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Number 891, September 25, 2016

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Norseman’s Diaries III: Curse of the Dry Belt & Adventure at Summer’s End
by Jeff Fullerton

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Welcome again to my personal retreat from the stresses and insanity of the 2016 Election.The third and final installment of the summer edition of the Norseman’s Diary was a long time coming being that it was also a whole summer in the making. It took that long to work through the numerous projects and problems that kept me from the final fulfillment of the perfect summer that eluded me in the two previous chapters.

But like everything in the real world it was far from perfect even though I managed to pull off some significant accomplishments and work through the problems that emerged.

The story picks up in early July when the last of the cicadas were dying off and a dual construction and renovation project was underway.


I was building a new Double Decker pen on the perimeter just above the older one built a few years ago that was also undergoing renovation to transform it into the flow through stream setup for the younger Japanese Pond turtles. Mean while the new set was being built with a combination of a terrestrial pen with a large sand bed for the gravid females to live during the nesting season and the upper half became a divided pen to house whatever hatchlings might result plus the two baby Chinese Box turtles that actually got to live in it off and on through the summer. The reason for the breeding setup for the JPTs was so they won’t drop their eggs in the water like last year and that species like the North American Wood Turtles I used to keep are fully functional and can feed both in and out of water so it just might work. I undertook this project with urgency because the egg laying season was here and I needed to get the new pens turtle ready as quickly as possible since the upper pen in the lower set was going to be completely dug up and transformed.

Because the truck was still on the back burner awaiting the availability of cash to cover repairs that might be needed to pass inspection and also a new battery—I used my card at Lowe’s to get the hardware needed and the Honda with the back seat and passenger side front down to haul the landscape timbers and get the project going so I’d have it done before Summer’s end.

Two other projects ongoing were the enclosure of the back porch with a system of wall and gate panels from a Chicken Gazebo to put an end to tiptoeing through the poop and the acquisition of a new chicken flock to replace my laying hens which had been picked off by a fox or some else this spring and early summer. That was part of a deal to acquire two small coops that the guy—one of my co-workers had to get rid of because he lives where farm animals are prohibited someone ratted him out to his local municipal nazis. I was able to transport the birds and their feed and other husbandry paraphernalia by car but would need the pickup to move the coops one at a time.

Eventually that happened. On my second vacation when I finally had a decent surplus in my account to cover the most common unexpected expenses that might arise when taking a vehicle for inspection. And I got a new battery from Rural King so I wouldn’t have to keep jumping it every time it sat idle. Surprisingly the inspection went well with no repairs needed to pass. But on the way home it developed a problem with the brake caliper on the right front wheel that resulted in a lot of smoking and a $600 repair bill to replace calipers and other hardware in both front wheels. And my bold travel plans that fell through on the previous vacation week were scrubbed again.

But at least I had the truck again and could now get the two chicken coops and start hauling material to finish up the new pens which were made turtle ready even before the exterior work was done and that is still ongoing. I did a lot of work in both the heat as well as the rain, digging and carrying up lumber and gravel and other material as well as rolling up some really heavy rocks to form a raised bed and sitting area between the two DDs—as these particular sets of nested pens came to be called.


That idea was an afterthought as I originally stated to site the new pens immediately above the area where the barrel that functions as the bio-filter for the stream system in the lower pens. Then I thought it would be nice if there was a place that people could sit on boulders and relax and enjoy the scenery like they would in the wild. And so the idea was born. It also made the overall project easier because shifting the new pens uphill a bit where the slope levels out eliminated a lot of digging that would have been necessary otherwise.

Another improvement on the original plan was the decision to use a tall mock rock to hide the olive barrel. I was going to leave it exposed and have water hyacinths in it to help filter the water but that would have been an eyesore in comparison to what has the appearance of a natural stone monolith that makes a wonderful accent in the landscape and matches the native stone. Making for the creation of an interesting and enjoyable environment to observe and interact with the animals.


And sometimes the animals with each other!


