31 December 2012

( renowned barto painter julie longacre: celebrating 15 years of her community art show )

by jennifer hetrick

since 1984, berks county artist julie longacre has kindly brought her well-cherished paintings out into the open at her art show she hosts every other year at the fire company in bally. her latest show joined the community this past december.

longacre is most known for her awe-stirring local landscapes and historical renderings, often asked to do commissions of nature-struck scenes and heritage-rich buildings around the region.

“i found that people felt more comfortable in a room full of paintings with family and friends rather than going to a gallery in a more formal setting,” longacre reflects about why she chose to bring a show to her hometown community, on her own terms, several decades ago. “i wanted a show where everybody felt not just comfortable but at home—i support them, and they support me.”

longacre has had her pieces in galleries and exhibitions and appreciates those opportunities but likes to bring her works directly to her own people who value her artistry and heart so much, as her paintings are highly sought after, and this fact only grows.

in the summer, she celebrated 70 years of time spent mingling the love of painting, family, and appreciating many a moment on this earth, so she shared lots of cake with show-goers also, to tie even more festive angles into the event. longare estimates that 1,200 people attended this latest show, and while it has always had a great turnout, this one appeared to see the most door-swinging seconds before guests perused the aisles of her many years of expression on canvas.

 after working in color for so long with her paintings, julie longacre 
realized she had a large amount of black and white paint leftover 
years ago & soon delved into a long stretch of time spent exploring 
the possibilities & perspectives in black, grey, & white pigments 
in her works; this piece is inspired by trails near her second
 home in cape breton, nova scotia, where she spends 
about three months out of every year, although 
not in one consecutive span of time

many know that longacre is also an author. at her show, she released a sketch in time, which is a collection of her handwritten journal entries, with paintings whisked into the pages. the hand-bound book is now for sale at yellow house hotel along routes 562 and 662 in douglassville, longacre's dairy bar on route 100 in barto, schwenkfelder library & heritage center on seminary street in pennsburg, and gehman's store on route 100 in bally.

her previously published books are known by the titles of the dirty old ladies' cookbook, plentiful with heartily pennsylvania dutch-swept recipes, and the place i keep, which incorporates not only pictures but poems.

“i could see farms all around through the windows in the house where i grew up in gilbertsville,” longacre notes about what has had a strong draw on her inspirations translated through the paintbrush so often moving in gracious strokes by way of her fingertips. in her lifetime, longacre has felt a powerful sense of gratitude and gravitation to agricultural sweeps and the buildings so integral to farms, like barns.

“friends know the angles of what i like and send me photographs,” longacre says. while it’s hard to describe in easy language, good friends have learned from her paintings what sorts of views catch her vision well, and they’ve helped to support her art through mailing her pictures they’ve snapped here or there in their travels along roads around the region.

chase longacre, 7, of hereford township, excitedly helped
to hang his grandmother's paintings for the first time in december

“an illustrator can draw anything he sees,” longacre explains of words she penned in her latest book. “a painter can paint anything she feels.” longacre, with a great respect for understanding the distinct role of her experience as a woman and of her fellow women, has given a lot attention to the intellectual shapes that play a part in how she has come to examine lives in the world throughout her years taking in what it is to be a person today.

“painting is soothing. it’s therapy. and in another way, it’s demanding,” she says, knowing she is often driven to paint what catches her artist’s eye, having trouble giving herself any option to say no to the creative ingredients in her that respond to a persistent pull and push to recreate the scenes of compelling beauty around her even in today’s busy, all-too-rushed days.

“my paintings interact with the light in a room,” longacre points out in what is unique to her pieces and how magnetically painting tugs at her heart. “and most people choose a lifestyle or career, but this was a matter of a career choosing me. art always won out. it was almost as if it were challenging me, with no other choice.” and yet she knew to embrace it for all the positives in the opportunity to create through paint, showing living through her eyes.

to glimpse more, visit www.julielongacre.com.

