Volume 4, Issue 1 (September 2010)
"We don't stop hiking because we grow old; we grow old because we stop hiking." -- Finis Mitchell
All of the articles in this issue are by LHU students. Last spring Professor Marjorie Maddox Hafer taught a course on Pennsylvania Authors, and Professor Dana Washington taught a course on Creative Nonfiction. The result was a series of excellent essays on nature and Pennsylvania culture, and many of those student writers sent their finished works to us. Future issues will contain articles written by students, faculty, staff, and members of the Lock Haven community.
If you would like to contribute an article, please contact Bob Myers. We would be very interested in publishing anything connected with the outdoors, environmentalism, or Pennsylvania culture and history. Past issues can be seen at Hemlock Past Issues.
Only a Camper Knows the Secrets of Cook Forest
My father turns the old brown station wagon down the familiar dirt road marked with evergreen trees that bask in the glow of the sun. Straight ahead, the sign Cook Forest State Park welcomes us, and I can no longer sit still. We drive through the campground to the site where my Grandparent’s trailer is set up and see my cousins running around crazily as my Aunt and Uncle struggle to set up their tents. My brother and I jump from the car, run around to give hugs, and add to the chaos. Today is the beginning of an amazing week of camping with the family.
Every year, my family makes the four-hour drive to Cook Forest, Pennsylvania to camp with my Nana and Papa, Aunt Dar and Uncle Randy, and cousins: Emily, Jeremiah, Ian, and Dylan. Since we live so far apart, we only see each other a few times a year, making each moment a monumental adventure. Together, we brave the mosquitoes, mud, and uncomfortable ground to enjoy a week of memories. We do not need designated activities to participate in; our imaginations take us on incredible trips, and no idea is a stupid idea with our family. If someone wants to build a fort, we will make the fort. If we want to pretend to be a king and the royal family, we will make it happen. This week is a vacation for everyone, and the week with our family is something we are sure to never forget.
After setting up camp, the adults laze around the campsite, rarely seeing the kids. We are off exploring the campground and return to the campsite only for regular check ins, meals, and sleeping. Together, three of my male cousins, brother, and I take on the wild. I quickly become one of the boys. We hike the Black Forest of Pennsylvania, walking the paths surrounded with virgin white pines, hemlock timber stands, and endless evergreens. Wandering the paths, we enjoy nature: climbing the trees, and fitting our bodies onto even the tiniest branches, catching frogs near the river, then making them participate in frog races, jumping in mud puddles, with the purpose of covering ourselves in mud, and rolling down hills, racing to the bottom, and dizzying ourselves to the point that we can hardly walk once we reach the bottom. We stray to the Clarion River for a swim, and Jeremiah decides to make a raft. He pulls out a tangled brown rope from his mud covered backpack, and wraps it carefully around the pieces of wood. He binds them together with precision and sets it afloat on the river. Jumping on, we discover it floats surprisingly well. Grabbing another piece of wood as a paddle, we row through the murky water for a few hours. We paddle with the current to see how fast we can go, and paddle against the current to test our strength. Then we take turns jumping off the raft into the cool water.
Riding the raft down the river is relaxing, as we look around at the surroundings. We see rabbits playfully scampering around a tree, and turtles poking their heads out of the water. Fish swim away as they see our raft coming closer. Birds chirp and fly around, and we sit back and listen to their songs fill the air. Occasionally, we make up stories for the lives of the animals, and pretend we know what they are discussing as they bellow their sounds. We even see a herd of white tail deer jog across a nearby field. After a short while, we lie on our backs and gaze at the clouds. We name the shapes and make up stories of the clouds, and the relationships they share in the sky. The fluffy cumulous clouds quickly turn into animals, people, and objects of our imagination. The game continues until hunger strikes, and our stomachs growl in anticipation of food. Then we swim our way to the shore, climb up the muddy slope, and run back to the campsite laughing and playfully shoving each other as nighttime draws closer.
The six adults laugh as we show up covered in mud and drenched from head to toe. They send us to the showers as they make dinner over the fire. The showers are lined in a row on the outside of the communal bathrooms. We yelp as the hot water burns our skin, making us jump out of the water. In less than five minutes, the water becomes too cold to enjoy, and we try to make the rest of the shower a quick experience. Even so, we make sure to use an abundance of soap, especially on our feet that seem to have become caked in mud to the extent that our skin is now dark brown. As we shower, we sing songs and laugh with each other even though we are separated by the shower walls. We cannot let a shower take away the precious minutes we have with each other.
After showering, the smell of BBQ chicken and baked potatoes overtakes us as we walk back and see my aunt pull them from the coals of the fire. The crickets chirp louder as darkness takes over, and the campground quiets down to let nature’s beauty sing. The moon lights up the sky, and the stars shine as we chat and eat plate after plate of the amazing food. Papa passes around his jar of peanuts, and we lick the salty shells, eat the peanuts, and toss the shells into the fire that sparks in appreciation of our gift. Aunt Dar announces it is time for S’mores and mountain pies, and we convince ourselves we are still hungry. We retrieve sticks to brown our marshmallows over the fire as my mom prepares graham crackers and chocolate. After adding our browned or burnt marshmallows, we pass them around and each enjoy our special treat. Marshmallow slides out leaving sticky white goo on our faces as we try to throw uncooked marshmallows in our cousin’s open mouths.
After S’mores, we take turns using the mountain pie makers. Aunt Dar lines up cans of cherry and blueberry pie filling on the table. Then she gets out peanut butter, chocolate, and pizza supplies and lets us make our own mountain pies. My favorite is pizza, so I put pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and pepperoni inside two pieces of bread, place it in the mountain pie maker, and put it into the coals of the fire. I check it carefully to see when the bread is browning slightly on the outside, to know that the cheese is melted on the inside, and that it is done cooking. Then I savor each bite as I taste the delicious treat and savor the unique taste, because I only get to eat them during our yearly camping trip. After we have had our fill of the tasty food, and had our turns cooking in the fire, we sit back and look at the stars. The sky is beautifully clear, and we can see millions of the stars in the sky, way too many to count. We look for constellations, but usually cannot find any actual star designs, and end up making up our own shapes. Mostly we just sit around the fire ring to keep warm, enjoy the company of family, listen to the crickets, frogs, and other wildlife around us, and appreciate the broad expanse of undeveloped land, and the endless nature surrounding us at the campground.
When the adults run out of energy, we are sent to bed with bulging stomachs, but cannot bring ourselves to sleep. My cousins, brother, sisters, and I, gather in a circle within the tent and spend the night telling stories, playing cards by flashlight and playing truth or dare. We start by telling stories of school, friends, and our individual adventures. Then, we share ghost stories, which we struggle to remember, and often end up telling ridiculous jokes. After running out of stories, we play go fish, crazy eights, Uno, egyptian rats, war, bull, and rummy. We try new games, but usually end up forgetting them after switching back to our normal competitions. Then, we play the most fun game of all: truth or dare. Truth is usually too boring, so we all go for the dare. What crazy task can we be dared to try? We run around the tent naked, eat bugs, and sing funny songs. When we cannot think of anymore dares, we switch to truth, and invade each other’s privacy. Who do you have a crush on? What is the farthest you have gone with someone? If anyone in the room could be your slave for a day, who would it be and what would he/she have to do? What are you afraid of? Our parents can see the glow in the tent, and we hear faint shouts ordering us to go to sleep. Disregarding the shouts, we play until our eyes cannot stay open another second and drift away to dream about adventures we will have the next day.
The next few days pass without any consideration of time. We get up when the sun shines into the tent, making sweat stick to our skin, and go to bed when we cannot stay awake any longer. We ride bikes around the playground, stopping to say hi and pet other camper’s dogs. The barks of the dogs follow us as we circle the trails of the campsites. We roller blade, racing each other and obtaining quite a few skinned knees, bumps, bruises, black-and-blue marks. Never dismayed, we run to the playground equipment, swing back and forth, slip down slides, and force cherry bombs against our see-saw partners. When we tire of the playground, we sprint to the bumper boats to hit other boats in the water. Or, we dash to the water slide, to be cooled off from the hot Pennsylvania sun. The park is huge and offers endless opportunities for fun; choosing our next activity is a difficult task.
Dad takes me on an hour-long horseback ride as a special treat and short break from the boys. I am assigned a gorgeous brown horse named Isabel, who turns without needing much direction. In comparison, Dad is put on a mule named Gus, who refuses to listen. I laugh and tell him he does not have the special touch. I enjoy every step as my horse walks among the rocks and trees of the trail and disregard the ache that grows in my bottom from riding the horse. Ignoring the slight pain, I enjoy the relaxation of riding a horse through evergreens, flowers, and rabbits, squirrels, and foxes that wander through the woods. At the end of the hour we have trouble walking, but are full of laughter and excitement, reminiscing on the ride as we waddle back to the campsite, trying to stretch out our legs from the pain of the horse.
