Mount Sutro: An Electronic Periodical

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The Duet In Quiscalus Major

Two boat-tailed grackles (Quiscalus major) squawking at each other on a small wooden pier at the city marina in Cedar Key, Florida.

302 Dock Street, Cedar Key, Florida: 13 October 2014

part of the Manatee Springs State Park album

At the end of a visit to Manatee Springs State Park — see "The Creatures of My Dreams" — we took a brief detour to Cedar Key, Florida, a little over thirty miles south of the park. We had a great lunch at Ken's Cedar Keyside Diner, which I just discovered closed in December 2014 not long after our visit, before browsing the other local businesses along Dock Street.

There was not much activity at the City of Cedar Key Marina, but I did photograph several birds in the area including these male boat-tailed grackles. Squawking and posturing in close proximity, showing glossy black feathers with iridescent blue and purple hues, they did not appear to be fighting so were possibly competing over a female or having a territorial dispute.

The Raptorial Buteo Lineatus

A juvenile red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) observing the area from atop a light pole within a residential neighborhood in Altamonte Springs, Florida.

Altamonte Springs, Florida: 07 September 2015

part of the Red-Shouldered Hawk album

A young red-shouldered hawk paid a visit to my old neighborhood in Central Florida earlier this week, possibly searching for its next meal in the grasses surrounding homes. Mom spotted the hawk first, alerted me and then fetched her camera. She shot about a dozen frames and then handed the camera to me.

Since she had already gotten good coverage from a short distance, I decided to move even closer to the light pole upon which the hawk was perched. Rotating its head in a rather mechanical way to gaze in different directions, the hawk took note of my presence but seemed rather more concerned with its own business.

I was able to stand directly beneath the hawk without it fleeing, however our luck ran out after I moved beyond the pole to capture different lighting. Before I could even compose my shot, the hawk decided to fly into a tree across the street. I captured two blurry pictures of the departure, but the hawk is mostly out of frame in each.

My albums are teeming with wildlife photography, typically taken at one of Florida's many wonderful state parks.[1] I cannot however recall an instance of being this close to something less common than a cardinal or raccoon in such a suburban setting. Hawks like this had better watch out though, as Florida now prefers to solve the issue of increasing human-caused animal interactions by allowing the additional hunting of those infringing species.[2]

  1. Florida state parks are wonderful, that is, so long as the current government does not succeed in their efforts to transform our parks from relatively unspoiled nature preserves free of hunting into commercialized revenue streams free of conservation or natural value.

  2. The Florida black bear "conservation" and management program now includes a special hunt scheduled for October 2015. This was the reaction by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to several close calls occurring in one region. They believe that the solution is to kill hundreds of bears statewide while simultaneously refusing to regulate that rural homeowners use bear-proof garbage cans.

The Breezy Shades of Night

Emerging from the Iberian Lounge into the Cuban-inspired faux courtyard called The Fountain Lobby inside The Hotel Hershey (1932) in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

100 Hotel Road, Hershey, Pennsylvania: 02 July 2014

part of the Hersheypark album

Ascending the hill through the parking lot, The Hotel Hershey building sits ahead large and awash with light. We are here to enjoy a beverage after a day of exploring Hershey, rural farmlands and the Amish Country of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Two-and-a-half hours and three glasses of The Glenlivet later, I exit the delightful Iberian Lounge and pause at my view.

With a unique scene before me and delicious single malt Scotch flowing through my veins, my mind immediately links what I see to an unrelated image in memory. Having left my camera in the truck, I ask to borrow Mom's so that I might attempt to capture this scene from my mind's eye. I shoot seven frames before we leave and then promptly forget about them.

Recently reminded of Hershey, I browsed Mom's photos from this day and discovered my seven shots among them. The fun evening's memories came back to me in flashback as I amusingly had the same thought looking at the pictures as I did standing in the hotel over a year earlier. The above two photographs viewed consecutively are the result, my whisky-fueled homage to a shot in the Luc Besson film The Fifth Element (1997).

