When other kids my age were either going to the mall or playing the latest FPS, I was making friends with crawfish and minnows. Mendenhall was a great place for nature-loving odd-man-outs like me growing up.
I would spend hours outside, and my mom soon developed a system: Whenever it was time to come back in (dinner, bad weather’s a-comin’), she’s give a couple good blasts on a fireman’s whistle. I could hear that thing 10 acres away, no cell phone needed! But what keeps a bundle of energy like a 12-year-old boy occupied? With the right setting, imagination does wonders.
That stream I dawdled by was the Styx, or maybe the Nile, or even pulled double-duty as the Tigris-Euphrates. The tunnels it ran through were caves or dungeons (once I discovered D&D, I pretty much never looked back) or the entrance to another world, or a castle, or one of those eerie “in-between places” where creatures of the Otherworld appears (see?). Nothing like that every really happened, but it was cool to think so. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out “the stream” had an actual name: Burrows Run.
And those railroad tracks? They really were a path to another world, since they went from the mowed and manicured yards of my neighborhood into a small nature reserve where Burrows Run gurgled. A quick walk and presto! Out of the 20th Century and into a timeless century. Neat trick. Years going back and forth along those tracks go me really familiar with how a landscape wears the seasons.
During summer vacation, it was like this all the time: I had breakfast and then go out, come back for lunch and then go out, and finally come back for dinner. And for all that time I spent outside out of sight from my parents, never once did I get Lyme Disease or kidnapped by a Satanic child-murderer. So either I had a particularly isolated upbringing or maybe there is a difference between “vigilance” and “panic.”
And the funny thing is, I STILL walk along those railroad tracks and hang out by the stream. Talk about old habits dying hard. I am still a nature-boy. But, hey, this little corner of Pennsylvania woodland was my Happy Place! Don’t h8.
Besides, now that I have “Travel Writer” on my resume, just try and find me when I don’t have a camera on me. Every place is a destination to some other place. Mendenhall isn’t big at all, you really could drive by it in a fog, but now that I have something of a photographer’s eye, I’m beginning to get props for taking pics of the infinite beauty of the little things. Like the things I would stare out for hours on end as a kid grappling with unpopularity and gonzo puberty. Both at the same time…
I’ve since surmounted those hurdles. And whenever I walk the backroads of Mendenhall, I still take the time to sit by the stream or walk along the railroad tracks. Until Mom blows her whistle, of course.