Through the Wilderness
“Lancaster, Pennsylvania!” I tug my seat belt in order to sit forward and squint through the lowering gloom at the highway sign. (There are shadows in Pennsylvania unlike anything in my native Illinois. They are large and very dark, composed of trees - lots of trees - and, well, mountains.) “In 1847 Levi Zendt loaded his big Conestoga wagon and left Lancaster. He had six beautiful draft horses pulling it and probably some cheese-making equipment in the back along with his wife, I’m not sure.”
“Levi who?” My hubby asks distractedly; he concentrating on this winding path though the wilderness. (Which is actually a real road, but it doesn’t feel like it with the forest so close all around us.)
“Zendt. Levi Zendt. Centennial? James Michener?”
“James . . ?” He stops himself, but I am encouraged nonetheless. We have traveled all these long lonely miles to attend a funeral, and I have charged myself with providing distraction.
“Michener. He wrote a lot of really weighty novels. Anyway, Levi Zendt loved those horses a lot. So even though everyone told him ‘Levi, you’ll need oxen for this trip’ he was determined to bring his horses. Guess what? They didn’t make it and he ended up buying oxen anyway.”
Travel was precarious, back in the day; now as well. Outside my window, I’ve lost the moon behind a mountain, and trees are shielding bobcats the size of elephants.
A million miles away, in Illinois, my own kitty is probably crying. He might even be dead from missing me by now, who knows?
But it is lovely here, and history calls from every turn in the road. As though the mountains themselves are tenderly cradling those who have gone before – pilgrims and pioneers, Shawnee and Iroquois and colonists. Washington’s men are spectral shades behind the loblollies; a screech owl’s call blends with a fading rebel yell over Gettysburg and a drummer boy plays in solitude over the next rise in the road. History is lived here – the ground is steeped in the blood of the brave and true. Think of it – layers of muscle and sinew, skin and bone, laid over with tall grass and mountain flowers. Hepaticas tiny, white as pearly teeth in your palm.
We don’t feel history quite so plainly in Illinois, although of course it is there. Generation of farmers on the same chunk of land, and always able to tell you just how Grandpa weathered the Depression with four dollars pinned to the inside of his overalls. Great Aunt Delilah’s china stacked in cupboards and World War One mess kits in basements - and yet we still feel as though we’ve moved forward.
The mountain I travel with my sweetie tonight diminishes us to the size of fleas; it feels as though it must have been here when David played the secret chord, and I can’t decide if I love or hate it.
My cell buzzes and a text ends my ruminating. Kitty is fine, all is well! Be safe!
That’s better. I glance up again just as a hawk swoops close enough to nearly graze the windshield.
Love, hate? Perhaps something closer to awestruck.
Hello, East Coast!
Photo: "Full moon, roosting crows..." Kate St John @ Outside My Window
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