Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Letter 2008

Dearest Family and Friends,

We hope and pray our family update finds you well and happy. We are posting our Christmas letter this year to cover those we may have missed through snail mail. You probably will learn more about us than you ever wanted. Merry Christmas!

Brad’s mom passed in July and we are missing her so much. She was such a large and positive part of our lives. Her home was such a focus for our local family; it will be difficult to maintain as close a connection. Dealing with the house and property has kept us fairly pushed together. Now that those things are winding down the challenges will begin. Fortunately we are committed to try.

Chelsea has settled in Ohio. She has a good job with Best Buys and busies herself with her fiancé Kris and his daughter Shannon. Shannon visits them throughout the week. She is in Kindergarten and enjoys many activities like dance, tee ball, swimming and soccer. Chelsea recently headed up a food and clothing drive at Best Buys. She was featured in the Long Hauler Magazine for her outstanding community service!

Janette graduated cum laude from Lehigh University in the spring with a degree in finance. She has secured a job with Ernst and Young at their office at 5 Times Square, NYC. She started in October and we moved her into the city mid September with brother Bill and families help. It was Quite an experience for us all. She has a beautiful, albeit small, apartment in the heart of the city. She is right at the northwest corner of Central Park. It is Perfect for her as she loves to run, skate and bike. Hopefully she won't miss the country too much. She is a stone’s throw from Broadway and Uncle Bill is just across the river as is her cousin Poppy if she has trouble. She spent may weekends in the city while in college and has embraced city life with her usual passion. The second day in the city she had an interview as an extra in a movie, by the third she had secured work in a small boutique. Just something to get her buy till real work starts. No moss grows under this kid's feet. We are, as ever, so proud of her.

Orion is also out in Ohio. He is working hard at McDonald's in the maintenance department and enjoys trouble shooting and repairing the various mechanical issues that arise. He enjoys his friends, playing his music and writing graphic novels. He maintains his own apartment and car. Has no desire at this time for school or traditional education. He is his own man with the world at his feet and he loves it. Certainly he is doing much better than his Dad was at that age.
Danae is in her glory. She is all we have left at home and she loves it. She has always wanted to be an only Child. This year, her dream has come true. A senior in high school she will get plenty of Mom and Dad time as we do the college visit ritual. Ever the scholar and artist she will strive to balance her social life, education, and extracurricular music. She will do each one to perfection and settle for nothing less. Her activities will keep the Binder house from any possible hint of boredom. MJ and I will love and savor every minute of it. It is so Danae.
MJ's health and wellness business is going great guns. She has been top volume in the nation for about three months now. She so enjoys helping people look and feel better. She excels at the business end of it also. She loves to work the angles and make the most money she can for herself and more especially for those under her. We make several trips a year around the country to help her distributors build their business. brad loves having time with her in the car traveling from place to place. She works with good people and we have made many special friends.
Brad continues to work for the school system. He has moved mainly into the video/satellite distance learning and conferencing end of it. That has limited the amount of travel that he does. It is a very satisfying position and he tries to make the most of it. It is Always a challenge to keep up with the technology but he loves it.

We love having our Mom Irons next door! We try to have several meals with her throughout the week. She is healthy and doing great! She stays active with her church, Republican Women, and loves her Friday night fish fry outings with her friends.

We enjoy our CMA church. We enjoy being puppets from time to time. We lead a small group and Danae provides child care. We enjoy hiking and biking…and being with family. You can keep current with all our latest outings at
Brad and MJ belong to a couples Bridge club and MJ enjoys two other ladies clubs. Some evenings Brad, MJ, Janette and Orion get online and play bridge. Janette and Orion usually dominate!

We Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and Blessed New Year.

Love and Prayers,

Brad, Mary Janette, and Danae

Monday, September 8, 2008

Artesian Wells and Black Gold

Like General Douglas MacArthur we have returned. And like Doug we too have brought reinforcements. Daughter Danae and Wife MJ have joined us. Our rousing tales of a veritable Blackberry Valhalla peaked their interest. They packed their berry buckets and were ready to hit the trail. Always appreciative of the company, we eagerly accepted their help.

