Growing up, I had no sense of living in Bradford County. I did know my address before I went to school even, whether that address ended in Monroeton or Towanda, Pennsylvania, but I had no sense of it being in Bradford County or what that might mean.
However, after a lifetime of living all over the world, it came to me today. Jim suggested that we take a drive out to the mountains, read that out Schrader Creek Road, up over Barclay Mountain to Sunfish Pond State Park and back over some of the most scenic roads you can imagine. And some of those roads we saw twice because bridges we and our GPS had trusted would be there clearly were not, leaving us deep in State Game Lands, the kind of game lands you cannot get to from here with no option but to back down narrow untamed roads until we found a spot wide enough and safe enough to turn around.
Affection for a nearly dry and rock-filled creek washed over me as we turned off the hard top road, we call them that in these parts, to what had been a dirt road in my childhood. I practically leaned out the window checking out the creek where, at some point in its journey or another, my siblings and I had learned to swim. Then it struck me, who feels affection for a creek bed?
I did a quick life history check that took me back to my earliest memories, when among other jobs, my father served as a forest fire warden on out this road we now traveled, out this road and turning right, thread your way up a seriously rutted path now, less so when Daddy took us up in his post -WII rag top Jeep. I remember my mother holding as tight as she could to my little sister and me as we climbed the steel steps up to the box mounted on top from which my father surveyed the neighboring mountaintops and forests for signs of a fire.
Two things come to me in that memory, the first my mother’s fear taking us up those steps. I still sweat bullets looking over heights, and secondly, I love the mountains. I mean silly love the mountains, like I want to hug them sometimes, breathing in the smell of leftover snow and wet leaves in the winter clear round to the fall perfume of falling leaves and that breeze wafting off the lake or pond or creek, something undefinable, but nourishing to my soul.
So we drove out Schrader Creek to Big Lamoka, a wide space in the creek bed where my mother used to sit in a rock whirlpool set just so by the hand of God, where I cooked Jim hamburgers for the first time on a flat rock where he built his first, for me, Boy Scout fire. And humor me here, where we used to take Ivory soap in the summer and my little sister and I would wash our hair in the crystal clear water, little girls in matching blue and white polka dotted swimsuits…all these memories from the scrapbook hanging in the air when I search out the pull-off for Big Lamoka.
We drove on out the road, climbing up the face of one mountain peering through the trees, golden light slashing through the dark shadows revealing sister mountains so close I felt like I could almost reach one if I had a snowball to throw. And when I had the nerve to do more than look across at the sister mountain, I cautiously looked between them at the creeks and peaks, the stony cliffs and drop-offs they had birthed.
We rounded a bend and the thick forest gave way to an open meadow, dotted with young saplings, reminders of that time when lumber was king in these parts, and the mountains I so loved were clear-cut, the mature trees floated down the river past Williamsport and on to Philadelphia to be sold where rich people could afford fine furniture and homes from wood rooted in Bradford County.
For a time I fought tears as I searched through the forest as we drove on, searching for trees as thick as the beautiful willows on the lake edge as I type this. All I could see was young trees, and it occurred to me I should be thankful for the young trees that shelter the plenteous game here and that hold that dirt fast preventing the sliding away and down the mountain of the rich loamy soil. I had seen that happen in other parts of the country.
We drove across the top of Barclay Mountain, through what was once a thriving coal town, then lumber town. Now only the cemetery remains and that off the main dusty road. But on we drove through the game lands (thick forest challenged only by deer and bear hunters) on to Sunfish Pond.
We rounded the pond in search of our place, a picnic table on the edge of the water where we could watch the wind whisper ripples to us and where we had laid in many family memories – like the time I put my still hot from the fire cast iron skillet, now empty of its blueberry dumplings, and heard it crack. Don’t ever put a hot cast iron skillet in cold water!!
On our ride home I confessed my affection for the wild beauty of the creek, the forest and the mountains, as if my sweet husband didn’t already know, but I added that I loved as well the tamed beauty of the hills where we would soon sleep. There’s something calming and restorative about looking at the hills on the other side of the small valley, pastures and corn fields, barns and neat homes like green and gold appliqued quilt squares.
So now when someone mentions Bradford County, I know what they mean. They mean home.