( schuylkill on the move keeps the educational footfalls pushing onward )

by jennifer hetrick

hikes in the beloved persuasion of the outdoors are all the more fruitful with schuylkill on the move, as the group weaves educational aspects, often historical and environmental, into each of the scheduled trail-escapades it offers every month.

the initiative known eye-stirringly as schuylkill county’s vision is behind schuylkill on the move’s existence, but thanks largely in part to a partnership with the schuylkill county conservation district. environmental education coordinator “porcupine pat” mckinney with the conservation district is one of the hiking group’s main leaders who began organizing hikes almost 20 years ago when it had the moniker schuylkill county nature club in its early days.

schuylkill county judge john domalakes, environmental education specialist for tuscarora and locust lake state parks, robin tracey, and naturalist mike centeleghe contribute in helping to lead hikes for schuylkill on the move.

hikes can sometimes have up to 50 or 60 people on them, often with visitors traveling from different counties around this portion of pennsylvania. but of course, the locals are known for valuing this healthy mix of learning while on foot, too.

those who have had the delight of hearing domalakes speak while guiding hikes know well that he passionately carries a great amount of regional historical details in his mind on a regular basis and thrives happily on sharing what he can with others as the group makes its way down trail paths throughout schuylkill county but also often at history-rich hiking spots around surrounding counties.

one hike schuylkill on the move ventured out on in the past year served as a charcoal pits hike on blue mountain in the weiser state forest stretch in port clinton off of route 61. mckinney and domalakes explained how a charcoal tender who would have preferred or enjoyed a solitary life would live in a small hut, no more than a couple of phone booths’ wide, handling the burning mounds of wood once the trees were cut down centuries ago, unfortunately not being replaced with newly planted ones since environmentalism with newly planted ones since environmentalism and sustainability took a bit longer to sweep into the picture of humans and their living. 

“porcupine pat” mckinney & john domalakes discuss the former charcoal pits 
on the blue mountain in port clinton, standing over the lightly visible indents 
in the ground where they were once a part of the hillside

in december, the group visited to the former mahanoy plane site in frackville, exploring the long ago let go national anthracite industry marker. the plane served as a part of the reading railroad system with coal transportation from 1862 to 1932. still visible coal chutes and parts of the operation, made of stone, are a reminder of this once bustling stretch on the hillside in frackville.

the schuylkill river trail’s sections in hamburg just over the border 
in berks county are well-liked by schuylkill on the move goers

mckinney and those who help him to run schuylkill on the move do their best to offer at least one hike per month but do have a few months per year of more than one hike in a 30-day period—a gracious gift to those who value the unique approach to the group in tying together healthy time out in nature while learning about the particulars of the county.

he estimates that throughout the past two decades, he’s led hikes at 50 different locations around the region. in winter, hikes are generally shorter because of the biting winds of the chilly season. in the months with more forgiving of temperatures, tracey is known to lead longer hikes up to 10 miles.

“we are designated impoverished and rank 64th out of 67 counties with regards to health and wellness,”  mckinney says about schuylkill county. this is yet another reason schuylkill on the move is such a special part of this sweep of pennsylvania. “and we have areas that are devastated, we have abandoned mine lands that are reverting, but people in schuylkill on the move love how the mountains are here with these rolling hills.”

upcoming hikes—

sunday, january 27 from 2 to 4 p.m.: “frackville foray.” hike leader john domalakes showcases the grave of frackville founder daniel frack and then an impeccable overlook of the mahanoy valley. meets at saint ann roman catholic church on north line street in frackville. (3 miles; easy)

saturday, february 16 from 1.30 to 3 p.m.: “tuscarora trek.” robin tracey leads a walk on the old log trail to enjoy winter scenery. meets in the upper beach parking lot of tuscarora state park. (2 miles; easy)

saturday, march 9 from 2 to 4.30 p.m.: “tree trail—locust lake.” robin tracey returns with a hike on a trail that features the beautiful terrain in the locust lake state park. meets in visitor parking lot. (3 miles; moderate)

for the full 2013 hikes schedule, reach pat mckinney at porcupinepat@yahoo.com.