In a brief transitional scene Video we see the titular character as she arrives aboard the ocean liner starship Fhloston Paradise to a musical welcoming committee. As she walks into the ship's main lobby, the camera dollies forward while slowly panning up to reveal the grand room, its two fountains and a row of large elliptical windows showing the planet Fhloston's sky.

Fhloston Paradise interior film frame

Fhloston Paradise interior film frame

The Hotel Hershey's original main lobby and registration area, the Fountain Lobby was designed to emulate the look and feel of the patio courtyards that Milton Hershey had enjoyed during his winter trips in Cuba. With its antique oak elements, Ernest A. Batchelder tilework, inlaid marble from Baumgardner Company in Baltimore, Maryland, "palm trees, seating areas, wrought iron lights and a painted sky," the room would have certainly made an impression to hotel guests coming in to register.

Ironically, it turns out that one of the other photographs I took inside the Fountain Lobby is unintentionally similar to a classic photograph of the room. I found the following circa 1934 image of "the Patio" in the Hershey Community Archives while researching this article. If I had only shot with a wider lens and taken a few steps back and to the right…

The Fountain Lobby was refurbished along with the rest of the hotel in 1998. As infrastructure work unfortunately required cutting into the painted ceiling, the hotel subsequently hired artist Gary Thomas to repaint it in the original style. Other work in the room included extensive cleaning of the tilework, "[stripping] decades of wax buildup to reveal the original vibrant colors."

A natural extension of the lobby, the Iberian Lounge "was designed to be 'Spanish in its atmosphere and rich with oriental rugs, oak-paneled ceiling and columns, tinted walls, soft rugs […] a charming fireplace and a mural depicting a Spanish waterfront scene.'" The mural, now located behind the bar, was painted by the hotel's interior designer Robert von Ezdorf. He also incorporated some of the mural's designs in the adjoining Fountain Lobby.

Designed during prohibition, the Iberian Lounge was built as a reading and sitting room. Following the repeal of prohibition in 1933, the hotel added a wine cellar and opened a cocktail lounge in the Garden Terrace, a 5,490-square-foot space elsewhere on the first floor. The Iberian Lounge became a bar in 1968 and the Garden Terrace is currently a ballroom available for events.

Perhaps a bit removed at first, our bartender Kirk poured stout drinks and eventually warmed up to us by sharing some of the venue's history. It was a fun diversion to spend time in a beautiful hotel constructed in the early 1930s, well-maintained in the interim and remaining remarkably similar to its original appearance. On our way out, I relieve myself of driving duty after my indulgence in the lounge and leave Mom with the valet so that Ross and I can go and fetch the truck for her.

Back at our campsite — wide awake and unsurprisingly keen for a meal — I waste no time suggesting that we visit the delicious Cocoa Diner in Hummelstown, just four minutes away door-to-door. A classic eatery serving a comprehensive menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner fare twenty-four hours a day[1] since 2002, the Cocoa Diner was an instant favorite of mine a few days earlier.

I had the grilled ham steak dinner served with mashed potatoes and gravy, peas and corn medley, vegetable soup and a pineapple ring. Previously, I had a patty melt on grilled rye bread, topped with Swiss cheese and sautéed onions and served with French fries, coleslaw and a pickle. Both meals were excellent, served exactly how I wanted and expected.

  1. Cocoa Diner is closed for seven hours every week: from 2300 on Monday until 0600 on Tuesday. The restaurant is otherwise always open for business at 590 East Main Street, Hummelstown, Pennsylvania.

The Water's Edge of Inspiration

Homes in Belle Vernon across the Monongahela River from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Speers Landing access on River Avenue in Speers, Pennsylvania.

121 River Avenue, Speers, Pennsylvania: 25 June 2014

part of the Wonder Boys album

Following a day of visiting Wonder Boys filming locations, I am standing in the grass along Pennsylvania Route 51 reflecting on my experience and watching the traffic go by. The passing vehicles kick up rainwater on the pavement while making the characteristic accompanying whoosh sound. The humidity is probably in the seventy percent range, but it feels higher.

