The Port Clinton “Beach” gets a Facelift



As I pulled the rusty bedspring up from the “beach” along the Schuylkill River in Port Clinton, the metal coils kept catching on the rocks imbedded in the trail, yanking my arm back like it was dislocating from its socket. My other hand held a heavy, unruly garbage bag of crap that was unearthed from the land around the beach. It twisted and slipped, the yellow ties digging into my gloved hand, cutting off my circulation, whacking my calf with a sharp metal protruding piece that punched through the plastic.

We’re on a riverside clean-up with the Schuylkill Headwaters Association, the non-profit that my daughter Sierra is Outreach Coordinator of. We’re cleaning up a notorious trash hole across from The Rock- a graffiti-decorated rock that inner-city Reading folks come to recreate on and under throughout the warm summer months.  “The Beach”- a gravely wide bank that has more glass shards than stones sits across from this jumping-off point.

What were they doing with a bed down there? Actually, I pulled three coiled box springs up this morning, and parts of a television. Did they drag them down to the river one summer night- and perhaps a generator to watch TV- a ¼ mile from the road with the roar of a highway nearby? If they were merely looking for ease in ridding their lives of trash, a convenient steep-roadside bank would have served better.

I stayed up by the Appalachian Trail trailhead for the first half hour to direct late stragglers to the river site. In the meantime, I cleaned up the pull off and steep bank of the mountainside where the trail switchbacks up. Condom packages, take-out containers, beer bottles, very few aluminum cans thanks to the recycled program. A diaper loaded with contents that appeared as though the baby ate an entire box of graham crackers.  I handled that one by a tiny corner.

I went up the steep slope, sliding backwards in the loose wet soil to grab a bottle- Once I lifted the first, more and more appeared buried in the soil under a rock. The hole had to be excavated in order to bury them- so much work besides struggling to get up here. There is a Wawa gas station with trash receptacles right down the street as well as a huge recycling headquarters opened 24-7. I don’t get it.

Down at “The Beach” a group of beach-goers moved in with their stadium chairs, tent (no camping allowed) and half a dozen garbage bags of stuff/gear!? We hoped as they watched us bend down and pick up, fill bag after bag of trash, they would choose to take all of their stuff out with them when they left. Maybe it would make believers out of them, one at a time.

Hauling the crap up to the road, I found myself wondering about the people whose cast-outs I struggled with. Who they are, what are they like, what are their homes like? Do they trash their homes like they trash the natural world they are guests in?

We hauled 50 garbage bags up that trail to the road, where Penn DOT will come and pick them up. This was left over trash which Sierra’s clean-up crew could not get last November- they filled 50 bags then too. It was exhausting work .


We managed to keep a few trash bags of bottles separate so we could at least recycle something and prevent everything from ending up in a landfill. People in developing countries make their living from picking trash like this, we reminded ourselves. Sierra and I talked about what possessed people to trash like this. We thought of North Philly where Bryce lived – I’ve never seen any place that trashed outside of a developing country like India or Katmandu, Nepal. Do you become insensitive to it? Do you stop even seeing it?  I drive down to Bryce’s apartment and find myself aghast and exclaiming, “How can you live in this environment and not want to do something?” He is just managing to get through art school. Is everyone JUST managing in North Philly with no energy left to dispose of their trash the right way? Is that the case with every poor person who trashes their world, whether its North Philly, the Beach at the Rock, India or Nepal?


(Katmandu, Nepal)


When we were cycling the Yucatan Peninsula, we stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch. Trash and empty plastic bottles were strewn around the perimeter of the open-air café. When we were finished our meal, I asked the owner where I could put the bottles. He motioned for me to toss them onto the ground. I refused to. So he extended his hand for me to give them to him. Without breaking my gaze, he tossed them into the air so they landed on the ground at his restaurant.

I felt disheartened after a day of cleaning up a dump in nature. Sierra said she felt good- for the good work that they’ve done, for the students who contributed and made a difference, for the fact that forever she will be grateful when she sees a clean stretch of road or trailhead or riverside beach and never take it for granted. She is right. We can become insensitive and blind – whether it is to trash or to cleanliness. Or we can appreciate the lack there of.

“You’ve Been Sleeping with Her, haven’t you?”… It’s Spring time and it’s time to F__K!



The water in the little pond in our backyard is boiling with wood frogs, the surface literally roiling with activity. Male wood frogs jockeying for time “on board.” You can tell the females from the males. First off, she is buff colored, pinkish tan, pretty. And she is on the bottom, struggling for her life, or so it appears. I only see one female but the surface is covered with males- dozens and dozens- their legs outstretched, wanting “a piece”.  I counted six on top of one female, her little legs clawing as she struggles . It seems like excess to me.

They’ve had a rough winter, these boys though, pretty much frozen in the leaf litter. They can actually sustain having 70% of their body’s liquids freeze before they experience permanent damage. The temps can go as low as -6 and they are still okay. And they can stay frozen for up to a month. Their livers release high levels of glucose to sustain them while cardiac function stops, and blood ceases to circulate.

The pond often still has ice and snow in it when the wood frogs dig their way out of the surrounding woods and make their way to the pond. As soon as the temperature rises high enough in early March, they fill the night with their croaking and begin to antagonize the females. This lasts for a few weeks until the warmer shallow side of the pond is filled with gelatinous green transparent egg sacks.

When the FED EX man or the UPS man comes during wood frog mating season, they immediately get out of the van and say, “What in the heck is that sound?” It is so strange and so loud. It can keep us awake at night.

