5054, Western Rx for an Easterner
Monday Afternoon, October 26, 2015
Over the weekend, I made the usual courtesy call to Francine’s dad about football and the weather. He and Francine’s mom had been to Johnstown, PA over the weekend, and during the conversation, he mentioned the mountains there were in full autumn splendor.
My office work computer has the wallpaper featuring the intersection of the Loyalsock Trail and the Campground-to-Canyon Vista link-trail in full, misty autumn splendor. I needed a dose of Penna.
So I think business is only fair right now. We should have stronger sales than we do, and I’ve pushed everyone to their limits. I’ve backed off a little, but we need more sales in the pipeline. We need to get the work done and I spend a lot of time every day thinking about what we need to do and how each of us can contribute more. Add in all the normal bullshit, and I have to say I came to work feeling a little down.
Email was slow, and I checked in with everyone, including the install teams. I followed up with our problem client and one of our field people, and gathering everyone’s payroll hours, expenses, commissions, etc.
If I could be anywhere on Earth right now, I would be at the cabin in Sullivan County, Penna. The leaves there would be a little past prime and I’d have already come back from a good hike on the Loyalsock Trail. I’d have a fire burning and the windows open so that I could smell the soft aroma of another year’s leaves decaying. It would be quiet except for the potato-chip crunch under my feet when going to the outhouse, and when the breeze did stir, I’d step out to listen as they tumbled softly against twigs and branches before coming home to Mother.
With petroleum prices down, I wondered if I could somehow get back there, even for just a long weekend. Fran will be in Austin the weekend of November 5, and my inbox has been flooded with emails for reduced fares from Southwest, JetBlue, and Frontier. The more I thought about it, the more I knew I needed it if I was going to get through this business stretch.
I cruised every airline. Frontier can’t get me to Baltimore or Philadelphia from Denver, but I can fly round trip to Dulles for $98 which is pretty amazing. Southwest can get me to B’more, but it’s $500 each way. For whatever reason, JetBlue’s website wouldn’t load. I sighed and turned off the browser.
It was after 1pm and I hadn’t stopped for lunch, so I jumped in the truck to drive and ride and think. I could eat my lunch while I was out and I needed to see leaves. I’d been hoping for one last tomato, so I cruised slowly south on Cherryvale Road to the self-serve farmstand. No tomatoes left. I was going to turn around at the next intersection, so I swung right onto Baseline. There’s a little trailhead there, The Bob-o-Link, and it made a good place to turn around.
As I pulled up, I could see a picnic table and Boulder Creek just beyond. In that instant, there was a pretty good rise in the soft current. Instantly and without second thought, I shut the truck off.
The trail forked immediately. To the east and out into the meadow was a typical wide, poured concrete bike trail. Swinging south and west, and gravel trail seemed to follow the creek more closely. I went that way.
It wasn’t the Blue Ridge. It wasn’t the Endless Mountains. It wasn’t even the Prettyboy Reservoir.
But to me, it was pure heaven in that moment. Ancient cottonwoods lined the path. Some who had fallen earlier were covered with vines and nestled in dense weeds and scraggly underbrush. The further from the parking lot I got, the more I felt insulated from the civilized world. There was a fence with occasional breaks, weeds, old withered leaves piled by the wind against clumps of random weeds and brush, sticks and branches on the ground that had not been arranged by a trail crew, and the gentle murmur of the creek. It was low, but at the manmade impoundments, there were decent sized trout cruising the shadows and bubble lines. Once when I leaned close, I spooked one and it swam up into the skinny water making a v-shaped bow wave . Further south, the trail arced further from Cherryvale, and the space in between became a fenced pasture with beef cattle grazing in shady pockets of trees. A few rundown farm buildings graced close to the trail, and further across the meadow to the east, it was easy to spot the silo and barn just across the road, about 200 yards away.
The sun was muted by high, thin clouds. It lent a familiar eastern light to the fading leaves still clinging to the branches overhead. To look right was to see the creek, heavy thick brush on the far side, and then the skyline of Bear and South Boulder Peaks. It looked like Virginia. If the mountains had had a little less angle and drama to them, it could have been Sullivan or Bradford County, PA.
Off the trail, I entered a little grove. The tree trunks were big and gnarly. I arranged myself so that I couldn’t see any buildings anywhere. I put my hands on a trunk and inhaled where a vine crept. Sure enough, I was able to recreate the scent of fall leaves. It was faint, but it was there.
I felt deeply and humbly grateful. Where I had been nostalgic and homesick, I was filled with joy. In that moment, I wanted to be here every day for at least a while. Maybe I could run it early in the morning or on the way home. Maybe I could stop to walk it on my way to work. I realized I needed this place like a steady dose of stabilizing medicine.
I love Colorado and the West. When my Dear Brother and I were together in California last week, he laughed with the certainty of a man who has long since broken off the rearview mirrors. “If anybody ever asks me, I tell them that everything worth seeing is west of I-25. Other than family, there’s no reason to be east of I-25.”
We laughed together. He probably interpreted my lack of response as agreement or complicity. I admired his ability to forever put away the Susquehanna State Park, the Loyalsock Trail and Loggers Path, and the smell of maple and cherry hardwood burning into hot coals. I have not seen a state I didn’t want to spend an entire lifetime getting to know intimately, and was not ready to discard some of the best that has come before.
For all the refugees who’ve ever fled or been exiled, I sense the poignancy and grief they must on occasion feel. At unguarded moments, it must become wrenching and uncontrollable.
If I couldn’t return occasionally to walk the trails in the Eastern Deciduous Forests, I think I might die of remorse and homesickness. I have no desire to move back, but I need to walk those familiar, canopy-shaded trails once or twice a year in order to be whole. I need to hear and smell them as much as see them.
For my feet, it was about a 2 mile round trip hike from Baseline Road south to South Boulder and back along the meandering section of the Boulder Creek Trail.
For my soul, it was about a 4,000 mile round trip to Sullivan County, Penna.