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