When we made our last post, Frank and I were about to head into Pennsylvania. We’ve actually moved on to our second campground in the Keystone State. We are now at the Timothy Lake North RV campground, on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware Water Gap.
This wasn’t quite where we intended to be. We had reservations at the other Thousand Trails campground on Timothy Lake. But when we got there, it seemed that none of the sites were really going to work for our little setup. They were more geared towards bigger RVs, long and narrow. They were so narrow in fact, that we would have had a hard time setting up the canopy while leaving enough room to walk around it without stepping out into bushes in overgrowth. Fortunately, the staff was really cool and when I told them about my concern, they suggested I try the other campground located just a mile or so up the road. if we found a site up there that we liked, we could simply switch her reservation without any impact on our departure date.
Sure enough, we found a great site at the top of a hill … a corner site where two roads intersect. We’ve got plenty of room here and we were able to set things up where, instead of looking at other RVs, we’re looking at woods.
Woods. I love them! And I’m not talking about forestland. Unless you have spent time in the Northeast, you and I probably have a different idea of what that word represents. There’s something different about the woods where I grew up compared to other places I’ve lived like Texas, Colorado, or California.
There aren’t a lot of pine trees like in the west, nor is there a lot of scrub like what you see in the south. It was a conglomeration of oak and tulip trees, maple and birch. You can pick your way through the woods without feeling pressed in, like I sometimes felt walking through coastal redwood forests where I used to camp in California or the pine forests in Colorado. There’s an open canopy that lets light through, but it’s more dense and higher than woodlands I’ve seen in the Texas.
When I was growing up in New Jersey, I lived in two towns that had woods. In Waldwick, where we lived until I was halfway through second grade, our house was surrounded by them until builders started to develop the neighborhood. And in Pompton Lakes, the whole southern edge of town was woods until developers came in and tore them down, too.
I used to enjoy them quite a bit as a kid. They provided an escape. I could walk back in the woods and before you knew it, it was if I had left everything behind. In Waldwick, I could take 100 steps out my backdoor and I wouldn’t even be able to see our house! In retrospect, everything seems bigger when you’re a kid, so going “deep into the woods” was probably the equivalent of walking a couple of blocks. But that didn’t matter. Perspective, right?
In Pompton Lakes, there were woods a half block away from the house. All you had to do was walk to the end of the block, cut through the side yards of a couple of neighbors and there you were. They stretched all the way along the river and ended across the street from my elementary school.
There was a path ride along the river that we sometimes took as a shortcut to school, but I used to like to get off the path and head into the trees. When I was nine or ten, I built a fort back in there. Nothing fancy – I had found a place where there was a stand of trees real close together with a single opening. I found some big limbs that still had leaves on them and propped them up to form a sort of door. And once I got in there, people could … and did … walk right by me and without knowing I was there.
I used that fort many times as an escape. Especially when my father was on one of his whiskey binges, or just in one of his moods, where I knew that if I hung around, it would just be a matter of time before I did something to piss him off and I’d get beaten. I’d take comics or Hardy Boy books in there and spend entire afternoons reading. When I wasn’t reading, I would imagine that I was a pioneer and this was my fortress from the Indians. I made a chair out of an old stump and fixed up a table using fallen branches I had gathered.
So I guess I have some romantic attachment to woods. And the couple of times we’ve come to Pennsylvania on this vagabond journey, I think I felt that same sense of familiarity. Of security. Funny how it was last year, sitting riverside at the campground in Lancaster, looking out into the woods across the water, that I finally found a sense of peace.
I think Frank likes it here, too. Whereas most days he spends his time sleeping in the Nutshell, he’s been outside every afternoon since we arrived, even when it’s been sprinkling a bit. His nose is always going. Plus, instead of just sitting in front of me doing his watchguard thing, he’ll test the limit of his lead when it’s not been raining. Sometimes he’s oblivious to me watching him … he’ll go as far as he can, walk around to the other side of the canopy, sit down, and then just start turning his head in all directions. His nose will be up in the air and it’s just going a mile a minute! I’ve taken him on a couple of walks since we arrived … between raindrops. It doesn’t matter where we are, we just don’t seem to be able to escape rain!
Frank had a closing counter with nature at our last stop, Gettysburg Farm RV campground in Dover, PA, about 25 minutes north of the battlefield. We were only there for 5 days – it was a timing thing in order to set our reservations up for the summer holidays. Long story – suffice it to say that Thousand Trails has some restrictions on the number of your open holiday reservations at any one time, and the 5-day stopover solved a problem I thought I was going to have between Memorial Day and the 4th of July. As it turns out, the problem went away when I accepted an invitation from Michael, another Thousand Trails camper who we met in Florida. I’ve mentioned before. He spends his summers in New Hampshire and we’ll be staying with him for a few days over the 4th of July holiday.