My very young children learned about sex from the wood frogs ONE of the lessons) . They wanted to know what was happening to that poor frog of a different color. My 90 year-old grandmother did not approve of my birds and bees lecture. I asked her what she thought I should tell them instead of the truth and she said, “Tell them they are playing.”  Even to a five year old, they didn’t look like some of them were having much fun.

When it comes to sex education, I much prefer the story of the praying mantises, especially for my daughter, Sierra.  The males can never be sure when they have sex with a female if they will get out alive. She has been known to eat her mate, afterwards or even during the act. She may begin by eating his head off, while his body continues in the love act signaling to his body to release its sperm. With his head gone, he cannot “reason” whether this is a good thing he is indulging in or not. He wants it still. The protein from the male sperm is a requirement for the female to produce more eggs and it is a way for the male to keep from leaving prematurely.  It also makes sense for the males to offer himself up as food for he can’t pass on his male genes if she starves to death.

This behavior is more often seen in praying manteses who are in captivity- under stress and maybe not given enough food to eat by their keepers.

There was a crack-up carton on the one science website- the female was talking to her headless husband and she commented, “You’ve been sleeping with her, haven’t you?”

Exploring Ligonier




When you stand on the grassy hillside above Foxley Farm in the Laurel Highlands and see Chestnut Ridge flanking the sky behind you and the rolling fields of timothy and clover at its feet, its clear why this gorgeous Ligonier Valley would draw farmers to its soil way back in the early 1800’s.


The farmers came to till the rich earth and then travel the two miles to the village of Ligonier to trade, for here was an important stop on the newly built Pennsylvania Turnpike. It linked Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and a town grew in this beautiful spot in western Pennsylvania.


PJ and Maggie Nied have continued in that long tradition with their Farm to Table B&B, Foxley Farm. My son, Bryce and I are staying with them while we explore the Ligonier area.


The 60-acre farm is the happy home of nine Longhorn cows and three pure-bred Scottish Highland cows, as well as a handful of calves. Their long strawberry blonde bangs blow in the breeze, obscuring their eyes like a teenager badly in need of a haircut. The feature is to help them keep flies out of their moist eyes. The Nied’s also have forty-five pigs that are pasture raised that they will butcher and serve at their marvelous Farm-to-Table dinners.


From our perch on the hillside, Bryce and I watch the six horses run and play with the cows, sharing the same pasture. The property is outlined in post and rail locust fences. Foxley Farm offers horseback riding for their guests. The local Rolling Rock Hunt Group organizes the hunts twice weekly that often run through their farm September thru May.


Maggie takes Bryce and I on a tour of her extensive organic garden where she single-handedly  raises 250 tomato plants, 200 pepper plants, 100 assorted cabbages, to name just a few of the many veggies she harvests to satisfy her guests appetites, all started from seeds.  We gather the fixings for a salad and she introduces us to her meat chickens that she also raises to feed her guests.


“We’re eating Bob tonight,” Maggie announces.


Bob isn’t a family pet, fortunately. Every one of the cows that they raise and butcher for their guests is named Bob…keeps it simple and impersonal.


The original house is an 18th century frame farmhouse with additions built on either side. The former owners, the Todd family, had a grand two story ballroom and library attached with six stately columns that were recycled from the historic Bedford Springs Hotel. The Todd’s ran an import/export business out of their home and Mrs. Todd was a sculptor.


Although the Neid’s have only operated Foxley Farm for three years,  they are not new to the hospitality business and continue to also operate the extremely popular and successful, Ligonier Country Inn in town.






Bryce and I went into town for the day to explore the shops and galleries, indulge in its eateries. The center of life revolves around the Town Square, which was set up back in the town’s birth. Four blocks radiate in each direction set the town up in an easy grid. Pots of geraniums decorate the brick plaza and American flags dress up the brilliant white and green painted gazebo, the source for many an enjoyable  summer evening concert.

There’s the cool equestrian shop, Equine Chic to buy unique gifts for your horsey friends. Then there’s Martin’s- a historic sporting shop which is over 100 years old and operated by the same family. It’s fun to look at the old Woolrich signs and posters and wicket fish baskets hanging about the store’s walls.

More neat stores include Nearly New, a great second hand store; On the Diamond Antiques, Second Chapter Books is a wonderful used book store, the eclectic Allegory Gallery, and a wonderful place to enjoy lunch- The Kitchen on Main. In the warm sunshine, we dine on delicious burgers and sweet potato fries as we take in the local happenings of Ligonier village. For dessert, Bryce and I head to Scamps Toffee and Sweets, where two friends create amazing toffees right on the premises.  This wildly successful business is only two years old and already the demand if up to 50 pounds a day. That tells you something about their tasty treats! After dessert, we head to historic Ligonier Fort which is conveniently located right in the downtown area.






The historic Pennsylvania turnpike road through Ligonier, was originally created in 1758 with the sole purpose of moving supplies for the British Army out to the Forks Of The Ohio, during the French and Indian War. The road had to be constructed right over the crests of the imposing Laurel Highlands. Here in Ligonier, a garrison fort was constructed that became a staging area for British troops and served as a supply depot. It was the base camp for General John Forbes and his army for the final attack on Fort Duquesne. Many fortifications like Fort Ligonier were constructed along the route, using whatever materials were at hand, such as wood and earth as is the case here in Ligonier.

Foxley Farm 194

Fort Ligonier is located on the edge of the town of Ligonier. In fact, the north side of the fort has not been reconstructed due to the town being in close proximity. Route 30 skirts the outer retrenchment of the fort and you can see cars and red lights and modern day businesses while you stand inside the 18th century fort. It is a very strange juxtaposition of time periods.


