Palindrome by Camac

Occasional pieces written on a range of subjects for the musings of those onboard the R-8 going to and from Chestnut Hill and town.

May 11, 2007

A Reasonable Lament as the Invasion of the Leaf Blowers Begins Again!

leaf blower Chestnut Hillers, my fellow R-8ers, are mildly berserk with the use of so many leaf-blowing machines. It is starting all over again, beginning months and months, six months at least, of madness with those infernal machines. What is the matter with a broom and a rake? What would make more people return to the quieter, less polluting and greener side of life in Chestnut Hill? Why are people so frenzied and pompous about carbon footprints and global warming but then so willing to add to these problems locally and blow out all their own logic with the noise, pollution and the inconsiderate obnoxiousness of leaf blowing machines?

Leaf blowers are annoyingly loud, (and by decibels, illegal;) they are smelly and are entirely unnecessary, especially the ones they drag around on two wheels! One property, I have been told about, has three men blasting pine needles and leaves to kingdom come from under the shrubs. It takes three hours of NASCAR noise in the neighborhood to achieve a look under their bushes that Hal would like.

Hal, an old schoolmate, liked to line his socks up in his drawer as though he had just bought them; pairs, folded, aligned, the bulge for the heel always up and in the back, wedged in vertically and going from left to right according to color in three rows, fore and aft. Some people are like Hal when it comes to arranging their pine needles and leaves; and then all that tidiness is undone when the wind blows more leaves and needles about.

With Pennsylvania enacting higher standards for auto emissions, leaf-blowing people are undercutting that environmental goal with their highly polluting two-stroke leaf blowing machines. They are also, as an aside, driving their neighbors nuts; does that make any sense ethically, environmentally or neighborly? Why are people so crazy?

So, what is the matter with using a broom and a rake, especially one of those Amish brooms, made of free range Lancaster corn straw? And using those nicely balanced, lightweight spring steel rakes? They are fuel-efficient, quiet, and have the feel of a fine wood handled tool, too. They really do not take any more time. And why not live in harmony with a stray leaf or two and spend less time battling the wilderness beauty of our Wissahickon Watershed?

With my ear plugs in………

May 3, 2007

Mrs. Peterkin

Mrs. Peterkin Remember the children’s story from the book “The Peterkin Papers” of the daft and bumbling Mrs. Peterkin who put salt in her coffee and did not know what to do to get rid of the taste? She called on the chemist who added many other chemicals to her coffee; she consulted the herb lady who added herbs to the coffee; she added things that others suggested but to no avail. It still had a bad taste. She then consulted the lady from Philadelphia, who was known to be very wise, who listened attentively and then said, “Why don’t you make a fresh cup of coffee?”

We need the advice of the wise lady from Philadelphia right here in Philadelphia for many of the municipal issues that seem to be holding us back. Work rules, patronage, provincialism, charter restrictions, residency requirements, “paying twice and doing it once,” and outdated practices are restricting innovation, modernization, progress and preventing us from getting fair value for our taxes.

We have tied our departments, agencies and leaders up with so many conflicting and encumbering rules, work rules, schedules, and limitations of what and who can and cannot do what to whom, that administrating the city, much less each department is more difficult than necessary and certainly adds inefficiency throughout. This does not have to be this way any longer. If the ship workers at the old Navy Yard, who had been working under the very model of outdated and inefficient work rules, can become efficient by learning progressive new global ship manufacturing methods, surely the rest of our city can do the same for similar benefits.

The wise lady from Philadelphia would suggest rejecting the rules that are preventing everyone from doing his job and get on with doing it effectively and efficiently. That would require a shift in the culture of how civil service jobs, elected jobs, appointed jobs and union jobs are done. I am recalling, as one example, employees of a certain city department whose workers would regularly leave work at noon on Fridays in the spring and summer because they said they had to see their children play softball! Now, there is a department that could benefit from a fresh cup of coffee.

April 26, 2007

Great and Good Things Down the Line in Town

DiBrunos; here is a company that moved up and out but still retains their home base, too, on Ninth Street. So, here in our town we can buy all the delicious cheese, meats, olive oils and much more that the last generation of Philadelphians had to leave town to find or, of course, head south to Italian Market.

mural Mural Arts Program; can you imagine if every city program became this acclaimed? From an altruistic idea to redirect the skills of vandals with spray cans to help make large-scale murals painted by themselves with and under the guidance of established artists. This is a big success story.

Schuylkill River Path; it is now, or will be very soon, attractive to commute by bicycle from Chestnut Hill all the way into Pine Street because of the path improvements along the Wissahickon Creek and especially the path from Boathouse Row to Pine Street. This long gestated pathway is a great benefit and may encourage other such bicycle commuter paths.

