Tiadaghton, in the Pine Creek Gorge, used by permission from the Tiadaghton Audubon Society
In my last post, I talked about the family homestead, at the foot of the Pine Creek Gorge in north central Pennsylvania. That blog was about family and friends and comradeship, fun, laughter, stories, food — the communal bits of my family history tied up with Cedar Pines, “back home.”
Pine Creek from Otter Vista
But the painting part of me (as differing some from my personal history) is really about being enveloped by the forests and mountains. It’s about the gentle greens of worn but lively space, the vistas that I remember as a kid. It has a lot to do with car trips the family took to the Old Camp, high above Tiadaghton off the West Rim Road which follows the western side of Pine Creek, where my mother’s family had lived. It’s about sleeping under the apple trees on the top of the hill at the Old Camp and then climbing down to Pine Creek via some dried creek bed — and then climbing back up again. It’s having spent many many hours on dirt roads to arrive at vistas that my father and mother knew about, driving on the dirt fire roads put in place by the CCC boys. My father did some WPA (or CCC) rock breaking on some of those roads and I still remember his stories.
Pine Creek from the West Rim Trail
Like those tracking diagrams for raccoons in cities, I can track where we must have traveled in Tioga county to the west of Pine Creek, mostly by just remembering the names: The Spinning Wheel, the Painter-Leetonia Road, Bradley Wales State Park, The Fahneystock, the old lumbering “town” of Leetonia, the Mine Hole road and swimming hole, the Frying Pan, the Gundigut, Colton Point, Galeton, Babb(s) Creek, Gamble(s) Run, The West Rim Road, Tumbling Run, Ice Break, The Cushman View, Bear Run, the Algernine. Some of those were “views”, some “runs” (small creeks), some swamps, some roads, and most overlapped in these designations, being a “view”, a “gap” a “run” a “hill”, a “ridge” and/or the name of a road. [If you find the Pine Creek Gorge on Google maps and click on “Terrain,” the roads and place names show up among the contours].
These places now seem to be known only to hunters and local folks because the Rails to Trails trail for hikers and bicyclists, which runs on the old rail bed, is on the east side of the Creek. However, the West Rim Trail is a designated hiking trail; it skirts around my mother’s girlhood farm, which is land privately held and off-limits to hikers, but still the trail mostly meanders along the west rim of Pine Creek. I hiked a part of it once in my late 30s with my younger sister, who kept me going with Mars Bars and promises that we were almost there. After setting up camp, she pulled out a couple of jiggers of gin, which we drank while watching bears play in the creek.
I don’t know if anyone else in the family remembers those longs, dusty road trips. We had our own personal trip markings to tell us how close we were to the Old Camp: tumbling run, the rumble bridge, the log cabin, the Mine Hole, the Fahneystock-back-up road, the West Rim Road off which we turned almost immediately, to drive straight into the forest, through the swamp, by the spring, and down the hill where the rock outcrops caused our teeth to chatter. And then, the forest opened up to meadows, a broken down building, rock foundations of long gone buildings, and the glory of running pell-mell through waist-high weeds, up the hill to the apple trees, across the fields to find the old hand-laid rock walls now overgrown by forest, down the hill to the remaining traces of the single gauge railroad that carried logs in 1900, over the hill to the old school-house that my mother talked about — all the magical sunny days of bugs and blossoms and being linked to a land that the elders in the family were tied to.Pine Creek North from Leonard Harrison Park
So that is the Gorge of my painterly dreams.
A final note: in the 1980s when we lived in Kansas I became a fan of opera. One old warhorse, La Traviata, with a baritone aria, seemed to me to be about the Pine Creek I loved. This is one of numerous YouTube renditions of “De Provenza il Mar” — Germont’s baritone aria by Leonard Warren — in La Traviata:
My friend, Jane, teases me gently at the thought of Provence being Pennsylvania, but personal daydreams and musical musings are not to be accounted for. “Di Provenza Il Mar” will always be the Pine Creek Gorge to me. — June
[With the exception of the first photo, the photos here are from the Wikipedia Wikimedia Commons (some categories for finding them on the Commons include Leonard Harrison State Park, Pine Creek Gorge, Tioga State Forest, and Colton Point State Park.)]