Ready to carry on, I decide to purchase a drink inside the bfs convenience store, one of the businesses now occupying the site where the Belle Vernon Howard Johnson's once stood (1963–1999). One last look and then I am off, driving westbound on Interstate 70. My destination is the Speers Street Grill, about seven miles away in the small borough of Speers.

After exiting onto Pennsylvania Street, I turn left on State Street following the sign to Lower Speers and the ten local businesses there along the shore of the Monongahela River. After turning right onto Speer Street, I spot a sign about restaurant parking and pull into a gravel lot on the right. Walking up to the entrance, another sign tips me off to the fact that I am actually at The Back Porch Restaurant and not the Speers Street Grill.

The Back Porch Restaurant occupies a house first built by Henry Speers, Junior in 1806 on land that he purchased as the "Speers Intent" in 1785. Following Speers' death in 1840, the home was passed down through his descendants until being sold and subsequently abandoned for many years. During the time of the American Civil War, the home is said to have been used as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The home was later acquired in 1972 by Joseph Pappalardo, who conducted a major renovation before opening the restaurant on Friday, 14 February 1975.

Walking inside to the hostess, it is obvious that you are in the home's central corridor connecting the exterior doors, first floor rooms and stairway. It is a very neat place but I decide that I would prefer the namesake back porch, which as a bonus is currently empty. The porch is surrounded by plants and although you cannot really see it, the Monongahela River is not far away.

I am seated in a corner table and, with the help of an excellent server, proceed to have a most delicious and satisfying meal. I start with a bowl of Lobster Bisque served with a very clever lobster-shaped cracker. My main course is the Oscar Filet Mignon medium-rare with jumbo lump crab meat, asparagus and Béarnaise sauce. To drink, I enjoy a beer called Mischievous Brown by Helltown Brewing of nearby Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania.

Besides being close to my last Wonder Boys location, I wanted to dine in Speers because of my secondary mission — to drive along the Monongahela River north to Pittsburgh. The most direct route is about thirty miles or just under one hour of travel time. My route, winding along the length of the river, was a bit longer at about forty-five miles or one-and-a-half hours of driving. From Pittsburgh, I would get onto Interstate 279 and then Interstate 79 for the rest of the one-hundred mile return trip.

There would be no time for photography along the way due to the sun's schedule as well as my own, so before leaving the area I decide to head over to the shore to photograph the river. I find an excellent spot to do this at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Speers Landing access point, conveniently located next to Smitty's Marina on River Avenue.

I take some pictures of the river, boats and the Belle Vernon Bridge (1951) carrying Interstate 70 over the Monongahela before noticing that I am being watched. Standing on rocks in the shallows between Smitty's and the Speers Landing is what I believe to be a Domestic Greylag Goose (Anser anser). It checked me out while sitting there but did not seem to mind my presence.

After about ten minutes, I leave the goose and Speers behind to embark on my river cruise of sorts. The journey is uneventful and the traffic light, allowing me to look around as I drive through small town after small town along the river. Some towns are near still-open factories and are apparently doing well, while others are showing few signs of life or commercial activity. My only wish is that I would have had the time to stop in these towns and document their states.

I pass through Monessen, Donora, Monongahela, Elrama, West Elizabeth, Clairton, Dravosburg and West Mifflin, pulling over in the circular eastern terminus of Grant Avenue in Duquesne to make a telephone call. From there, I continue along the river before eventually transitioning to the interstate in Pittsburgh.

Darkness now surrounds the travelers of Interstate 79 like myself. Having escaped the confines of the city, a large number of fireflies are now unfortunately impacting my windshield and leaving behind streaks of glowing bioluminescent material. With an hour yet to go, I get off at Exit 99 and visit the Pilot truck stop in Portersville. There is another moment of reflection while waiting for the pump, having purchased fuel in the same spot that morning.

Back on the road again, I spot white-tailed deer foraging alongside the highway in the rural expanses between Zelienople, Grove City and Meadville. I will be in Harmonsburg around 2330 and sneak a quick look at my pictures from the day before going to sleep. The following day we will drive to Allegany State Park in Salamanca, New York where I will, for a few days at least, get to explore my childhood memories of camping there.