Washington Independence Mall; The best Independence Mall probably would have been no Mall at all, to leave all the buildings that were torn down to make the first mall that we grew up with. The big empty, never-attractive-to-be-in Mall was an idealist’s bland view of how to honor the great principle of declaring independence. But independence, as an ideal has never needed grand gestures to show it off. Independence is a bit like ones spirit, ones faith, ones belief in integrity. No monument is necessary; it just is. The newer version of the Mall is less adoring, more modest and avoids some of the false adulation of the 1950’s design.

Lights of Liberty Show; how many years had we heard Philadelphians lament that we did not have a Sound and Light Show like so many other historically important cities in Europe? We have one now that is highly acclaimed and quite innovative.

Cira building CIRA building; goodness it is nice to break away! That Tooth, Molar, Icicle or Stalagmite, or whatever you like to call it is great for the city. Now, I know that those architects have done bolder and even more wonderful designs for other cities but for Philadelphia to move forward in that direction is a therapeutically beneficial step to release the muted soul of our city. This restraint on our city used to be blamed on the Quaker influence. Now, the vigor of the population seems to be dampened down by elected people who don’t travel very much and who are not so well educated. Interesting change in who is now dragging anchor.

“Penn Connects” Master Plan for Penn, this plan will affect 40 acres of Penn’s new and existing property is “the most exciting development for the University since Penn moved to West Philadelphia” from downtown. The University must pinch itself to be bold and to avoid the acceptance of what seems easy to do. This is a 30-50 year plan. A guiding light is the bold, adventurousness of the CIRA building next door to these new Post Office Lands.

Drexel’s resurgence from near death; remember when they were suggesting that Penn take over Drexel, it was in such a limp state? And remember Drexel’s insane love for and mindless design of buildings with that exceedingly ugly brick? Well, Drexel has become reborn and is truly vigorous and has become, again, another great institution for our city. Another example of so-so leadership replaced by superb and brilliant and vibrant leadership. What a comeback!

Temple’s awakening that students ought to come to college educated and prepared to go to college; always seemed a bit obvious to me but nevertheless they have finally seen the light and the light is good and the light is bright. And they are under new leadership, too. Looking up over there, as well.

Reading Terminal Market Reading Terminal Market continues to get better and better. An example of a new leader willing to take risks, willing to try new and different things and a leader who has traveled and is knowledgeable. May we have many more such leaders in town.

Penn’s subway entrance at 37th & Spruce, is a fine piece of whimsy. It is built like an old trolley car at the entry stairway to the subway/surface cars below. Our city needs more whimsy, more delightful humor, more color, more confidence that these things with a sense of delight are good to do.

City Hall Splendor of the cleaned up City Hall, the building, of course, not the government! My father and I argued whether Frank Rizzo, the mayor and the police chief, had been the savior of Philadelphia or not; we did agree on one very good thing he did and that was to introduce swan to the Schuylkill River. Now, there is a legacy for a mayor. I can agree with anyone in the same give and take conversation about our present mayor that the one undisputedly good thing he has done is to continue cleaning our City Hall Palace, that Rendell started cleaning. Philadelphia’s palace, filled, as all palaces are, with intrigue, with hangers-on, yes-men, no-men, maybe-men, limp bodies, people who stare, people who wander for days looking for rooms they will never find and countless drones of all species. But what a magnificently grand building for our humble little city. And now it is almost all clean.

Poetic Splendors…the night lighting of Strawberry Bridge! There is an appropriately designed lighting scheme that seems not to have received the acclaim it deserves. Just enough, not too much, sophisticated color selection; a brilliant and elegant and magic moment when it is on and reflecting on the water.

Atwater Kent Museum The Atwater Kent Museum on 7th Street, the History of Philadelphia Museum. Under a new director, new board, new thrills, new exhibition schedule, new speakers program, new professionalism; another great step forward.

The redone SEPTA concourse at Suburban Station; this used to be a place to wander around forever looking for any destination. Couldn’t find anything! Now it makes sense, and it was thoughtfully designed, and retains much of its original marble, bronzes, lighting. Well done! Now, on to the Broad Street Concourse, please. And we cannot wait to see the new entry to the station from the Comcast Building.

Landscaping at Lemon Hill, how brilliant to be able to once again see the elegance of that old house on the hill and to make that sympathetic link between it and PMA. Too bad the Orangerie is not still there, too.

