“Excelsior!” is a word our Latin teacher loved to write on his course syllabus. It reminded us to strive ever upward, to do our best and then some. Two writer friends (Gabe and Nick) and I also use the word as a closing greeting when we correspond.

Marquee Movies tells me that the “super moon” tonight is a once-in-eighteen-years phenomenon, bigger and brighter than a usual full moon. Maybe the moon had an influence on the “excelsior” writing day I had today — this, by grace, was a Saturday as Saturdays should be done!

Grandview Park on Mt. Washington

Thanks to the new lifestyle patterns imposed by my job, I was able to get going and be out of the house by 9:00, something I never would have dreamed of doing a month ago! But when my weekdays start at about 5:20 a.m., sleeping in till 8:00 felt positively luxurious!

There is no machine for writing first drafts like the AlphaSmart Neo, whose praises I have sung before — a full-sized keyboard, visible screen, virtually endless battery life, portability, durability, simplicity, compatibility with either a PC or a Mac . . . and no distracting Internet connection. The Neo is a true friend who says, “When you’re with me, you’re writing.”

The entrance to Grandview Park

So I packed up my Neo and my notes on the novel, stopped at a Sunoco station for breakfast and coffee, and drove up to Grandview Park on Mt. Washington. The entrance commands a fine view of downtown Pittsburgh.

The view from Mt. Washington

That would be the Monongahela River, I guess. In the center on the horizon is the Cathedral of Learning.

Downtown Pittsburgh

I’m told that that building on the left has been used in the Batman movies.

The Confluence

That yellow bridge is the Fort Pitt Bridge, which I most often cross. The Allegheny joins the Monongahela at that point to form the Ohio River, which flows up toward where I live.

Outdoor office

First I hiked through the woods, looking for a good place to write. I found this picnic table and set up shop. I wrote here for a couple hours, then hiked some more. The rain held off. Eventually, the sun came out, and it was a perfect summer day in early May!

Civilized upper section of Grandview Park

Grandview Park is located on a forested mountainside above the river. So at the top, there are park-like sections such as this. But below, trails wind through the wild wood.

Down into the greenwood

Crumbling human-wrought blocks and stairways mingle with natural outcroppings, all blanketed by trees and leaves.

The beauty of wood

Bars across the sky

The beauty of light

The beauty of wrought stone

Green walls in shadow

The beauty of pathways


Emerald vaults

The beauty of natural stone


The beauty of roots


The beauty of the forest floor


Evidence of a fire against the rock wall


Washed-down soil comes to rest

The beauty of cloven rocks

The beauty of oak and maple, beech, elm, sycamore . . .


Root city

Above the trail, an old grandmother oak spreads her apron of roots. She mutters tales to all that has life and breath around her.

So I wandered back to that same picnic table, having found it to be the best writing spot in the park after all, though I searched far and wide, and found many a spot that was best in another category. I wrote more, stopped in briefly at home, then packed up a folding chair and drove to St. Mary’s Cemetery on the hill-top and wrote more there until dusk.

All told, I turned out 3,519 good words today — a feat I have not accomplished since Japan, when I had half of each week for writing. It was a day outdoors, where the birds sing and the light glows. It was a day at the keyboard. It was a day immersed in the imaginary world of my book. The best of three worlds!

Excelsior! All glory and thanks to God!

May 5, 2012: writing in Grandview Park




17 Responses to Excelsior!

  1. fsdthreshold says:

    Some writing totals:

    3,519 words on Saturday
    1,693 on Sunday
    The House of the Worm is on the move again!

    An Amusing Story:
    So, I was writing in St. Mary’s Cemetery this afternoon (Sunday)–had my AlphaSmart Neo, bottle of water, beach chair, World Fantasy tote bag, etc. A car pulls up to me with a hopeful elderly genealogist and his wife. He asked if I were perhaps cataloguing the people buried there and posting the results to the Internet.
    Me: No, I’m just writing. Ha, ha! It has nothing to do with the cemetery.
    Him: Oh, okay! Ha, ha! I was hoping you were doing the hard work for guys like me.
    Me: That’s what you’d think, if you saw a guy sitting in a cemetery with a computer. Ha, ha! But I’m just writing!
    Him: Okay! Ha, ha!
    Me: Ha, ha, ha!
    Him: Ha, ha!

