Sixpenny Diary

LOCATION:  Hopewell Furnace NHS/French Creek SP, Berks County, PA

CHALLENGE:  2.5 stars

DATE/NUMBER:  20-Jan-2001/32


'Cos the only thing misplaced was direction
And I found direction.
There is no childhood's end
You are my childhood friend, lead me on ...   -- Marillion

I was waiting on the wooden bridge where the historic Warwick-Hopewell Furnace road crosses French Creek -- waiting for the ranger to finish up with a group of tourists at the blacksmith's shop. As I leaned on the railing, gazing at some leaves drifting downstream, I carefully unfolded, for the umpteenth time over the years, the tattered scrap of paper with barely legible handwriting: "To Kevin 779-3760 RMA   -D."

"Excuse me", I asked, as the ranger walked by startling me from my trance. "Would you have few minutes to give me directions? I couldn't seem to remember which way to turn at the top of the hill, and I'm in the mood for a hike today anyway."

"No problem. Where were you headed?"

"I seem to be lost in both space and time, sometimes", I mumbled, as I told him what I was trying to find.

"Well", he laughed, "I'm glad you're in the mood for a hike, 'cause that's a hike. Here, let me draw you a map on the back of your pamphlet."


"Good luck."

I left the bridge and followed the old road, just as the teamsters and colliers had two centuries ago -- up past the tourists, around B & B's store, and up past the village's failed attempt at surviving amidst the technological advances of the mid 19th century.

As the road curved around I came to a junction, and immediately spotted the snowman on a forked tree down the crossing trail. He was to be my friend for a while as I took the fork to the right off this trail.

As I climbed the hill and hit my second paved road, I looked for a new trailhead across the road to the west, and took a short rest. The blazes were colored as the ranger claimed they would be, so I put my water bottle away and pressed on north up this trail, passing an elderly couple walking their black lab.

I followed this trail for a while, mindful of its twists and turns, ignoring the fact that it picked up another trail with a different colored blaze, until I left these for a connector trail, symbolized by a dual-colored, single blaze.

Just as I came to where this trail ended in a T, I was run off it by a group of teenagers carelessly barreling down from behind on muddy mountain bikes. Outnumbered, I cursed to myself as I picked myself up, then followed the cyclists as they turned and quickly disappeared down the new trail.

I soon saw their tracks in the mud, as I crossed a lame, pointless footbridge, careful not to get in the mud myself. As the trail pressed farther into the woods, I was all alone, and I had that strange feeling as I began to think about what I'd find at the end of the hike, after all these years. I passed the time humming an old Social Distortion song, Story of my Life, until eventually hitting another T junction.

I checked my map and turned to keep the wire on my lefthand side. I then kept a lookout for the three-trunked tree which the ranger's hand drawn map said would mark a trail coming in at a sharp angle on my right, that otherwise I might miss. I found that trail, and rested by the three-trunked tree for a while, contemplating questions a colleague had once raised -- "How does that happen? Is there a name for it?."

This was the last trail on the ranger's map, and I followed it 'round 'till it deadended. As the trail worked down the hill and came to its end, I stopped and just stood there, looking around at what remained of the place, totally overcome by the memories of a summer day many years ago. I just sat down and took it all in, then and now.

I saw the drinking fountain, still there after all these years, and spotted a white quartz rock right up against its base. I jiggled the rock a bit 'til it came loose, and pulled a tin box out from under it. It took a bit of doing, but eventually I jimmied the lid off with my pocketknife, to reveal a small waterlogged red book. The barely discernible embossed calligraphy on the cover simply identified it as "Donna's Diary".

I sat down and sifted thru the waterlogged pages, to see what, if anything, had been spared. Most had been lost, but some of the last few pages were still legible, so I began to reread words written in a past era.

* * *

"C'mon, I know a great tree straight ahead just on the other side of Six Penny Creek where we can carve out our names", I said as I gulped down the cold stream of water from the drinking fountain.

"Great, lets cut straight thru here so we don't get seen."

Feet and hearts racing, careful not trip on the rocks underfoot, we cut straight thru the trees, losing sight of the ranger's station and carefully avoiding the pavilion to the north, where the parents were schmoozing their colleagues and bosses, while a DJ was blaring C.W. McCall's Convoy, drowning out the screams and splashes of the kids swimming in the lake above.