Jeffery Graham, the Reenactment Coordinator and Historical Interpreter for Fort Ligonier, meets Bryce and I, dressed as a British Officer of the 60th Royal American Regiment. As we walk, he explains that the fort originally encompassed 11-12 acres but today’s fort is only on eight. The Fort Ligonier Preservation Society was responsible for completely reconstructing the fort, which began back in 1954, from only an archeological footprint in the ground. They reconstructed buildings from original plans which served as officers’ mess hall, barracks, quartermaster, guardroom, underground magazine, commissary, and officers’ quarters. Visitors can stretch out on a straw mattress and try it out. The hole for the powder magazine is original for it was actually discovered during the forts reconstruction.


The inner fort is 200 feet square, defended by four bastions and accessed by three gates.  An outer retrenchment, 1,600 feet long, surrounds the fort. Outside the fort are a hospital, a smokehouse, a saw mill, bake ovens, a log dwelling, a forge as well as lots of canons, guns and wagons.

Foxley Farm 218

Jeff tells us that each man’s daily rations consisted of 1 lb. of meat, 1 lb. of bread, 1 lb. of dried beans, rice or oats. Rum was a treat to whet their whistle. Clay beehive ovens baked their bread that has been reconstructed on the site. For the march on Fort Duquesne alone, 1500 head of cattle had to be smoked and jerked.


Guns were laid across fascines – long, cylindrical bundles of sticks, placed one on top of the other and staked fast.  These bundles were wrapped in vines that are crisscrossed to create a strong yet flexible basketwork, creating a lining that prevents steep slopes from collapsing.


The museum houses three original George Washington artifacts: his saddle pistols that he carried at Valley Forge and during the Whiskey Revolution when he was president; his original manuscript of remarks where he vividly recollects his military experiences on the Pennsylvania frontier- perhaps the only autobiography ever written; and a portrait of him painted by Pennsylvania artist, Rembrandt Peale, portraying him in his youth.


At its peak, the soldier population of Ligonier Fort swelled to 6,000. In addition to soldiers, several hundred women and children camped around its walls as well. These women provided services like nursing and washing. Four women could handle the laundry of forty men.


Since todays population of the entire town of Ligonier is 1500, it is difficult to imagine that many humans stuffed inside this now open and expansive fort.  But Captain Jeff, in his authentic-looking costume, his vast store of knowledge, and his lively stories, has the ability to take us back to 1758, at least for an enjoyable few hours.


(a version of this appeared in the March/April issue of Pennsylvania Magazine




(an archive article- posted here as a tribute to Bill Irwin- the first blind man to hike the Appalachian Trail and Bob Barker- a three time thru-hiker with MS)

Appalachian Trail hiker and author Cindy Ross accompanied Bob Barker and Bill Irwin on a trail hike on the A.T. near Harpers Ferry.  After two days, they had covered only five miles, but no one had billed this hike as a marathon.

If you saw Bob Barker and Bill Irwin hiking down the Trail, you, too, would wonder at their chutzpah.  There they were, both loaded down with full packs and accompanied by Seeing Eye dogs.  In addition to the obvious obstacles, Bob was using a crutch and trying to ignore the multiple sclerosis that had crippled him.  He had hiked the A.T. before, with the aid of his crutches, but near-blindness, due to glaucoma, was a new impediment.

Bill, who thru-hiked the Trail in 1991 with the aid of Orient, his Seeing Eye dog, had convinced Bob to get a dog.  So, here were the two men and their dogs, out on the Trail for a trial hike.  I was invited to join them for companionship and my sight.

All the bases seemed to be covered.  Bob had been training for half a year by walking 30 miles a week, rain or shine.  The section of Trail we were hiking was near Harpers Ferry, W. Va.  Bill could use his cellular telephone to call friends at the Appalachian Trail Conference headquarters if any problems arose.  We were planning to hike as far as we could in four days.

Bob left his second crutch home.  He’d need one free arm to hold the harness on Cheetah, his Seeing Eye dog.  The pair had worked together before, but not climbing over rocks and up and down steep terrain that we would encounter on this hike.  Nearly all of their training had been on roads, where Cheetah was well behaved.  Once in the woods, however, the young pup was more interested in chasing toads, slopping in creeks, and sampling grass along the way. Bob was having a difficult time remaining in charge.

“I like a challenge,” he commented at one point.  “That’s why I’m here.  I missed the Trail. I knew it would be difficult, the first time with a dog.  It was difficult the first time I hiked with multiple sclerosis, too.”

Bill noted that when he and Orient began hiking the A.T., he fell as many as 40 times a day, due, in part, to flaws in their communication.

Bob appeared to be equally determined.

I didn’t realize how determined until he took a particularly hard fall.  We had crossed a stream on slippery rocks, about an eighth of a mile from the Trailhead.  Cheetah stood broadside in front of bob, determined to get a drink of water.  And, Bob tripped over the dog, fell hard, and twisted his foot.  On the next switchback, the exact same scenario was repeated.

“I know what a sprain feels like, and this feels different,” he said.  “The pain is going all the way up my leg.  It feels like I broke it.”

It looked like our hike might end soon after it had started, but Bob said he wanted to keep going.  Who were we to argue with him?  He had me wrap an Ace bandage around his leg and force an ankle guard over the rapidly swelling joint.  He downed some pain pills, and we continued climbing.  Once the drugs began taking effect, we settled into our pace, Bob’s pace, of one-quarter mile an hour.

We were in no hurry, in fact, over the course of the two day hike, I spent much time standing still.  I’d walk a few yards, turn around, and wait for Bob.  Bill and Orient brought up the rear.  Sometimes, I’d take Cheetah’s harness and give Bob my hiking stick to use as another crutch.