  2. What an enchanted place! Oh how I would love to see it in the autumn, with reds and golds both above and below (nothing against spring, I love green, too!). I could NEVER write in a place like this … I would have to be looking all around, exploring, stopping just to breathe. And there is just enough stonework in the place … Deep they delved us, high they builded us, but they are gone. They are gone. They sought the havens long ago.

  3. fsdthreshold says:

    Mr. Brown Snowflake, I can’t get enough of this comment of yours! YES! I knew you would like the place! Does Deer Lick Creek look something like this?

    The writing was at the table in an area above these forest trails that’s still outdoors but not nearly as pretty.

    Daylily and Treefrog, thank you, too!

  4. Real close. More ash and oak (mostly red oak) and some dogwoods (remember, it is in Alabama!). There were little rivulets and pools all over the place … the sound of running water was almost always in your ear, which is what enchanted me. But yes, this is as close as I have seen. You are blessed to be near such a wonderous place!

    • Hannah says:

      Deer Lick Creek… Alabama… OHHH. I thought you were talking about Dee Lick PARK for a second. I was like, oh Mr. Brown Snowflake must be around where I live, too! figures! But I guess you are still close.. 😉

      Super moon! My sisters and I ran outside with a camera and pair of binoculars that night, and our Dad thought we were crazy. He was like: “What are my crazy kids doin’ this time??”

      These place looks so gorgeous!

  5. Mark Shields says:

    I took pictures of July 4 fireworks from Grandview Park one year. And one snowy day I started, with a friend, at the bottom of the park, on Arlington Avenue, and hiked all the way to the top. Special place! We arrived and departed on the 49 Arlington-Warrington trolley line, which served both sides of the park. (Today, rebuilt, it’s the former Brown Line [known in the interim as 52 Allentown], which is retained as an emergency bypass to the tunnel through Mt. Washington, but does not see regular service.)

  6. Philip says:

    Such beauty! It’s great to see you’ve found such an inspiring workplace.

    (Can anyone else here not read “Excelsior!” without thinking of Stan Lee, or is it just me?)

  7. Buurenaar says:

    Phillip, it’s not just you…I keep flashing back to “Who Wants to be a Superhero?” Also, I’ve been looking for something along the same lines for my portable writing. My Lenovo B560 is my workhorse and gaming machine, but it’s far too heavy for a hike. The battery is far too weak for an extensive writing session, as well. I need to find a place that makes me get that little nagging itch in the back of my mind that makes me absolutely mad to write.

  8. Joe M says:

    were any of those taken in Westveiw,North side, woods run,or pittsburgh. (the nature shots I mean) I might recognize some of that.

  9. Judy Bicknell says:

    fsdthreshold – My husband and I are retiring to the Pittsburgh area in a few months. Our son lives and works there and we have been to the city several times to visit him and attend ANTHRCON – Yes, my husband is a FURRY and I am a tag-a-long. In my search to find a new home for all of us, I use Google Earth to explore neighborhoods and surrounding Parks and businesses. Your pictorial journey thru Grandview Park tugged at my heartstrings. I felt as though I was with you on your hike through the park. I felt inclined to respond to your words and visions and to thank you for this great gift that you have shared with complete strangers. EXCELSIOR!

  10. ken wolfe says:

    Good day I happened upon your pics when I was looking for pictures of Grandview Park to update a community website
    I was wondering if it would be possible to use some of them to populate a page of pictures.
    yours will not be the only ones but there are great pics here of some infrastructure from a few years ago.

    • fsdthreshold says:

      Hi, Ken–Yes, it’s fine with me if you’d like to use some of my Grandview Park photos on the community website. Thank you for asking! I’m honored that you like those images. I have very happy memories of my days of writing in Grandview Park! –Fred

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