We skipped across the new wooden footbridge to the tree, and took turns boldly carving out each letter, our faces glowing with anticipation and excitement in the midday sun.

"Lets go for a walk in the woods. I know this groovy trail up along the creek past the lake."

Wordlessly we headed up along the lake, past where a ranger was planting a couple of pine trees. We had to stop once to laugh, as some older kids who were horsing around accidentally tipped their canoe, splashing a sad, lonely-looking girl in a paisley sun dress who was staring into the water.

"Hi, Ariana", we teased as we ran by. "How's the water?"

"Just watch where you're going, children", she sneered back. "I saw your big sister up the trail with my brother Allen."

"Never mind her. She's likely had another bummer."

Up past the lake the trail followed along the creek into the primal beauty of the forest. Just as I unconsciously began humming the popular classic I Think Were Alone Now, we heard giggling and muffled voices coming from the hills on our side of the creek, just up the trail.

"Oh my!", D. exclaimed, "It is my sister Debbie."

"Quick", I said, as I grabbed D.'s hand for the very first time and led her a couple of steps back down the creek -- "Remember that old footbridge we just passed?"

Our hands were sweating as we crossed the creek and disappeared onto a faint south-southeast leading trail that the woods had just about swallowed up.

"One big step for the years in this century, and one big step for the years in the last century", I thought dumbly to myself as we ran hand-in-hand down the rocky, fading trail.

"I'm out of breath", D. panted, "lets rest here for a spell, and make sure we don't go so far into the woods that we can't find our way back."

"Ok", I said, keeping her hand, "this seems like a good place."

We rested silently for a while, enjoying the sounds of the forest and each others' company. Then, as the sun drifted farther into its afternoon descent, and we felt it was just about time to head back, a nervousness welled up in me, as there was something I had to ask before returning to the party.

"What's your phone number?", I hesitated, "Do you live around here, maybe I could give you a call, or something?"

"Sure, I'd like that", D. smiled back as she grabbed a red book from her hip pocket, ripped out a page, scribbled down a note, and handed it to me. "Sorry its so difficult to read."


"Look", D. said, "up the hill about 30 paces, behind that small tooth-shaped rock sticking out of the ground. That sapling looks like its growing out of that ledge rock; lets go check it out."

We climbed up to the tree rock, about even with a fresh stump a few feet to our left. It was there, at this place, that D. put her arms around my waist, closed her eyes, and we shared for the first time an experience for which we have no words.

"We'd better head back", I eventually whispered, "Its getting late."

"Lets write it all down", D. grinned, as we arrived back near the drinking fountain, "I've got my pocket diary here. Do you mind doing the writing?"

"Uh oh, I hear Debbie coming. She's way too nosy. Quick, hide the book here and we'll come back together and pick it up in a few days."

NOTE 1:  Six Penny Day Use Area was created as an Emergency Conservation Works project by FDR's depression era CCC. While perhaps as kids we may have enjoyed a summer afternoon at Six Penny, few now recall where it lay hidden in the Berks County woods, as the forest slowly and inexorably begins to erase all traces of it. There's alot to do here at French Creek, bring a picnic lunch and plan to make a day of it.

NOTE 2:  Off-trail walking is involved.

NOTE 3:  Be wary of snakes and other wildlife when reaching into dark places. No need to dig for this box. All bearings magnetic unless otherwise noted. A pace is a long stride counted on a footfall of either foot, i.e. two paces are counted each time the right foot hits the ground. Be aware of if or when there is game hunting in the area.

NOTE 4:  Please re-hide the thing well just as you found it.

DISCLAIMER & COPYRIGHT:  PERSONS USING THIS CLUE OR HUNTING THIS LETTERBOX DO SO AT THEIR OWN RISK. Do not hunt this letterbox without reading and agreeing to the waiver first. Children, do not hunt this letterbox without the supervision of an adult who has read and agreed to the waiver. Possession of this clue does not imply rights of access to particular lands and route choices, or the safety thereof, including the location of the box itself. Always observe current local regulations, signs, property rights, and customs; you are responsible for your actions. Clue not indended to be taken literally or to suggest route choices; route choices (and the choice to proceed at all), are your choice.
This clue and associated stamp art are copyright © 2001, by Randy Hall. Permission to reproduce for personal use granted; all other rights reserved.