For the past 42 years, Sam and I have journeyed to my childhood home in Pennsylvania at least twice a year, passing through territory nourishing to my eyes and my spirit.
We’ve travelled by four different routes, and on each one we’ve encountered the Susquehanna River. That river is all over the place! How can this be, we wondered? And how can the same river look and act so differently at our various sightings?
First it’s a small stream flowing out of Lake Otsego in Cooperstown, New York. Then it skirts the southern border of New York state as a babbling brook. Further south it cuts wide curves through the Endless Mountains of northern Pennsylvania. Then north of Harrisburg it flows as a more-or-less straight, broad, shallow river on its way to the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.
With the help of friends who know the river, I came to realize that the Susquehanna indeed covers a vast watershed, and that our sightings could be augmented by many more. We’d encountered mostly the north branch and the main stem. But a whole west branch beckoned us beyond Williamsport as well.
Over the past decade, Sam and I took an extra day now and then to explore a part of the river we hadn’t seen previously or to experience more fully an area we’d been driving along for years.
We’ve enjoyed those explorations greatly. Here are three highlights, all along the main stem of the river in my home state of Pennsylvania.
- On one trip we viewed the river from the overlook in Shikellamy State Park – an excellent place to see the two branches of the river coming together. I loved how the deep blue of the west branch merges with the muddier north branch.
- One summer we crossed the wide shallow river on a paddle boat at the Millersburg horse and car ferry, in continuous operation since 1817. This crossing is a bit downstream from McKee’s Half Falls along Hwy. 6, where we’ve stopped for years to watch the river. Of course we also patronized Weaver’s Market and Bakery nearby, run by Old Order Mennonites.
- Another time we hiked into Chickies Rock County Park in Lancaster County, ending up at Chickies (originally Chiques) Rock with its excellent overlook of the river.
Our explorations most recently took us to Lock Haven along the west branch of the river.
The town built a (controversial) levee in the 1990’s after repeated flooding of the town. Now a lovely walking, running and biking path proceeds for four miles along the top of the levee, offering an excellent view of the river and good exercise as well as flood control. (I confess that we didn’t walk the whole distance and back).
An added bonus for us was finding a thriving Amish community in the countryside south of Lock Haven. Our suspicions were aroused when we noticed a full-page ad for the Sugar Valley Chair Shop in a local magazine. For one thing, the proprietor’s last name was Fisher – a familiar Amish name. And beside the phone number was the instruction to “call between 8-8:15 am, or leave a message” – a typical way Amish businesses use the phone. The ad also clearly announced “No Sunday Sales.”
A visit to the local farmers’ market confirmed the presence of Amish nearby. So we put the address of the chair shop into the GPS and thus found the Amish community. We love this kind of sleuth work and the discoveries it yields!
I could go on and on listing adventures we’ve had with the Susquehanna. We’ve watched the start of the 70-mile Memorial Day canoe race which begins where the river does in Cooperstown. We’ve taken a sightseeing riverboat cruise through the city of Harrisburg. We’ve visited the remains of the French Azilum, a refugee colony built along the river in the Endless Mountains during the French Revolution.
And so I circle back to that huge S curve the river has cut through the Endless Mountains. For it’s there that the Susquehanna first attracted and astonished us. I find the lookout near Wyalusing – where we first encountered the river – gorgeous in any season.
I’m not making that trip between Kitchener and Souderton these days, due to health and insurance concerns when travelling outside Canada. But our memories and Sam’s photos of the Susquehanna continue to nourish me….
Questions for Reflection:
Which river (if any) especially nourishes your eyes and your spirit?
What kind of sleuth work and discovery nourishes your spirit when traveling?
Next week: A Second Childhood?