Vultures of Culture

‘Mature’ sorority sisters travel around the Pennsylvania region to devour culture and the great outdoors. From Philly's Museum of Art and the rockin' Martin Guitar factory in Nazareth to bike trips in God’s Country up north, we tour and taste, sightsee and sample, learn, lunch and laugh. Just a bunch of old birds? Not us!

Month: June, 2012

Be a Smart Shopper

When the vultures aren’t kayaking or biking or touring or learning, we’re shopping. And we’re good at it. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, home base for our last outing, offers lots of great places to peruse and spend. There’s the decadently priced Lily Pulitzer line at Tickled Pink, home furnishings at Mod Cottage and Bella Luna, and the uniquely tasteful ladieswear at Carlton’s. But if we want a shopping thrill that’s gentler on our wallets, we head to Browseabout Books on Rehoboth Ave. They put out a sign to welcome us each year:

Well, there are other wise people in the store, too, but we like to believe they’re speaking to us. They’ve got all the latest nonfiction and fiction best-sellers as well as a wide assortment of staff picks to meet everyone’s beach reading needs. And like any decent store a few blocks from the beach, this place carries a wealth of toys, games, puzzles–really quality puzzles–cards and gifts. You name it. It’s a browser’s heaven. Once you enter, it’s impossible to leave quickly, especially if you’re a book lover on the prowl for something new, buzzworthy, quirky or time-tested in literature.

The store offers lots of special events, too. We left this charming beach town on Thursday, two days before Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles, a modern re-telling of the Trojan War story that is getting great reviews, was set to appear. In an age of e-books and e-readers, this brick and mortar indy bookstore is a place you want to support and celebrate. Maybe even cherish.

Five Down, Forty-five to Go

The vultures are pursuing a serious goal: kayak in all 50 states before we become too infirm, too confused or too big and creaky to get in and out of the kayak. As of today, we’ve conquered five mid-Atlantic states with 45 more to go.

Our latest adventure took us to the salty waters off Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland. We paddled alongside guides from Coastal Kayak Eco Tours who made sure we didn’t miss a willet, egret, tern or wild pony. Only one wild equine showed up during the paddle. He stood motionless as we approached the shore and then just…….stood there some more. I guess we were hoping for some wild pony giddy-up, but got major pony posing instead.

So we kept paddling. There were light, but stiff breezes on the water this week and for the first paddle of the season, the vultures had a serious two-hour workout. While the wind was behind us,  the waters were calm and the scene picture postcard perfect: vivid blue skies, green marsh and trees, darker green water.

Sometimes we’d have to change direction to enter a small channel,  and then the wind would transform tranquil water into a choppy soup. By the time we paddled back to the launch site, the persistent breeze stiffened the current with plenty of mini-white caps–a definite Horatio Hornblower moment. Had to keep a stiff upper lip because after a seven-month lay-off,  it was a wake-up call. Novice kayakers like us have to always remind ourselves to focus, using the abs instead of our arms to paddle through the rough spots. It was a great challenge yet not overwhelming. In the back of our minds we knew that a bay-side lunch–with an evening chaser of gourmet cupcakes back in Rehoboth Beach–were awaiting.

No eco-tour company can ever guarantee wildlife sightings, but not seeing a pony at Assateague would be a rare trip. Sure we saw one lone guy out in the marsh grass, but all of us were hoping for more. We just never thought we’d see them at the beach-side grove once we landed.  A small band of picnic-crashing ponies came univited to a family luncheon and just hunkered down for the goodies. In a way they were mares after our own hearts. We were hungry too and by early afternoon needed some sustenance. No doubt the sun and sea air made all us creatures a bit peckish.

Just Take the Picture

About 30 minutes after our return from the bike ride, we were scheduled to participate in a nature photography workshop back on campus with Lee Hoar, president of the Grand Canyon Photography Club. We couldn’t have had a more  skilled and encouraging mentor. Lee was patient and cheerful and made all of us believe that digital photography was simple.  “Just take the picture,” he urged.

We began inside with a quick but comprehensive tutorial on photo composition. Divide the image into thirds and try not to place your subject smack in the middle of the frame. Find diagonal lines that lead your eye to the main attraction. Very basic, but an eye-opener for novices like us.

Spotty rain showers curtailed a bit of our walk-about at first, but once they abated we began experimenting. Lee made a huge impact on me.  In the past I always wanted every detail perfect and in place before I clicked.  “Just take the picture,” Lee said.  Sometimes I struggled to find the diagonal line. “Then move around and get a new perspective,” he suggested.  BL (before Lee) I always stowed my camera after two or three shots. Now I know better. “Take your camera everywhere,” he said. And from that moment on I have. There are interesting images everywhere, and we took plenty on that rainy afternoon and a few the next morning before our departure. We’re getting better, but here’s a look at some of the practice we got at Mansfield. I think Lee might give us a thumbs up.

Lee would approve of the spacing between the lamp posts as well as the composition here–at least I think he would. The lamps and trees are slightly to the left of center; the roof of Manser occupies the bottom third of the shot.

Again, I think we’re getting it.  The horizontal lines are in the top and bottom third of the picture while the bright, primary-colored panels are off center. I also like the reflection of Butler Hall in the glass.

 And some rules are made to be broken. Yes, this is in the middle, but Lee said, “Closer, closer” so I’d get the sign  front and center. I like it.

  And that’s culture vulture Wendy. Her camera battery died so she was lucky enough to borrow a camera from Bruce Dart, MU photographer who joined us on our photo trek. You can see Wendy is dealing with a slight case of camera anxiety. But she followed the experts’ advice. She just took the picture.

Vultures 4, Eagles 2

              No alumni weekend retreat at Mansfield University would be complete without the vultures’ annual 17-mile bike ride along the magnificent Pine Creek rails-to-trails path in Tioga County. For three hours, from Ansonia to Blackwell, we’re enveloped in a natural world of soothing green. And if that were not enough, this year we hit the daily double—two bald eagles perched in a tree right along our bike path.

The pair of eagles seemed unperturbed by the fuss below. People pointing, whispering, clicking,  oohing, aahhhing. All in a day’s work as an iconic American symbol.

The Pine Creek Gorge is always full of surprises. Not long after we saddle up  our bikes (and secure our essential front baskets) from Pine Creek Outfitters outside of Wellsboro, we hit the trail and  immerse ourselves in wilderness. During the ride, we coast through cool, shady forests and see everything from blooming wildflowers, deer and rattlesnakes to crazy rattlesnake hunters and Mennonite girls in dresses who look like they’re ready for the Tour de France.

Part of the challenge on each ride is trying to find at least one eagle. Just one. And every year, about five miles from our pick-up point, we get lucky. The gorge widens and the birds perch on trees close to creek banks to scan the water for fish. But what do we know, really. Nobody here has legit Ranger Rick credentials. The point is that they are always on the OTHER side of the creek. Our eyes are scanning the western side of the gorge. No one here is EVER  looking in the branches overhead. Except for the sharp-eyed pedalers in front of us. As we approached we knew they had seen something.  Their necks were arched, hands shielded their eyes, and they were telegraphing the universal sign of “Hey, there’s something up there,” the sky-poking finger. By the time we rolled up, the eagle sighting was confirmed and everyone went on high alert for viewing and picture taking. The trail was buzzing. Except for those two up in the trees. They were ready for their close up and never ruffled a single feather. It was a sight to behold.