I haven’t really mentioned this explicitly, since it would sound too whiny, but I must say being a single parent on such a fabulous adventure is quite exhausting. (I know, I am lucky to be having such an adventure at all, right? Especially in this economy, where most people are canceling their vacations, and I’m taking a five week one? I could gloat more, but it would be cruel to mention our trips this year to Milan, Geneva, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Paris, right?) However, I am lonely for my love, my patience is getting thinner and I am counting the days until André rejoins our little crew. I have been doing all the driving and this was the longest drive yet. I think I only survived because of 2 stories on CD – hooray for public libraries! One was Matilda, by Roald Dahl--a long-time favorite author of mine (and now, Zander’s). The other story CD we heard was amazing –I mainly got it because the cover art (featuring Wonder Woman) reminded me of my dear friend Gillian who loves all things having to do with this super heroine. The CD was “The Teacher with the Patriotic Bathing Suit” and I played that title story 3 times over, laughing out loud each time (other stories were good as well). The author was Bill Lepp – here is a link to his website – I covet more stories already….. http://www.buck-dog.com/
We left Grammie and Grandpa around 10am and got to the campsite by around 3pm or so. We did stop for lunch along the way – I got the yummy American treat, Cinnabon, to split with Callie and Zander (poor Griffin had to have ice cream). Besides listening to stories on CD we also listened to music and coached Griffin on how to lie and say he’s 5 years old. He’s not technically allowed on the river until he is 5. Zander obviously has a devious future ahead, coming up with the following stroke of genius (which we actually used a few times) “Oooh! I know Mom! When people ask Griffin how old he is and he says 4 years old, we’ll just say, ‘He just had his birthday last week, so he doesn’t remember how old he is!’ Works for me.
When we arrived, Aunt Melodie was not yet there so we decided to do the newly installed zipline. Of course, technically, it’s supposed to be for ages 9 and up – but we don’t let little things like that stop us, do we? First Zander went and then Aunt Melodie arrived. She got to watch them haul Griffin up there. He did try to climb on his own but his legs just weren’t long enough to stretch from peg to peg. Since he just turned 5 (wink) he was their youngest ever zipper! I think his favorite part was helping pull the rope back up to the tree for the next turn. Then Callie went – and by this time there were spectators. I was heartened to see girls quite a few years older than Callie were refusing to go. Of course, their parents were using the tried and true ‘shame’ technique on them. (i.e. ‘But look, that little girl is doing it!’) Maybe she is a bit Zena-like after all. Then, finally Zander zipped once again (so Aunt Mel could see). They were all really brave and did a great job. It was strange – not one of them screamed or even yelled when they jumped off. Griffin did say: “I’m a little bit scared.” before leaping, but that was it. I was louder than they were (see video, below) I admit it, seeing them up there – especially Griffin – had me worried. I had told him NO at first when he asked to go. I was sure he would freeze halfway up the tree, or refuse to jump, or freak out or something, but that just shows how much mothers know since he handled it brilliantly.
Then we headed over to Boulder Field. It is part of Hickory Run State park. It was so nice to just drive through the Pennsylvania woods – seeing the bare trunks of the trees rising above the fern covered forest floor – so different than the mossy forests of our area in France. Finally, we arrived at Boulder Field. Geologists from all over the world come to this area to study it. Seems that, for some reason or another, a glacier broke up lots of big rocks and ground them smooth and gathered them up as it moved along. I guess they all ended up mostly together in a bunch and then, when the glacier eventually melted, it deposited thousands of boulders in a concentrated 12 foot thick heap. Here we have 17 acres of rocks surrounded on all sides by forest. It just sort of, pops out at you! I am fascinated by this place. I was here once before, (pre-kids with André) and it is just so cool. I spent about an hour trying to find out more about it and came up pretty empty. Here are some tidbits that might interest… Apparently, a boulder (according to the free dictionary) is a “large rock fragment formed by detachment from its parent consolidated rock by weathering and erosion.” So, it’s not just a big rock, but a big rock that fell off an even bigger rock! I also learned that there are several types of places where lots of rocks are dumped around, mostly outside the US – some of the names for these wonders are as follows: stone runs, stone rivers, stone seas, morains and rock glaciers. All that, just waiting out there to for us to discover.