There was time to enjoy the beautiful weather, to watch sunlight and shade patterns, smell wildflowers, and think how my busy, fast life back home contrasted to this.  There was also a lot of time to talk.  The men discussed what they thought was more difficult- being totally blind, like Bill, or being nearly blind, like Bob.  (Bob’s vision is limited to about a two-foot radius in which all is blurred.)

“I think you’re worse off than me, because you hike as though you can see, although you really can’t, and Cheetah guides you as though you could, too,” Bill told him.

Bob told me how he continued to garden and to mow his lawn.  “I place five-gallon white buckets int he corners and point my lawn mower in each bucket’s direction.  After I cut a strip, I move the bucket over for the next cut.  I keep moving buckets until it is done.  I never watch the mower but just stare at the blurred white buckets.

“I also put in a large garden this summer. I stretched a white string between two stakes, for each row, and followed it with my hand as I crawled on the ground.  I used a stick that’s three feet long with holes drilled into it. I dropped seeds through the holes and covered each with my hands.  I operated my tiller the same way as the lawnmower, and, for closeup weeding, I relied on feeling.  I know the difference between crops and weeds and grass.”

In camp, Bob listens carefully to his stove, to tell when the pressure (of escaping gas) built up enough to light it.  All his cooking gear is laid out on a sheet of plastic.  When he unfolds his tarp, all cords and tie-downs are exactly where they are suppose to be.

After two days of hiking, we had covered only five miles and had run out of water twice.  Bill, who functions as though he can see, went ahead to a store at a road-crossing to call ATC. An ATC staff member met us at a nearby road crossing, and took Bob to the hospital.

“I would have never given up,” Bob insisted.  ” I would have walked out on my own, had it taken me three more days.  Once, I’ve made up my mind that I’m going to do something, it’s hard for me to quit, even though things have not gone according to plan.”  And, Bob’s broken leg bone was definitely not planned.

In the midst of all the hospital-shuffling, there was talk of retuning to the Trail after Bob’s leg healed.  Perhaps he could hike a more gentle stretch with his grandson or with friends who have knee problems and are slow hikers themselves.

Bob’s fall and aborted hike disappointed him, but his life has been one of perseverance.  The hike taught him many things that he needed to learn and would now act upon, one of which was the fact that Cheetah needed more training.

As I drove home, I thought of all the reasons hikers abandon their A.T. hikes -rain, loneliness, aches and pains, lack of preparation, etc. -and the incredible feeling of failure that they usually have as they leave the Trail.  But, words like, “difficulty” and “hardship” have new meanings for me since hiking with Bob Barker and Bill Irwin.  And, they have shown me that the only real failure in life is to stop trying.



In Memory of Bill Irwin- the first blind man to hike the entire Appalachian Trail as one continuous thru-hike

…….(Bill Irwin died this past March. In honor of him, I have retyped my story that appeared in The Walking Magazine many years ago, so that you might know of this amazing human being too. There will be another story being posted soon about a weekend hike where Bill taught another friend and amazing human being, Bob Barker, to hike with a seeing eye dog. Bob had MS and hiked the entire AT three times on crutches with a full heavy pack , beginning at the age of 63! These posted stories are a prelude to a story that will come out in AT Journeys magazine about what Bill Irwin did with the rest of his life after his epic AT hike. )

Imagine walking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail while carrying a 35-55 pound pack, over rocks and roots and mountains, finding your water, shelter, not to mention your way, with your eyes closed! That’s what Bill Irwin, 50 year old family counselor from Burlington, North Carolina accomplished with  his seeing-eye dog, Orient back in 1990.

He did it without seeing the trail in front of him, without seeing the white blazes that mark the way, the signs at intersections, the boulders he had to climb over, the cliffs at his side, the fords across rivers, the fallen trees in his path, the snakes, the bears, the water sources, and the roads into town to re-supply. Yet he and Orient, managed to complete in one stretch, what so few sighted people are physically and mentally able to do…hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail.

How could he possibly do it? Bill’s data was on cassette tapes, where the shelters and springs are located, routes into town to re-supply and mileage inbetween.  On the trail, Orient found the right way to go by smelling hikers that have gone before, even weeks before. Long distance hikers don’t get many opportunities to shower so their scent is a strong one.

“I’ve been lost a lot more in the company of other hikers than when Orient and I are alone,” Bill admits. “People get to talking, keep their heads down and miss a turn blaze. After awhile, Orient just learned to look for and read blazes himself.”

In Georgia, Bill used to test the ground and lock his ankles before putting any weight down, but the pair couldn’t make any time. Now he just plods along. “My ankles have twisted so many times that the ligaments are all stretched out. It only hurts for a minute or two.”

Seeing Eye dogs are trained to guide their owners through city streets and are taught to alert them of a step two inches and higher. This really slowed them down so wit practice, Orient learned by trial and error what height he could get away with and what height Bill couldn’t tolerate. Orient amazingly reads the terrain on the trail and communicates back to Bill.

“He’s got a terrific span of vision,” Bill praises. “and knows exactly how tall I am. He always clears my head by about six inches, when a tree is blown down across the trail.”

Orient will stop and it will be up to Bill to discover what the problem is. Bill takes his ski pole that he uses as a hiking staff and swings it in a scooping motion from the ground up, until it catches on the obstacle. The pole hitting the object alerts Orient that Bill has discovered it.

I’ve watched the pair rock hop across a stream when we hiked together in PA. Bill places his size 214 feet right where you would put them had you seen the stepping stones. How? He feels the movement of his dog’s body through his harness and leash. When Orient takes a big step, Bill knows he must take a bi step too.