Our plan was to mount a two phase attack. Our full force would drive deep into the heart of the wilderness. Once firmly entrenched behind enemy lines, MJ and Danae would attack the berry patches with full force. While these two veritable picking machines devastated the harvest, Janette and myself would push on to the well. After our goal was achieved and success assured, we will return and help pack out the spoils of war.

We headed off down the trail through the old orchard we had encountered on the first trip. The apples now sporting a hint of red were still more sour than sweet. We pocketed a few handfuls for later on the way.

In the clearings between the trees small patches of berry bushes beckoned. Their berries were surprisingly large considering what little rain we had been having. The girls were eager to get picking. Janette and I were equally eager to find them a staging area in a large patch so we could proceed with our phase of the mission. In true Binder fashion we reached a compromise. We continued on picking the largest berries as we went. Janette and I lent a hand (usually two) and while progress was not as quick as I would have liked we were able to continued at a somewhat regular pace.

Finally we reached an old clear cut area. The berry bushes had taken over every square foot of usable ground. I had attached a five gallon bucket to my pack frame, we placed it a bit down the trail from where they were picking, and we headed off to find the well.

It was obvious as we headed down the trail that every animal in the woods was taking advantage of the berries. Each pile of scat on the trail contained predominately blackberry seeds and all were stricken with diarrhea. I guess at some level it is worth the pain. As we passed a particularly thick patch of berry bushes we were somewhat startled by the flush of a large bird. Janette momentarily had a flash back to her grouse experience but it quickly passed. I could tell by the sound it was no grouse. The bushes were too thick to get a good look but the feathers he left behind confirmed it was a turkey.

By this time we were on new ground. Bob from work had informed me that we had not gone quite far enough. There were a few more minor details he neglected to mention but rather than embarrass him let’s just say we were happy to know we were now on the right track.

The trail crossed the entrance to a long valley. A dug road ran steeply up the side. At the far end was a cement culvert. I wonder if this marked the stream we were looking for. There was a fair bit of water in it for this time of year. We could see small trout darting under the banks as we approached. It is doubtful this creek ever dries up. We decided to follow it up the valley. As we headed into the woods we noticed that the stream meandered back and forth across the hollow. At that point the road seemed an easier way to follow.

The road was steep and out from under the protection of the foliage. The sun was high now and it was very hot. The temperature ranged into the mid 90’s which made the climb even more difficult. Watching the stream from the hillside we figured we had a ways to go being the flow had not diminished. I noted in a field just ahead of us a large pipe extending about four feet out of the ground. It was close to eight inches in diameter and seemed to be riddled with bullet holes. As we approached it was clear that the holes had been drilled. At the base of the pipe the holes had rusted through and tennis ball sized orifices were formed. From here the water gushed fourth... we had found our well.

The volume was quite impressive all the holes 8 inches up the pipe were flowing. The water was very cold and quite inviting. We refilled our depleted water bottles and drank them greedily almost to the point of cramps.

After we filled our belly's we decided to take the temperature of the water. The temperature was low enough that it was hard for Janette to hold the thermometer in the water long enough for a good reading. The lowest we register was about 45ºF. It was quite refreshing after our arduous hike in. We sat for a while and just enjoyed the sight of the well. Something about flowing water that just can mesmerize you.

A text message from MJ brought us back to earth. Their battle was won. The berries were in full retreat and it was time for us to pick them up and bring this mission to a close. We bounded up the trail refreshed by the frigid waters and quickly met up with the rest of the party. We shared the water we had brought and headed for the parking area.

The trail out was a lot steeper than we counted on. The trip in is very deceptive, the slope out is much greater than it seems coming in. Add to the fact that we had exhausted our selves hiking and picking. I shoulder my pack frame. The attached 5 gallon bucket was more than half full. The adventure car was a welcome sight at the top of the trail. Although it is always bittersweet to end an adventure.

Back home we quickly cleaned and processed about 12 quarts of berries. Not a bad for a few hour’s work especially if you figure in the number we ate. Daughter Janette pulled some jam recipes off the internet. Black berry jam is especially good on our homemade wheat bread. I like to mix the frozen berries with a little milk, simply decadent. MJ mixes them in her cereal or oatmeal, but for Danae it is all about the muffins.