07 December 2012

( chris’ cranberry creation-- an autumn recipe )

kindly a courtesy of gillian slater


1 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries, cleaned
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup chopped pecans


cook the cranberries, sugar, and water in a saucepan over low to medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until the skins pop open. add the apple parts, zests, and juices, and cook for 15 to 20 more minutes. remove from the heat, and add the nuts. adding the nuts last will prevent them from becoming too soft. let cool, and serve chilled.

this is most suitably served with vanilla ice cream. i personally use it on my turkey as a replacement for gravy. i’ve always been weird that way (the good kind of weird, according to editing fingertips !)

i first made this with my mother (chris of this recipe’s making) during my sophomore year in college. a novice in the kitchen, i wanted to undertake this recipe at the hands of her careful guidance. the first thing we did was chase dad out of his domain, the kitchen. this was girl-time. she had made this a year before when i immediately fell in love with the recipe. though back then, i could hardly be bothered to concentrate because i decided that i wanted to make this for my then-boyfriend who i was over the moon with at the time. mom kept telling me to focus so my cranberry creation wouldn’t burn and turn into super sour baby mush. in the end, the cranberry medley of palate affection became so very worth the nagging.

05 December 2012

( spokes to spark the heart—a love of the almighty bicycle )

by jennifer hetrick

it’s easy to keep pedals pushing forward when you love bicycles as much as the laird family and their dedicated employees in their stretch of the historic downtown schwenksville scenery. in 2005, joe laird bought tailwind bicycles from a good friend, the man who first opened the shop in 1977.

“i remember dissecting bicycles on my parents’ porch when i was a kid,” joe reflects. “it seemed like it was always coming back to me.” a passion for the persuasion of pedaling on two wheels has had a healthy hold on joe for decades, and it translated to his family, too.

his son owen plays a large role in the shop as master bicycle mechanic and store manager. his daughter rachel joined the shop in february of this year and brought to it her skills in bookkeeping, sales, social networking, and coordinating community bike rides.

joe himself tries to ride at least two or three times each week, and as might be expected, has several quasi-museums of classic bicycles, with some dating back to the early 1900s and others stemming from the 1940s and 1950s.

when joe and his team propped a buy-sell-trade sign outside of the shop, the front door began swinging even more than before with new footfalls saying hello to tailwind bicycles.

“we had so many people coming in for used bikes after we put that sign out,” rachel says. “and we’re not buying walmart or department store bikes.” only very decent-quality and well-made bicycles are taken in trading efforts.

and bike rentals are greatly appreciated, too, especially thanks to the perkiomen trail visible from the back of the shop. bicycles for rent cost $30 a day.

rachel points out that she’s noticed summer camps renting out bicycles frequently, but retired-age people are also great admirers of the chance to spend a day renting a bicycle to wheel away on the trail behind the storefront.

and while the bicycle rentals were something offered at the shop for years, a jump upward in interest for the opportunity has been very obvious and well-gleaned by the laird family and their employees who thrive from riding on their own and seeing others enjoy the recreational perk, too.

joe remembers when a man once brought in several very dilapidated children’s bikes that looked hopeless, with especially dry chains. after bringing those little bikes back to life, the man reacted in such glee and thankfulness, joe recalls. he soon brought his wife back to see the shop and enthusiastically bought two new bikes as well.

when so many people abhor the idea of going to the gym, riding bikes out in the fresh, open air makes a lot of sense to a good amount of souls out there. and just how much bike-riding is loved today is clear—despite how such busy weeks and rushed days encompass so many a life—by the spokes stirring fast on so many trails around the area when the weather is warmest and even sometimes when it’s chillier.

joe’s skill in custom-fitting and sizing bikes is a lot of why bicyclists value the shop so much; when people have painful bodily issues based on not riding so comfortably and ergonomically, joe brings in his background with understanding the skeleton, its muscles, and how to properly adjust a bike to each person’s best fit, helping them with improved mobility.

at tailwind bicycles, gratitude for time out on a matching set of wheels is easy to hug in the mind but also while taking in the open air around trees and out in the world away from so much structure elsewhere in life.

to find out more and to see about getting old bikes fixed up for a second existence, visit tailwindbicycles.com and search for tailwind bicycles on facebook.