Way too soon we are taking our last bike ride around the campground, waving to our fellow campers, petting the dogs’ goodbye, and trying our best to stay clean. Less laughter fills the air as we look around and remember our adventures from the week, silently wishing they did not have to end. Back at the campsite, we help take down the tents, load the cars, and prop our bikes on the backs of the cars. My brother and I give hugs and kisses, say our goodbyes and load into the station wagon. As we drive away, we wave to my Nana and Papa, my Aunt and Uncle, and cousins standing by the fire ring. We pass the trees lazily swaying in the wind, the puddles being dried up from the hot sun, the river that burned our muscles as we swam, the paths that we wandered and explored, the horse whinnying for a ride, and lastly the sign: Thanks for visiting Cook Forest. We hope to see you soon! Oh, we will see you soon, one more year and it will be as if our adventures had just begun.
It took me ten minutes to gather the nerve to get out of my car and onto the Hawkins’ doorstep. I knocked twice. I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be a date, but my nerves were prepared.
Joe answered the door. He gave me the once over and raised a skeptical eyebrow. I blushed. My tube top, jeans and flip flops didn’t seem to fit his idea of fishing attire.
“C’mon in, I gotta grab ma bait and tackle,” He motioned a large lazy hand to follow.
I followed and was intercepted by his mother and sister. Both of them were hearty and unkempt women. I caught them giving my general appearance a skeptical eye. The only lines I’d cast were from the side of a bridge, so for all I knew, my outfit would do. I moved to meet Joe in his room, trying to calm the color in my cheeks. He gathered up his rod and bait, then turned to me.
“Ya wanna drink tonight?” It wasn’t a question so much as a dare. I was always down for a good dare.
“Alrighty. Follow me, buddy,” He chuckled and disappeared down the hall.
I followed him out the back door and down into a root cellar. The room was stuffy, dark and, cold. The only light came through the open cellar door and glinted off several shelves of homemade canned goods making jars of carrots and beans look like pickled entrails. I could hardly see. Apparently it was just enough light for Joe to work. I saw his shadow methodically working while glass clanked.
“A jug or a jar?” he asked.
“…What?” I was lost.
“Of moonshine. Should I fill a jug or a jar?”
“Moonshine?” I asked in disbelief.
“You’ve never had moonshine, have ya?” He was pleased. It was a dare. “We’ll go with a jar. I don’t want you to get sick.”
“Where in the Hell did you get moonshine?”
“We make it. Where else? Ya know the Durandetta’s farm ‘tween here and Clearfield? We trade ‘em corn in exchange for a couple jugs of whiskey ev’ry year. Sometimes they throw us a couple cuts from a cow they butcher, too.”
I didn’t reply, but instead thought over his response. Moonshine. I’d figured the whole moonshine gig was isolated in the more Southern states, and had basically died out after prohibition. Apparently not. I suppose we were in Curwensville, which was nestled in the Appalachians.
Joe screwed the lid onto a jar, and we headed to my car. He gave me directions to our fishing spot and we headed out.
“This won’t do,” he tsk’ed and replaced my ambient indie mix cd with one he’d brought along. We listened to Merle Haggard the rest of the car ride.
“Here, here. Turn HERE,” he commanded. I was caught off guard. I didn’t see the turn off until I scanned twice. The road was hidden by thick trees. I took the road and followed it about a mile, flinching at every rut my undercarriage endured.
He guffawed and teased, “Be a lot easier to get down this road if we were in my dad’s truck. I guess you can always get out and push if we get stuck.” I scoffed and rolled my eyes at this. After ten minutes, we reached a point where we had to leave the car behind.
“We got ‘bout a mile ta walk. Grab all yer stuff.”
I grabbed our poles while he snagged his bulging knapsack. He led me down an overgrown, paved path. Trying to keep up, I stumbled over rocks and fallen tree limbs, ducked under unruly branches and danced over mud puddles. I was beginning to see why my outfit had been scrutinized.
“Here we are,” he said, pleased, as he plopped down his knapsack on an ancient concrete slab that looked over the Susquehanna. “It’s the old Lumber City Bridge. There used to be a town here. Part of the town’s under the river. The bridge fell out and this’s all that’s left. Perfect place to make a fire and fish. Now before we do that, let’s get some firewood before it’s dark.”
I was assigned the kindling while he took on huge logs and boughs. We collected a decent pile, enough – he said – to keep the fire burning for a good five hours. He turned to making the fire while I took a seat on a ledge left behind from the bridge. I watched intently.
He fashioned the kindling into a teepee and lit it, walking me through the process of how to make a fire “the right way.” After the kindling had caught, he added larger pieces of wood, which gave me time to admire his figure.
He was 6’5” and built. Dying sunlight accentuated his sinewy arms. The firelight lit his stern face and gave a healthy glow to his dishwater hair. Dark blue eyes were made navy by growing shadows and the slight bumps of the bridge of his nose were silhouetted by sunset. His brow furrowed in concentration, while his muscles tightened as he snapped thick branch to feed the flames.He was into this fire.
“Alright. Let’s fish,” he said more to himself than to me, after the fire was blazing. By then it was dusk, and he baited his hook using firelight, though he did it so naturally that I believed he could’ve done it blindfolded. He stood up to cast into the river, then sat down on the concrete slab’s ledge. He patted the spot next to him, so I came and sat too, but not before sending my own line sailing halfway across the river.
We sat in silence for a while. The fire cracked and popped. It was only late April, so the warm which washed over our backs was welcome. Our feet dangled about ten feet over the languid, shallow water; ancient Susquehanna in no hurry to meet up with the Chesapeake. Her healthy moss green hue had faded quickly when light had disappeared, however if you looked close enough, you could see the reflection of the first stars. The surface was smooth and regal, as if thousands of years of flowing had earned it the right to settle her rapids and relax on her journey. The only disturbances came from the occasional hungry fish.
On the opposite bank, three mountains squatted against the sky, cradling the last pinks of sunset among their weathered peaks. They reminded me of grumpy old men who might snap at you for trespassing onto their property. The darkness that lay over them intimidated me. I noticed now that except for the fire, Joe and I were steeped in darkness. My mind took to conjuring up what sorts of things one might encounter in the woods, at night, in the middle of nowhere.
Joe must have sensed my discomfort, for he teased “Ya all right ov’r there? We can crack op’n that jar a ‘shine. It’ll help loos’n us up.” He fumbled in his knapsack and presented the mason jar. The lid scraped as he spun it off with a quick flick. He took a generous swig then thrust it at me. I grabbed it, taking the dare with a straight face. The alcohol kicked in my mouth and blazed a trail down my esophagus.
Apparently, I hadn’t maintained my straight face too well. He delighted in this and let out a triumphant laugh, then took the jar back. He took two more pulls then thrust it back towards me. Just as I reached for the jar, a shapeless animal let out a menacing cry. I started, almost dropping the jar in mid exchange. He roared with laughter. “Don’t get out much, do ya?”
“ . . . No. Not out here. Don’t tease me,” I chided.
“Sorry, sorry. I gotta have a little fun with you bein’ all freaked out, ya know?” His smile was infectious, and further warmed by firelight. “C’mere,” he said and put his arm around my shoulder, pulling me closer to him. His lips touched my forehead and lingered there for a bit.
He turned abruptly and instinctively, snatching his pole. He let out a whoop as he began to reel in a fish. I smiled to myself, as I watched him intently and took another swill. He caught my smile.
“Told ya I could show you a good time out here, din’t I? Yer havin’ a pretty good time, ain’t ya?” he nudged my shoulder. I nodded. He was right. This was the first time I’d actually taken the opportunity to enjoy the Appalachians, and I loved it.
Joe reeled in his catfish with vigor, swinging it out of the water, within inches of my face. I would’ve recoiled, had my attention not been on the full moon, heaving its way into the night sky, flattered by a thousand stars, winking coyly.
Other Side of the Window
On the other side of the window, filigreed frost clings to the pane. The flakes hang there, clasping hands, frozen and glittering. I’m safely inside with a blanket wrapped snuggly around me as I try to decide where one crystal begins and the next ends. They are tulle, tiny, intricate, and unique. I’m not sure who said every snow flake is different, but I believe I’ve found proof here on my own window. This is my favorite time of the year. Christmas, that is, not winter. To be honest, I’m not a fan of the cold weather. Unless, of course, I’m looking out from the inside.