Epilogue: Old Faithful it is not, but by far the coolest thing we have done to date. It is amazing what is in your own back yard. Thank to good folks like Bob, willing share their local info, we were able to successfully complete this adventure. For our next trip, we are looking at an area marked on our topo map as Devil’s Den. Bob has already been a fount of information on this site.

On a sad note Janette is moving to NYC. This will be an adventure in itself. We are going to work hard to carry on that spirit of adventure she has inspired in us. I’m sure when she comes to visit she will be ready to join us on whatever adventure we are doing. Who knows? We may join her for an adventure.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Spring up Oh well!

Our many thanks to my co-worker Robert (Bob) Bailey who clued us in to this adventure. He is truly an adventurer at heart. He spends many hours around the break room and water fountain regaling the masses with his own tales of daring do. He is an avid outdoorsman with all the trophies to prove it. He mentioned to me the existence of an artesian well in our area. His claims of volumes of ice cold water spewing from a pipe in the earth peaked my interest. He gave preliminary instruction on reaching the area. I knew of the area he mentioned but I had rarely visited it and had never explored much beyond the parking area.

On the third of August, Janette and I set off late in the afternoon to search for the illusive well. The parking area we started from was a stone’s throw from the Prospect radio tower. This is a well known landmark as it can be seen for miles perched atop one of the highest hills in the area. The State Game lands parking area is famous with hormonal teens and locals who consider drinking beer and listening to Coyotes howl a sport. A dug road just off the lot leads into the valley on the west side of the mountain. It runs clear to skinner creek road and is closed to motorized traffic.

The road was well maintained and had seen heavy equipment recently. Some of the heavy brush on the edge of the road had been cleared (mowed actually). The area looked to be an overgrown orchard more than forest; the apples were plentiful but still green and bitter. The road descended through a small stand of hemlocks and into more a forest proper. Lots of black cherry and in the clearings between the trees were thickets of berry bushes. Red raspberries were just finishing up; the few that were left were very sweet. The black berries were just beginning to come on and the bushes were loaded with unripe fruit. We enjoyed a few as we searched for our stream.

Our information was that our stream would come in from our left as we traveled down the road it would cross to the right and continue down the valley. The sides of the road were majorly overgrown which could make it difficult to find this stream. I figured that the stream would have to be fairly good size if it was to live up to my friends tales. We continued on our way marveling at the fauna as we went. We came across a tree with clusters of unripe berries. We were clueless as to the identification, as well as a tree that looked to be similar to a horse chestnut only smaller. I would have liked to have a field book handy to aid with the ID.

As we continued I did notice a small stream to our left as predicted. It looked way too small to be fed by the legendary well. We continued downstream to try and confirm that this was indeed the waterway we were seeking. It crossed under the road to the right and then back to the left. The culverts construction betrayed some serious water flow. The amount of water was consistent and sparse, we found it hard to believe the well was indeed the source.

We had traveled almost a mile since it had first crossed the road. The stream was deep in the valley and we decided it had to be what we were looking for. We convinced ourselves that the low levels were due to the dry conditions. With little rain in many weeks the water table had dropped to a point that threatened the existence of the stream. We headed back up the trail determined to find the source and our well.

We buoyed our spirits with several handfuls of berries from the sides of the trail. We noticed that within a few weeks the blackberries would be in full fruit. It is definitely worth a picking adventure with MJ and Danae. We could tell by the droppings in the roadway that the bears were taking good advantage of the crop already. One pile was a bit disconcerting being that it consisted entirely of long black hair. This bear had killed and eaten either a cub or a possibly a large dog. There were no noticeable bone fragments so it was probably a larger animal (i.e. not a squirrel). I have heard that male bears will not tolerate other males of any age in their territory. A possible answers albeit not one I am not anxious to solve.

We arrived at the spot where we first noticed the stream. We left the trail and continued to follow through the woods. To our surprise the stream did not head up the hill but crossed back to the opposite side of the road. We had not seen it due to the thick underbrush on the side of the trail. And more likely we were preoccupied with wildflowers and berries rather than with looking for the stream.