31 October 2012

( an ode to oils )

by jennifer hetrick
after having a more rushed and stressful life for years and meaning well but still seeing a lot of frustration, leslie sacks of douglassville began to glimpse the shape of her days changing once she started delving into a more natural type of energy through her efforts.
sacks now works daily with young living essential oils, or yleo, which is based out of lehi, utah. as a massage therapist today, aiming toward certification to use her expertise with wholesome essential oils in the field of oncology through the american holistic nurses’ association, she plans to do what she can to help cancer patients with her growing skill-set.
she has learned the continual blossoming benefits of using yleo versus ones sometimes found even in organic or natural food stores, as national regulations with wording and content of what must be on labels is not strict enough that the most pure and non-diluted or minimally chemically-altered ingredients are required with those who bottle the liquids. and yet they can appear as though they’re organic or completely pure, with how the bottles’ labels are handled. but a call to the companies to clarify this would likely lead to an only so clear answer.
“after a crippling injury in his early adult years that nearly cost him his life, [d.] gary young dedicated his life to researching essential oils and natural ways to combat disease, preserve health, and promote natural and healthy lifestyles,” reads his website, mentioning that he grew up on a farm in idaho but moved to canada and worked in logging and ranching, suffering a nearly devastating logging accident. “he has since earned a degree in nutrition, a doctorate in naturopathy, and has gone on to become one of the foremost authorities on essential oils and their therapeutic value in the world.”
originally hearing that he wouldn’t walk again after the logging accident, “young had tried to commit suicide three times but failed. in time, he began to research old societies and ones where people lived into old age,” sacks says to explain more about the founder’s circumstances that inspired him to lead the life he now calls his own and shares with so many others.
young understood the importance of having the most far from adulterated essential oils around for their impeccable healing uses, and unlike many distributors, ensures that he sees the curious liquids pressed from plants raised from seed-start to flourishing-finish on his own farms. with other suppliers of essential oils, those managing the bottling are unlikely to be able to say they know where the original plants were raised and how they were tended to in the growing process.
on top of that, sometimes lesser reputably bottled oils can have negative reactions on skin, while pure and potent oils are a lot safer and not nearly as problematic for health.
the caringly raised plants that lead to young’s final essential oils stem literally from farms in st. maries, idaho; mona, utah; and naples, idaho, inside the u.s.
for plants that grow more fittingly in other climates outside of his home country, young has farms in simiane-la-rotonde, france; guayaquil, ecuador; and salalah, oman.
“i believe very strongly in the oils,” sacks admits. “it’s all about helping others.”
while yleo has many straight essential oils, it also has a few blends to bring out the best characteristics in combination for when the light lure hits epidermis.
“essential oils are a very complex molecule,” sacks notes. “when you mix two oils together, you change the molecular composition and how it affects the body.”
she points out that oils stay in the body for about 24 hours.
“cancer does not grow in certain environments,” she adds, with oils and their naturally healing properties as a curious and historical proponent of a good life sometimes forgotten and less known about nowadays because of the advent of prescription drugs and modern medicinal methods.
“you have 20 percent more pores in your feet than in other parts of your body,” sacks says. this means it can help better with absorption happening faster when specific healing characteristics are called for as some kind of illness strikes.
a blend of oils called valor, which incorporates spruce, blue tansy, rosewood, and frankincense, is one sacks highly advocates.
“valor is huge for self-esteem and depression,” she says. “it also helps with alignment. essential oils are really tools for the body—we were designed to heal ourselves.”
assisting in emotional strength, valor works with the body’s electrical system, she says.
back and joint pain, injuries related to those problems, jaw pain and disorders, sciatica, anxiety, sleep apnea, stiff neck, and spinal adjustment are just a few examples of how valor can ease difficult bodily anguish and struggles.
“peppermint for headaches is fabulous, but every once in a while, it doesn’t work for someone,” she elaborates. it can help to drop body temperature, too, so sacks gives her children peppermint oil instead of aspirin. dilating capillaries, the oil increases circulation and is worth attention with bruises, sore muscles, and even broken bones.
but applying it to the belly during an upset stomach is one of its great perks, too. plus, it’s good to sniff periodically to keep awake well away from coffee when sleepy moments sweep into the picture, as it aids with alertness.
you can inhale oils, apply them directly to a spot of skin, or mingle them into spritzers or lemonade, she says.
spraying lavender on sunburn is helpful, too, especially because it calms whatever it touches and has a natural sedative effect. it’s good for alleviating high cholesterol, sacks says, and it reinforces cell regeneration. it’s also great for cuts.