Snowflakes are earth crumbs and water. When dust and water vapor condense in the air, they can become supercooled and begin to form ice particles. Surrounded by water droplets in a cloud, the ice particles begin to expand and create snow. As they grow, they blossom into hexagonal prisms and minuscule branches reach out, blooming into the lacey patterns children cut out of circle paper.
This is enchanting, you might say. Altogether, though, these delicate flakes pile up into drifts of ten, eleven, twelve inches. They gather on naked tree branches like a heavy shawl, make obscure shapes out of picnic tables and lawn chairs, ice the roof like a sugar cookie, and magically make the driveway disappear. As I sit by the window, I can see my mom brush off the car and smack her gloved hands together for warmth. My dad and brother have gone to work. A landscaping company employs them to clear away the slick ice and powdery snow from parking lots and sidewalks. It’s only a few days before Christmas, and I wonder if the blizzard will end in time for them to get off work so that we can see the rest of our family. Tomorrow morning, I’ll wake up, and ice will sheath every bare surface. The sun will peep out, and its light will shatter on the slippery casing, casting little rainbows into the atmosphere when I look closely enough.
“We live in a winter wonderland,” I once commented to my parents after ice and snow trimmed the trees in the wake of a particularly nasty storm. Still, that never really makes up for the mess snow leaves behind.
When it melts, snow leaves behind little rivers of mud and mush. It collects at the bottom of the drainpipe beside my porch and converts to sludge. It pools in my dad’s garden, barren during the endless winter months. The side of my driveway becomes mucky and brown and sucks the booted foot into it. Then, little dog paw prints polka dot the slush and get all mixed up with footprints as if the earth has a memory. The forest surrounding my house takes on a dreary air because all the old, shriveled leaves left beneath the trees become soggy and sullen. Sometimes, the plants lining the house start to look tarnished and old, and I can barely stand to look at them. The concrete sidewalk has cracked, as well. Sheets of ice coat the end of it, the very last square. If I’m not careful, I could just go sliding off the edge. Old Man Winter has blown his frigid breath on it specifically.
That ancient harbinger of winter breathes his blustery wind upon us because the world is tilted so that different sides of it face the sun as it orbits. When our little corner of the earth turns away from the sun, winter descends on us. December rolls around, and the sun doesn’t smile from the same angle it does in the summer, so it has to warm a larger area with the same amount of heat it projects during warmer months. Of course, the truth of it isn’t nearly as entertaining as the Greek myth that explains this bitter season. According to legend, Hades kidnapped a beautiful goddess named Persephone so he could make her his wife. Hades’ brother, Zeus, agreed to this scheme without asking Persephone’s mother, Demeter, who was the goddess of crops. Demeter went into such mourning for her daughter that she stopped producing plants on earth. Zeus finally decreed that Persephone would stay with Hades for six months of the year and then return to her mother for the other half. During these six months, no crops grew and the world withered. Demeter’s grief caused the icy dead of winter.
The cold is completely unpleasant. I’ve always thought so. When I take a deep breath of winter air, it feels as if ice splinters crumble in my lungs. I don’t like gusts of cold wind either because they turn my nose red and chap my lips. I wrap my arms around myself and button my coat up to my chin, and sometimes I even remember to curl a scarf around my neck and bury my hands in gloves. That’s never warm enough, though. This is why I prefer to sink into the couch in my basement that sits right next to the glowing coal stove. My dad doesn’t normally turn it on until it gets truly cold. So, in November, he’ll dump in the first pile of shiny black coal and light it up. It blazes at first, shooting sapphire and emerald flames against the glass pane on the charred metal door. A metallic, heated scent wafts from the stove when it’s first lighted. It floats up the stairs and envelops everything, keeping us all warm.
I shift in my chair and wrap the blanket more tightly around me. My mom has managed to clean off the car by now, but I doubt we’ll be going anywhere as the flakes continue to tumble down on our forest world. This reminds me of that poem by Robert Frost, the one where he stops to look into the deep woods as snow fills up its dark shadows. It’s called “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” There’s something distinctly honest and beautiful about the poem, as if he’s longing for something, for solitude and rest. I always feel a little lonely and sleepy when I get to the end of it, and all I want is to curl up with a cozy blanket. Frost writes that the only sound is “the sweep of easy wind and downy flake” and “the woods are lovely, dark and deep.” It gives the impression of silence. That’s the sound snow makes when it falls, by the way: silence. It blankets and muffles everything. Come to think of it, I guess that’s one thing about snow that I can’t experience behind a window. Of course, by the time the children next door come out to throw snowballs and sled down the hill in their backyard, the silence gives way to delighted shrieks. In order to experience the quiet, I have to open the sliding door in our kitchen and step out onto the balcony while the snow is still falling the most heavily. The flakes stick to my eyelashes, and I can see little silver drops out of the corner of my eyes. They land on my nose and, for an instant, I feel one perch there. It doesn’t last for very long. Next thing I know, it’s melted and all that’s left is a raindrop. Inevitably, my mom will come up behind me and pull out her camera. As I step back inside, she’ll stand at the door and focus the lens on the frosted woods.
It’s long past the hushed hours of the snow fall, though, as I watch out the window for a few more minutes. Mom is carefully trekking her way up the sidewalk towards the porch, and someone down the road has taken a snow blower to his snow-covered driveway. As she bursts through the door, my mom pulls off her gloves and hat.
“I think I’m going to make myself some tea. It’s freezing out there! Do you want a cup?”
I smile at her ruddy cheeks and nod. “Sure, I’ll take one.” As she walks past me, I glance out the window one last time, place my hand on the glass, and notice that the ice crystals have begun to fade. Some of them have left a barely visible outline on the pane as if they’re waving goodbye. A little later, with a cup of tea in hand, I head up to my room and open up my laptop. Once I’ve uploaded Mom’s snow pictures, I make one my wallpaper. She captured the corner of our balcony piled high with snow and the woods glazed with burgeoning ice. This is the way I like winter best: from the inside looking out.
Walking home from school on ice-accumulated sidewalks, I reached the familiar bent tree, now bare of leaves, with one thick branch leaning over the sidewalk that leads up to my apartment. I paused, noticing to my left the nearby neighbor’s bunches of browned lilacs falling back from the wind pushing and pulling against the fine dried stems. I was reminded immediately of my mother, whose favorite flower is the lilac. I remember those days when I was younger and would gather lilacs from huge bushes around the neighborhood into a bouquet to give my mom as a gift for her birthday.
I can see her placing them gently in her tall glass vase, arranging them so that they are just as she would like them to look, to be displayed right in the center of the kitchen table. They would sit there for a few days, with my mom bragging to everyone who came in how I had presented her with such a beautiful bouquet, trying to make the special gift last as long as she could. But after nearly a week passed, the lilacs would eventually start to wilt, and my mom would, sadly, have to throw them away.
The lilacs I observed near my apartment were beyond wilted. After sprouting in the spring, they became crusted from the cold of winter, with the purple passion faded away into a frost-rusted, fragile symbol of death. It made me wonder if the relationship between my mom and me is going through something similar. I am no longer that happy, gift-bringing child who would pick her lilacs. I am about to finish college, find my own place to live, and start a career that will send me into adulthood. Part of me is afraid that things will be different with my mom and me after I reach this mark in life. We are no longer as close as we used to be when I was a child. I don’t know if I will ever find anything as good as the beautiful lilacs I gave to her as a child, now broken, decaying heaps in the garbage dump. Looking at the neighbor’s brown, drooping lilacs makes me wonder if these flowers are appreciated or have any use to others. It appears that things without beauty have little to offer the world. Who wants a bush of withering, limp lilacs? The neighbor’s lilacs along the sidewalk seem lost and forgotten, the dying remains of a distant beauty nearly destroyed by a long winter.
Inside, I watch the occasional snowflake flutter, dust-like, with the vacuum of the wind sweeping it lower towards the earth. I worry that I will just as easily drift away from my mom, the way the snowflake separates from the sky in its journey downward. I am no longer the child who can play around in the snow with her whenever I want, doing whatever I can to help her to laugh and be happy. Now I am a young adult, troubled by childish insecurities about what lies ahead for me. I have my own concerns to face, like whether or not I will succeed in accomplishing my career goals, and sometimes feel that through growing up, I have lost the gift of purity I had in childhood. That same gift parents receive at the birth of a child, an innocent, unique snowflake from the heavens, bringing them joy and peace. As far as I know, the amount of happiness a child gives a parent far outweighs the heartache. I am older now; however, with education allowing me to grow more aware of exactly how complex and difficult the world is becoming, age has its downfalls. With all the difficulties I have been through, I do not feel the same motivation I did as a child to bring cheer to others. Suffering has taught me too well that the world is not a fair place. Without a spirit of hope, I no longer feel capable of sharing with others the delight I would have as a carefree, beaming child, the sparkle of energy lighting up my mother’s eyes.
