This summer, I am taking an on location photography class through Pittsburgh Filmmakers. Normally, my locations tend to be a bit further afield in the summers, but this is a great opportunity to explore some of what makes Pittsburgh unique. Last week we went to Carrie Furnaces. There is so much to see and photograph there that it can be overwhelming; our instructor, Ivette Spradlin, suggested we research Carrie Furnaces and come up with a word to act as a touchstone for our time working there (a wonderful exercise in intention, BTW, I can't recommend it enough.) Anyhoo, here's what I wrote to in preparation for my three hours at Carrie Furnaces and a few images from my time exploring a bit of local history.
Touchstone word: Quiescent
Carrie Furnaces History
Originally built as a merchant iron furnace in 1884, Andrew Carnegie bought Carrie Furnace in 1898 to supply pig iron to the Homestead Steelworks. Carrie Furnaces grew and furnaces 6 and 7 were added in 1907 to increase iron production. Operational from 1907 to 1978, Carrie Furnaces 6 and 7 produced over 1000 tons of iron per day in the 1950s and 1960s. Carrie Furnaces 6 and 7 are the only blast furnaces left standing at the site. U.S. Steel (the last owner of Carrie Furnaces) stopped iron production altogether at the site in 1982.
While operational, Carrie Furnaces provided thousands of middle class jobs to the region. The work was very dangerous and dirty, hot enough to require asbestos protective suits in some sections and bitterly cold in the upper catwalks in the winter. Jobs were segregated and African Americans had little opportunity for advancement out of the worst jobs the furnaces had to offer.
Carrie Furnaces Today
Today, Carrie Furnaces is a national historic landmark, with tours running in the spring through fall. After decades of brownfield remediation, Allegheny County is nearing the point where it can consider the redevelopment of the site. In February 2017, the Redevelopment Authority Board was scheduled to vote on moving forward to accept solicitation of development proposals. (http://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/news/2017/02/17/allegheny-county-readyto-seek-developers.html)
Most Interesting Aspect of the Visit
Carrie Furnaces is a place in transition. We know what it was and what it currently is; what is will be is open to possibility. I am not from Pittsburgh and have never been to Carrie Furnaces. I wonder if it will have the same emotional effect on me that I have heard it has on Pittsburgh natives, seeing their own history. How will I respond? For now, Carrie Furnaces is a place of potential, resting quietly and waiting for it’s chance to add once more to the story of Pittsburgh. I, too, rest quietly in that place I find inside myself before photographing something new, that place of quiescence, waiting to experience what Carrie Furnaces wants to show me.
"We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road / the one less traveled by / offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth." — Rachel Carson
The 38.2 mile Rachel Carson Trail stretches from Harrison Hills County Park in the northeast corner of Allegheny County to North Park in north-central part of the county. Dedicated hikers and volunteers completed the trail in 1975 and named it for the marine biologist and environmentalist, Rachel Carson, who was born in a humble farmhouse in 1907 near the newly completed trail in Springdale, PA, and best known for authoring Silent Spring in 1962, the book that led to the banning of DDT in America and coalesced a nascent environmental movement (which ultimately led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency). As of this writing, the Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy is the non-profit organization responsible for the stewardship of the trail. Their website describes the trail as “extremely varied, traversing several county parks, following power and gas lines, skirting suburban homes and farms, crossing creeks, meandering through woods and fields, and passing along the edge of steep bluffs. The terrain along the route ranges from paved roads to some areas that are quite primitive and rugged.”
As an avid hiker, the trail has long captivated my attention and many summer mornings. Each moment spent exploring raised new questions about the trail and the lives lived along it. Are the piles of garbage that litter parts of the trail ironic? Depressing? Is there a deeper meaning to the gas lines that run under my feet? Are the herbicides used to achieve the perfect suburban lawn a mockery or merely one more instance of the push and pull between man and nature? These questions were the seeds for this project.
Armed with my camera, tripod, and backpack, I have been hiking and photographing small sections of RCT since January, following the yellow trail blazes through an area known by many on a path unheard of by most. The trail is largely forgotten in the off-season, but I wanted to observe and participate in its existence while much of Western Pennsylvania lay dormant. Though I have lived in the region for the past ten years, I still feel I barely know it. From deer to dog walkers, doves to detritus, possum to petroleum, signs of use were evident everywhere I walked.
What would Rachel Carson think?
I've placed the following photos in trail order running from North Park to Harrison Hills County Park. The last image (my personal favorite) is of the Rachel Carson's childhood home.
P.S. Some exciting news! Every summer, on the Saturday closest to the solstice, The Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy hosts the RCT Challenge. Hikers are selected by trail karma (not kidding) to participate in this one day hike of the entire trail. I just received word that I will be hiking this year! I couldn't ask for a better capstone.
“Here and there awareness is growing that man, far from being the overlord of all creation, is himself part of nature, subject to the same cosmic forces that control all other life. Man's future welfare and probably even his survival depend upon his learning to live in harmony, rather than in combat, with these forces." -Rachel Carson
Boy am I glad I didn't make too many promises about blogging this trip. I finally have a very slow connection again after days of nothing. We finished the Dingle Way today and with the exception of climbing Mt. Brandon (which had reportedly unsafe bits of trail and excessive knee-deep boggy bits), we walked the entire thing. Lots of road walking, which was not so fun, and over 20 miles of beach walking! Let's just say I now have an extensive collection of sea glass and sea shells from Ireland. I promise to post a detailed account when I get home, but for now, here are a few bits the western tip of the Dingle peninsula, the Bay of Brandon, and the Bay of Tralee.
At the end of our fourth day of hiking, I finally have the time and connection to put together a quick post. It's been an interesting couple of days. The west of Ireland is filled (and I do mean filled) with German tourists. Fortunately, the trails are fairly quiet, but odds are very high that anyone met on them will greet you in German. So guten tag ya'll! And while Ireland is fairly well connected as far as WiFi goes, the power and location has been unpredictable at best -- such as "Yes, you have WiFi. Just step outside the B&B and go over to that part of the yard (in the rain... I think it may have been the neighbor's WiFi).
Anyhoo, we have hiked from Camp to Annascaul, Annascaul to Dingle, and Dingle to Dun Chaoin -- a total of 56km in three days. We've walked on sandy beaches, boreens (grassy roads), dirt roads, on too many paved roads for my liking, through sheep pasture, and through more sheep and cow poo than Bobbo thought existed on the whole of Ireland. Yes, he's still walking with me. What a guy!
And now for a few pictures. Decisions, decisions... I promise I'll post more when I get home. Here's a few from the road:
Welcome to the Ireland 2016 mini blog! Why a mini blog? Well, I cannot guarantee when I will be able to post on this adventure and when I won't, so "mini-blog" seems appropriate. As I write, it's the end of my fifth full day in this incredible place and the end of my first day hiking the Dingle Way/Kerry Camino. (We spent the first several days as touristas in and around Dublin since it's Bobbo's first time in Ireland. If you've been keeping track, it is my third visit in four years. No, I'm not sick of it and I certainly haven't seen it all!)
Here's a quick visual snack from the past several days, ending with the hike that according to the map should have been 12 miles, but according to our GPS and phones was over 17 miles of scrambling mostly over a rocky, VERY muddy bog. My feet vote for the 17 miles.