Category Archives: Hill Dog Writes

The Hill Dog Writes is a collection of writings by The Hill Dog.

Common Periwinkle

Even more so than usual, any gaze cast on the neighborhood illuminates beauty.

Far across the valley, buds, impatient to leaf, nearly glow white, yellow, gold, rust, and every shade of green.

Light green conifer tips shed brown husks that had jacketed them since late Autumn.

Now pollen clouds puff from limbs like powder, like snow did this Winter when wind first picked up ending a snowfalls calm.

Nearby flowerbeds promise Peonies, explode with Periwinkle, begging the question “to where is venomous Myrtle running?”.

In between near and far, Lilacs range every purple shade of which they are capable.



Saw this fellow feeding on some still green tinged grass, exposed by recent warm weather.

Odd thing, this patch of snow was near the top of Elk Mountain! Last year, a muskrat spent several weeks wintering just a few feet from where this porcupine was spotted.

Though sickness could have brought him out amongst people in the daylight, it is not unusual to see many different critters high on The Hill.

Sick or not, we gave this guy a wide berth as he enjoyed some rare late December sun rays, filling his belly with a taste of summer.

South Knob Hallstead Hill


The road leading out of Elkdale follows the Tunkhannock creek along the valley floor before beginning its climb on Lyon Street toward Elk Mountain.

As it is not part of any convenient route from from the outside world to The Hill, this side of the neighborhood, one of the most picturesque, is often unseen by visitors to the area. 

Growing up near Clifford, this was the path brother and his friends drove to go skiing. Most times, even if reluctantly, I’d be allowed to go up on the mountain with the ‘big kids’.

At that time, countless blissful days were spent skiing in blue jeans that, if new enough, would scuff out a patch of blue dye on the snow when gravity got the best of you.

Even though young, our legs would ache after a full day of adventure and exploration skiing with friends on the mountain’s cold, snowy slopes.

Near dark, we’d careen home along this ‘back way’ to the mountain. With “Mountain” rock and roll blaring too loud, from the back seat I’d watch through tired eyes as brother’s little convertible nearly skimmed off the deep walls of snow cut by the snowplow through impossibly deep snowpacks.

To home, home at last.

We’d peel off our soggy blue jeans, and be allowed to wear our long johns to the dinner table.  

The warmth and comfort of a big steaming bowl of pasta served up by Mother would conspire with the fatigue of our growing bodies, causing our eyelids to droop as we barely made it from the table to under the covers, tired, joyful, contented.





Soon after dawn, these girls, along with about a half dozen of their friends sidled along the far side of the stone fence.

At first, it was uncertain if they meant to bed down along the wall hoping to somehow pass the day safe and unnoticed, or were making themselves inconspicuous on their way to someplace else.

Several minutes, and several doe passed, turned, and  branching off of the cross-country ski trail, headed into thicker cover.

Before the last one disappeared, their young buck, seeing all was safe, emerged from the mist at the edge of the clearing.

His spikes at first, shown white and raw only recently having had the velvet scraped off, then faded, almost ghostly, as he disappeared back into the grey of morning.

Dwarf grey sugar pea blossom


Just recently have the pea seeds, planted on a whim late this summer, grown up to the point that they’ve begun to blossom.

Delicate flowers appeared just around the time average weekly temperatures moderated from the nineties to the mid eighties.

This small but downward temperature shift faces us toward summer’s end, autumn’s start.

A race now: what will come first fruit or frost?


What goes up…


Just as “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”, it’s said that “you can lead a cow up stairs, but it’s afraid to walk down stairs, and so, never will”. I know of one neighbor who often keeps new calves in her dining room the first few days of their lives without mishap, but no steps or ups and downs are involved there.

“A crane or tractor, and sometimes, a bullet.” was the grim response when I asked how the situation was resolved if some prankster actually succeeded in leading a cow up a flight of stairs. So, it’s probably best that the anecdote not be tested.

Passing by the huddle of girls above reminded me of this peculiarity of the bovine mind. For many minutes, the cows remained frozen along the bank. The calves, who blindly followed their elders, found themselves stranded half way up the slope when standing room ran out at the top.

One could almost imagine their thoughts:

“I know we must have gotten up here somehow because we are up here now. I think we were eating a nice patch of grass when all of a sudden we were up here, but I just can’t remember right now….”

“If only, oh, if only, if just one of us could figure out how to get down, we could all figure it out, and we’d be saved !”

I’m not sure whether it was memory, intelligence, or perhaps the fluttering of a nearby butterfly that drew one of the girl’s attention to another nearby patch of green along the top of the bank that spread out to the meadow below.

Whether by intelligence, or observation, one brave bossy stepped toward that grass patch that gently led down the slope. The herd followed and was saved from being stranded forever on the dirt bank.