The beauty of the joyful spirit that used to shine out from me as a child, brightening my mother’s days and nourishing my inner self like sunlight feeds a flower, has been dimmed by storm’s shadow. The sun’s warmth no longer spreads strong rays within me; life has made my once-steady light flicker from the dismal, gray clouds that block my soul’s growth. Dark clouds decay my vision of myself; icy air has frozen and cracked all the once-strong roots. I have become blinded by distorted views of myself and the world. Something has gone missing; I have lost a part of myself that I want back. Long years of dwelling in a storm that is slowly destroying all the beauty I formed in the spirit of my childhood has led me astray. Growing weary of lingering in cold and dark days, I no longer have the confidence and pride in myself to stretch upward in hope of light. I have become the wilted lilac that is losing everything that makes it alive and unique; the pure essence of what makes it such a special living creation blossomed with the shine of Mother Nature’s smile and watered by her tears.
Looking at the browned lilacs, though tossed in the cold wind, these flowers will be restored by Mother Nature, just as I have grown to handle life’s weary wind under the loving care of my mother. My hardships will pass like the rough, icy winds of the winter season, until I can feel the warm relief of the spring sun. My mom will not abandon me during storms of strife; neither will Mother Nature leave the lilac. She will be there at the storms end, with her face lit up with a golden smile, beaming pride at the little lilac for withstanding winter’s frozen snow swept soil. Mother Nature will reach out her hands, ready to take the poor lilac no matter how decayed and drooped it may look, carefully cultivating it once more to achieve its full beauty. Mother Nature cares for her creation, watching over each flower in its changing cycle, tenderly touching the infant sprouts in spring, and nourishing their continued growth. Likewise, after I have become cold from dreary days, my mother has always nestled me close to her in a blanket of her warm affection, wrapping me in her love. She will accept me and care for me even if I am no longer the cheerful, beautiful child I was before. My mother loves me because I am her daughter, and I always will be special to her.
I am my mother’s precious creation, through good and bad, from moments where I gave her pride to those where I caused her strife. I am my mom’s gift from the sky, her snowflake to watch it be refined and shaped by life’s wind while on its own adventure exploring the natural world. I have not lost my beauty; instead, I am on my way to discovering my inner light. Just as the lilac is reborn in the spring from Mother Nature’s healing touch, so will my roots of inner childhood beauty be restored and my stem uplifted as I learn to form my own nurturing light within by modeling the love for myself on my mother’s warm affection. I will experience my own joys and sorrows throughout life just like my mother, and will learn to take in the healing light of my soul-smiling days with the strengthening flow of salt-watery tears, until eventually winter’s chill clinging to my roots will lift, letting the lilac within, my pure self, flourish once again.
Sitting on my desk is a philodendron plant, a plant that is beautiful in many ways. I appreciate its long slender green vines and heart-shaped leaves that shine as the light hits it. Growing more and more every week, it adds new leaves and decorates my desk as the vines grow longer. The philodendron will never flower, but the long vines and big leaves bring me an appreciation for nature.
Philodendrons originate from the rainforests of Central America where they happily grow in the canopy, knotting themselves around the treetops and trunks and to the ground. I used to keep it near the window for sunlight to help it grow, but as I learned in doing that, the sunlight turned the leaves a canary yellow. Then they would slowly start to drop off the vines, making the plant look depressed and unhappy. When I got to college, I placed my plant on my desk away from the window for more shade, with limited sunlight. After doing that I began to see this philodendron rejoice with happiness by growing faster and greener. Now, day-by-day, I see new baby leaves appearing like children of the next part of the vine. Looking so delicate and beautiful with a tint of green, as each passing day goes by the green turned darker and the leaves grew bigger and showing me a heart shape. All this is a way of showing me its love because I take care of it, and that it has just as much life as you and me.
Sometimes the phildendron can be a burden on me. This is a poisionous plant that can kill you if you eat the leaves, and if I handle the vines and leaves for too long, the philodendron will give me and itchy red rash for a few days, which is its way of saying, “ I do not like to be touched”. My plant likes to have its personal space and does not like anyone invading it or that person will pay for it with and itchy red rash.
The philodendron also gives me the opportunity to reproduce its vines into more philodendron plants. Within its green vines lie roots, baby roots, that if immersed in water will grow into a new plant to love and care for. That way, there will always be another philodendron for me to grow, and this one will never die.
I know one day it will grow up to be a big forest that grew out of a pot, but a beautiful forest. This plant has taught me a lot about nature and how tropical plants grow in the rainforests. This philodendron is the reason I feel one step closer to nature and appreciate it a little more each day. So I say thank you to my philodendron plant, for showing me how valuable nature can be and how we all can benefit by keeping it looking beautiful. This humble plant showed me the ups and the downs, the advantages and disadvantages.
I apologize to the plant for not understanding its nature at first, I almost killed it by watering its roots too much and giving it a lot of sunlight that it didn’t need. I appreciate my philodendron plant for giving me a second chance and bringing me closer to its world, a little closer to nature.
The Last Summer of Innocence
I believe it was June 12, 2006, between ten and eleven a.m. The sun was glowing outside; I could see it behind my dark blue curtains, which I kept shut specifically so I could sleep in. I had just finished a weekend full of high school graduation and parties, and I was tired. I had graduated from Cowanesque Valley High School only three days before. My dogs, Lady and Sooner, both beautiful black labs, and I lay in bed enjoying the first day of summer. My mom walked in and started in on me. “Are you going to sleep this summer away? Dad and I are waiting for you to get up so we can eat breakfast.”
He’s not my real dad; he’s actually my stepdad, Wayne, but he’s better than any dad, or at least better than my real dad. I came downstairs in those American Eagle swimming trunks I had to have because they were ‘hot.’ Lady and Sooner followed me.
“So what are you going to do with your first day of summer?” Wayne asked. It had to have been a thousand degrees outside with the way that the sun intruded in my bedroom.
“Swim,” I said. “I have to get my tan before we head up to Rhode Island.” The day before, I had finally gotten my mom’s permission to go to Rhode Island with my best friends to celebrate life, friendship, and graduation before we all went our separate ways. I was going to Lock Haven University, Britt was going to Point Park University in Pittsburgh, and Lena was headed to Florida to join the Navy.
Over a breakfast filled with pancakes, eggs, and sausage, we talked about getting up at a reasonable hour. Mom started, “I have to go back to work next week. I won’t be here to get you up, and I didn’t give you the summer off of a job to sleep it away. You better help Dad around the house.” I stopped paying attention.
“He’ll help Liz,” Wayne replied. It was nice that I wasn’t going to have this battle with Mom. Breakfast ended soon enough, and I grabbed my sunglasses, book, and tanning lotion. The dogs followed as I headed towards the door to go out to the pool.
“Now that you have time to read for fun, what’s the first choice?” asked Wayne.
“Harry Potter … again,” I answered.
I had just finished Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince only months before. I wanted to start the series over so that when the last one came out, I could pick right up where I left off.
“I swear that’s all you read,” Wayne joked.
I did. I love to read. I had at least 300 plus books at this point in my life. Mom always joked that she couldn’t complain about me wasting money because I spent the majority of it on books. I love Harry Potter though and on a nice day like it was, Harry Potter and swimming was the thing to do.
The dogs started to bark and headed towards the driveway. Someone was here. Who made it up and out the door first? Brit or Lena? Brit walked around the corner, Lena following, and said, “I’m surprised to see you awake.” I gave her look of disproval followed by, “Mom made me get up. She sent the dogs after me.”
Brit quickly interrupted what was sure to be a very minor war of words, “So we were looking at dates to leave and wanted to know if you wanted to head north before or after the 4th of July?”
As I had stated a million times before I really didn’t care when we left so I half answered the question. “Doesn’t matter. Probably before would be better.”
Lena piped up with, “That’s what I was thinking,” and agreed.
“Well that’s settled. We’ll leave June 27th and come home July 2nd,” Brit declared.
As Mom headed towards the pool, she asked if they were going to stay for dinner. She knew us all too well. We’d spend the day at the pool reading, tanning, and swimming and then would head uptown to meet some people either for a movie or some socializing at Dunkin Donuts. That was our thing. We’d spend almost every day this way. All three of our parents felt that it would be best if we didn’t get summer jobs and enjoy this last summer as kids. We couldn’t argue or agree any more. Our routine stayed relatively consistent, and time seemed to fly by pretty fast.
