Hide and Seek

LAST WEEKEND, I dragged took my neighbor Stephanie up to my old stompin' grounds. My aunt and uncle built a sweet cabin on the ridge above what used to be my grandmother's (her mother's) farm, and they kindly allowed us to invade for a girls' weekend. Steph's sister Dory and Dory's friend Diane met us there. Our mission: A whole bunch of geocaching, a ride on the Millersburg Ferry and a visit to the Ned Smith Nature and Art festival.

I provided nonstop running commentary and shared interesting facts spouted minutiae about my hometown. I pointed out where my relatives live. (Which was, like, every third house.) I told stories from back in the day.  I wouldn't shut up was probably pretty unbearable, but I was their chauffer, so they were my captive audience.

For the uninitiated, geocaching is a worldwide game of hide and seek. You can find lists of "caches" on the website, enter the coordinates into your handheld GPS, then use that to guide you to the exact location of the cache. Along the way you can get sunburned hike, learn local history, and you get to see things that are miles from all civilization off the beaten path. My companions are all quite experienced geocachers, but they were patient and willing to train their chauffer.

But enough of my prattling on and on and on. I'll let the photos do (most of) the talking.

Dory fishes a microcache out of its hiding place while Steph logs our find.

Caching

One of the caches we found was hidden in state gamelands, high above the Susquehanna River… 

Susquehanna river valley, looking north 
…and Routes 11/15. This was just north of Liverpool, PA. 
High above 11-15 along the Susquehanna 
We found caches at two covered bridges - 
Aline covered bridge sign 
 
…the Aline Bridge, just up Route 104 on the way to Middleburg, and…

Red Bridge Liverpool PA
 
…Red Bridge, outside of Liverpool. Please don't tell anyone that I grew up maybe 4 miles from this bridge but never knew it was there.  Adjacent to this site were an old outhouse–

Outhouse next to Red Bridge Liverpool
 
—and a long-abandoned house:

House next to Red Bridge Liverpool PA
 

There were also cemeteries (which, I just learned, is from the Greek word that means "sleeping place"). There was the one out by Barners Church –

Barners Church
 
…where there are, in fact, many tombstones bearing the name "Barner."

Barners Cemetery 
(…even though this photo features a "Meiser" grave marker. You'll have to take my word for it.) 

Then there was the cemetery at the site of the former St. Michael's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pfoutz Valley. It's an equally peaceful "sleeping place":

JewishCatching July 2011 118
 

 This cemetery used to be adjacent to a church, which has long since been razed:

St Michaels Church monument 
St. Michael's is next to the farm that was my aunt & uncle's, and the next farm after that one was was my grandmother's – where my dad grew up. So you see, I can't even count how many times I've driven by this place. And yet, I can remember only stopping and visiting it a few times. It's so peaceful and quiet there, and as I surveyed the plot's location amid corn and soybean fields, I got to thinking how this would be such a nice place to spend my eternal rest, because the chances are next to zero that they would pave over this particular slice of paradise… but then I remembered the other cemetery we visited earlier in the day –

Sarah Catharine Shuman's gravestone
 
The cache was nestled next to Sarah Catharine Shuman's grave. She died when she was only ten. And that was next to these —

Grave stones at Tombstone cache
 
–which were sequestered way up on top of a slab of earth that was flanked by a highway on-ramp and an off-ramp – the Millerstown exit of Routes 22/322. The highway was built in the '60s, and my cousin Julie tells me that her dad protested the original plan to relocate those graves. The highway was redesigned to leave this small family plot intact. And I am sure that when Catharine's grieving parents buried their precious daughter there, they couldn't have imagined that her resting place would end up overgrown and inaccessible to all but the hardiest, most adventurous hikers. I mean, you really have to wanna get up there.

Now, this cache –

Nekoda Cache
 
…was called Nekoda. The cache was hidden in an overgrown area across the road from an old structure that once housed a general store and a post office. Until recently, it still showed up on maps of Pennsylvania, even though the post office has been defunct for decades. The building sat abandoned for many years. I could see it from my bedroom window. I spent 16 years looking across the corn fields at it, wondering if it really was haunted, as was the rumor.  A family has since bought it and fixed it up and I'd love to see what it looks like inside – I bet it's great fun to ramble around in there. We, however, were focused on navigating 'round needle-sharp bramble bushes to locate the cache that was tucked into the overgrowth near an old stone wall that may have once been the foundation for a barn or other outbuilding.

Geocachers at St Michaels
 
My fellow seekers – Steph, Dory and Diane. And yes, that's a Busch Pounder in Dory's hand. This was our 15th and final cache of the day, and we decided to linger 'neath the evergreens and enjoy a refreshing cold beverage to celebrate our finds. What a fun day – I enjoyed showing my friends around my hometown and surrounding area, and really liked learning some new things, too.

I have more to share, including the Millersburg Ferry photos – but those will have to wait for another day. Until next time –

The tug of history

This past Thursday, I drove 2 1/2 hours north into Central PA, to an old, small, red brick church in the country.  The occasion was the funeral service and burial of my Great Aunt May, and the venue was the church where I was raised, located within view of the farm where I grew up.

The minister was new to the church and didn’t know Aunt May well, but he said he learned much during his meeting with her five children. In particular, he said he found great comfort in knowing that May would take her eternal rest in a place where many generations before her also chose to be buried. It warmed his heart, he said, to think that she would be surrounded by her ancestors.

It’s true, she’s buried next to her first husband, my Uncle Gilbert, but technically, the little cemetery in the valley holds many generations of his family, not hers.  Nevertheless, she proudly took the Beaver name when she married.  She even researched and wrote a geneaology book, outlining the descendants of George Beaver of Pfoutz Valley, PA. It was this George who, in 1878, would be the first of many to be buried in that quiet plot of land that is surrounded yet today by fields of grain.

As I exited the highway and drove through Millerstown, turned right to go up the hill, past my high school, then out into the valley, I felt as if I was being transported back in time. (The Simple Minds song on the radio helped.) I used to drive from home to school a couple of times a day and joked then that I could probably drive it with my eyes closed.  I used to know who lived in every house along the five-mile route. Now, I know many have been sold to new occupants. Things are “turning over” in the valley.

The inside of Pfoutz Valley United Methodist Church hasn’t changed much since I left home for college in 1985. The same portrait of Jesus hangs on the wall over the same gold cross on the same altar furniture.  Ginny played hymns on the same organ I used to practice on during that one year I took lessons in high school.  Food for the post-funeral luncheon was arranged on the table in the kitchen where my Sunday School class met when I was a teen.  Several of the men and women who watched me grow up were there, attending to the food so that the mourners could eat and visit with each other.

I understand what the minister was trying to say, about finding comfort in being surrounded by so much history. He remarked that many people don’t have that. I moved to the DC area almost 20 years ago and figure we’ll stay here at least until the kids are grown, if not longer. But when I think about where I would want to be buried, my mind always wanders back to the little cemetery in the valley. My dad’s there, my grandma and grandpa are there, and all those generations of ancestors, a little piece from whom I carry within my own genes.  Also, I like how the cemetery is next to the church. Around here, there are huge “memorial parks” that have no church association. Our own church doesn’t have its own cemetery.   It just makes sense to me for one to be buried next to the place where one worshipped.

But would it make sense for my survivors to cart me the whole way up there?  Not really. It’s not practical. I mean, I spent only 16 years of my life there. But they were the formative years. The ones that really leave a big impression on my soul.  And even though I’ve been gone now for more years than I lived there, I still feel the tug of history, the pull of that connection to those who went before.