Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Note! Click on photos to view full size. 

 Bessemer & Lake Erie Tracks, Harmer Twp. PA

Shadbush!  It is is blooming! Spring is officially here and the shad must be running!  I am not familiar with shad, the fish, for which the tree is named for, but supposedly, when the shadbush blooms, the shad are running.  I can quit my lamentations on a late spring and enjoy what is left of April, although yesterday was quite cool with a high in the mid 40's and lots of rain.

The shadbush is a shrub or small understory tree that is usually one of the first native trees to bloom in the spring in western Pennsylvania.  This year, perhaps because of a late spring, the blooms are unusually heavy giving it a bigger presence in the woods than usual.  It often has a delicate almost diaphanous appearance and has been likened to snow or mist and is easy to miss.
 Note Typical Delicate Appearance In The Distant Tree
Part of the reason for the delicacy of the blooms is the structure of the petals.  Shadbush is a member of the rose family so like apple, cherry, peach, plum, raspberry, and strawberry it has a 5 petaled bloom.  But on most species of the rose family the petals are big and round.  The petals of the shadbush are long and thin resulting in a delicate spray of white verses the heavily loaded blooming of most of the tree species of the rose family.

Typical Rose Family Bloom, Note Round Petals
The shadbush genus is Amelanchier and it has a variety of different names, serviceberry, juneberry, Sasskatoon (which engendered the name of the city in Saskatchewan, Canada).   It is also somewhat of a confusing genus to attempt to identify.  Experts differ on how many actual species exist and the tree readily hybridizes thus adding to the confusion. Being a member of the rose family it has an edible fruit that is similar to a blueberry in size and taste.  The trees that grow around here have a distinctive muscular looking trunk and branches with a smooth gray bark with vertical striations.  You can read more about the shadbush here:

Shadbush Bloom, Note 5 Thin Petals

The photos I have included were taken from a overpass on the Bessemer & Lake Erie tracks in Harmar Township. The reason the photos are skewed from the tracks is that the overpass has a fine mesh fence and I could only find a couple of places to fit the lens between the bottom of the fence and the bridge side barrier.  The songs of the spring peepers in the drainage ditches were deafening. 

Another first sign of spring is coltsfoot.  Having blooms that resemble dandelions but smaller, coltsfoot is generally the first plant to bloom in our area. It can usually be found on road sides.  This year I only spotted it once and it was very late.  The picture I included here was from our Geocaching days back in 2005.

For all my complaining two weeks ago about the loss of spring, nature has hurried to catch up.  Many of the trees have exploded from the buds and the hill sides, while not spray painted green just yet, have the appearance of being randomly painted with dabs of a giant sponge.  Truly my favorite time of year. 

B&LE Crossing The Allegheny River, Harmar PA
EDIT Sunday 4-24-11:  This is actually a reply to VW Busman's comment below, but I can't post photos in a comment.

Carsten S. Lundsten's Photo of The B&LE Bridge
About a mile and half south of where I took the above photos, the B&LE crosses the Allegheny River parallel with the Pennsylvania Turnpike on a beautiful high level bridge.  Back before 9-11-2001, I went out on this bridge and went mid stream on the southern end (right in the middle of the span in the upper photo to the right).  This was also before I owned a digital camera.  What a magnificent sight.  Looking east I looked down on Lock & Dam 3 of the Allegheny River.  Looking west I looked down on the Turnpike bridge.  The bridge itself while extremely well built for trains had some nasty rotted spots on the wooden catwalk.  I would not recommend this as a casual walk, there were places where I hung on for dear life. 

What a phenomenal sight.   I didn't walk all the way across, because there were no trespassing signs all around.  If I got booted off the bridge on the north side by the railroad bulls I would have about a 6 mile walk to get back to my car.  So if I got booted I wanted to be booted on the southern side.  Well that was before 9-11.  Today I would be afraid that a helicopter and a swat team would be called in on me and I would end up in some Federal prison for terrorist activities on a public transportation facility.  BTW, the B&LE used to be owned by United States Steel Corporation, but is now owned by the Canadian National maybe I'll end up in a Canadian prison. 

Edit 4-25-11:  I remembered I have a really cool photo of the B&LE bridge that I downloaded several years ago. I can't find it any longer on the web, so I don't who to give credit to for this photo, but it is a jewel!   Click on it for full size. 

Image Credits & More Info:  

For more information on the bridge and the B&LE see the following links:

Photo with Turnpike: Carsten S. Lundsten, Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad    This is a phenomenal site describing the railroad and a lot of wonderful photos., Bessemer & Lake Erie Bridge, Allegheny River   A great site describing this bridge and the many others in Allegheny County.  With three rivers and many creek ravines, we have a lot of bridges in Allegheny County.


Bridge photo, Wikipedia, Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad Bridge  and also see 

Logo Image,  Wikipedia, Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad


  1. Wow..2 posts in 2 days.....I just about fell out of my chair here. You have been busy.....great stuff. Where do I begin.......Good topic..title.. the photos...keep it up....especially the train and landscape ones....super...I could gaze at photos like that forever.
    So, about the train pics.....could one walk along those tracks in those photos ? I'd be there in a heartbeat. How about old train buildings along the track side ? How close is this to your residence ? Walking distance ?

    Amelanchier......we have Saskatoon bushes or trees here in Manitoba. Would this be the same bush as you have photographed ? They have very tender blooms and lots of years get spoiled by late frosts up in the northland here. Love to pick and eat them. We eat Saskatoon pies by the truckload here. I think my wife has umpteen ice cream pails of the stuff in the freezer. And..........Saskatoon wine..mmmmmmmmm..lovely stuff.

    Our first flower in the dandelion....I like the yellow flowers...No..sorry I lied...our very first flower and its blooming right now is a small delicate blue flower called Scilla.

    We are quite a bit later here for spring.....lets see did John Jerome describe it in his book ..Blue 187.." For every degree of latitude you move North, winter comes four days earlier and spring four days later. "
    Pittsburgh is 40 deg 27 min and Winnipeg is 49 deg 54 min.
    So at least 9 deg's north x 4 days..geez ..that's 27 days..almost a month....bout right I guess. Too late for me. Where I live would be perfect if winter would come a month later and spring a month earlier.

    Great post Sextant......more photos please.

  2. Ahhhhhhhhhhh...just re read my math is the shits...
    9 x 4 would be 36 days......even more depressing.............bring on Global warming....................

  3. See edit 4-24-11 for my comment.

  4. Saskatoon and my photos are the same genus, Amelanchier, but probably not the same species. I believe what we have around here is the downy serviceberry which is a small tree and has a less tasty berry than your bushes.

    We don't seem to cultivate these things to the degree that you are talking about. Other than being a tree in the woods with edible fruit that you generally can't reach, I have never heard of any uses for shadbush. Apparently they must be a bigger deal up your way. Hell they named a city after it!

  5. Just saw your addition regarding the new picture. Cool indeed.
    What I wouldn't give to have been born 20 years earlier and to have been around for railroad steam and the photos I could have taken,.