June ended before we knew it. We managed to fit a load of summer memories in this month along with movies, bonfires, and just good times with friends. We loved to go to the movies the most. The movie theater in Wellsboro, was a beautiful old Victorian type, and had all of the summer’s hottest titles. We always caught the nice o’clock showing and then went to this in the hole in the wall, open twenty four hours a day, restaurant and ordered appetizers and drank soda until the owner, waitress, or other costumers stared at us with disapproval and then we’d head home. Bonfires made up a lot of the summer memories too. We tried to keep them at a minimum, one every couple weeks or so, because they always included underage drinking and we knew that if we got caught the punishment would be death by our parents. They had to know what we were doing, they were kids once, and we had heard the stories. Looking back at it now, I know they knew what we were doing and our Dads made sure that Moms didn’t interfere.
As the month of June ended, and July began, we found ourselves relaxing on the beaches of Rhode Island staying at Brit’s aunt and uncle’s beautiful beach house. It was great because we could make it to the beach from their porch before the locals could park their car near the beach. The beaches were simply amazing: gorgeous white sand, crystal blue waters, and delightfully warm sun. Of course, we didn’t really need the sun for our tan. We took care of that by the pool back home.
On our last day, we could tell things weren’t going to be the same. “This is really it, isn’t it?” Brit choked.
“I guess so,” I said.
“It’s not like we’re never going to see each other again,” Lena stated. She wasn’t nearly as sappy as Brit and I were.
As we headed home in my car, my 2004 red Ford Escape I had gotten for graduation, the moon roof was “popped” as we liked to call it, and our music was cranked. We got pulled over in Connecticut and the police officer recommended we “spend more time paying attention to the road and other drivers than our moon roof, music, and teenage wannabe dreams.” I wanted to argue that we weren’t teenagers anymore, that we were adults, but I didn’t dare to.
When I got home, Mom welcomed us with “How was your vacation?” I handed Wayne the ticket and Lena filled in with “Great until we got to Connecticut.” I got in a little trouble for that one; actually, I got into a lot of trouble for that. I lost the keys to my car for two weeks, a complete death to my social life; I got more chores to pay off the ticket, and a never-ending lecture about how to be a responsible adult.
The rest of the summer wasn’t very exciting. Mom, Wayne, and I traveled to our lake house to relax for the 4th of July. The traditional red, white, and blue fireworks above the lake are more breathtaking than you could ever imagine. The dogs don’t like them too much, but they cower behind us, and they seemed to be ok. They like to think they are tough but if they hear any loud noises, forget it.
We spent a lot of time throughout the summer talking about what was next for me, where the road of life was going to take me. “College, of course, at Lock Haven,” was always my solid answer.
Mom wanted me to think a little further than college. “You have to have goals set into place in order to succeed,” she’d always say.
Wayne would always come back with “That will come soon enough. Let him relax for now.” I hadn’t even started at Lock Haven and already had doubts of being a high school history teacher and had no idea what to do instead. My passion for history and politics would always be with me, but the idea of teaching was getting worst and worst daily.
It was the last week of my summer vacation. Lena had already left. Things between us were already starting to show signs of damage. I knew, before I even left my home town, that our friendship would last forever, but it would never be the same again and seeing each other would be far and few. On the last night I was home, Brit came over, and we talked about life. How life seemed to fly right by us, how we couldn’t wait to graduate from high school and now that we had we wanted to start over, we didn’t mean that, we just didn’t want to say goodbye.
Now I’m getting ready to graduate from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania. I have a job interview in less than a week and I’m feeling pretty confident that something’s going to turn out of it, something that is sure to take me away from Pennsylvania. I don’t know if I’ll come back. Sure, I’ll come back to visit. My friends and family are here. But, as sad as it may seem, home is going to be somewhere else now, at least, the home that I live in. Pennsylvania will always be my home because it will always be where my heart is. I love Pennsylvania, I love everything it has to offer, and I love everything it has made me. Pennsylvania is more than just a state between Maryland and New York, in the upper east coast. It’s a state of living, of being, it’s a person all in itself. Pennsylvania is more than my best friend, it’s who I am.
Eleven Zero One
Eleven zero one, and what a weekend. I traveled back down to the middle of nowhere in central Pennsylvania with my pal Mike again. We saw the same band we saw four weeks ago, Mysterytrain, and the festival was even better than last time. My night included drinking some good beer and listening to astounding music, yet the best part of the night was meeting a fellow by the name of Jacob Haqq-Misra. The man is a genius, and he gives me inspiration.
It just so happens that he’s a doctoral candidate at Penn State University. His specialty is astrophysics, but he deals some with meteorological and environmental mathematics. Small World we live in. As the band finished and started to make their rounds with the festival attendees, I offered some sausage to Jacob and his girlfriend, who is also in the band. We got to talking, and I was immediately interested in talking to Jacob as he stated something about self-sustaining systems, such as the Earth.
As I progress through my undergrad, I am becoming increasingly interested in Gaia and the similar theories associated with the science. The word Gaia goes as far back as the Ancient Greeks, and, in laymen terms, means “Mother Earth.” James Lovelock, the author of the book, published the book in the 1970’s, and apparently, the theory has been gaining momentum.
The theory of Gaia concludes that the Earth can be looked at as an organism in ecological terms. The Earth, an organism which adapts and maintains itself, is living within the solar atmosphere associated with our Sun. Lovelock supplies scientific data that highlights an important fact about the Earth for the past 3 and ½ billion years: the Earth’s oceans, atmosphere, and temperature have remained fairly constant in salinity, oxygen, etc. Yes—the Earth has gone through numerous catastrophic events, ranging from asteroid impacts to ice ages that have almost frozen the planet forever until the Sun explodes. Yet, the Earth has maintained average characteristics, when speaking about a geologic timescale, which have allowed for the existence of life. The fact that Earth has adapted itself to sustain life makes the idea of the Earth being an organism credible. An organism is defined as being out of equilibrium with its environment. The environment constantly changes, so the organism must reproduce and evolve to maintain its existence. The Earth is constantly bombarded with different solar temperatures, sun spot cycles, methane levels, carbon dioxide levels, and the list goes on. Yet, life flourishes because the Earth, consisting of an incredibly complex system between living matter and natural forces, seems to operate on a time-loop. I wrote about this concept last semester in a posthumanism class, and the model I used for the paper looked somewhat like this:
In simple terms, the chart visualizes the concept of a self-regulating system, such as the Earth. Life has been on this planet for hundreds of millions of years, and the earth is constantly regulating itself to sustain that life. Whether this is by accident or on purpose is more of philosophical question, but life has been in the picture too long to completely disappear. The reference refers to a point in time when Earth was safe and clean, right after the end of last ice-age for example. If an asteroid were to strike right now, the time-loop would begin. The asteroid causes an imbalance in the self-regulating system, and the Earth goes through changes to return to the reference point (let’s say the references are levels of CO2 and O2).
Many species would become extinct in this process, but others would flourish in whatever environmental conditions arise and adapt as the Earth returns to its normal levels. And yes, humans are part of this process. In more ways than one. As of now, if a catastrophe such as a huge asteroid were to occur, humans would probably become extinct due to lack of sunlight and resources. But humans are part of this self-regulation in another way also.
As our thoughts of superiority over the rest of nature continue, we in turn pollute the planet and kill off other species through deforestation, water pollution, etc. Moreover, we raise the temperature of the atmosphere and oceans, which cause our mother, the ever self-regulating system, to start a time-loop. Yes—these cycles occur naturally. The Earth has been heating up and cooling down for billions of years, but humans are probably accelerating the process. And uh oh, this presents a problem for humanity. Like the rest of complex organisms, we slowly evolve and adapt in order to survive as a species. Evolution takes time that is hard to comprehend, and so do the Earth’s cycles. There is a beautiful dance between man and nature, but we’re crashing the party.
Once again, our technology and intelligence have grown so fast that our means to achieve this success has sped up the cycles of the Earth. In turn, we are physically evolving too slowly to adapt to the changing conditions of the Earth. There’s probably an ignorance for other species and nature as a whole thrown in there too.
So what does humanity do? Are we all, so to say, fucked and just waiting to die? I don’t want to think so. And maybe I don’t have to. The question of whether humans are dependent on machines has been a debate for many decades now, but most of us can agree that we are indeed reliant on our toys. But isn’t that evolution in a sense? Aren’t we adapting to our environment by adapting our means of survival?
Twelve zero six. My mind has been fixated on the latter subject for the past 24 hours. It’s like it, whatever it is, finally makes sense. By no means will what I’m about to propose be easy, but by no means is my proposal impossible.