Bill falls down a lot. In Georgia, he was falling forty times a day. He wears knee pads, always has wounds healing on his legs, broke a rib on a fall, and smashed a finger so baldy my husband Todd had to drill a hole into the nail to relieve the built-up pressure of the blood and pus. When he falls, he feels grateful he wasn’t hurt. When he’s hurt, he’s grateful he wasn’t hurt worse! As an any long distance hiker knows, your success is more dependent on your psychological ability to withstand the hardships of the trail. It is your good attitude, you burning passion, more so than your strong muscles that keep the miles clicking by.

“Attitude is the key to my world,” Bill says. “Accept the sun, accept the rain, accept the cold, accept the Appalachian Trail.”

A sense of humor helps too. He told me of the town stop where he received a care package and woofed down a package of “beef jerky.” It wasn’t until he thanked the sender of the tasty treat did he learn it was doggie chews for Orient for he couldn’t read the package! “They were great!” he exclaimed.

When I asked him about writing in the registers, the notebooks left in the shelters along the trail where hikers sign in and communicate with one another and make it possible to find you should an emergency arise, he replied, “I can feel the previous entry on the page and know where to start. I must remember everything that I’ve written so I don’t repeat myself! Oh, I can write everything! I just can’t read it!”

It’s important to Bill to find joy wherever he can for his trip has been one of extreme hardship and fatigue. Dealing with pain has not been the most difficult part of Bill’s hike. Exhaustion was. Besides the physical rigors of wlaking15 miles a day, up and down mountains with weight on your back, it took so much concentration for Bill to execute the trail. He could rarely relax, except on ascents where he used rock climbing techniques, his hands to feel depressions in the rocks while keeping his body low and close. Orient cannot climb so Bill must lift him over his head. One place in the Whites of New Hampshire, there was a 25-foot drop in the trail, over a rock slab. All the saplings for hand holds were pulled out so Bill had to rely on a crack to wedge his hand into while Orient occupied the other hand. While he was teetering, full pack on, trying to throw Orient up, his hand began to slip!

The slippery, narrow bog  bridges in Vermont dunked them in the oozing mud more than once, completely submerging Orient.  Because Bill took so long to complete his hike (8 months to Thanksgiving) the season got much later than most thru-hikers experiences, and the weather turned nasty and cold. He had to contend with temps in their teens, 100 MPH gusting winds on open, exposed summits, and a blizzard of 28 inches. After the snow reached a height of 8 inches, Orient could not longer find the trail, so they sought emergency shelter in a ranger’s cabin on a mountain top in Maine. Four days they waited until help arrived.

“Every day for two hours in the morning and for two hours in the afternoon, Orient and I would go out in search of the spring, the privy, and firewood. We were down to our last piece when two thru-hikers finally found me. Never did find the privy or the spring and had to melt snow for water all that time.”

Because of the tremendous wet fall New England experienced, streams were swollen to the size of rivers. Bill had to cross them on his hands and knees like a dog, completely submerged in the 33 degree water except for his head, for he could not remain upright on the slippery rocks and strong current.  And once he and Orient were swept twenty yards downstream. “Terrible weather to be swimming in!” he laughs afterwards.

You may be wondering WHY? Why did he keep going? Did he really get any pleasure out of the hiking? After all, he couldn’t even see any of the country he was traveling through.

Bill is quick to tell anyone that he does indeed see, he just sees differently than sighted people. “I perceive with all of my senses combined,” he explains. “I take in all the messages my nose, ears, and skin are sending me and try to create the scene in my head. When I ask hikers what it looked like, I get a double shot! But they never ask me what I saw!”

Bill can smell the damp dew in the morning, the warm sun baking the earth. He searches for flowers that fill the air with their sweetness and feel show they’re put together so he can identify them. He can feel the openness of a southern Appalachian bald, and the closeness of a New England balsam forest.  All these things filled Bill Irwin’s hike with beauty and to him, made the Appalachian Trail very, very beautiful.

But what about those last month sinew England in the fast approaching winter? Why did he keep going then?

“I was very, very tired,” he admits. “Tired of being cold and wet. Tired of being away from home. A few times at the end, I always bit it.”

Bill was out there for the greater goal besides merely reaching Mount Katahdin. He was walking the AT as an affirmation of his faith in God. “I wanted to show what s possible, even for a blind man, when God is leading you.”

Still, nobody can make a person continue, not even God. It takes a lot of personal courage and extraordinary perseverance to do what Bill Irwin has done. He has given new light to the words “difficult” and “impossible” for many people. This very warm, humble, charismatic man though, will never take credit for any of his accomplishments. “I just showed up for work,” he said, “God did the rest.”












Lee Reinert didn’t expect to be on this backpacking trip. She was #10 on the waiting list for this special “Becoming an Outdoor Woman” program sponsored  by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. She never dreamed the nine above her would cancel out, leaving room for her. She had been late in learning  about  the program but she thought it was worth taking the chance. I was the trip leader, hired to take this handful of women into the Pennsylvania Wilds. I had no idea how not only MY life would be impacted by Lee Reinert’s stroke of good luck, but how it would greatly impact my children’s entire lives.

It happened on that very first conversation upon leaving the parking lot of the West Rim Trail in Tioga County. Lee walked behind me and as soon I  learned that she was an educator and a home school evaluator, I shared  that I was on the fence on whether I should pull my 8th & 6th graders out of public school.  As we hiked, I shared every fear and concern with her and she dispelled  every single one. Every myth, she told me the reality. From the concern of not being able to properly socialize my children to getting them into college. She instilled the confidence in me that I could as a parent,  successfully educate my children AS WELL AS THEM, be responsible for their education.