The process with the lower pens involved a fair amount of digging and work with a hole saw to install bulkheads on the barrel and the Rubbermaid which along with the cut down Tuff Stuff tub that is the shallow upper pool was moved from the lower to the upper pen and connected to the new 70 gallon Behlen tank by a bulkhead through the wall of the lower pen with a plastic catch basin made for preformed ponds to bridge the gap. That was dressed up with a small piece of Rock on a Roll and some rocks and dwarf sweetflag plants.

When I started putting in the cobbles and shallow water platforms; Ray remarked that it reminded him a lot of the the stream scenes in the Hayasuii videos. And the pictures of the monolith have the look of some Japanese Gardens I’ve seen. I think both Hayasuii and Mr Kennan would like them too. I’ve in essence created a private zoological garden on a miniature scale. And as it continues to take shape I have been looking for more plants and some small shrubs to plant the areas now under development. So far I have a dwarf Chinese Iris called "ruthenica" and an Emerald Spreader Yew in the ground. Also have a couple Edelweiss plants and an alpine milkwort and other items on order and I found what appears to be a neat rock garden plant specialist—Laporte Avenue Nursery in Fort Collins of all places (wonder if El Neil knows of it?) ; that offers an impressive range of alpine plants that will be perfect to try. Probably next spring because I have other priorities and it is better if plants—even cold hardy ones have more time to take hold so they are less likely to be pushed out of the ground by frost heaving in winter. I’ve lost quite a few that way over the years.

It has been over all a good summer to enjoy the fruits of my labor and even run the watercourse some before the drier weather set in and the water level in the main pond dropped significantly from either a slow leak somewhere in the system or evaporation. Probably a combination of both.

And so began what I came to call the Curse of the Dry Belt after lifelong observations and a term that Bruce the Historian dubbed in reference to the tendency of rain to miss the area where we live during periods of drought when storms are scattered in nature. Grandma also noted it many a summer when we were praying for rain and hauling buckets of water to quench thirsty plants. We would hear thunder and see dark skies to the north or south and Grandma would say they’re getting it in Greensburg or Ligoneer or Uniontown or Connellsville but not here. “It’s going around” she often droned with an unpleasant tone.

We often speculated on the nature of this phenomenon that seems to cheat us out of some much needed rain when other places nearby get copious amounts. Sometimes even deluged to the point of flooding while we continue to remain parched with maybe a cruel teasing of a few sprinkles or brief shower that lasts minutes or even seconds! It may be the results of the surface winds being funneled through the stream gaps of the Loyalhannah Gorge to the north or the Youghiogheny valley to the south that pulls the storms toward those points on the ridge and intensifies the local effect of summer droughts. Which we manage to deal with through the years by hunkering down and irrigating gardens while conserving water. For me that means keeping an eye on newly planted things and watering them as necessary. It also means not running the pump and letting the watercourse sit idle like an intermittent stream that stops flowing on a seasonal basis. And using the ponds as a source to water delicate plants and flush and refill water pans in the land turtle setups. Life in the Dry Belt has its drawbacks. But at times it has also spared us some of the worst storm events that even strike sudden and totally unexpected even in the driest of Summers.

If only my new phone was the same as my iPad I could have written this article more like it ought to have been written. But I’ve said that even before when it was so much better easier to copy and paste things together. And maybe it is for the better least it get too long as these journals often do!

Picking up where I left off earlier today when I had to take a spin up to Indiana PA to retrieve a lost item that turned what might have been the crowning accomplishment of the season into a near disaster; I go back to another disaster that happened around the end of August when an unexpected storm blew up one Sunday eve and visited mayhem upon a small area nearby. I was at work that evening when the news broke via an EMS scanner one of the nurses in the ER carried with him. It told of a torrential cloudburst that was flooding portions of RT 119 between Mt Pleasant and Connellsville with reports of multiple cars trapped by rising waters and another nurse was getting calls and texts from her husband who had run into the impass on his way back from a fishing trip at Cheat Lake WV! He was making his way home through the mountains and I was fearing the worst on a number of fronts.