( lavender essential oil applied to the temples can help to calm & also soothe headaches

photos courtesy of  leslie sacks
lavender oil mixed with a high-quality vegetable can actually act as a natural sunblock for skin, too, as a preventative measure. but fortunately, in general, lavender oil is very good for stressed skin, sacks adds.
in oncology units in children’s hospitals outside of pennsylvania, sacks notes that small cups of essential oils like lavender are given to kids for them to smell in small whiffs when they feel nauseous or nervous, sacks says. unfortunately, our state is not usually as progressive in these natural approaches.
“frankincense is probably one of the most powerful oils you’ll ever experience,” she says. it stimulates the limbic system and is excellent for nudging injuries to heal.
concentration, immune system, blisters, insect bites, depression, brittle nails, stretch marks, cysts, skin health, warts, breast health, and general health maintenance are just a few areas where frankincense can offer a natural assistance in repairing and improving the body.
sacks is laboring to introduce educational workshops around the region with regard to the healing benefits and uses of essential oils in addressing different crucial topics of today. one location of her workshops is at beaufort’s run sanctuary in upper pottsgrove. to find out more, visit www.beaufortsrun.com or reach her directly at 610.207.1919 or leslie@healingthyme.com.

07 October 2012

( holy crêpe ! )

by gillian slater

tired of your usual noxious fast food options ?  looking for something more tantalizing for mouth-ways ?  steve asztalos has just what you’re looking for !  crêpes !
steve provides these delectable delights at his café, taste of crêpes, which now boasts of two berks county locations. steve and his wife, ildiko, came all the way from budapest, hungary, sharing lightly pancakesque palate pleasers with america.
why america ? well the answer, according to steve, is simple, “it’s the united states. america ! america ! it’s beautiful !” and it deserves beautifully done food a bit out of the american norm just as well.

steve and ildiko ventured to america several decades ago, marrying in 1990. before diving into the world of crêpes within this american scenery, they labored as a postal worker and a beautician, respectively. but it wasn’t until ildiko became laid off that they considered starting their own business and becoming restaurateurs.
so in may of 2009, the happy couple opened their first location in west reading. their second location, tucked into the heart of kutztown, joined the southeastern pennsylvania food landscape this past june. kutztown served as the obvious choice for steve because he wants to offer a healthy alternative to a good variety of people but also college students—all in the form of a thin pancake you can dazzle with batter whippings, joining in whatever sweet treats or savory slices you want.