Oh Happy Day!




Jerusalem artichoke


These  Jerusalem artichokes, also called sunroot, sunchoke, earth apple or topinambour, appear every Summer about now.  Though the mercury continues to toy with 90F, siting these blooms cools me right off.

Bright yellow seems to mark the zenith of the Summer. From here on out, there will be more yellow flowers, then goldenrods, then oak, butternut, and aspen leaves will admit to the onset of Autumn.

Though continuing to enjoy these Dog Days while keeping an eye out for Sirius and the Pleides, mind continues to drift to Winter.

Now, walking outside one almost feels the hot moisture in the air pressing on one’s chest. All it takes is a short walk past the refrigerator, opening the freezer door, and a deep inhalation to remind us of how Winter feels.

In a few more months, a big breath out the open back door will afford the same sensation.


Party On The Patio at Stone Bridge


Sailor’s delight – looks like perfect weather for the Rail-Trails 25th Anniversary celebration Saturday the 25th!

Crimson Tears played last night on the Stone Bridge Patio – world class musicians that have been prominent in the neighborhood in one lineup or another for decades.

These guys are no typical cover band – they take liberties with classic rock favorites, and sound like the original band playing creative variations of their work.

It’s easy to get so caught up with their musicianship one could ignore their surroundings….

And then, a glance over the shoulder reveals a particularly dramatic sunset.

The night stayed warm and comfortable till well after sunset. Agreeable conversation with friends and family, laughter and stories from ski seasons past mingled with soft chords and clear vocals into one melody floating through the East Branch Valley.

Temperatures will nudge 90 for the next couple of days under cloudless skies. Makes one want to cherish and taste the beauty of each and every day, knowing that each sunset comes a little earlier, brings us one day closer to skiing….


Rail Trail Council of NEPA 25th Anniversary Celebration


 Art on the Trail/25th Anniversary Celebration

Saturday June 25, 10AM-4PM/4PM-6PM

Union Dale, PA

Join the celebration! The Rail-Trail Council of NEPA will be celebrating its 25th anniversary with a day full of activities including “Art on the Trail” on June 25. The day starts with a celebration of local art and crafts, from 10am – 4pm. Visitors will have the opportunity to admire and purchase the work of locals artists, which will be showcased in three historic buildings, Cable’s Store, Robert Stark’s Susquehanna Studio and Mill, and the Masonic Lodge.

In addition to the art/craft exhibits, special trail events taking place include:

  • 11am: A guided walk back in time with Pat Peltz and Lynn Conrad to learn about the history of Union Dale
  • 1pm: Children’s (and adult) nature photography class along the D&H Rail-Trail with Sherry Sparks (bring a camera)
  • 2pm: “Let’s Get Wet” – an exploration of what lives in the water near the D&H Rail-Trail with watershed specialist Cheryl Nolan (please rsvp)
  • Take a trail ride on the “party bike”. This six-person bike will be available all day
  • 4-6pm: A celebration with live music, food, and drink, held behind Susquehanna Studio.

A list of artist and crafters include: Mark Chuck, Sherry Sparks, Basket Weavers Charlie and Ginny Ahearn, Earl Lehman, Lucille Norella, June Lambertson, Russ Klapatch, Judith Marsh, Eli Marsh, Tom Noone, Basket Weaver Patty O’Hara, Greg Pelly, Rebecca Townsend, Charles Welles, Elizabeth Stark, Robert Stark, Ed Parkinson, Mary Ann Corey, Orson’s Best Greenhouse and garden goat milk products and gifts, Burks Maple Syrup, Eva’s Play Pups will have dog activities, meet “Bernadette” a Husky/Border Collie mix.

From 4-6 join Rail-Trail Council for our 25th Anniversary Celebration with live music, food and drink! Please RSVP if you plan to attend the Anniversary Celebration.

There will also be a raffle with a chance to win a beautiful handmade quilt donated by Rail-Trail Council Member Linda Leber as well as many other beautiful items made and donated by the artists. Tickets are $1 and the winner will be drawn at 5pm the day of the celebration.

Activities take place close to the Union Dale Trailhead. All are free and open to children and playful adults!

For more detailed information call the Rail-Trail office (570-679-9300)

Or visit our website

Memories From The Trail

“Sure, of course we’ll be there – looking forward to it!”, I lied, and hung up the phone.

Nancy Ross had called and asked that my wife and I, who at the time were avid mountain bikers, meet with other riders and outdoorsy types from the community to help pick up trash on one of the abandoned railroad beds that ran through the neighborhood. Our job would be to consolidate the debris in a central location. Nancy had made arrangements with someone who had a big truck who would haul the stuff away.

