Working and living at Castle Valley, you learn to be ever-encroached upon, and encroaching on, nature. In the mill, it’s cave crickets in the basement. Outside, it’s Northern Water Snakes, turtles, Wolf Spiders, and recently, it turns out, a Brown Recluse. The joys certainly balance out the (less joyful) run-ins with things we’d rather leave alone.

Our mill mascot’s name is Eric. Years ago, the son of a family friend would come fishing almost every day during the summer. From boy to man, he grew up spending summers fishing off a little island below the dam. His name was Eric. A few years after Eric grew up and stopped coming so often, we started seeing a Great Blue Heron fishing off the same island. Of course, we named him Eric. We now see “Eric” fishing off the island multiple times a day, in the same patient fashion as his namesake. We’re pretty sure we harbor a lot more than just one Heron – considering the fact that we’ve had Eric for about 8 years now – but as far as we’re concerned, they’re all Eric.

Eric the Heron

Unless they’re in danger where they are, we let them be. The other ones hang out on the banks of the creek and on muddy slopes along the Lower Meadow. They share their world with their neighbor, who tends to be either in the way or completely absent- there is no in between. Enter, the Northern Water Snake.

At any point in the summer, you can look out the packing room window and see what I like to call a “turtle party”. On the rock that protrudes out from by the dam, literal piles of snapper and leatherback turtles can be seen. Their main term of business: straight hangin’.

Turtles don’t have many natural predators in the Neshaminy Creek, so they thrive within the fresh-water duckweed in the bed of the water. It’s an amphibian oasis. Each spring we find baby snapping turtles, either as a pile of eggs, or freshly hatched out and finding their way to the water.

These guys are a huge part of my childhood. Growing up here, of all places, you have to learn a little coexistence lesson with the wildlife. This includes snakes. Our friends can grow up to 5 feet long, shed wherever they want, and love playing hide and snake in the stacks of our *very nice* wooden pallets.

Around July two or three years ago, we erected “Snake Hotel”. A stack of old and damaged pallets sat by our woodshed, and the snakes took over. Mark then took the opportunity to boost the star rating and added some rocks, more pallets, and changed the location slightly so they would be in a more slither- friendly area, out of the way of the mowing route or high-traffic parts of the lawn.

Snake Hotel stands to this day, and turtle parties are a daily occurrence. Owning, restoring, and operating a 300 year-old mill means accepting the fact that some *residents* have been here much longer than we have. So, rather than plow over the growth of nature in our path, we choose to share it. Snake Hotel keeps our friends out of the well pipes (yes, they actually once clogged the pipes). Turtle parties never fail to put a smile on my face when I peek out the window during the workday. From feathers to shells to scales, nature thrives on and in our creek, and we are elated to share it.

Unless you’re a Brown Recluse, in which case, please follow the tractor treads to the exit.

By Liesel FIscher