“today’s big thing is greasy food, and often fried, whereas crêpes are a healthier choice,” steve says. “we can make a fresh crêpe in three-and-a-half to four minutes.”
all that’s required to cook crêpes, aside from batter and contents, is a little oil to prevent the crêpes from sticking to their brief home on a flat-topped circular electric grill. for an even healthier alternative to their usual crêpe batter, buckwheat goes nicely with savory crêpes.
crêpes are a natural choice to this wife and husband duo, with ildiko running the west reading restaurant, while steve operates the kutztown eatery. the asztalos’ grew up on the freshly prepared crêpes crafted by their grandmothers back when they were growing up in hungary.
crêpes, as it turns out, are not limited to their strongest association, france. in fact, they can be found scattered affectionately all over europe and asia. crêpes were originally made in frying pans as a childhood treat with lemon, jam, or melted butter and sugar, at least according to the history of steve’s youngest days.
in fact, despite the amazing variety that taste of crêpes has to offer, steve confesses that his favorites are the crêpes reminiscent of the ones cooked and put together lovingly by his grandmother.
the most popularly enjoyed crêpes on their menu are chicken monterey, artichoke and spinach, and apple pie.  and a little tip—if you ever get the bananas foster one, ask for nutella. steve revises the menus once a year and is thinking about expanding upon the amazing selection that they already have to offer.
not only that, but he has considered joining crêpe-making classes to the eatery and potential discounted specials for students.
in the three-and-a-half years during which their west reading location has been open, steve estimated that his kitchens have produced an average of sixty to seventy crêpes per day. that’s roughly 80,000 crêpes in just three-and-a-half years. holy math, and yes, holy crêpe.
“it’s the uniqueness. it’s original. european,” steve says about why he and ildiko opened taste of crêpes in berks county, of all places. “there’s nothing else like this; the closest crêpe restaurant i can think of is in lancaster.”

it certainly is an original idea, which fits both the west reading and kutztown theme of eccentric little shops that offer unique finds that can’t be scooped up anywhere else.
while it’s not always easy to train new and young folks into becoming crêpe-making connoisseurs, the repeat customers and wealth of compliments make this european food venture all worthwhile. people appreciate the effort that goes into homemade food artfully created with fresh ingredients.
to learn more, visit tasteofcrêpes.com and search for taste of crêpes on facebook.

( maria mcdonnell stirs into the ♥ of berks county as its fifth poet laureate )

poetic sways of the heart have been with maria mcdonnell since the age of three when she dictated her first poem to her mother, an english teacher. in early october, mcdonnell took on the post of berks county’s fifth poet laureate.
mcdonnell earned her multiple degrees in english and writing at kutztown university of pennsylvania, having grown up in the center park historic district in the city of reading.
in fact, she even studied under the county’s third poet laureate, heather thomas. the sometimes invisible yet solidly evident poetic ties continue onward and always—thomas grew up in renowned poet wallace stevens’ former home in reading, not learning the fact until she had stepped well out of her own childhood years.
mcdonnell formerly taught at reading area community college but has been an instructor at albright college now for seven years.

 ( photo by john robert pankratz )
when her sons were young, mcdonnell visited their school classrooms as a guest, bringing the delight of poetry as a welcome change of pace to the rest of the usual lesson plans.
mcdonnell has also been a part of the countywide poetry group known as berks bards, serving as its treasurer in the past and helping to bring former u.s. poet laureate billy collins to a reading at penn state berks. collins’ laureateship for the country spanned from 2001 to 2003.
she also worked with berks bards in their poets in the schools program, seeing the incredible value of this effort, especially because contemporary poetry is so often lacking in school settings.
poetry workshops in libraries across the county are something mcdonnell says she hopes to whip together again in her new role as poet laureate.
the year 2008 marked when mcdonnell had her first book of poems published under the title first i learn my name. foothills publishing based in kanona, new york released the book. mcdonnell is working  on another collection of poems for publication in the midst of her laureateship starting, too. she’s had her poems published in a number of both online and print magazines and received a nomination for the poem “joyride” in 2009 for the pushcart prize xxxiii.
and that first poem she dictated to her mom in her toddler years still has its place in her life, tucked away into her baby book.
“it’s so easy to forget that we’re all just a bunch of humans, struggling,” mcdonnell says about how poetry is sometimes what helps others to simmer boundaries with strangers from worlds away from this one, especially with well-translated poems.
nimah ismail nawwab, a poet from saudi arabia, as a female muslim, had a strong impact on mcdonnell in this way. her 2004 book of poems, the unfurling, is an example what mcdonnell knows would help others to get out of their own shoes and into the life of another through line after heart-pulling line.
“we all want others to hear our voice and understand,” mcdonnell admits. “showing your own story or trying to give voice to someone, saying, ‘hey, this is my experience,’ pulls us together.”
to see "the year of bones" by maria mcdonnell, available in the print version of news, not blues, email us at newsnotblues@gmail.com. we can send you a PDF of the print version if you'd like.