We were hot and tired. The trail is deceptively steep and the hike out was more than we anticipated. With no artisan spring water to slake our thirst we decided to call it a day. We vowed to return armed with more information and our berry buckets.

Lots of Coyote dropping and bear poop. Probably best not to tell MJ and Danae about this when we invite them on the next trip in. We discussed purchasing a spray can of mace. I hear in grizzly country they call it “hiker seasoning”.
I like eating green(unripe) apples as I am more a fan of sour than sweet. My method too avoid a sore tummy consists of masticating the fruit to extract all the flavor then, expelling the pulp. It's not pretty but it works.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Coryville Swamp – The rest of the story!

Janette and I got a fairly early start, for us anyway. Loaded our bikes on the back of the Honda and headed into adventure. The morning mist was just starting to burn off as we arrived at the Coryville Railroad crossing. Janette used her mom’s bike, originally she intended to use a sturdier model but mechanical difficulties prevented her. I had just outfitted the adventure bike with a GPS, pedometer and machete so I was anxious to see how it handled.

The first section of the trip went well. We felt as if we were making better time on the bike than with the Honda. The deer flies were terrible. We had applied copious amounts of repellent prior to our start. This kept the beasties from biting, but not from dive bombing our heads. Quite irritating but much preferred over being bit. Once again we encountered bunnies in droves. For some reason they seemed more intolerant of the bikes than of the car. A lot of the foliage was in bloom, most of which I was not familiar with.

After crossing the first bridge things definitely got more interesting. The cinders that made up the road bed were larger and more pronounce than on the first section. They tended to slip out from under your tires giving a very unstable feel to the ride. We seemed to get much reduced traction and it made the bike difficult to control. My bike seemed to negotiate the rocks a bit better than Janette’s possibly due to the slightly wider tires. I found that the faster I went the easier it was to negotiate the rocks although it took a bit to disregard the unstable feel of the ride. Janette's method was to partially dismount and to kick the bike along like a scooter. This terrain lasted to the second bridge.

I rode directly across the bridge which; for me, was a bit unsettling. Janette opted to walk, by far the better idea. The bridge is very stable but just the nature of the event makes it a bit weird. Play the video and see for yourself.

The remainder of the trip was much easier. Thankfully the roadbed was much more solid and we finished the journey in good time. Not a lot to see on the far end. To the south are farm fields and to the north back water and swamp. A few trails lead into the bush, but I imagine they lead to oil and gas leases as we saw on our first trip. Maybe that will be an adventure for another day. A lot of night shade growing along this section of the trail. It was just loaded with ripe berries. I was surprised at the lack of birds. I would expect them to be feasting all through there. A ways down the trail we ran into a friend from town walking her very large and thankfully, well behaved black lab. They were quite cordial but we did not stop to chat.

A large gate blocked entrance to the far end of the trail as it spilled out on to the farms valley road, equipment shed next to it belied the idea that the road was well maintained due to the oil leases on the property. Janette and I rode south meeting up with the east valley road and returned to Coryville.

It was a pleasant ride back. The hills for the most part were merciful and we made great time. There were some unexpectedly beautiful homes on that section of road which made trip back even more enjoyable. The rough road in the swamp did cause me to hammer the seat all the way down on the bike frame. Too tired to mess with it, I finished the trip with an uncomfortable pedal stroke.
While crossing the bridge at potato creek about 100 yards from the car I heard a pop and my tire went flat. Finished the trip on foot but at least I finished.

Epilogue: Total trip was 8 miles. Distance to the first bridge was half a mile. Distance to the trestle was one mile. The distance through the swamp was just about two and a half miles. I used a GPS and a pedometer on the bike. They seem to work fairly well especially after you turn them on. Across the farmers valley road from the gate is a sign post marked "rail trail". I imagine this leads into Smethport following the same railbed. Maybe we will check it out someday.
In retrospect I would like to spend more time on the far side of the trail. Possibly another adventure, definitely during hunting season.