My personal favorite name for these is found in Germany, where they call some particular form of a bunch of rocks the wonderful word ‘felsenmeer’ (sounds sooooooo much cooler than ‘Boulder Field’ right?) It seems that the boulders in a felsenmeer are sharper, more broken and then
quickly dumped rather than smoothed by time like they are in Boulder field. I would love to see a felsenmeer someday, wouldn’t you? The world of geology is an uncharted wilderness to me, frankly! But, if felsenmeer is a word I get to discover while learning about it – I say let’s go! But back to where I actually visited…. The kids loved this place. Zander and Callie had a elaborate pirate treasure hunt going on through the rocks. The first shot in the row above is the pirates eyes watching them – and the last of the snaggle tooth pirate rock blocking the secret entrance to their underground hide out. Right, they are discussing how to break the secret code to enter the hide out (did I mention yet it was hard to extricate them from this venue?) Meanwhile, Melodie, Griffin and I enjoyed just wandering around through the boulders, finding a lower spot where an underground river flowed and seeing lots of neat spiders. If you want to see some amazing shots of the field go to http://trifter.com/usa-canada/pennsylvania/hickory-run-state-park-land-of-boulders/ and, for a more technical geological explanation of how all this stuff happened, see this link: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/topogeo/parkguides/Pg02.pdf
We headed back to the campsite and had delicious octopus hot dogs roasted over the campfire as well as baked beans, carrot sticks with dip and some roasted marshmallows – awesome! The kids and I slept in the tent that was all set up for us and Aunt Melodie (as per her habit) slept in her car. She likes to do this because it is more comfortable than the ground – AND she never needs to set up a tent. Makes sense to me! She tells me she yearns for a new item she saw in a catalog recently – an electric blanket you can plug into your cigarette lighter. This way, she excitedly reports, she’ll be able to sleep in her car all the year round! (Um, great, I guess). Here you see her next to a field of orange lilies – we pulled over to pick some leaves and eat them as a snack (they are AWESOME – and oh, so impressive and beautiful on a summer salad).
The next morning we had breakfast at the campsite, packed a lunch, and then headed over to Jim Thorpe. We went on the old fashioned rail road. I wouldn’t recommend this as an activity – even if you have train crazy kids like I have in Griffin. If you’re in this area, go for the steam engine they have at Strasbourg, PA (we did that last summer and it was awesome). My main beef was that there wasn’t much information given out. The conductor did nothing but stamp our (seriously overpriced) ticket. Of course, here, Griffin was 4 – to get the cheaper ticket. No wonder the kid is confused. Mostly we rode along unpicturesque rail lines with broken down old trains on them. We did get a good look at the Lehigh River, our rafting destination for the next day, which was nice, but that was about it. The kids liked it at first – but, by about the middle, they were bored as you can see…
We got off, ate our lunch and then went to see the model train display they had set up in a nearby building. This, for the train crazy, was worth the money. A local family collected trains for 40 years and it took volunteers about 2 years to set up the train set, which was only a small portion of their collection. It was especially fascinating to Zander who refused to leave for quite awhile – he wanted to be shrunk down small so he could live there. Afterwards we walked through the town up to see a local jail. Being in France for so long has really made me notice some of our ‘normal’ US traditions with fresh eyes. This church, for example, was having some sort of festival – note the giant, blow up Jesus. I highlight the door for 2 reasons – first, to prove it is a church, and second to show there is also a large inflated lobster. Jesus, okay (I guess). Lobster, wtf????? Then there is the kitsch. Check out this planter. I did like the beautiful Alice in Wonderland decorated car, however! We ran across a library having a book sale and I got quite a few new read out-loud books for Zander for this year. Hope I can bring my suitcases back home! Then we finally got to the Old Jail. This was a great stop, lots of fun stories for the kids and just plain interesting. My favorite modern tale was of a man who starved himself for weeks sometime in the 50’s or 60’s. He waited until the right moment, stripped and then rubbed soap all over his naked body. He broke the glass out of the miniscule window in his cell and somehow squeezed out of it. A nearby neighbor saw him shimmying down the wall of the prison and called the warden, who laughed at her! They actually didn’t find out he was missing for a few weeks (guess the security wasn’t too tight back then…. I mean, how could they not notice the guy wasn’t in his cell???) but they did catch him again and had him serve out his sentence, after installing little cross bars over the windows. The tour guide said the man actually still lives in the area and visits occasionally to brag about his accomplishment! I guess it’s his 15 minutes of fame – right? More than I can boast of – that’s for sure.
