Keeping Fit in Pitt

LeeAnnRubsam.com

As I explained yesterday, we have been visiting in the rural outskirts of Pittsburgh. 

I have been doing quite a bit of walking, partly out of desire to see some scenery, partly to find temporary solitude.  There is a hiking path about one-half mile from Susan’s house.  Getting there is semi-dangerous, as there is only a narrow shoulder along a sharply curving highway to walk on, and traffic is clipping.  I take consolation in not seeing many wildlife corpses on the road, which probably means that if I keep my eyes open, I will not end up as roadkill either.  I instruct the family before leaving that if I am not back in two hours, it is time to mount up a posse and come looking for me.

The hiking trail is an old railroad line, with a long tunnel cut through a hillside for added interest.  Woods adorn both sides, and Susan’s house is up on a bluff overlooking a creek which cuts between the trail and the residential area.

It seems that Pittsburghians do not behave quite like Wisconsinites.  The folks out on the trail are mostly intense types.  They jog, they stride energetically with arms flailing wildly, they are pulled along by unruly pitbulls, but they do not acknowledge each other’s existence as they meet.  My mother taught me as a small child that when we pass someone on the street, we smile pleasantly and say “hi.”  Pittsburghians appear to be very serious about whatever they do, including conscientiously obeying their mothers’ instructions never to speak to strangers.  I perversely insist on accosting them with a “hi,”  although I quickly discovered this is not kosher. The typical response is a surprised stare, as if they have discovered an intriguing new species of insect and are not quite certain whether to squash it or let it entertain them.  I keep trying, in hopes of improving their standard of civilized behavior, and I sometimes even get a response, but it is difficult to change a culture in a mere week’s time.

The trail is not heavily traveled in November, so I feel a little nervous about encountering lone men when no one else is in sight, especially in the dimly lit tunnel.  I am alert to my surroundings at all times, and listen carefully to assess the danger factor.  If the guy is breathing heavily as he approaches, that is probably good.  Loud snorting, wheezing, asthmatic gasping, and pre-cardiac arrest noises are even better.  All of these mean I can run faster than them, and that predator tactics are the last thing on their mind.

One of Susan’s friends informed me that in the summertime, the men are not the main alarm factor on the trail.  When it is warm, the copperheads enjoy sunning themselves smack dab in the middle of the road.  When they get too warm, they cool off in the tunnel — and no doubt lie in wait for silly Wisconsin women who never once imagined that a ten-foot-wide gravelled road would be a snake resort. 

I passed a pleasant elderly couple along the trail one afternoon.  (They said “hi” back and smiled — probably natives of Wisconsin, not Pittsburgh.)  I suppose they were in their seventies.  She was round and he was very lean — like Jack Sprat and wife.

As I approached  the tunnel on my return leg of the hike, I encountered Mrs. Sprat peering intently around the edge of it.  Jack was on the other end, poking around in some weeds.  Shortly after I entered, what I thought was a teenager tore past me in the fastest sprint I’d ever seen outside of the Olympics.  But it wasn’t a teenager.  As he got nearer, I realized it was Jack.  Seventy … spry as a youngster … faster than a speeding bullet … no red cape  or other super hero props though.

“How’d I do?”  Jack asked, lightly puffing.

“Thirty-one seconds,”  Mrs. Sprat replied.

But the light puffing didn’t subside or even continue evenly.  “EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH!” Jack commenced gasping in high-pitched apparent distress.  I wished I had remembered to bring the cell phone.  Obviously Jack was going to need an ambulance, and no telling how long it would take one to get there and whether the driver would know that he could disregard the hiking trail rule, “no motorized vehicles allowed.”

I turned to gaze in horror.  Mrs Sprat giggled.  Jack didn’t giggle.  He just kept on with the “EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH!”  At that point I figured that either she was rather looking forward to an early widowhood, or else Jack and the Mrs. just hang out at the tunnel on a regular basis, waiting to show off their stuff for whatever unsuspecting Wisconsinite comes along, hoping to scare the daylights out of their victim.

I headed on down the trail, and I noticed when I got to the end that the Sprats, with no “EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUH! EEH-HUHs” in earshot, were not far behind. 

Keeping Fit in Pitt (Part 2)

LeeAnnRubsam.com

Where the Wild Things Are

LeeAnnRubsam.com

We are visiting Susan and family in Pittsburgh for a few days.  They do not really live in Pittsburgh, just in one of the rural, wooded suburbs that surround the city.

I am in the midst of being a very cool grandma.  As everyone knows, cool grandmas come in a wide array of colors and shapes, but they are only really cool if they get artsy-craftsy with the little ones.  I have about three things in my artsy-craftsy arsenal, so it’s good that I am a long-distance grandma and can spread those three things out over my entire career.

Hence, I came prepared with a bucket of seashells and a huge jar of popsicle sticks.  We made treasure boxes by gluing the sticks together in dizzyingly-high layers until we reached the attention span limit.  The seashells became lid decorations.  The small fry will remember my visit fondly forever.  Now you know how to be a very cool grandma, if you didn’t possess that information before.   Isn’t the Internet wonderful?

Jason Upton sings, “Do you really want to know … where the wild things are?”  I know.  They live in suburban Pittsburgh — both inside and outside the house.  We arrived to find Susan and her husband in a massive battle with squatters — an army of mice.  These are brazen rodents: they do not wait until we are all snuggled in bed with the lights out to reconnoiter.   They watch us from corners, waiting for the very moment we leave the room, whereupon they scramble from their bunkers in search of plunder.  The killer beagle is not concerned.  He should face a long stint in the brig for dereliction of duty. 

Francis Scott Key described the battle he witnessed as “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air.”  Here it is more like snap, crackle, and POP — sounds of mice rummaging through the cupboards and their eventual demise in the cleverly positioned booby traps.

I commented darkly that we should consider mouse croquettes for dinner some evening.  I’m not sure that  is any more of a gross idea than escargot or frog legs, but it was merely a conversation starter, not an idea to be seriously entertained.

The house has a history of wildlife intrusions.  Last summer Susan found a baby snake coiled among the children’s toys.  Her heroic husband strode to the rescue, scooped the viper up in a box, and hurled him down the hill to the creek.  I’m not sure it was a real viper.  Chris said you can tell whether they are poisonous or not by how slanted the eyes are — but he didn’t examine the eyeballs intently enough to find out.  He’s a very just-get-the-job-done kind of guy.

Incidents of this sort must be why Susan once announced that she would much prefer to live in an apartment with concrete all the way up to the foundations and not a blade of grass or a tree in sight. 

%d bloggers like this: