At a little more than 600 feet in elevation, the high school where I teach (for a few more days) sits atop one of a series of ridge lines that run east to west. From the Delaware line west and north these ridge lines rise and fall with the regularity of waves. I can see the rise of the next ridge to the south west, where I live, and into a part of the valley that closes off the landscape. This morning’s deep humidity has created a fog lying within its cove that looks both inviting and impenetrable.
This cove harbors an old road, one no longer in use. It sits on private property. Decades ago it led from one country route to another. Unless you know where to look, you will never see it. In that sense it beckons like all mysterious places – broken farmhouses, abandoned industrial sites, overgrown orchards. Tall grass has overcome the dirt roadway. Walking there now would invite an attack by ticks by the hundreds.
In the far west ranchers can speak of not having a neighbor within miles. In a hollow a quarter mile into the road , one girded by 100 year old trees, hickories and white oaks , beech and tulip poplar, you move into a spot where there are no neighbors for hundreds of yards, a far way out here. I have only walked here once, in the early spring, Pete sweeping the paths ahead, his white fur catching my eye over and over as he disappeared and emerged from the undergrowth like a parlor magic trick. The air moving high up through that astonishing gold green luminescence of early leaves.
On the state highway directly to the north, Rabbit Angstrom drove west, away from Reading, trying in his own way to “light out for the territories.” The beginning of Rabbit Run details that great, sad road trip, a flight away from marriage, a child, a trap, adulthood. My father, in the late 30’s and early 40’s patrolled the same road and all its arteries in `ghost cars’, all white, long hooded, powerful 2-door Plymouths. His starting salary was $1090 a year.
About seven or eight years ago I followed this highway west and then cut north to Lebanon and found my way back to St. Gertrude’s, my school for first and second grade. I parked and stood in the old recess yard (school was out for the day) and remembered the factory smokestacks across the street pushing white vapor up into a winter sky. The noon whistle was so loud. I remembered feeling a kind of constant low level buzz of energy coming from that building – a sense of a hundreds of strangers engaged in a collective purpose. I remember that feeling giving me a vague kind of comfort.
Today, back on my home territory, on this early morning, I walked to the southwest edge of the parking lot and looked back toward the school. Construction photos of the original building show trees and fields. I once met an old man who helped take hay off those fields. Mr. Miller told me about following the wagon in the heat, the horse moving at a perfectly learned pace so that he and another boy could lift and toss the bales. The farmer’s son grabbed them and stacked them up high. They would rest under the trees during the hottest part of the day. Before the construction crews shaved off the top part of the hill, he said that it rose another 30 feet or so at its highest point. He said that when you turned to the west in the clear air of winter, the trees and fields would stretch and stretch out to the limits of the eye.