Now, nearly ten years later, my children have been so successful, even beyond my wildest dreams. Sierra  became such a leader as a home schooler  that she won many private scholarships and Temple University had to PAY  her to go to school there- so much money came into her account.  She graduated Honors- Sigma cum laud and has received a full ride to University of Arizona Masters Program.  She did however, just win the National Science Foundation Fellowship for 3 years of paid grad school/research at the university of her choice so U of Colorado, Boulder & Yale are in the running now too- where she was accepted.  Her brother, Bryce won many scholarships too and is poised to earn his Bachelors in Art- Graphic Design-Illustration from Tyler School of Art/Temple University. The most important thing is that they turned into marvelous adults who have a passion to make the world a better place. I equate a large part of their success to Dr. Lee Reinert and her guiding hand.  Lee has now chosen to direct her energy and guidance to River House, lucky for us, acting as Advisor for the educational arm of the non-profit.

Lee earned her Bachelors in Elementary Education and went on to earn her Masters in Remedial Reading and Counseling and Human Resources. She earned her Ph.D. in Psycho-Educational Processes.. For  ten years, she did counseling work in drug and alcohol, ADHD in kids and adults, and for  five years taught Holistic Health for Nurses at Immaculata College, PA. For these classes, Lee had practitioners of alternative therapies come to demonstrate their work/techniques.  Lee still maintains relationships with many of these healers and plans to draw on this vast resource for River House.

Cutting edge therapy such as “pressure point therapy” or Thought Field Therapy (TFT) will also be offered. Lee will be instrumental in advising and helping us coordinated workshops in art, music, dance and writing therapy, bodywork and  mediation workshops, etc. at River House PA. River House could not be happier to welcome Dr. Lee Reinert on board as a member of our team.


River House PA  is happy and proud to announce their latest AFFILIATION


SHEhike – Survive-Heal-Empower-Hike

The sad ugly truth is this sweet little teacher was sexually abused as a youngster in high school. Sadie Martin suffered from depression, suicide temptations and post- traumatic stress disorder until she went for a night hike at Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert and discovered the stars and the Milky Way.

“When I looked up at the night sky for the first time and saw that river of stars, distant galaxies, traveling light from years ago, the beauty floored me. This wonderful perspective reminded me that we are all stardust, made of the same elements and matter as the stars and we are all connected. I began to focus less on my pain and suffering and began to feel at peace and at home out in the natural world. I think about this connection and I am able to maintain it once I come back indoors.  It is about self- reverence. Being in nature gave me a sense of love.”

Sadie now nurtures her need and makes sure that she backpacks and hikes on a regular basis. Not a minute of depression has clouded her life since. Hiking has become a way of life for her.

“It is exactly what I needed,” she admits.

Sadie found the strength to create SHEhike, (Survive, Heal, Empower, Hike) a program designed to encourage women with PTSD from sexual violence/assault to try hiking as a way to heal and empower themselves while learning the skills necessary for backpacking. A relay on the Pacific Crest Trail is scheduled for 2014 with plans to expand the program to the AT and CDT.  Sadie plans to grow her program and connect to women’s shelters along the trails to help with support and events. Shorter excursions, day hikes, workshops etc. will evolve as well as expanding into other outdoor activities.



It happened again.

I was sitting at my desk when the E-mail came in.

“Hi Cindy – Wondered if you had the time or the inclination to get together for a quick lunch or maybe longer dinner to let me pick your brain a bit about writing, blogging, and such?  I’ve been playing with this a bit, but wanted to get some insight from someone out there doing it.  You pick the place and time if you’re open!  I’ll come to you.   Thanks!

Ted Danforth

TSD Environomics, Inc.

“Who is Ted Danforth?” I yelled over to my daughter Sierra who was working from home in her position as Outreach Coordinator for the non-profit, Schuylkill Headwaters Association.

“He’s one of my sponsors for Schuylkill Acts & Impacts,” a week-long educational program for high school students in the watershed that my daughter designed and is executing this June.

“He used to be in charge of the Schuylkill River Sojourn, and was a paddling outfitter.”

Pennsylvania stages guided paddling trips on our state’s rivers called Sojourns- ranging from 2 to 9 days designed to build river awareness. Trained safety personnel accompany the Sojourns and many have boats for rent through local liveries, which Ted’s company, Hidden River Outfitters was one.

I’ve written multiple magazine stories about multiple Sojourns in the past and knew his name sounded familiar. We arranged a lunch date.

I was hoping either he would look recognizable or I would be recognizable to him. At the hostess kiosk at Cracker Barrel, it all came back to me.

In our first few minutes, we realized that he was married for 22 years to a childhood friend of mine whom I went through 12 years of Catholic school with and that he also knows River House’s President, John Herman, the attorney/realtor who is orchestrating River House’s creation …too small of a world.

Ted has been doing long distance motorcycle trips and paddling trips for years and writing about it- mostly as blogs but for some publications. And because he loves it, he wanted to know if making a living from writing was feasible. When I learned that he has a very successful business as an environmental consultant specializing in wastewater treatment plants for food-processing firms, I explained to him that the meager living he could make from being a travel writer would cause him to lose his home and probably go hungry. Don’t do it. Ease back from engineering and do more writing but don’t quit cold turkey. Besides, I told him, writing should never be about making money. I told him, “The only reason to be a professional writer is because you can’t help it.” Leo Rosten.

It did not take long to move past writing and onto other things. My favorite topic…River House PA. In just a few sentences, Ted volunteered. “How can I help? Financially? My services ?”

