Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In Memory of Lew

Back in November of 2005, I was interviewed for and accepted a part-time job at a retail store called The Sportsman’s Warehouse. This was a new store for my area and I didn’t really know what to expect. A few days after the interview, I met most of the other people that I would be working with at a meeting. One of those people that I met that night was Lew. Lew was to be the manager of the department that I was hired to work in, he was one of a large number of outstanding people I was to work with during the time that the store was open for business. Unlike the rest of us, he spent about 10 days at another store in the company for his manager training so he had just a rough idea of how things worked. He just told us to relax, things would work out.

Later that week, I showed up at the store set, this is where all of the product available for sale at the store is delivered and set up for display and eventual sale to the buying public. It was an “all hands on deck” sort of thing and it was nuts. There were managers from other stores there helping out and giving each department a guiding hand, then before they left, they tried to make sure that we had an idea of the products that we had for sale. Through this, Lew was there working hard and trying to get as much knowledge as the rest of us. Before we knew what happened, the store was open for business and we were on our own. Lew, being the natural leader that he was, reassured us that we would make it, we just needed time to find our footing. I must admit that the first few weeks were crazy for us: Lew, Steve, Frank, Harry and I. We had just a small bit of the knowledge needed to really sell what we had there. Some product research was done along with a good bit of studying of the catalogs that we had available. We all worked together comparing notes and soon enough we were able to become a team that worked relatively well together.

Through all of that, Lew was there. Lew turned into more than a manager though, he became a leader and a friend. He was always ready with a joke or a story. After his long years in retail, he knew too many tricks and tips to keep us moving on the road to where we needed to be. He knew how to make you relax and show the customer how to trust you, which is something that is very important, especially if you want repeat customers.

Fast forward to September 2006: I had just returned from a few days in the forests of Elk County, PA, and was full of stories about seeing the wild elk herd, roaming the mountains and just plain good times. Lew showed some interest and I gave him all of the information that I could. A few weeks later, he made a short trip to the same area and told me about the trail and mountain overlook that he found. During my subsequent trips to Elk County, I would regularly visit these areas to add to my experience and to remember a friend.

Skip ahead again, this time to mid-March, 2007. When I worked with Lew that weekend, he told me about his recent hike at McConnell’s Mill State Park, just an hour or so north of the store. When Lew would get into his story telling mood, he could hold his audience captive on just about every word. It seemed as if he could make you feel that you experienced it with him. You could say it was a type of magic that he had.

Three days later, I received a phone call from one of my cohorts in the department, Steve, he had some bad news. Lew had passed away suddenly. It was a truly tragic loss and a great shock for all that knew him. The following Saturday, we all got together with some of Lew’s friends and neighbors to remember the man that was, in a way that he would have appreciated. We had a few drinks, told too many stories, laughed a lot and even cried a little. This man called Lew touched a great many people in his life.

The “show” had to go on as they say however and those of us in the department had to keep going. I can’t speak for the rest of them but I know that there were times that I could feel Lew there guiding me. Maybe it was only in my head, but who can truly say for sure? Soon Jim became the new department manager, Harry left to enjoy his retirement, Steve and his wife Liz moved to Virginia to open another store. Eventually Jim moved onward to another department and Tyler came in as manager. Frank and I were the only original cast members left. Through the years and team changes, we always kept one of Lew’s business cards hanging in our back room.

Then came March 2009, it was announced that our store was closing. I won’t go into the why’s and wherefore’s, this isn’t the proper forum, but it seemed as if it was the end of an era, short though it was. We worked through the mark-downs and clearances. Frank was the first to leave the department after the announcement. He had found another part-time job closer to home. I told him on his last day that I was going to take Lew’s card with me on my last day and pay a little tribute to him when I had the chance. As I was telling him this, we turned around and saw Gus. Gus was Lew’s neighbor and best friend. I filled him in on my plans along with Frank. My last day came at Sportsman’s in early April, when I left that day, Lew’s business card went with me.

Frank and Gus were the only two people that knew of the plan for my tribute to Lew and here it is.