This area of Pennsylvania was heavily settled by Irish immigrants. They came over to find fame and fortune, and to avoid famine back home and found nothing but hatred and discrimination. Signs were posted openly “Help wanted. No Irish need apply” The only industry that would take them were the coal mines. But they abused them horribly. They were completely trapped – they had to shop at the company store, where prices were higher than the regular stores. If they got caught shopping elsewhere, they were fired. They also had to live on the property of the company and pay for their lodgings. If they got injured or killed in the mines (quite common) the only compensation they got was a guarantee that their sons (age 8 and up) would have a job to help replace the income. Most weeks they ended up with no wages at all, or even owing the company money. They tried to organize and gained better pay for some time. When the big bosses pushed back, they went on strike for 7 months. But the bosses had been tipped off and stockpiled coal. After 7 months, the Irish families were starving and were forced back to work, for even lower wages than before. During this time there was rumored to be a group of freedom fighters known as the Molly Maguires – the coal bosses sent a spy to live with them for over 2 years and, at the end, 20 men were hanged on the word of the Pinkerton. There is a movie called the Molly Maguires (with Sean Connery, no less) that depicts this time. The suspects were put in the Old Jail, where they might be put in solitary confinement, chained with manacles and even (horror) have to use this toilet every day – ahhh! The accused Molly Maguires proclaimed they were innocent but 4 were hung on one day in the Jail where we visited – they sold tickets for people to watch! One of them placed his dirty hand on the wall of his cell before his execution claiming it would always stand as a testament to his innocence. Well, since then, this wall has been washed, painted, and even picked out but the hand always returns. They say scientists have even tested the spot and come up with nothing is on the wall but paint – but yet the hand is there….. Let’s all Twilight Zone now… do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do. Of course, I spent some time looking this up on the web and couldn’t find ANY article that refutes the claim of the hand on the wall being real. Frankly, this shocked me. I was sure there would be lots of articles talking about what a load of crap the whole thing was and how they could show it wasn’t real etc…. but nope. People must want to believe. Here is a typical article of the phenomenon: http://www.excommunicate.net/the-handprint-of-an-innocent-man The most scholarly article I could find, which sort of but not really debunks the myth (claiming it is all only for the profit of tourism – true, I’m sure – but that don’t mean it’s a hoax, right?) is at http://www.personal.psu.edu/faculty/j/p/jpj1/molly.htm
Finally we stopped at the prison kitchen, which featured stocks and a really neat map where visitors can mark where they came from – of course we put in 2 pins – one for Philadelphia and one for France! Before moving onward, I must say one final word on Jim Thorpe, PA. It was actually named Mauch Chunk until the 50’s when, in desperation for some attention and tourist dollars, the town changed its name to honor one of America’s greatest all around athletes (I had never heard of him before, but hey, I’m young, right?) He is also very controversial, being stripped of his medals 6 months after the Olympics. These Olympics were the ones in 1912… That’s right, the town changed their name to honor this guy a good 40 years after his big triumphs… and his medals weren’t even returned to him until the 80’s! Wasn’t there someone more recent they could have chosen? How did they come up with this idea anyway? Things must have been really different back then – can you name any famous athletes of 40 years ago??? To read about the athlete see: http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016499.html. One more thing - the guy never even set foot in the town – they actually exhumed him from California to this spot. I repeat, why pick him? Why not like, Wonder Woman or a former president or something? Do lots of towns do this? Does it work????
We headed back to the campsite for dinner and then watched a bit of an extremely lame magic show (sorry but I’m spoiled by excellent European circus). The magician actually picked Callie to come up and volunteer but she refused (nut!). Soon afterwards the rain started in earnest. Zander was thrilled, he wanted to do real camping – so that meant surviving a thunderstorm! At about 9:30 our babysitter showed up and Melodie and I headed over to Shenanigans to do some karaoke. Melodie sang about 10 songs and I wasn’t the only one impressed by her facility. She totally rocked Blue Bayou especially – here you can experience the sound sensation yourself below – sorry the clip is so short – I’ll try better next time! We even had people coming over to us and requesting she sing songs. I, of course, rocked the house with “Say a little prayer for you” and later, the Fat Albert theme (which no one in the audience even recognized – was it because they were all white? But hey, I’m white and I watched that show…….)
The next morning we had breakfast, packed lunch and then headed for the river. Here we are, ready for action right before our morning departure! No pictures, of course, but we had an amazing time. The weather was perfect, the river was high and the rapids were just the right speed for a 5 (wink), 6 and 7 year old. We spent time splashing, paddling and floating down stream. Zander even got a ride on some of the guides’ kayaks. That night we went out to dinner and then had girl scout sundaes. These are made by opening up a banana and shoving lots of marshmallows and chocolate inside it. Then you put the peel back around it and wrap it up in foil. Stick it in the fire until the banana cooks and eat it with a spoon. Delicious! Aunt Melodie really did so much to help make our time with her special. We can’t wait to go back and do the upper river some year. Of course you have to be 9 years old to even try it – so 4-year old Griffin should be ready in about 3 years, right?