“OK!” I replied, and let me tell you what Ted Danforth’s services are.

Ted told me that he was certified to teach and guide disabled folks in a canoe/kayak through a course called Adaptive Paddling Workshop (APW).  That there are only a few individuals qualified to do so. He took an intensive course in Minnesota sponsored by the American Canoe Association, which has been taught across the country since 1990. This course brings together certified instructors, recreational paddlers, and people with physical disabilities to promote recreational paddling opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Each guide learns to gut kayaks and then lines them with foam. I can hook you up with the folks that do this.” Ted pulls out his laptop to show me images and also a video of how a woman whose hands did not work but her arms did, had a kayak paddle Velco strapped to her arms so she could paddle.

“You and Elizabeth should take this course,” Ted told me.

“Nope. We don’t have time. We’ve got other stuff to do. But how about heading up our Paddling component at River House PA? Would you be interested in being a partner?”

“Yes.” He quickly replied.  Even though his certification has lapsed, he can remedy that.

Ted is closing in on 60 years old and he too, like Elizabeth and I, feels he needs to do something different and meaningful in life, something that will make a positive impact on the world. River House PA and helping veterans with PTSD speaks to him as it does to Elizabeth and I and so many others who have come on board in such a short amount of time.

Our President, John Herman, a hugely successful businessman with a staff who would do anything for him because on top of being bright, he is kind and fair,  taught Elizabeth and I this fact- don’t try to do everything yourself, look for people  who are already experts in their area to help out and join forces.  ”

“I would love to be a part of River House,” Ted professes. “Just getting out on a lake is joyful for these folks,” and it is such rewarding work.  “I am happy to be part of the team.”

As we said good-bye, Ted left me with this thought, “The other certified Adaptive Paddling Instructor in the east is in Philadelphia. We could get the Philadelphia Canoe Club to come on board and together with the Philadelphia VA, stage an event on the Schuylkill River to build awareness for River House PA and do a fundraiser.”

And I got into the car and once again felt amazed at how things have been working out for us, how the right people just “appear,” materialize.  When I called Elizabeth in the parking lot and told her what just had happened,  how the purpose of this meeting was about writing but through it all, we earned a new and very important partner she said, “I just got goose bumps. “

Naysayers said to us, “How are you going to pull this River House off?  Are you going to learn how to file for non-profit, fund raise, buy a house, fix it up, etc,.”

And to that we reply, “We are going to get people to help us, people who want it to happen as much as we do, people who want to help hurt veterans as much as us, and like Ted, they are coming out of the woodwork to join our team!!

And it all reminded me of this quote….”The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves in. All sorts of things occur that would otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” …Goethe.


River House is Happy and Proud to Announce Their Latest Affiliation Support No Stigma

When my son Bryce was a little boy, he used to take my face in his small cupped hands and look me in the eyes and say, “I love this Mama.”

The grown man sitting across from me in the Kutztown Tavern, over six feet tall, shaved head, karate practitioner, a combat veteran whom I have known for less than an hour had the same effect on me. He was telling my River House Co-Founder Elizabeth, and I some of his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder experiences, resulting from his tour in Iraq.

His face would visibly change when he shared his reaction to something that triggered a memory. It changed color, his eyes got dewy. “I saw and did terrible things,” he said, a comment we have heard often from combat veterans. “There are triggers that send me right back, like seeing a soup meat bone, for example.” He talked of the pain and the struggle and the suffering and my heart leaped across the booth to him.
Max Harris now runs a non-profit in the Lehigh Valley of PennsylvaniaSupport No Stigma- (And its programs: Combat Veterans with PTSDand the Lehigh Valley Veteran Entrepreneurship Initiative). The goal is to eliminate the stigma associated with combat-related PTSD by empowering veterans and increasing awareness by educating the public about PTSD and how it affects our veterans. Max tells us that nearly 40% of returning current conflict veterans express a desire to work for themselves.  Currently, the education to facilitate this transition to entrepreneur is lacking in depth and scope.  His organizations’ goal is to create a veteran entrepreneurship education initiative.
“I would like to partner with River House,” he announced  to Elizabeth and I. “I think we could really help one another and make a difference.”
“Healing in nature is very important and it works,” he goes on. “I can personally only be in the woods for the day. Other than that I get too lonely, sad and reflective.
We believe that each veteran who comes to River House needs to be looked at on an individual basis and explore the best way to heal, beyond immersing in nature- be it therapeutic massage, yoga, writing, art etc. over and above drug therapy.  
Max shared that he quit his medication cold-turkey (he would not advise this course of action for everyone), even though the VA felt medication was the best way for him to cope with his PTSD.
“The meds made me numb,” Max said. “I wasn’t able to feel what my body was expressing. “I believe that I need to be able to feel what is happening to me in order to address it and cope with it . On top of the numbness, I suffered from psoriasis, had asthma for the first time in my life, and started putting on weight.”
 Working out and being involved with his mixed martial arts academy, Hammer Training and Fitness helps him tremendously. Recently he was in a head lock during grappling practice and it triggered a flight/fright instinct left over from wartime.
“I knew I could make two choices- either get violent, not knowing what the terrible outcome would produce, or go into the corner alone and have an anxiety attack. Thankfully, I chose the latter and my comrades respected my need and gave me my space.”
One of the reasons Max started his own nonprofit was to discover alternative ways to cope with PTSD.
“Every veteran is different,” Max went on, “and the fact that you at RiverIraqi FreedomHouse want to look at the whole person and their whole life is very special. Many veterans go into the military because they had an unhealthy and sad homelife. When they have finished with their deployment, a happy homecoming does not always occur, so this bad situation can contribute to the high suicide rate. I can help by guiding the veterans in River House’s program to go on to create an authentic and purposeful life.”  
“We would really like that,” Elizabeth and I replied.
“And,” he goes on. “I would like to make the first contribution to the cause.” And he hands us a check for several hundred dollars. Max’s Karate Renshi Master Rodney Guignet and his team at Hammer Training and Fitness held a fund raiser and the original recipient never showed up to receive the gift.
“So Rod asked if I knew of another non-profit that could use a boost and I said, ‘sure do- River House PA.’”
Well, by this point, Elizabeth and I were just about full to bursting.
Elizabeth asked Max as we were preparing to leave the restaurant, “Max, Cindy and I were not in the military and although we know we need and want folks like yourself on board to partner with us, to help and advise us, do you think we will be met with question and some will see it as a shortcoming?”  
To this he replied. “Veterans open up to two kinds of people. Other veterans and healers and they will see you both as healers and River House as a place for healing.”
We gave Max, our new partner, a big hug on Kutztown’s Main Street before going our separate ways but what I wanted to do was get up on tip toe and take his face in my hands and say, “I love this Veteran, and together we are going to help so many.”