This country, I firmly believe, and hope, is about to go through a major transformation. The past 24 hours have consisted of thinking about Jacob’s discussion on superiority. Humans, over the past 10,000 years, have progressively thought of themselves as superior when compared to every single living thing (other animals, plants, fungi, etc). And maybe we are, at least on an intellectual level. But with superiority comes responsibility. How can there be responsible efforts in such a misconstrued world today? The answer is: there is no answer, only compromise. Compromise and responsibility are practically synonyms anyway. But one might say: “How do you go about getting everyone to compromise. The churches, the environmentalists, the manufacturers, the bankers, the world?” The answer is easy: a green movement, a new industrial revolution for the United States and the rest of the world. Maybe Tench Coxe was right when he stated industry must not worry about a pastoral ideal, for technology will grow exponentially until in balance with nature. And wouldn’t a green movement make everyone happy, at least everyone with the right intentions for humanity?
For one, a green movement would unite industrial executives and liberal environmentalists. The United States wouldn’t have to stop importing, but our country could once again manufacture and export. The modern economic conditions have been a long time coming, at least since American companies adopted foreign manufacturing. Manufacturing could expand back to cars, to alternatives for plastics, and back to steel and other metal to be used for windmills, turbines, solar panels, etc. It’s almost like a contradiction after seeing the environmental impacts stemming from the industrial revolution, but manufacturing might actually be able to lead to a pastoral ideal.
Secondly, and I might be going off on a limb here, but a green movement might have the capability to finally unite the Christian Church and evolutionary scientists. Jacob’s book contained an incredibly interesting philosophical discussion on the Christian concept of being fruitful. Within Genesis, God tells man to be fruitful and multiply, for several reasons. On the religious side, God tells Adam and Eve to leave the garden and multiply after Eve eats the apple. On the scientific side, early humans were able to be fruitful and multiply because of their location on the Earth at the time, the Fertile Crescent. Over thousands of years, the capability of being fruitful and being able to adapt with the use of tools has led to our current world. But, the Christian concept of fruitility has led to Crusades, slavery, and even the current environmental conditions of the United States as well.
Quite frankly, the United States has been slapped in the face with this oil spill—slapped in the face with greed, laziness, and ignorance for the environment. America now faces the biggest environmental disaster in its history, but with disaster usually comes motivation. There is no better time than now for the American public to accept change. America may have to make short term sacrifices, but in the long run, a green movement will help us all. There are those who look up to the sky and only imagine the end of humanity and the coming of God. But I don’t think I’m alone when I look up at the sky and imagine a new era for humanity and the showing of God. Call me a pantheist, but maybe God has been here all along: in the trees, in the chipmunks, in the water, in humanity. The Bible states that God will someday show himself, and I’d like to believe that he slowly is. Is a simple definition of a God not a superior being? Is the Earth not superior to us? We are naïve if we still think we are more powerful than our Mother Earth. Gaia, God—the words roll right off the tongue don’t they?
There will always be more questions, but humans, from the beginning of time, were made to answer questions. Thoreau once said: "Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something." Let us be good for ourselves, humanity, the Earth, and, for the infinitely complex and beautiful system that binds everything, big and small, within our Universe.
A Beautiful Blizzard and a Battlefield
The creaking of the hinges from the top of the swing is the only resonance that fills the cold wintry air. I gently rock back and forth, appreciating the snowfall, falling from the skies with elegance and grace. The weathered, dark auburn swing doesn’t support me now like it did ten years ago; I sink threateningly close to the base of the porch. Not a single automobile occupies the poorly plowed suburban roads; a peaceful silence encircles the borough. According to Joe Murgo on Channel Ten, we’ve accumulated twenty three inches of snow. This comes as no surprise to me. From the back porch I oversee my small but quaint backyard, a rusted old fence separating it from the parking lot directly behind it. The yellow brick church that sits beside our small yet sufficient parsonage home is humbling in size and character. Snow covers its enormous black shingled gable roof, occasionally sliding off in heaping piles into my yard in avalanche-like fashion. With authority it crashes audibly against the ground, digging an impressive divot into the soft snow that had previously fallen there.
The clean-cut grass that I’m used to seeing in the summer is nowhere in sight. All that rests before my eyes is a shower of white flurries spreading across the ground. Mr. Roberto has arrived to plow the parking lot for the church, although the chances of them having Sunday morning service after this remarkable blizzard are slim to none. The scrape of the plow against the asphalt reminds me of that sharp, piercing noise heard in elementary school when the chalk scratches the blackboard. As he continues to plow, a mountain of snow forms at the edge of the lot, reaching heights of perhaps fifteen feet or higher. My 1988 black BMW, parked in the far corner, is nowhere to be seen now; only the passenger’s mirror juts out on the side. The rest of the car is masked by the relentless snowfall. The mound of snow brings back pleasant memories from my forgotten childhood. I remember snowball fights with other kids in the neighborhood, competing against one another for bragging rights. We would hide behind man-made forts, molded entirely out of the tightly-packed snow shaped by the plow. The parking lot would morph into a battlefield of epic proportions, spheres of snow sailing through the air like homing missiles with preset destinations.
The snow begins to blow onto the porch now, overflowing the blue recycling bin, blanketing the charcoal grill. A few curious flurries drift cautiously onto my suede boot. Within a few seconds they thaw, leaving a small patch of condensation across the toe. A small part of me is saddened by how quickly they disappear. I look up to remind myself that the beautiful storm is far from over, precipitation coming down steadily across the quiet suburban grounds.
I decide to shovel off the first few steps, just enough to be able to step out into the open. The experienced rusty orange shovel might not be the most attractive piece of hardware equipment I own. Nonetheless, it gets the job done. I feel no motivation to shovel more than the top three steps, at least not until I absolutely have to. My mind drifts back to a time when the snow seemed much heavier with each shovelful; I hear my mother’s voice. “Help your dad shovel the backyard steps and sidewalk, and you can go play in the snow for the rest of the afternoon.” She looked at me with sincerity and promise; I had no other choice than to meet her demands. Respectfully I grabbed a shovel and went to work in anticipation of joining the snowball extravaganza taking place not even fifty feet away from where I was standing. The snow wasn’t what you would call heavy. Its light and fluffy texture made for an easy and enjoyable shoveling session. I worked quickly, tossing shovelfuls over the wooden railing strapped alongside the staircase.
Impressed with my progression, my dad dismissed me early. “Good job, son, you’re gonna be stronger than a mule some day.” Flattered by his praise, I humbly placed the shovel in his hands, and rushed towards the gate separating me from the colossal mound of snow. To a ten-year-old child, the mound was comparable to the Himalayas, both vast in size and awe inspiring. I wasted no time joining in on the action. While our parents were inside sipping on their hot chocolate and idly watching their favorite TV shows, we were having the time of our lives. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to stay inside on a day like this. I thought it was a bit unappreciative of the adults to pass up on such an exciting afternoon outdoors. For them, the snowstorm paused their daily routines and put their rigid schedules off course. But for us, it was the most exciting day of the entire winter season. It gave our fingers a rest from playing countless hours of Playstation, and granted our parents with an afternoon free of the parenting hassles they deal with each day.
We filled up our weapons cache with perfectly rolled balls of ammunition. The poor insulation of my ragged gloves caused my hands to begin to numb slightly. In spite of this, I wasn’t fazed. My bulky figure graciously supplied me with a few extra pounds of body heat that the other kids weren’t fortunate enough to have. My water resistant boots planted with ease into the soft ground. Our fort covered my teammates and me well, disguising us from our enemies on the other side of the mountain.
Like floating grenades the opponents’ ammo sailed over our fortress, homing in on its targets. Relentlessly we struck back, our arms loaded like cannons, moving swiftly like windmills. The battle commenced, each team hoping to make the other surrender. One snowball connected flush with my left ear, causing me to experience a quick but substantial episode of vertigo. “Sorry, bud!” my good friend Nick shouted from across the way, “it was an accident!” I recovered quickly, not feeling any animosity towards him. “Sorry? No apologies are accepted on the battlefield!” We resumed the battle, which seemed to go on for hours. We kept going until our shoulders felt as if they were separated from their sockets. Eventually, the sun retired for the night and our parents beckoned for us to come in for supper. Satisfied with the events of the afternoon, we said our goodbyes to each other and returned to our homes famished.
I can’t help but think of how free and liberated I felt when we had those larger-than-life snowball fights. For those few brief fun-filled hours we had no concerns. We were there for merely one purpose; to have a great time, and that we did. Now I’m a young adult with responsibilities and a bit more experience under my belt that naturally comes with age. I hope to chase my dreams and aspirations with the same amount of persistence and enjoyment I had for this childhood pastime. If you pursue something you’re tremendously passionate about you can reach your goals that much quicker, and have a great time while doing it.