In September 2009, I made a one day trip to Elk County, PA. I brought the digiscope along as usual, got some good pictures and even a few videos of the elk herd but I brought something else, Lew’s business card. From the time that I left my house that morning, the card was on the dashboard of my truck, it was as if Lew was taking one last trip to the mountains. As the morning marched on, I made my way to one of the places Lew told me about after his trip in 2006, the Fred Woods trail. I left the digiscope in the truck and just went for a walk in the woods with the business card in my shirt pocket. After the walk through the woods, I drove further down the road to the mountain overlook that Lew told me about.

At the overlook that morning the fog was just rising out of the valley and the sky above was slightly overcast but it promised to be a good day. I pulled Lew’s card out of my pocket again and went for a short walk around the overlook. I got back to the truck in the gravel parking area and paid my final tribute to this man that we called Lew.

As the card burned itself out on the gravel that morning, I knew that a small piece of Lew would forever be there, looking out over a grand valley in the mountains of North-Central Pennsylvania.

Lew was a manager, a leader, a story-teller, a jokester and a specialist in what he did but most of all, he was a friend.

Goodbye, Lew, until we meet again one day.

I'm still around

I'm still around, I just haven't had much to post about.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Up North Trip 2009-Day 2, Thursday April 16, 2009

I know many places in the Mercer and Crawford County area to go for pictures so while I ate my dinner last night I decided where to start today. My decision was to start at the Erie National Wildlife Refuge(ENWR) in Crawford County, then go to Woodcock Creek Lake, next would be the state gamelands at Cambridge Springs and then to the Pymatuning area.

There was a heavy fog over the valley that the ENWR sits in this morning, I wasn’t able to see very much at the first two stops that I made in the refuge but my third stop was near the refuge office and I had some luck at the ponds there. I got some good shots of a Greater Yellow Legs which is a shore bird that spends much of his life in wetlands and near water. They are not an abundant nesting bird in Pennsylvania but they do migrate through PA towards their normal nesting grounds in Canada.

While I was still near the office, I got some shots of other species in the ponds and grasslands in the area. These included a Red-Winged Black Bird.

A Hen Wood Duck checking out a nest box.

The last species of note that I was able to get at the ENWR office area was a Pileated Woodpecker. These woodpeckers are nearly the size of a crow and are really something to see in the wild.

I had no luck at Woodcock Creek Lake like I had this day http://padigiscoper.blogspot.com/2009/01/crawford-county-11-11-2008.html
So I moved on to the gamelands at Cambridge Springs in Northern Crawford County.

The gamelands area at Cambridge Springs is a relatively large wetland area managed by the PA Game Commission as a resting place for migrating waterfowl. I parked the truck and meandered through the area. I knew there were several ponds well into the gamelands so I made my way there. I was able to get shots of Green and Blue Wing Teal and Ring Neck ducks. I also saw some Pintails, turkey vultures and two bald eagles.

I left Cambridge Springs and drove to the Pymatuning area to see what I could find there. Near the spillway, I found some painted turtles sunning themselves on logs in a pond. For some reason I can never pass up a chance to take pictures of turtles.

I also took some pictures of Ring-Billed Gulls that you will almost always find around the Spillway here. I’ve taken pictures of this species of gull before but not with the new scope so I took the opportunity to take some good shots.

From the spillway, I went to the Nature Center that is run by the PA Fish/Game Commission. Here I was able to get shots of Tree Swallows, Purple Martins and a Brown-Headed Cowbird. I also saw another three bald eagles soaring over the water in the preserve near the nature center.

It was now late afternoon so I turned towards the camp to see what I could find on my way back there.

I was nearing the Lake Wilhelm area when I spotted some buffleheads in a pond near the road. I pulled over to try for some shots of these diving ducks. This is yet another more rare species for this area and they re great to take pictures of when you find them, especially if the light hits them right, the males head will almost glow with iridescent colors. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that effect on my pictures today.

My next stop was the same place as my first stop yesterday; the pond with the Osprey nest near the Lake Wilhelm Marina. One of the adult ospreys was in the nest this afternoon and I also saw two Great Blue Herons building two different nests near the back of the pond.

