The Wild Boy Campfire, 1891

1/  So, Mr. Goodyear and his men believed they owned the place– the forests of northern Pennsylvania, the mountains good for building railroads over, the sawmills great for gobbling up the white pine first and then the giant hemlocks… Hold a second, and I’ll throw some wood on this fire…

Goodyear was shrewd, ambitious, a real politician and servant of the railroads. Had no time to think about anyone’s future but his own. When the Galeton water stunk, and the folks got sick from typhoid, Goodyear wouldn’t even loan the town clean water from his reservoirs. He just turned the forest into slashings, left it lookin’ like feathers from a plucked chicken. Grabbed his money, packed his men, and moved south– for the coal and iron.

Allegheny River brown (“18”), 11/23/19.

2/ You know how the fires started… We had the worst spring drought in years. Just right for a lightnin’ strike or a tossed cinder…  Off they rushed– those flames– across the northern counties. Forest slashings, tinder dry, fed the fire for miles and miles. Smoke blotted out the sun. Hindered fire-fighters who came from everywhere. When the flames got close, man and animal plunged into the creeks. The brook trout boiled. A horse galloped down-valley, its tail on fire. A farmer’s hog was found– upright, totally roasted. And that poor fellow down at Kettle Creek… they stumbled on him. Had a bullet hole in his head, a pistol in his charred hand…

What did I do this fall?  I’ll tell you. First, let me push these embers ’round… I climbed ridges, thankful for what remains. The wild, unsullied pulse of things, you know? Searching for birds and sleeping flowers. Looked at shagbark hickory trees. Tall sentient beings, rough-barked havens for squirrel and owl. Listened to crickets chirring. Counted feathers of a stricken grouse, stuff like that…

2 landlocked salmon came to the rambler’s hand, 11/24/19. He can’t complain.

3/ What? Huh? You hear something? Probably just the fire snapping. Or maybe a Hide-Behind… You never heard of the Hide-Behind? Well, it follows you through the forest. Wants to shadow what you do when you’re alone and make you turn around.  Problem is, it moves too damn fast to see. You hear something, whirl around to check what’s happening– it’s already hidden by a rock or a tree. Or maybe it’s swallowed by the darkness.

We came to “Witch House,” Salem, MA on 11/27/19. This is not the “Seven Gables” but rather a home of the judge presiding over the Witch Trials.

You’ve got to stay focused on your job or on your destination. Just keep going. If you start turning round to look, it only gets worse, and you might go crazy. Here, just keep watching this fire and you’ll be okay. Them Hide-Behinds don’t bother me much anymore.

Daughter Alyssa haunts the Salem “Burial Point,” looking for gravestones of Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower…

There’s one… from the Mayflower… at dusk.

The “witch trials,” held not far from the Salem wharf, marked an unfortunate but interesting period in colonial history.

Nathaniel Hawthorn wrote extensively about Salem in The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, rich with dangerous incarnations of the Hide-Behind….

Have I told you ’bout the witch-hazel blooms? Yellow spidery things. Got pods, and if you touch one, seeds spring out. They can shoot thirty feet to the wet ground. And ginseng… I’ve been looking, of course. Love to get my knotted fingers at the roots. If I find the red berries, they’ll get scattered good.  It’s my hope for green renewal.

Yeah, plants and animals comfort me now. They don’t consume the priceless moments. Don’t encourage getting and possessing. Yes sir, I like to climb these hills. I’m almost 70, but I still like to walk the streams and rivers. If the moon appears, it might be veiled with smoke and ashes. Fire residue. But I’ll watch it like a cooling thought. A candle flame frozen in my skull.

The House of Seven Gables coming into view…

A small wooden model of The House…

Water urns marked by an Algonquin word for “good fishing.”

after climbing through a narrow, winding “secret stairway,” one enters the ancient, famous attic in the multi-gabled house…

Happy holidays to everyone from inside the “seven gabled house.”

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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9 Responses to The Wild Boy Campfire, 1891

  1. UB - Marion says:

    Happy Thanksgiving Walt .. for the story/-ies, the sharing of your pictures, your adventurous nature and your insight/s – thank you. Interesting 7 gabled house, landlocked salmon! Sounds like it has been/was a great adventure. Safe travels home!

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    Lovely, Walter, lovely. My maternal grandfather’s family was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony – the first of three brothers to come arrived in 1630. Helped establish the Congregational Church in present-day Charlestown, then were commissioned by Governor Winthrop, along with four others, as founders of Woburn, Massachusetts. I’ve got to get up there and beat the bushes. I’ve only been to Boston once, with no time to look around.

    • Bob, You really should beat the bushes out here for your family roots. I think you’d find it quite stimulating. Easier said than done, if you’re like me, because the urban pressure can intimidate. I’ve long postponed a visit to Walden Pond & Concord for that reason, but Alyssa took us out there today & I’m glad we went. A pilgrimage worthy of a future report. Anyway, keep it in mind, and thanks!

  3. plaidcamper says:

    Thanks, Walt, for these campfire tales, and weaving a narrative full of themes from past to present, and via some interesting people and places. Looks like you’ve been enjoying an active break.
    Great stuff – I’m really enjoying these Wild Boy stories!

  4. Brent says:

    I’ve been liking the adopted role of fireside storyteller for these last couple of posts. Interesting way to work in your travels to the old colonies!

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