Based on what I saw after the big cloudburst in May of ’14, I was concerned for my animals and other property somewhat even though it weathered that event and a few others as well. I called both my Uncle and brother who live in Connellsville to make sure they were ok and they were. The epicenter of the event was very localized in nature due to the small footprint of the storm in combination with the geography. The area was at the confluence of several streams in the foothills of Chestnut Ridge which funneled the massive deluge down the mountain and onto that stretch of highway. I texted Bruce and according to him he got hardly a drop on his part of the ridge. And my trip home was complicated only by having to stay over a little to help out with a cardiac arrest that may have been the result of someone being upset over storm damage to their property. Which was also my greatest fear going home.

Alas my place was ok. In fact it didn’t even rain that much though maybe a little more than what Bruce reported. Enough to fill up the ponds and let me run the waterfall pump a little. But soon it was back to life in the drought stricken Dry Belt once more.

And the pattern continues.


Life of course goes on. There were still late summer blooms to enjoy and the beginnings of fall flowers coming on. Also the turts and other animals and fish remain a source of enjoyment. And I continued my work on the exterior area of the pens building a French drain and a short block wall to sure up the bank behind the new pens and heeled in the new section of fencing to achieve closure of the perimeter again!


After that I was feeling more confident about traveling and took a few day trips with my uncle in the local area. I even bought a fishing license so I could take him fishing and dusted off my seine and dip nets and transport system and was thinking seriously again about squeezing in a few collecting trips before Summer’s end.

And there were some reptile shows worth going to. Went to the local one that has been moved from New Stanton to the VFD in Youngwood. It was pretty decent even if there was nothing there I wanted or needed at the time. I inquired into the possibility of getting a table myself in light of my recent success with Marsupial Frogs.


I now have tadpoles which should be turning into froglets in a month or so! $25 for a table is not bad and I could easily make it up by selling just one frog! Plus I can propagate terrarium plants in the greenhouse. That would be the turning point where my hobby finally starts paying for itself and not just be a net consumer of resources. Success: the ultimate sin. I know there are people out there that think that way.

Last Saturday I made it to the Greater Appalachian Reptile show in Morgantown. They didn’t cancel it like the one in the spring that I found out too late after showing up at the location and it was much easier to find. But it turned out really bad. Sad is actually more like it because not only was the guy I was hoping to get more Cumberland sliders from a no show—hardly any other significant vendors were there. Indeed the guy from Adam & Eve’s who is always at the local show was there and had a bigger selection of interesting animals than all the others put together. Almost wanted to cry after having seen what a decent show it had been last fall. What a shame. I did buy a cup of 50 Superworms to give my turts back home a treat that day.

And then came Sunday. Which started out on the rough side as I was mulling the possibility of a Rosyside run to make up for the disappointment of the reptile show the day before.

Now for the rest of the story—the Adventure at Summer’s End to close out the Norseman’s finale. Back to that rocky start with the bathtub. That was the thing that almost put the damper on the whole idea that ended up being the catalyst to make it happen.

Off to a slow start as usual. In part because I was indecisive on grounds that the way my luck has been going lately; did I really care to take a chance that something might go wrong—car trouble or unpleasant encounters with Bucket Heads, locals or bears that could happen in the hills and hollows of deepest darkest Appalachia. But the day was destined to be one of decision. I broke down that morning and ordered a couple Edelweiss plants and the Pink Milkwort, a spring blooming Gentian and the purple Dog Tooth Violet to start the planting of the new section of the rock garden between the DDs. Then I was thinking about getting the indoor tub for the Euro Ponds ready so I could bring them in and beef them up a little before winter and needed a few buckets of water to top them off which led me to the bathtub. Bruce had said that it was an easy matter to take apart the faucet and see what might be stuck in there. So I did it.

Found a small chip of gravel but then had a helluva time figuring out how to put the mechanism that controls the flow back together. It was something like that episode of Lost in Space where Dr Smith took apart all the laser guns to clean them when the men were away and neither him or Maureen could figure out how to put them together and this Satyr like creature was threatening them.

Well I finally figured it out. Got everything to fit and even got a working understanding how it all works. But when I restore the flow to the cold line it was running full capacity again but I couldn’t get it to shut off and when the water was running I discovered another problem: the tailpiece to the bathtub drain had come undone and was leaking all over the corner of the cellar below!