04 October 2012

film and food-- living healthy's next film plays october 9 @ 6.30 p.m.

living healthy, a film series sponsored by the boyertown area community wellness council and frecon farms, is offering its next free movie night !

tuesday, october, 9 @ 6.30 p.m. 
at frecon's hard bean cafe 
@ 128 east philadephia avenue 
in boyertown

the 2011 documentary forks over knives will be the feature, including expert discussions of the value of whole foods being a part of regular diets, straying well from devastating diseases.

03 September 2012

( hitchhiking, fracking, poems, and people )

by jennifer hetrick

last summer, berks county’s fourth poet laureate, craig czury, traveled to his home region in northeastern pennsylvania to take up his old love of hitchhiking. but this time, it took on a much larger end goal. czury has been hitching many a ride in pushing forward with his marcellus shale poetry project, reaching out to the hearts of locals and gas workers along route 29 in susquehanna county every time he’s busy thumbing it.
czury takes to the introspective angles of how natural gas drilling (also known as fracking) affects the lives of those who see it happening around them on a daily basis. having grown up in the back mountain region of wilkes-barre in luzerne county, his latest efforts are about a half-hour drive from where he spent his childhood, surrounded by the dead coal industry.
a year ago, czury received a grant for common ground: a community conversation about natural gas and northeastern pennsylvania. the grant in the amount of $3,000.00 came together through a partnership between keystone college, countryside conservancy, north branch land trust, cabot oil and gas, summerhouse grill, and springville schoolhouse art studios.
the art studios are where czury has been taking a comfy shelter since beginning the project, when he’s not commuting back to berks county to teach creative writing courses.
earlier this year, czury won the f. lammot belin arts scholarship through the waverly community house situated in waverly, lackawanna county. totaling $15,000.00, the scholarship is aimed at helping czury to continue with his thumb notes, or his poetic reflections of the voices of all the people he’s met while hitchhiking.
the collection will eventually transition into a book known as his thumb notes almanac, accompanied by photographs courtesy of kim glemboski. the project’s results will also be a part of a magazine publication once the passenger’s side and backseat interviews are all finished.

“i get rides from gas workers, farmers, locals, redneck locals who want to knee-cap the gas workers with baseball bats, and yes, even women still pick me up,” czury admits.
tucked into his pocket is his marcellus journal, which he doesn’t pull out to ink up well with pen and story after story till he’s given his thanks for the ride to wherever he may be going, once wheels are stirring onward from the gravel dust at the side of the road.
his hitchhiking spans mostly between the towns of tunkhannock and montrose, which are about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from reading, berks county.
“what’s most interesting to me is the reasons why people stop to pick me up. one man told me he stopped because his son used to hitchhike this road to work and back,” czury says. “a woman told me her father used to hitchhike. a young couple told me a story about rescuing a family with a baby in a snowstorm. one gas worker told me his father had to hitchhike from montana to oklahoma when he lost his job in the oil fields, and they took away his company truck.”
while many may cringe at the concept of hitchhiking, czury’s ties to this form of connecting with strangers very quickly shine through every ride, as he’s welcomed into the vehicle and after the door slams following his quick words of gratitude for the lift.
“at each split second when each of these drivers decided to stop to give me a lift, they were transferring a loved one or someone they felt for onto me—looking at me and seeing them,” czury says. “there’s something very magical in this.”
dale motions for czury to walk up route 29 from the blinking light in springville to get into his maroon sedan. he soon gives his introduction and says he can tell when people have good hearts, and he means even those who travel by foot and gladly scoop up charity car rides.
having served for many years as a taxi driver, dale quickly tells czury that he understands why the fracking has to be done, but he doesn’t agree with how the gas companies go about it all.

