An Oregonian in an East Coast Autumn

A quick self-portrait on one of the many pedestrian bridges that cross the streams leading into the Schuylkill River.

A quick self-portrait on one of the many pedestrian bridges that cross the streams leading into the Schuylkill River.

It’s been two months since I moved from Eugene, Oregon to join OLIN in Philadelphia. I knew the 3,000 miles would bring numerous changes in my way of life and environment. With my background in landscape architecture, I was curious to see the new plant communities, geologic and cultural landscapes of the opposing coast. Out of all this newness, however, I was most looking forward to experiencing the fall color. Coming from a state dominated by evergreens, I had painted a mental picture with vibrant reds, yellows, and my favorite color of all: orange.

On a sunny Saturday morning I set out on my bike to escape the concrete jungle.  I hopped onto the Schuylkill River Trail and rode north. The trail was busy with city dwellers of all generations—walking, jogging, and bicycling—a multicolored stream of people flowing to and fro in a delicately ordered dance. “On your left,” I called out to a group of runners before I glided past.  I reminisced about my college rowing days as I spotted a quad shell gently making its way upstream. The farther I pedaled away from Center City Philadelphia, the thinner the crowd and more verdant the surroundings became.


The Schuylkill River Trail traverses about 10 miles through the city of Philadelphia and then continues through to Valley Forge and beyond. On my ride, I found this view of the river, surrounded by a vibrant forest, especially striking.

With no particular destination, I followed the meandering trail over humps, dips and curves as it headed to the neighborhood of Manayunk. After a mild cold spell, the vegetation was just beginning to transition. Some trees displayed golden yellow and orange hues with rare pops of red. I wasn’t familiar with all of the species but I recognized the river birch, maples and Staghorn Sumac. When my focus turned away from the individual trees to see the whole forest, I noted how the edge of the broadleaf canopy created a soft and gentle rolling line against the bright blue sky. The gentle evergreen giants of Oregon have pointed tops that create a jagged line like teeth biting into the clouds—this juxtaposition was a subtle, but a significant clue that I wasn’t in the Pacific Northwest anymore.

A few weeks later Hurricane Sandy and the snowfall shortly thereafter made my cross-country move all the more real. The inclement weather claimed most of the leaves so I will have to wait until next fall to chase the fall color again. Now I wait for the snow.


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