Under azure blue skies white puffy clouds glide along on the wind—this is beautiful farm country, especially if you are fond of barn architecture, well crafted stone walls and foundations—I saw one farm with an old, stone foundation out front, perhaps the first small house on the land. The house is gone but the stone foundation is a beauty, just sittin’ there lookin’ pretty.
Christmas tree farm-rows march like soldiers up and down the hillsides and, much to little Minna’s delight, bunnies by the hundreds play and hop away from our path. As we drive along at a leisurely pace, an Indigo Bunting and its mate play in the trees near an old duck pond on a side road, where we found a turtle crossing, round the bendfrom yet another Missionary Baptist church. This part of Pennsylvania is a down-home paradise where the people are friendly, the “carn is up,” and green tomatoes are beginning to weigh down their vines; where the deer are plenty, song birds bring tears to your eyes, and the shamrock blossoms have unfolded, pink and white, like upside-down parachutes open in the grass.
Almost everyone you meet has a friendly demeanor—an-older-policeman-admires-my- little-trailer- “Luciee”- and- stops-by- to-say-so—kind of place. Farmers wave as we pass. Whole families are in the garden pulling weeds, tilling the June soil. Some folks don’t exactly look friendly, but turn out to be anyway. Quick to help with directions or advice, the local farmers even know the location of the best cell phone reception spots. One farmer said it all when asked if he was internet savvy. “Nope. No time. Up at first light, to bed with the sun.” But when the cell phone rang, he said, “Don’t bother answering, it’ll quit on ya ‘less you go up the hill and turn right about sixty feet or so.”
We camped at Whispering Pines Camping Estates* in Stillwater PA near the lovely village of Benton (pop 965). Benton is a quiet little hamlet, a jewel set alongside Ravens Creek. Downtown there is lovely dam with a really classic town park: sporting a barn red gazebo, hemlocks and creek-front picnic tables. When I arrived in town on Saturday afternoon families had gathered for picnics at the park, some folks were in for a swim behind the dam, where a rope swing gives everyone a speedy swing out——then drop and splish-splash.
And while you are there be sure to have dinner or lunch at The Filling Station: home of excellent American and surprisingly authentic Thai cuisine served with a white table cloth by a friendly helpful staff. On your way in (and out,) linger in their lovely garden, replete with sweet-fragranced nasturtiums, serenading orange hibiscus and a bevy of beautiful koi vying for your attention in the fish pond—right off the porch.
*Gracious Whispering Pines Camping Estates, owned by David and Teresa Wojton and family. You can actually drink the cool well water at your site and watch the lightning bugs compete with stars at night. They have a different, more friendly approach than most camp places that makes your stay really special in so many ways. What campground do you go to where they deliver the paper to your site most every morning! The whole operation is a family affair with parents and children and grandparents all participating in the operation. You won’t find a friendlier campground with nicer people anywhere. Huge campsites; acres of lawns and so quiet you can hear yourself think. http://www.wpce.com/
I love to meander old country roads for an evening ride, winding along through hills and valleys on the back roads of Columbia County, near Benton. The valleys are strewn with plastic tubes? They are a part of a conservation program called CREP (The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program). This important work restores cleared trees with new seedlings. WHAT IS CREP? The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is a voluntary conservation program which rewards producers and landowners for installing conservation practices on their land, and offers up to 100% cost share reimbursement for installation, annual rental payments, and cash incentives. http://www.creppa.org/whatis.htm As we drove along the back roads we came upon “Charlie,” the mule. At 29 years of age (mules live forty or fifty years,) Charlie is the good friend of his mistress, Inez. Obviously proud of her charge, she came out for a chat while Charlie was posing for pictures; lovely farm woman, with a heart of gold, tried hard but couldn’t get Charlie to bray for us.
On our way back to camp, the sun begins to set, and billowy pink and salmon clouds, as if from a Italian renaissance painting, fill the sky above a billion shades of green in meadow and forest, farm and churchyard. The sun is bright yellow-red on a field of purple-blue sky as it sinks below the tree line. Minna leaps and barks as we pass where rabbits abound, excuse the pun, but they really are everywhere, popping in and out of the roadside wild flowers, weeds and grasses.
At the end of the day—I gaze upward at the lightning bugs, high above Luciee, competing with the stars for space between the dark-night tree boughs against the deep blue sky. I note, there are more lightning bugs than stars tonight. They peep down at me from the tree tops, wandering across the sky like erratic shooting stars or space satellites. Watching carefully, with tired eyes, the trees although deep ebony, give off a green luster—not a glow—but perhaps a memory of what their daytime color might be to these eyes of mine. Bats fly by at break neck speeds, catching lightning bugs on the wing in off-guard flight, feeling safe in their romantic quests. Easy pickin’s for racing bats. Off In the distance a farmer hammers his shotgun at a fox raiding the chicken coop. Miss Minna’s new pals, the chipmunks, are surely snuggled in their underground homes. Occasionally one can hear the pitter patter of night critters or catch the polecat scent, as they seek food or a mate. The evening dew on the freshly mown grass catches on my moccasins with heavy dampness and grassy bits. It is cooler tonight for a change. The chickens down on Toy Factory Road must be snugly nestled together on their sleeping bar. Time for bed. Miss Minna already snoozing, opens one eye just a pinch. This dog is pretty crafty, doesn’t miss much. Next time: PART II-The wonderful 22 waterfalls at Ricketts Glen (minutes from Benton) will spellbind you with their incredible beauty.