That’s my adventure for the day, tomorrow, for my last day of my trip for this spring; I would have a guest along for the ride. Stay tuned to see what happened.

Up North Trip 2009-Day 1, Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I had the vacation time and the spring migration was in full swing so I took a few days and spent them “Up North”, in the swamps and wetlands of Mercer and Crawford Counties. This year was a little different though, I had monthly maintenance to do at work which couldn’t be done until Wednesday morning and I had to be back home for orientation for my new part-time job on Saturday morning. I would have much time to play and explore so I had to make the best of the time that I had. I was in the office before 1 am this morning, yes 1 AM!!! I got my maintenance done plus fixed an emergency problem that kept me there for an extra hour. I was back home and napping by 11:15am. By 12:45pm I was awake and packing the truck. I arrived at the camp of a sportsman’s club that I belong to that is near Lake Wilhelm by 2 pm. By 3:30 pm, I had the truck unloaded, camp set-up, the water heater going and the furnace fired up. I grabbed the camera equipment and went on my way.

The first stop was near the Lake Wilhelm marina where there was an Osprey nest last year. Well, as I found out later, the nest from last year was blown over in a storm but the ospreys moved the nest closer to the edge of the pond than it was last year. I was able to get some outstanding shots for both members of the pair. Just with that, the 10 hours of work earlier that day was worth it.

I left the osprey nest and drove north to see what I could find around the village of Custards in Crawford County which sits near the edge of the Geneva Swamp. If you drive North on I-79, the Geneva Swamp is the wetlands area that you pass over just south of Meadville. I didn’t have a canoe or boat to enable me to go deep into the marsh so I had to depend on my feet and truck to get me where I needed to go. I didn’t need much of either today though, I pulled over on the causeway near Custards and started scanning the wetlands with my Alpen Teton binos. In no time at all I spotted a small group of Blue Wing Teal. I’ve never been able to get close enough to this species for decent shots before and here they were less than 30 yards from me. I used the truck as cover so that I didn’t spook them too badly. I snapped several pictures before they made their way deeper into the cover of the wetlands and out of my vision.

While I was taking the pictures of the blue wing teal, I noticed a shadow of a large bird on the ground near me. It was late in the afternoon, the sun was in the west and I was facing east so I knew that whatever it was was above and behind me. I turned quickly and was lucky enough to see a Bald Eagle flying not more than 20 feet over my head!!! Of all of my adventures in the woods, waters, swamps and forests in my life, this was one of the most spectacular! A wild, formerly endangered, now threatened species within spitting distance. Sorry no pictures of this guy though.

It was getting late in the day, so I packed up the equipment and drove south towards the camp. I made one stop in the wetlands that are part of a gamelands on the north-western tip of Lake Wilhelm. I saw a pair of Hooded Mergansers here and another Bald Eagle but wasn’t able to get pictures of either.

My last stop for the day was on a causeway of Lake Wilhelm between my previous stop and I-79. I saw 8 different Ospreys here and also 4 Gadwall ducks.

I had enough for one day. I was hungry, it was nearly 6:30 and I had been awake for over 18 hours already. Tomorrow was another day and I would be able to spend all of tomorrow out and about. Stay tuned.

North Park, Sunday, April 12, 2009

It’s Easter Sunday, 2009. Two years ago I started what has become a tradition for me; to head to North Park at dawn to see what kind of pictures that I could get. This morning wasn’t very productive but it was still interesting none the less.

It’s turkey mating season and before I even got to Marshall Lake, I saw some strutting tom turkeys. I grabbed the camera and made the best stalk that I could. Turkeys have great eyesight and these were in the open so I didn’t have much of a chance of getting very close. After using terrain to may advantage and crawling slowly over 50 yards, I was able to get within 110 yards of the turkeys. The only problem was the turkeys were constantly in motion and would turn towards me for a good picture. Oh well, these things happen.

