as they have for the past hundred and some years in Philadelphia, the Mummers were out in force–the wenches, the string bands, the fancy brigades, more than 10,000 costumed dancers, clowns, musicians, and etcetera, strutting their way up South Broad Street.

As always, mummery's ethnic awkwardness was on obvious display. The skit by the Venetian New Years Association, "Indian In-Sourcing," was set in a call center labeled "New Delhi" and featured mummers dressed as Indians from the subcontinent, who danced a "Gangnam Style" routine. Then the call center label changed to "New Jersey," with performers dressed as North American Indians, dancing to "Apache." But hey, it's a parade.

Posted by Ellen

He loves his dog, which we were told weighs 72 pounds. And he loves to ride his dog down the sidewalk on Rodman Street. You got a problem with that? 

Posted by Ellen

From the rooftops, here on Kater Street, you can see most of Philadelphia's gap-toothed skyline, such as it is. This is a city that had no tall skyscrapers at all until the late 1980s and does not yet have a critical mass of them, skyline-wise.

From a few fortunate vantage points around town, the buildings of Center City appear to clump together more or less like a proper downtown. But from most places, including the roofs of Kater Street's two-story row houses, the skyline looks raggedy and disorganized.

Actually, from the roof of our own house up toward the end of the block, you can't see the skyline at all on account of the trees–or at least that was the case last week, when we climbed up there and shot this picture. Since then, the leaves have yellowed and dropped quite suddenly, and we would imagine the view is now only partially blocked, by a lacework of tree branches. 

Posted by Ellen

When you get a day in November that's t-shirt warm, it just seems right to get up on the roof. There were drainspouts to clear and trees to trim, debris to sweep up and . . . pictures to take.

Today's rooftop picture features our neighbors Carolyn and Frank; Carolyn works the pole trimmer while Frank hooks a finger in her beltloop to keep her safe.

Looking into the treetops, it became obvious that this year's fall weather has mostly been so mild that the leaves are only just now beginning to behave fallishly. But we trimmed the trees back so far that almost all the remaining leaves will eventually drop on the street or the sidewalk, not on top of the houses.

Posted by Ellen

Looked out of my upstairs window a month or so ago, and there at the edge of the roof across the street was Samantha, a gargoyling sort of cat who'd followed her mistress up a ladder onto the roof and then, of course, refused to climb back down. Cats apparently missed the memo about going down ladders tail-first.

My neighbor eventually tossed Samantha down onto a second-story deck; she landed feet first and none the worse for wear–and by all accounts eager to get back up on the roof again.

Posted by Ellen

Is there some kind of bullseye painted across the rooftops of Philadelphia? We are told that this Hurricane Sandy storm-creature is aiming straight at us and will not rest till it rakes us with its cold, cold eye. 

Until further notice then: to find my house, start from the bridge closest to the lefthand edge of the picture and trace about six blocks along the streets that angle downard and toward the right. Amongst all the rowhouses of the neighborhood, you may be able to make out a larger orange building with a dark roof; that's a church known as Apostolic Square, just a block and a half from our house.

Although both the rivers seen here are technically tidal–at least as far upstream as the dam near the art museum in the parkland above the center of the photo–the city is far inland and is not likely to get much storm surge. And it appears we won't be eligible for any of the snow this time. But school and garbage pickup have already been canceled, and there's rain on the roof.