Another avalanche of slow slides off the church roof, vigorously crashing with a loud thud. The disruptive sound snaps me out of my reminiscent trance. My mind separates from the recollection of my childhood memories and returns to the present. I remain standing on the second step of the porch, my hood pushed back, letting the snowflakes land on my dirty blonde crew cut. The neighborhood kids I was so familiar with ten years ago have gone off to work and college now, pursuing their careers. The snow mound is larger than ever, but no kids are anywhere to be found. It saddens me to see such a good time go to waste. My emotional side surfaces, wishing that I could turn back the clock to 1999 and join my grade school buddies in our routine winter festivities. Quickly I abandon these thoughts of self pity, and appreciate the blessing that nature has given to us on such a perfect February weekend.
I revisit my child like behaviors one last time, sticking my tongue out in hopes of catching a few snowflakes. One lands on the tip of my tongue and dissolves in a hurry. I return to my swing, crossing my legs and rubbing my hands together to create warmth. Perhaps these harsh winter conditions are a nuisance to some, but to me they’re all the more enjoyable. Some people only see snow when it’s muddy and brown a few days after it’s fallen, but they neglect to take the time to watch it as it falls. Each flake is innocent and charming in its own way. Many of the inhabitants in the quiet suburb of Lakemont won’t even open their front doors and set foot on their porches. I, on the other hand, have no intentions of going inside anytime soon. It isn’t so often that God graces Altoona, Pennsylvania with 23 inches of snow. The quiet squeak of the hinge returns, filling the silent air once again. The snow continues to fall, relentless in its continuity. Content and grateful, I watch, appreciating each flake that falls to the ground.
The frost bites the midmorning fog. My tired legs cut across the ghostly clouds . I can feel the dew soaking through my boots, awakening my senses. It is a start of another day in this foreign land. I walk along Wister Street to begin my day in the fields. God’s splendid blessings surround me. His gentle hand caresses the Appalachian Mountains, waking them, stirring the creatures awake for a new day. I witness of his master skills in composing the landscape. The green walls of mountains hold and secure the town, blocking the some of the venomous stench of Philadelphia.
Nestled along God’s greatness the sleepy settlers of Armentown awaken. Shopowners begin to lay out their tapestries, and the smell of sausage fills the air. I smile and nod at others passing by. I bypass Conrad Templeman as he sets out his day to aid lost souls’ redemption. His black-rimed hat is well-worn and fitted like the book grasped in his hand. Concentrating on his feet, he quickly glances up and bids a good morning. His warm face is etched with lines or stress, sadness and perhaps moments of pleasure.
He presses on for duty, and so do I. I stop and reflect for the guidance found on his book’s pages. Through its written words I have found my salvation. Seeing his face, I bow my head and begin to reflect on The Word.
And what does the Lord require of you?
Humbly I do walk. Yes today, in every step I feel his blessing, though my journey to this unfamiliar land started many years before.
Though today my humble cabin and pockets bear no evidence, I was born the son of a Baron in the enchanting village of Rocbrach, Germany. My father was Baron Hans Michael Phautz. A man noble both in blood in mind, my father gave me the finest education. Everyone adored my father. At first I was a stubborn lad with evil and selfish wants. I saw God’s work through my father. His hands hard, cracked, dry from working, from shaking people’s hands and from helping the servants. He spent extra hours laboring at the server’s quarters to ensure food and proper shealter- acts most gentlemen didn’t fathom, touching the bad blood. Growing up in finery, living on a thriving estate and constantly surrounded by the prominent members of the Greicht, I felt my every step towards development examined. Bearing my father’s name, I had to live up to his legacy. I must, I must, I must.
To bring honor to the name, I observed my father’s skills, engrossed myself in books, and spent endless hours contemplating ways to improve myself. While working long hours at my family’s inn, I heard the rumors of Catholics nearing our lands. Causing nothing but fear and evil in the mask of God, these Catholics seemed to fight viciously in the name of the Pope, not of God.
The situation in Germany worsened. The Catholic swine grew closer, even middling in the inner circle of our small village. Their power grew, the streets grew more crowded; violent words sprayed from sinners’ mouths. Soon posts appearing on churches’ doors promised free land and freedoms to live a godly life were my personal omens. When we had our first son, we made our move. With promises of abundant land, endless opportunities, and the freedom to worship God rightfully, I fantasized about a life beyond the land of Kragan. With a new sense of purpose, I devoted all my time and savings towards leaving my country. Only pausing to dream of my love’s warm embrace.
Ursula Meclandhauser, her name echoed in pureness. A daughter of a minister, she was truly a lady. Her confident air and loving smile warmed my heart. Looking back, I know she has always been my beloved.
Years later, after countless days of sacrifice and saving, I found myself looking at my beloved’s once clean face smeared with dirt, with tired arms clutched our son, Hans Michael.
The stone-cobbled streets of the port were greased in sweat, fish, and dreams of a better future from men like me. Hundreds with nothing but a bag and memories to their name shuffled around the city, almost lost, waiting for their time to board the ships destined for unforeseen land. I can smelt the yeast from the drunken breath of sailors, heard the cries from young ones wanting a warm bed. I looked towards Ursula. She, like a mother bear, clung to protect our child. Her face shows she is determined to stop the poisonous air from settling on Han Michael’s mouth. Like my Savior’s, my feet were heavy with my cross, doing what I believe I must to live a life in the light of God’s glory. With all our possessions on the weight of my back, I took one last look at my homeland and in the early hours of the morning, we boarded the ship William and Sarah. Three Hundred of my native people were aboard for the journey to America.
With tickets for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in my pocket, folded and creased from my sweaty palms, I couldn’t help but wonder what awaited us. The sound of feet shuffling, waiting, eager and frightful of the journey ahead consumed my ears.
The long days on the ship are a blur. I swayed with the sea with my head between my knees while regretful thoughts swarmed like odor in the air.
In Philadelphia, English words consumed my ears. Angry expressions spat like the sea air. Eyes judged. I wondered if it really was the land of promised freedom.
“What is your name?” said the English man with pencil and paper- all of my identity in this land.
“Phautz,” I said proudly, the name of my father’s legacy, my name, the name of my son, the name of my hopes in this eerily land unclaimed.
Learning of my noble blood, The English grew suspicious of my intentions. Removing my hand from my Bible, I took a heavy pen and signed my name to the English King. Before the ink could dry on the Declaration of Allegiance to the King of England, my lie was inscribed on my soul. My heart is alleged to God alone, far from a fat king, consumed in selfish deeds, a ghastly wig, and little care for his people.
To leave the eyes of the prying red coats, we escaped into the welcoming arms of the country, settling down in Germantown. With my native tongue in my ears, dark mountains carving the sky, and my family by my side, I could close my eyes and be sent back to my homeland.
Today, the cold morning fog hits my face, and I walk on. Sometimes the fear of a future unknown shuttles my soul. I grasp my Bible and repeat
And what does the Lord require of you?
Yes my steps, although shaking, are free. Holding my head high, I begin my day as my feet carry me into the future.
Growing up on a dairy farm in Northwest Pennsylvania, and having to deal with your family every day, can either help you grow as a person or make you go insane. I have had the opportunity to grow as a person, and I give all the recognition to my family and the hard work that was instilled in me from a very young age. Although I wanted to scream and get off the farm so much growing up, I would give anything to experience it all over again.
My family’s dairy farm, Boiled Owl Farms, consists of 200 acres of land and 70 acres rented for crop usage, 75 head of cattle, and various amounts of fowl including chickens, guinea hens, and peacocks. We raise Registered Holsteins, Black -and -White and Red- and -White, Registered Milking Shorthorns, and one Registered Brown Swiss. This farm has been in my family for five generations and hopefully will continue either through my brother or myself. It started out with a herd of nine Ayrshires, and has grown, not by vast amounts of the milking herd, we only milk 32 animals, but through hard work, patience, and a love of farming. My father’s crops include field corn, hay, and sweet corn.
There are so many experiences that I could write about, but one that of them has a particular importance to me. This experience not only made me question my strength, but also tested my ability to give up something that I loved dearly. Every year since I was 12, I have been an exhibitor at two local county fairs. These county fairs included McKean and Potter, where I was an exhibitor. Having the opportunity to take my cattle to these fairs and get them judged in the shows was the greatest experience a young farm girl could take part in. Not only did my family’s best cattle get to be seen by the general public, but other farms exhibiting could also see what our small farm has to offer. The county fairs in my area are small and mostly focused on the livestock being exhibited either strictly for show, or the 4-H livestock animals being shown and sold at an auction at the end of the fair week. This is where my experience comes into play.