After the turkeys went back into the woods, I went over to the island on Marshall Lake to see what I could find. I saw a Red- Breasted Merganser that again wouldn’t cooperate and pose for me. I also found there a Pied-Bill Grebe that is another more rare species for this area. I got more shots of wood ducks and even a few inanimate pictures too.

Easter Frost

North Park, Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Well mom got her hip transplant this morning. The hospital where she had the surgery is just a few minutes from North Park. She told us that there was no reason for us to stay around the hospital during the surgery. My brother lives maybe 10 minutes away and my sister maybe 15 minutes. She told me to bring my camera along and go to north Park instead of sitting around. Being the good son that I am I had to do what mom said. My sister and one of my brothers, stayed at the hospital, my second brother went back to his house to take care of a few things and I went to Marshall Lake at North Park.

I didn’t want to be gone from the hospital very long no matter what mom said but I had a lot of targets in the hour that I spent at North Park this morning. The first chance I had was of a Northern Cardinal that was perched in a tree near where I parked.

My next opportunity came with a pair of Hooded Mergansers that didn’t want to stay still to have their picture taken. The pictures of them are a little too blurred for my tastes unfortunately.

I even snapped a few shots of some Mallards and a Canada Goose that were resting on a log across the lake from me.

I also got a few shots of a Common Grackle, a European Starling and some House Sparrows that were looking for nesting sites.

The highlight of my morning however happened when I was driving back to the hospital. I was still in North Park, just past the Boat house when I saw a Snow Goose. I parked, grabbed the camera and got some quick pictures of this guy. Snow geese are very rare for this area. They pass north of here on their migration and they use Middle Creek WMA near Harrisburg as a migration staging area.

Well after this, mom’s hip transplant went superbly. She was in good spirits but was sore which was to be expected.

Update, July 18, 2009: Mom says that her hip makes her feel like she is 10 years younger. She has mobility that she never thought that she would have again.

Route 28 Corridor, Harmarville and Deer Lakes Park, Saturday, March 21, 2009

The morning dawned chilly, clear and crisp so I loaded up the camera equipment for a quick run North on Route 28. The red-tailed hawks are near the middle of their pair bonding and mating season and I usually see several along this stretch of Route 28. I also hoped to stop at a pond behind a shopping center in Harmarville and Deer Lakes park to see if the swan was still there.

Driving North on Route 28 this morning I didn’t see many good signs until I neared RIDC Park which is an industrial park that straddles both sides of the highway. When I neared the off ramp for the industrial park, I spotted a hawk perched atop a lamp pole. I nearly wrecked the truck getting to the side of the road just to take pictures of this guy.

I was only able to snap about 30 pictures of the hawk before he flew off but the morning was only starting. I tossed the tripod into the truck to make my way to Harmarville.

When I arrived at the parking area near the pond, I immediately spotted the usual Canada Geese and Mallards as they were bumbling around the parking lot. I got out the equipment and walked towards the pond. When I was within view of the water I saw several Wood Ducks and one Green Wing Teal. This was my first chance to get shots of these critters with my new scope so I quickly set up and started shooting what turned out to be some of the best pictures that I’ve ever taken. Yes, I’m convinced that the new scope was worth every penny.

I continued to shoot the woodies and teal but didn’t even pass up some shots of the mallards that were there. Again, the mallard pictures turned out great.

The morning was marching along so I packed up for the drive to Deer Lakes Park to look for the Mute Swan that I saw there in January. When this species moves into an area, they are usually there for a long time so I felt good about finding him.

I wasn’t to be disappointed about finding the swan this morning either, he was there in all of his glory. I also spotted a hellacious hybrid duck that I first saw here last year. This guy associates with one of the normal, white farm ducks that lives on the lakes here. I believe that this duck is a hybrid between a white farm duck and a Mallard.

I stayed here for close to an hour before deciding that it was time for me to make my way home to get some work done. While driving south along Route 28, I was fortunate enough to find another Red Tail Hawk perched on a different light pole at the off ramp for RIDC Park. Yes, what I initially thought was going to be a light digiscoping day turned into a pretty successful event for me.