Leek Logo

RiverHouse PA is proud and happy to announce our first AFFILIATION

An Encounter with LEEK

Becoming “More Actualized People”

“When something occurs beyond chance to lead us forward in our lives, then we become more actualized people. We feel we are becoming what destiny is leading us to become.”…The Celestine Prophecy

My partner, Elizabeth and I were traveling I-180 on a press trip for Pennsylvania Magazine a few weeks back. Our conversation as always, revolved around RiverHouse PA and the creation of our non-profit. We were speaking it into existence, brainstorming and funneling all our creative energy into it, when a crazy thing happened. In midstream of a RiverHouse sentence, I came up on a large pick-up truck at my normal break neck speed, close enough to read his tailgate sign, “LEEK-Hunting & Mountain Preserve, Serving America’s Wounded Veterans.” ‘

“Holy Shit Elizabeth! Look at what’s in front of us! I never heard of them!”

Elizabeth pulls out her smart phone and Googles LEEKand learns that it is a wonderful non-profit that sponsors hunting trips for disabled warriors.

I am so excited that I speed up even more, pull up alongside of him, and instruct Elizabeth to motion to the driver to pull over.

“Let’s get coffee with him and see if he wants to work with us.”

My ever-practical partner replies, “He’ll think we’re crazy. We can e-mail him when we get home.”

The man driving the truck, Ed Fisher, did not happen to look over at the RiverHouse Founders and missed his chance but today, one month later, we finally had the pleasure of meeting, having coffee, and talking about our future together.

Ed, and his wife Kate along with many volunteers, created LEEK seven years ago to provide injured serviceman and women a way to enjoy therapeutic outdoor recreational activities regardless of their physical condition. They operate an all-volunteer run facility in Potter County that is completely handicapped accessible, which includes amazing Action Trackchairs that take warriors into the woods. Ed is a retired Army Colonel who served for 27 years. Now he works as a government civilian and manages LEEK on the side. Their preserve grew from 256+ acres to now having 31,000 acres at their disposal for hunting purposes. Turkey, bear, deer and Pheasant hunts are conducted five times a year- also, archery, black powder and some fishing. Leek has a waiting list and gets many of their warriors from military medical facilities and referrals.

Ed takes Liz and I to his garage where he shows us an Action Trackchair that will climb up steps and over logs. This sit-down version has removable attachments to hold a rifle and a fishing rod, costing between $12-14,000 apiece.

My beautiful picture

The Stander chair costs $17-18,000 and runs on two hydraulic motors. At oneof the LEEK fund raisers, a Vietnam vet tried out the Stander and called his wife over and said, “Come here and give me a hug honey. This is the first time I’ve ever been able to hug my wife standing up.”

Ed and Kate share stories of their chairs pulling deer out of the mountains for a warrior after a hunt and amazing stories of happiness after warriors attended a LEEK hunt.

On their very first hunt, the Fisher’s had warriors sleeping in their home- double amputees sleeping on couches, carrying the disabled warriors into the woods on their backs. They needed to pave over their cobblestone path which tripped up warriors with prostheses and in wheelchairs.

The Fishers told Elizabeth and me to have patience. We will grow slowly and be able to do so much good because our hearts are in the right place. They assured us that help and support will come out of the woodwork once our program becomes known. In just seven years, they have grown and become visible enough to have won the very prestigious 2012 Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher Distinguished Civilian Humanitarian Award. The award recognizes and honors a private sector individual or organization that has demonstrated exceptional patriotism and humanitarian concerns for members of the armed forces and their families.

Ed & Kate explained that this is powerful work. Elizabeth and I are certain we will find the same thing to be true for RiverHouse PA, as we usher our dream into existence in these next years.

Quite the story to end our visit on as Edescorted Elizabeth and I out to our car, giving us tips on logos, embroidered shirts and fund raising. “And you’ll need to get one of those chairs,” he reminded us as we walked past them in the garage.

We laughed to ourselves, thinking about our RiverHousePA business cards that we recently had made- this fledgling non-profit, which has a long way to go but promises such a promising future. We will have patience with this big dream to help thousands of wounded veterans.

Ed said he would be happy to help us in any way he can, invited us up to a hunt and meet his LEEK warriors, and will refer warriors to our program when we are ready. With Affiliations like LEEK in place and the wonderful help and friendship of Ed & Kate Fisher, how can RiverHousePA not be a success?