At the age of 13, I became a member of a local Potter county 4-H group. By being a member, I was able to not only show my dairy cattle in both the Open and 4-H shows, but now I was given the chance to raise a Market animal to be sold at the 4-H auction at the end of the week. I, being in love with cattle, chose to purchase and raise a Market Steer, or a castrated bull. The Market Steer that I purchased was from a breeder in Meadville, PA, who was well known at the Crawford County Fair for his 4-H steers. My first steer was bought for $500.00 in March, and he was a Black Angus cross with a Maine-Anjou sire. I named him Topper and began the process of raising him to be shown and sold at the auction at the Potter County Fair. After four months of carefully feeding him, walking him, and keeping him healthy, we were ready for the fair.
When the week of the Potter Fair came, I was so excited because I not only had my dairy cattle to show, but could now participate in two other shows that week and eventually sell my Market Steer and get back the money I spent in buying and raising him.
In a cattle show, especially a Market Steer judging, the animals are split into different weight classes based on weight. The range, at this fair, was 950-1350, where the classes were divided into three sections. These sections include Light-Weight (950-1,150), Medium-Weight (1,150-1,250), and Heavy-Weight (1,250-1,350). Topper qualified for the Heavy-Weight class because he weighed an even 1,200 pounds. His class was the most popular, and included six other steers competing for the ultimate prize. It was a known fact that the Grand Champion Market Steers came out of the Heavy-Weight class, so I was still in the running. In all of these weight classes, the judge bases his decision on the appearance of the steer, with and without their skin on. What I mean by that is, that these animals are raised to be eaten, so the one that will produce the best cuts of meat will be the first place animal. The judge also looks to see how well finished the steer is, or how ready they are to be butchered. For example, if one had a 950 pound steer, that was less than a year old, the steer was less likely to be butchered because it would not produce as much meat as a 1,300 pound who was over a year old. Nevertheless, each judge has their own way of judging and knows what they like and do not like, but most of them are similar in their choices. I was anxious to see how the judge would view Topper and our competition, and hope for the best.
The day of the Open Beef Show, Topper was not well-liked by the judge, so I did not do as well as I wanted to. I was placed next to last after the judge made his choices of first and second places. Being disappointed, but knowing that a new judge would be at the 4-H show the next day, my spirits lifted. The next morning came and I was up early washing Topper, blowing him dry, combing out his long black hair and cleaning his ears and feet. Topper was beautiful and as I walked into the show ring, we both walked with a different stride in our steps. The judge took notice of us as soon as we entered, and I knew I had him. One thing they teach in 4-H is to smile at the judge until our face hurts, because not only are you showing your animal, you are presenting yourself as well. My face was killing me, and the smiling could not be wiped off my face as the judge made his final decision. As the judge made his last placement of the animals, I was told by the ringmaster to pull into first place, where I set Topper’s feet and made his stand the way that showcased his best features. When I had him set and was about to make eye contact with the judge, I was surprised by a voice beside me that said “Nice, the Kinney steers swept the board.” My brother, of all people in the class, stood next to me as siblings took first and second places with our cross-bred steers. I was shocked that I stood at the front of the class and was handed my blue ribbon, trophy, and the chance to shake the hand of the man who just made me Grand Champion of the Market Steer class. This just did not mean I had won my class, but now as 4-H Grand Champion, I would sell my steer first at the auction and the business people attending the auction always paid more money for the Grand Champion. I was on the top of the world, about to be rich, and now had the chance to show others that my family could raise beautiful dairy heifers and champion Market Steers.
The week continued with the other cattle shows, where my family’s animals did very well indeed, but I was focused on Friday night. Friday night was the night of the 4-H auction and I was about to get thousands of dollars for my steer and be able to sell him to someone who would butcher him and eat him. I was completely aware of the future of Topper, and I knew he was going to die, but I was prepared or so I thought. This is when I came back to reality and my emotions took over.
6:00, the start of the auction, I walk Topper up the ramp into the gated pen, with bright lights, and people talking, the auctioneer started the bid. “.50 cents a pound, do I hear .50 cents?” he began. In order to show the best features of Topper, I walked him slowly around the ring, again smiling, like I had never smiled before. Every once in a while, I would pause and align Topper’s feet and tighten the halter to force him to pick up his head. While just standing there and being on display to all those people, I froze, and everything became quiet, while I became nauseated. A blur of colors filled my irises, the purple of the Grand Champion banner, the yellow of the bright lights, the shiny black coat of Topper, and the white faces that looked at me as if I were a caged animal, as they waited for me to do a trick. The smells of French fries, funnel cakes, sweat and manure filled my nostrils and again I felt sick. The next thing I knew, I was shaking hands with the business man who just purchased Topper for $3.80 a pound. I think I smiled and thanked him as I left the pen, Topper behind me on his halter. I then went back to the barn where I secured Topper’s lead-rope and made my way to the restroom to release my nausea. Feeling a little better, I returned to the barn to find my family and friends waiting to congratulate me for having sold Topper for a very good price. Still, I had no emotion, just a blank stare and the thoughts of what was to come for Topper. The only thing on my mind at that point was how could I have successfully accomplished my ultimate goal in raising a steer, yet feel so cold and empty like the steel cattle trailer about to take Topper away for good.
That night I said goodbye to my first Market Steer, the one who gave me wealth, respect, and overall pride for what I had accomplished in those four months we were together. Those four months of hard-work, long walks, halter training and the responsibility and love I received from this 1,200 pound animal, made it even harder than expected. As they loaded him on the trailer to be taken to the local slaughter house, I lost it. Tears poured down my face as my heart was breaking, and I just wanted to rescue him and take him back home with me. I had to be restrained by my brother and taken back to the barn, where I continued to sob. Having that money in my pocket still did not let me forget the love I had for Topper and how it was my fault he had to die.
After this experience of heartache, tears, and regret, I still didn’t stop raising a Market Steer every year until I was too old to do so anymore. Each year the thought of my steer’s death made me sob, and I continued to put myself through it. I believe that through these experiences, however hard they were, I was able to show my love for animals, especially cattle, and to grow as a young woman, with the emotion and the strength to keep raising steers for slaughter every year for 6 years.
Being a farm girl has given me responsibility, respect for the agricultural industry, and the knowledge beyond my years of coping with death. I owe who I am today to my parents and family in that rural area of Northwest Pennsylvania because I would not be who I am today without them and their strength, pride, and love of farming.
Hike of the Month: Sandy Bottom
--Kevin McKee (LHU English major)
The immediate Lock Haven area has a great deal to offer in terms of hiking, but there are also a vast number of trails both serene and primal that can be accessed within an afternoon’s traveling. One such is a favorite of mine that I have been visiting for several years now: Sandy Bottom. Located on Route 87 just past Barbours, Sandy Bottom lies along the Loyalsock Creek as it winds its way through the Endless Mountains.
To reach it from Lock Haven, head north on Route 220 towards Williamsport. Keep going past Montoursville, until you see the sign for Route 87 North -- take that exit, and turn left onto 87. From there, drive about twenty-five to thirty-five minutes until just past Barbours. Although there is a sign, it can be a little tricky to find the turn-off, as it is located around a sharp bend in the road...it’s very easy to drive right by. The best advice I can give is to look for a teal/silver colored trailer on the left in a pine forest. When you see that trailer, slow down and get ready to turn to the left. At that point, a short forest road replete with dodge-able potholes is all that stands between you and the trailhead.
The trail itself is rather easy. It’s mostly flat creekside walking, and the trail is made up primarily of a sandy loam that can make you feel as though you’re at the beach. When the creek is low, there are a number of islands that one can easily fjord out to, and the water is deep enough in places to swim, if that’s to your liking. Also of note at Sandy Bottom is a gigantic walnut tree, which is where I traditionally end my hike. There is more trail beyond it, but as I am usually a solo hiker, and the further trail gets pretty rough, I haven’t actually attempted it. In theory, it is supposed to cross 87 and then scale the mountainside until you reach an overlook from which you can observe a significant amount of the creek, and the valley that it is located within. Be warned that I have heard tell that the upward trail is not well maintained, and it can be challenging to find the way up in places.
Sandy Bottom is a great place to go for an afternoon trip away from the worries of classes, papers, and -- dare I say it -- social obligations. It is one of the peculiar spots all along Route 87 that is at once park-like and very wild. As with all of nature, it merits respect; but it can be a wonderful region to visit.
Environmental Focus Group