The crew that we regularly rode with used the railbeds to quickly access trails that were some distance from home while still avoiding pavement. “It’s like getting on the highway without the cars.” one of us remarked. We would get on the railroad bed, and with only a 3 percent grade up or down, put the bike in the big gear and crank hard and fast until we reached our destination.

No doubt I would rather be riding then picking up trash, but Nancy is hard to say no to. Our riding group had been using the railbed surreptitiously for some time; might not be a bad idea to take care of it a bit. So, when the day for the first cleanup arrived, rainy, dreary, and cold, a handful of us met at the agreed upon spot, and began consolidating debris.

Black bags of garbage, tires, major appliances, toilets, bed springs – the full spectrum of stuff that folks throw out was represented. It was obvious that some items had been resting on the rail bed for decades. “Gee Nancy,” I thought to myself “picking up other people’s trash in the rain is a lot like fun… only different.”

Some folks whose land was adjacent to the trail became indignant towards our meddling: that was their trash, they had dumped it conveniently on the railbed for years, mostly out of sight of their property. The nerve of some people to mess with their trash! We suffered some glares, and returned cheery smiles as we continued our chore.

At some point during the day, Nancy mentioned that there was a national organization called Rail-Trails whose charge was to transform abandoned railroad beds to linear parks. Two abandoned railbeds ran right through the heart of our neighborhood. If our community demonstrated enough continuous support, we may be able to found a local Rail-Trails chapter. I knew we had the railbeds; I was uncertain if our community had the resolve to care for them.

The efforts of a dozen or so of us on that Saturday morning tidied a few hundred feet of railbed that went on for miles and miles. The sheer scale of the project that that Saturday morning implied was daunting. Though I kept the thought to myself, I figured I might attend another cleanup or two before riding would trump trash picking. After all, we could still ride the railbed even if it was littered with debris.

From visiting family in Vermont, Nancy had become acquainted with a functioning Rail-Trail. She had seen how the trail had enriched the community, providing a nice place to walk, run, ride or ski. Some folks could even use the trail to commute rather than using their auto.

Despite my secret uncertainty, things went well. Over the next couple of years, more cleanup days were scheduled. On those days, we met and picked up trash instead of riding. Other folks joined us, rain or shine. Trash and debris were removed from the trail. Our group started to meet indoors. Out of the rain. Sometimes at local restaurants – with food. We discussed our progress, uncertainty turned into plans. Finally NEPA Rail-Trails chapter was formed!

As the group gained momentum, it gained attention, and more people joined, some from quite far away: other riders, hikers, snowmobilers, equestrians, nature lovers, professional people, retired folks, school kids. People contributed money, labor, or time as they could.

Over the next quarter century, grants were applied for. Eventually enough funding became available so that portions of the railbed were re-graded and resurfaced where there had been washouts. Existing bridges, dangerous and terrifying to ride across, were improved and made safer. Gates were installed. Trailheads established. Dignitaries arrived at opening trailhead dedications; ribbons were cut, foot races organized and run.

I still visit the trail regularly. The seasonal events presented by the NEPA Rail-Trail organization afford opportunities to reconnect with neighbors and meet new like-minded friends. Cleanups are still necessaray as the trail is maintained and expanded. Though riding and hiking are always an option, the programs provided by the NEPA Rail-Trail council has expanded my enjoyment of the trail, and understanding of the local environment. A leisurely ride from Forest City to Union Dale while enjoying lunch along the way is a favorite way to enjoy a Summer afternoon.

Snowshoeing and yoga might seem like an unusual combination, and it is. Identifiying trees and other flora and fauna indigenous to our neighborhood seems very natural, and is very fulfilling for adults, and really fun for children. Enjoying art, much of which whose inspiration came from the trail and environs, is particularly stimulating when one can at once see a beautiful scene, and an artist’s interperation of the same view.

Whether the programs are unusual or seemingly typical, they are presented with professionalism, care, and a deep desire to share the beauty of the trail with others. Currently, Lyn Conrad and Deb McNamara are perhaps the most visible faces of the organization at most events. However, they are the first to defer credit for the trail’s success to the efforts of countless volunteers, event participants, sponsors, and community leaders.

Maybe picking up trash in the rain is character building; maybe not, yet it’s hard to say why those early years, when we actually spent more time re-claiming the trail then using it, evoke such fond memories. Maybe it was the camaradarie of joining together with neighbors in what seemed at the time, an insurmountable task. Or, seeing a beautiful green corridor emerge from under tons of trash and debris. Or maybe seeing first hand how a small group on a rainy Saturday grew into a community of caring individuals whose efforts have created a place for so many to experience, in so many ways, the joy of nature.