Category Archives: Hill Dog Writes

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

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.

May Dawn


Even if not by nature, it’s probably in one’s best interest to be simple minded.

A glance out the window this week as dawn manifested left us transfixed, wondering.

Why do some clouds seem like wisps of smoke in the air, others more like ripples of water barely disturbing a quiescent surface?

What is the name of the color when it’s no longer pink and yet to grow full blue?

Certainly, smart people and Google know the answers to these questions, which, no doubt have to do with time of day, temperature, humidity, angle of the sun, atmospheric density, etc…

Right now, smart people’s numbers are in my phone, Google search is two clicks away.

Definitive answers close at hand, yet, still, it seems more right to sit, and simply wonder.

A time to plant


Unless one walks through the neighborhood asleep, season’s progression is obvious. The changes may be subtle, yet always evident.

As Spring ages, grass richens to a slightly darker shade of green, tree buds, that from a distance seemed tinged orange, eventually shed that husk revealing pale yellow new growth.

Some rusty lilac buds have already burst to purple. Fiddle head ferns have pushed themselves up through warming soil. Violets and trout lilies carpet the forest floor. Dandelions seem determined to overwhelm green meadows with yellow, but, this too shall pass.

Humans, who benefit from paying attention to such things, punctuate seasons by plowing, harrowing, and sowing. Indeed, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity…”

One realizes as they awaken that nature can always be trusted to prompt us to behaviours appropriate to time, circumstance, and season.




Generally speaking, It’s been an unseasonably warm winter, with unusually little snowfall. Even so, the crew at Elk’s hard work has kept the conditions better than you’d imagine. As other eastern resorts from the Mid-Atlantic up into New England have closed due to lack of snow, skiing at Elk this season has been excellent.

A few inches of dry dusty snow accumulated in the neighborhood this week, whitening the scenery, making it look and feel more like a proper winter.

Still a couple inches short of dog snow, more is forecasted for tonite. My canine roommate and I remain hopeful enough will fall for a ski outing on the trails we’ve been tending and hiking in boots since last autumn.

The first run down the Slalom trail on Elk the morning after the snowfall just as dawn broke, floating down through these few inches of snow,  made me forget.

Made me forget to think about turning. I observed as the skis, my self, the snow, and gravity, seemingly operating outside my consciousness, conspired and flowed down the mountain, etching the karma of their collaboration onto the surface of the snow.

The next run, and the next, and the next made me forget that it is cold out. Made me forget that the winter has been warm. Made me forget to take a bathroom break. Made me forget the  weight loaded into my thighs by countless turns. Made me forget that I’m more than middle-aged.

The ground hog forecasted that spring is right around the corner. He’s been wrong before.

Even though late winter may get better than imagined, right now is the best this winter has offered: good wintry weather, music all over The Hill Friday and Saturday, lodging and dining specials for romantical Valentine’s Day Sunday, and President’s Day on Monday.

Yup, it might get even better, but seems most prudent to get out on The Hill this holiday weekend, and enjoy!





First Ride


The first chair lift ride of the morning up Elk Mountain is sometimes nothing less than mystical.

Before the throngs of skiers load the lift, chatting about this or that, there is quiet.

The soft rumble as chairlift chairs glide along the only sound. Birds, squirrels, and other beings are used to this sound, and go about their morning business oblivious to the first few humans that ride the chairlift  up the mountain.

The chairlift affords a great perspective of the mountain and it’s critters as they awaken for the day. Squirrels scurry this way and that, carrying pine cones in their mouths. Crows call to each other, announcing their presence to each other, and maybe, the location of a tasty tidbit for them and their friends to share.

Deer can sometimes be seen traversing the slopes on their way to find breakfast.

Sky casts horizontal light, sometimes pale dawn pink, sometimes gold, across the slopes as sun breaches the horizon described by neighboring Catskills.

Along with the critters, one can sense that the mountain itself awakens.

Elk Mountain is a place where many people, enjoy that wonderful combination of gravity, winter, and physical exertion.

Quiet times on the mountains can provoke a more reflective demeanor. For some of the Native American tribes for whom the ski trails have been named, and for some of us who continue to cherish it’s residents, woods and slopes each morning, Elk is a sacred place.

Flowing Stream


After walking  through tangled woods, the view above reveals.

Water flows across stone, wears it away.

Water tumbles into itself, steams into air.

Soft murmured hush, washes through ears.

Water too dark, water too bright, fills eyes completely.

Nature nurtures our senses.

Beyond self, divine calm, comfort, courses through us all.






Holiday Scene


Some holiday seasons are as Norman Rockwell as they get. Bracing temperatures and plenty of mood snow.

Other years… not so much.

Regardless of prevailing weather or one’s religious or philosophical persuasion, rain or snow outside shouldn’t affect the climate inside one’s heart.

This year is a great opportunity to brighten the holidays by shining extra strong the light that illuminates us all.