an environmentalist who is often the man behind organizing powwows in the area, dale found himself in discussions before where he was told by gas company reps that the drinking water was safe. but when he pushed a glass over to the man making such claims, he told dale he wasn’t thirsty. dale responded in saying, “then the water’s not safe to drink.”
dale has heard explosions at compressor stations while mowing his grass, only to see his house and its windows rattle fiercely as the earth reacted hard to the penetration.
after a few miles of driving, dale kindly drops czury off at pj’s restaurant & bar in south montrose for breakfast while several area softball teams compete across the street, having played late into the dark of the night the evening before.
once czury has filled up his stomach for the morning, he puts a tenacious thumb out by the road again. in a few minutes, dan obliges, whipping his oldsmobile around potholes as he hits the brake to let czury hop on in.

an excerpt from craig czury’s thumb notes—

at night
from the kitchen window
from the back field near the pond
from your truck swerving potholes
your story augers deep
through a tangle of roots
home or far from home
lit by a tower of stars
written in earth and water
with flammable ink

at the age of 54, dan has 20 grandkids and four great-grandkids. one of his daughter’s works at a shop along the road, so he goes for saturday drives, with the windows down, to visit her and to grab a coffee.
when czury asks if he’s ever seen a bobcat in these parts, dan nods. when czury asks if he’s seen a cougar, dan says that he has but points out that the game commission isn’t willing to admit the same despite the evidence.

dan says he doesn’t own land, but some of his adult children do.
“these guys who own land out here are making it rich,” dan says as creedence clearwater revival’s portrayal of  “midnight special” belts out through the beaten radio speakers.
czury has heard stories of families broken apart by gas leases signed and by refusals to sign, often involving farmers who have suffered through the dairy crisis.
some of those he’s talked to have mentioned farm families barely living on making $30,000 a year, scraping by, then signing a gas lease with a pair of wells drilled on their land so that their income is suddenly around $100,000 a month.
but czury has learned that for those families who do sign gas leases, many are known for contributing large sums of their new wealth to local service organizations.
a treatment station tucked beyond the hills away from the main rural highway separates the gas from water, recycling it back into the ground, with the only road there covered in grit instead of macadam.
the region has recently been the sight of more pipeline preparation along route 29 for transporting the gas once it’s drilled into waking.
czury is known to drive to sites late at night when workers are extracting the natural gas.
even in the latest and most quiet hours of the night, czury has seen the sky light up into a white fury from rig flares burning off excess gas and fracking fluid, following fracking.
glimpsing so much of the scenery and northeastern pennsylvania landscape lit up when the town’s people are trying to sleep has a strong influence on czury’s insides as he continues with the poetry project.

an excerpt from craig czury’s thumb notes—

again i’m standing out here with my thumb
but i am standing out here with my thumb
and a pocket notebook
i’m writing this as i stand out here

springville   joes’s garage – quality used cars since 1950.

at the CIT O station well hands pile
out of a white company truck
with their work gear and get into their cars
and drive off into who knows where

never mind the trucks.

a woman walks to her car carrying
large cups of coffee in both hands
sets them on the roof of her powder blue hybrid 
looks over at me and smiles

when czury first began his poetry project, gas drilling at a single site lasted about 29 days. now, it only takes about 14 days, from start to fracking-finish.

since film is one of the most common ways others are documenting what’s going on in marcellus shale regions in how it affects local life, czury likes that he is approaching it instead through what he cherishes so much—poetry.

“this is my home region, as well as all those ‘shit-ass coal towns,’ as my mother would say, which i documented through poetry 30 years ago,” czury reflects, grateful to be able to bring poem-fragments to the vulnerable humanity and weighted honesty weaved into the stories he has absorbed during the project’s long-stretching minutes. 

czury’s laureateship in berks county ends next month. to learn more about all of his poetic endeavors, visit www.craigczury.com.