And there are so many good things that I will leave a few teasers for the next list:

Mount Pleasant house and landscape restoration,
Cook and Book,
Fringe Festival,
Bicycle Racing,
Rowing Regattas on the Schuylkill River,
New Ummph from the Committee of Seventy,
Bartram’s Gardens,
Springtime restoration on the sculpture in the Park
And many more……………

April 9, 2007


Birding I have never been so good in conversations at the office about professional sports. Though, interjecting a few, “how about those….whomever we are talking about” seems to go along fine for a while; carries on the ruse that I am interested. Conversations with bird lovers are similar. I try to do my best.

Though, lately, watching the varieties and behavior of birds, has become more interesting, and yet, in spite of having an eye and an ear that can split innuendoes like splitting the schistosity of mica, accurate bird identification still eludes me.

But I have found a method to discuss birds with considerable “cred” at the water cooler.

The ABIDG system, “Any Bird IDentification Graph,“ rhymes with “cabbage,” that I have discovered, helps a lot. Select one word from each column from left to right, up or down, or skip a column and you still have a credible bird name. You will impress people by identifying birds with such authority.

AmericanRockWorm EatingLark
EasternSageBreast ImplantedFinch
WesternCommonLong BilledThrush
PrairieSummerBrazilian WaxedCreeper

Well, there will always be a few know-it-alls who might challenge you but, since no one has ever said to me, “you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about” regarding professional sports, anyone using the ABIDG system can become the almost unchallenged life of a bird party. So, seen any new birds lately?

March 29, 2007

Sparkling Chestnut Hill

Wissahickon Schist Bermuda is known for its pink sand beaches; Hawaii is famous for the black sand beaches and Chestnut Hill has soil sparkling with mica flecks from Wissahickon Schist.

My old textbook, “Principles of Physical Geology” by Arthur Holmes, discusses white mica or muscovite, which is the predominate mica here. The geologist bickers in the book about whether mica exhibits “foliation” or “schistosity.” Shistosity is one of those good words to drop on an unsuspecting seatmate riding to town. “Foliation” may be misunderstood as a dermatologic procedure. Holmes goes on to say, “mica-schists are formed when contact metamorphism is accompanied by flow movements at or near the contacts of an actively rising granite intrusion.” We should leave Holmes right there.

But it is the sparkle that gives Chestnut Hill this character. It is a delight to see this glistening soil on any walk in the Wissahickon. Our dog brings it in the house; I do, too, I guess and as the suns rays sweep around to the west, the specks of mica glisten. Cresheim Creek has rivulets of silver sparkles as do all the ravines that drain into the Wissahickon. Digging in the garden leaves my hands and arms speckled with flecks of mica.

Stamp-sized flakes of mica are also, all over Chestnut Hill. I have collected a bowl full of them, mostly from holes I dig in the garden. One football-sized rock in a dry stonewall has books of mica shining like mirrors at a hundred different angles imbedded in the stone.

This schist form pokes out, like a familiar friend, every now and then, even as one moves into the coastal lowland geology of downtown Philadelphia as the train comes to town. The magnificent piece that “The Cowboy” by Remington is mounted on just north of the Great Schist Tunnel on East River Drive. There is the outcrop on the west side of the tracks near Drexel as you make the last eastward turn into 30th Street Station. And the old cider mill, cut into the schist ledge on the Schuylkill River at Bartram’s Garden. But it is in Chestnut Hill, where the mica is sparkling everywhere in the soil.

Wissahickon Schist

March 19, 2007

A Beginning

This page on the new St. Martin’s Station web site will have occasional pieces written on a range of subjects for the musings of those onboard the R-8 going to and from Chestnut Hill and town. This group of riders, if asked what books they read, would list titles from A-Z. Several of the travelers are writing books and have also published many books, too, that may be mentioned as we go along with this web project.

Saint Martins Station My grandfather, who lived at 104 West Mermaid Lane, where I spend many months living while my father was exploring the Antarctica with the Navy, rode the train into the Pennsylvania Railroad Company from the St. Martin’s Station. So I find it amusing and ironic to be, two generations later, associated with his same train station.

Now, in the interest of being contemporary, we must begin responsibly with a non-discrimination statement like proper institutions do. So:

The St. Martin’s Station web editor, on his own and without any authority, implied or written, thought or imagined, does not, will not and most definitely should not discriminate in these writings against motorists, bus riders, walkers, bicycle commuters, non-commuters, home office types including home school students, retirees, pets, people who ride other R’s, city dwellers, out-of-towners, suburbanites, anyone who does not subscribe to the Chestnut Hill Local and non-19118 zippers. Any such discrimination will be cause for re-education, sensitivity and re-construction classes in the basement of the St. Martin’s Station. However, as with all non-discrimination statements, it is, by the amazing flexibility of English usage of implied meanings of this fatuous statement, that anyone not included in our list above, is fair game for all manner of jokes and chicanery.

Tickets, please!