Nevertheless, I’m glad we stopped at Gettysburg Farm. It’s an actual farm, where kids get to work with animals during the summer. We had a really nice campsite there, too. It was more open than where we’re at now, but we still had plenty of trees around us. Plus we had some really great neighbors. There were some nice visits with a number of folks that would stop by. I’m not sure if the draw is the Nutshell, which stands out as being unique amongst all the big RVs; Frank, who charms everyone wherever he goes; or the sight of the old guy with the beard relaxing in his camp chair with his four-legged companion sitting on his lap. The beard is gone by the way. I had it shaved at a barber shop while I was there. I have to admit that I’m not wild about how I look clean shaven. But I’m pretty sure it’s the right thing to do going into the Summer heat and humidity. Besides, it’ll be back at full length by the time Fall rolls around.
Anyhow, back to Frank and his Close Encounter of the Nature Kind …
The Nutshell was set up right underneath a tree at Gettysburg Farm. And an owl decided that tree was an ideal place from which to signal his friends. And with his first screech, around 8 pm on our second night there, Frank lunged out of the Nutshell’s cabin and with one bound was at the end of his lead, looking all around. It was the exact same reaction he had to the emergency signals we heard from NAS Oceana while at First Landing State Park in Virginia. Only this time, the screech had stopped by the time he was out there to look.
I have to say it’s the best 4-legged Vincent LaGuardia Gambini impersonation I have ever seen! Frank came back and jumped up on my lap with a look that screamed, “What the f**k was THAT!?!?!?” The only things that were missing was a woof with a Brooklyn accent and a pistol in his right paw!
Then the owl went off again. And Frank nearly did a somersault trying to vault off my lap. He couldn’t get out there fast enough! And it went on two more times. It was almost as if the owl was telling his buddies, “Hey, watch what I can do to this four-legged thing on the ground!”
Frank finally camped out under the tree, realizing that the sound was coming from somewhere above him. And as soon as he heard it … and saw where it was coming from … he started howling!
We didn’t hear the owl after that. I hollered out to Frank, “Way to go, buddy! You scared that thing off. Good dog!”
And with that, Frank came running back and jumped up on my lap, grinning and feeling like he was every bit the hot shit he thinks he is. I couldn’t help but laugh and every time I did, Frank would turn around and start licking my face. Pretty funny. I think that’s the happiest I’ve seen him since that day at Flagler Beach when he had such a good time playing in the surf.
I take that back. Frank had a really good time a couple of nights later. I got a call from Rena, a friend we made through the Teardrop Camper Group on Facebook. She lives in Delaware and came out to visit us last year when we were camped in Lancaster. Anyhow, the Tearjerker chapters from Pennsylvania and Maryland were holding a joint get together at a state park about 30 minutes away from where we were camping. Rena was attending and invited the two of us over for the Saturday evening potluck. It was our chance to meet the new addition to her family – Tucker, a cute little 1 year old puppy.
Frank and Tucker got along great! Tucker would stand on his back legs and put his front paws on Frank’s shoulders. Frank would then get down on his belly and do a quick roll to throw Tucker off. And they did that over and over. He loves being around dogs that are close to his size. There were two other beagles at the potluck, too, so Frank had quite the little get together. And I had a chance to visit with Rena again while making some new friends. Good times, all around.
Up here it Timothy Lake, I had my own close encounter with nature. Well, not quite so close, but it was close enough as far as I was concerned. I’ve gotten up a little earlier than usual the last two mornings – about 4:30, where I normally get up between 5:00 and 5:15. And this whippoorwill was going at it non-stop. I mean he was making what seemed like 50 calls a minute, nonstop for over an hour and a half. I had to delay my meditation time both mornings because he was so intrusive. Being one with nature is one thing. But this? I posted on my Facebook wall …
“I’m pretty close to finding out what Whippoorwill stew taste like!”
Imagine 5,000 of these calls in a row. I kid you not!
That’s it for now. Later this morning, we’re driving into Pompton Lakes to have lunch with a few old friends from high school, before which I’ll stop by the school and make a small cast donation to a scholarship fund that was set up in the name of one of our classmates, who passed away suddenly a few months ago. Sam returned to Pompton after graduating from college and became a beloved English teacher. He was one of the good guys. And while I don’t have a lot, I want to at least give something of what I do have as a way of remembering him.
One last thing – you all have touched me very deeply over the last week or so. We received an outpouring of comments, private messages, and Facebook posts, expressing appreciation for the last blog entry “The Prison Sentence.” I am so very grateful to have been able to share something that was so well-received. I know you all have been entertained by our stories from the road, and that gladdens me to no end. But they’re just stories … it’s an entirely different thing to have offered something that helped others as they bring themselves back from the pit of depression and guilt. It means that something good came out of the suffering that I’ve had to endure during my lifetime. That’s a blessing I wasn’t expecting. And it means more than I can adequately express in words. Thank you for that.