Well there went my day. It was already closing in on noon and would take probably several hours after I ran to the hardware store for parts for the tub and the faucet. Figured out what went wrong with the latter. I had forgotten to include the seat and spring assembly that controls the flow. Found the spring laying in the tub but the little rubber stopper probably rolled or got washed down the drain. It was then I called my Uncle to check of him and tell him of my current state of problems and indecision. Was not sure what to do at that point. Should I go through with the trip or scrub it in favor of staying home and working on that problem and other things in need of doing.

But that was what I’ve been doing all summer. And if I was not bogged down in a project—some other problem or financial issue kept putting my travel plans on hold. With Summer’s end just a few days away this was the last straw. I decided I was going hell or high water and maybe I could kill two birds with one stone. I could go to the Lowe’s in Latrobe for the parts I needed and then take Rt 30 from their and reach Somerset via Ligoneer and on to Berlin and the Rosyside location at Glencoe from there.

It has been cloudy and unsettled all morning. As I was heading out the skies looked even more threatening so I countermanded the original decision in favor of dropping the trip to Lowe’s or deferring it to the homeward leg of the journey. To maximize chances for squeezing in my trip before nasty weather hit. Traveling eastward I had a better chance of getting it all in before the storms hit.

My stop at the gas station at the bottom of 3 Mile Hill on 31 was interesting. They were selling Trump buttons for $1.99. Nothing for Hillary. Also got a dozen nightcrawlers for about $3.45—a ridiculously inflated price in comparison to what I pay for a cup of 18 at Walmart but it was convenient in case I might want to drop a line in the waters and try for some Redbreasted sunfish which could be at that location. And the square styrofoam container might come in handy for other fishing trips. Would like to get a few more of those in the coming weeks to keep on hand.


The whole way there the skies continued to look ominous but the rains held off. I am going to speed this up because it is getting toward 4 AM and I’d like to catch some more sleep before morning. There will be an extend version for the TLE article I hope to have by next weekend.

Went strait up to Somerset via 31 and then on to Berlin and to the edge of the Allegheny Front which is now a huge wind farm. I dropped over into the coves in the Will’s Creek watershed by way of Mance and then got sidetracked by a wrong turn that had me going in the opposite direction on Glencoe Road. Found some potentially promising locations there but access was an issue because the lands were posted and there was no wrong to pull off at the bridges. Finally I backtracked and got where I wanted to be. The Honey Hole for Rosyside Dace which I will detail later. It is by far the best place to go because of the ease of access and abundance of fish there. You can get and catch a whole lot and get out fast.



After I caught my fill I went back the way I usually come in—following Glencoe Road back the the main highway that runs between Berlin and the descent down Wellersburg Hill to Cumberland. It was there I encountered the windmills up close and personal. There are lots of them along the way.


Back on the main road I started hitting sprinkles on the way to Berlin. The heavy stuff hit after the cemetery stop and got even heavier from there. But it petered out before Somerset and back home the curse of the dry belt remained.


Since I didn’t do any angling on this trip fed the worms off to the turts shooting them up with some “Gerber Baby Drac food”!The CBTs really had a ball again after the Superworms on Saturday. That while the new fish are being acclimated to the watercourse. The bigger ones went into the official Rosyside pool while the little ones went to the smaller pool above.

And that is enough for now.

There was yet another adventure that was literally at Summer’s End that took place yesterday. It involved a trip to Zett’s Fish Hatchery in Drifting PA followed by an attempt to visit the grave site of H. Beam Piper in Altoona that went badly. As in very badly and after struggling to put together this article plus another trip today to retrieve my wallet that was lost on the way—I have run out of time and energy to tell that story!

Will share it in a post script and possibly a future article dedicated to Mr Piper the date of whose passing in the early 1960s is now getting close.

Which is not far away now.

I’ll forgo inserting any pics on grounds I’m fatigued and need to get some more rest. I will send you some later and also splice them into the article for publication.

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