When my daughter comes home, my normal life is put on hold the few rare, brief times she takes a break from her steady flow of travel, studies and work. One of the ideas Sierra had this time home, was to rent a yurt at a state park and have a small adventure. Her and Eben were celebrating their one year wedding anniversary and although we have a sweet little cabin on our property that Todd built for me that the kids sleep in when they are home, they wanted something a little more special and “away.” Since they had to rent for two nights minimum, they invited the rest of the family for night 2.
One of the places Sierra wanted to explore was French Creek State Park, where the yurt they rented was located. We all met there for a cook out and a hike. We chose a 3 mile loop called “Six Penny Loop.” As we walked through the mature hardwood forest, decorated with blooming mountain laurel, I remembered….forty five years ago, I frequented this park on a regular basis with my boyfriend, Chris. He borrowed his father’s Le Mans and we drove his inflatable orange vinyl kayak out to French Creek SP and spent long afternoons in the soft cushy boat, learning about love and sensuality and our bodies etc. The park had Hopewell Lake and Scots Run Lake to boat in and we also swam in the freezing cold Six Penny Lake. Sierra selected a three-mile loop called “Six Penny” for our hike but when I examined the park map, I saw no lake anywhere. How could a lake just disappear? I put it out of my mind and as I walked the loop, I became immersed in my own memories. I hadn’t visited them for most of the last 45 years.
My parents were not thrilled with my boyfriend choice of seven years, from the ages of 15-21. Chris wasn’t a bad kid- he came from “a good Catholic family,” was a bright student and a star on the football team, and he treated their daughter well enough. But my parents thought his personality was too different than mine, so different that I was not able to be myself. He was very quiet and private and I found myself suppressing my own outward personality to under shadow him. My parents knew that once I grew into my own person, a different type of man might better compliment me as a life partner. They didn’t MAKE me break up with him, but I knew for all those years, I did not have their approval and well wishes. They tried to limit our time together in the summer months by giving me a cut off of how many days we could see each other.
Chris and I both loved to hike and paddle and cycle and be in the woods and I saw little harm in sharing more time together. I got good at lying and sneaking around. I spent a few summers driving around crouched on the floor of his dad’s Le Mans, looking to all those who passed, as if Chris was driving solo. He actually saw my dad go by a few times in our comings and going. Chris would wave, then say, “You can come up now, your dad just passed.” When I returned home, I would make up some story about where I spent my afternoon, but it truly was at places like French Creek State Park or some other outdoor natural setting.
Of course, at the time, I completely disagreed with my parents’ opinion. I loved Chris and thought that was all that was necessary to mate selection. As the years went by in our relationship, fortunately for us, we had some separation and I had some distance for my head. Chris went to grad school in Arizona, I went to art school in Philadelphia. I began meeting other young men and realized how many different personalities were out there and lo and behold, I learned THAT YOU COULD LOVE MORE THAN ONE MAN in your life. And just because you loved someone, love was not all you needed to make a life long relationship work. Chris and I grew to be too different. I began to feel confined in the relationship. I wanted to feel free to be myself. I finally accepted the fact that I had to move on separately and went though the extremely painful process of breaking up. He thought we would be together forever and for many of our seven years, we held that “truth” in both our minds.
I was thinking about all these memories and thoughts as we hiked the Six Penny trail. This loop was a possibility for another hike in the very near future, where I would lead, along with my Board Members of my non-profit, River House PA, a group of Veteran patients from the Coatsville VA on a short hike. The idea was to get them out on a beautiful walk in nature but not challenge them so much that they tired and did not ever want to hike again. I was looking for an alternative on the Six Penny trail to shorten their hike. When we came to a short side trail that looked, on the map, as though it led to a locked gate by the hard surface road, I asked my family if we could take a quick detour to check it out.
In just a few minutes, our trail turned into a set of stone steps and a stone walkway. What’s this? It looked like the remains of something man built place from long ago, but the forest was taking it over. In a few tenths of a mile, we began to hear a chorus of croaking frogs and came to a swamp where cat tails and water grasses shot twelve feet into the air. Oh my God, was this the missing Six Penny Lake?
The trail encircled the wetland and in a few minutes, we came to a beautiful old stone dam. The water drained the swamp and flowed freely through the outlet. Part of the lake still remained open water. I stood there and marveled. I remembered swimming in this spring fed, mind-numbing water on hot summer days in my teen years. What had happened?
We hiked further and explored black top roads that were grown in by the trees and vegetation, narrow and winding with a hint of a white line still painted on the blacktop. On these same roads, forty-five years ago, we drove Chris’s dad’s Le Mans. You could follow the road to old parking areas. There were remains of the stone bath house, water fountains, even metal baskets for storing your belongings while you swam in the tall grass and weeds. It was eerie. There were no indications on the park map that this place ever existed. Did the officials think, “Erase the evidence from the map and maybe the place will disappear off the earth.?” But here it still remained. Why was it removed or attempted to be removed?
That night in my bunk in the yurt, I had a difficult time falling sleep. I relived memories of growing up. I revisited my difficult decision to break up with my childhood boyfriend and find a better suited life partner. Forty five years ago, I was heading down a course that would not be the best choice for a life partner for me, but one who taught me about love. My own husband of thirty-three years snored quietly above me on the top bunk. I have been very happy with my decision to choose THIS man to be my life long partner. My daughter, a bride for a year, slept with her new husband in the double bed across the yurt. As a parent, I am very happy with her decision too, a man who brings out the best in her and supports who she is so she can shine and freely be who she is.
When I returned home from our yurt wedding anniversary celebration, I Googled “Six Penny Lake/French Creek State Park” and found that back in 1999, the lake was part of an attempt by the Department of Environmental Resources to remove dams that were impeding the natural flow of a wild stream. The lake behind the old stone dam at Six Penny had accumulated silt and was filling in. It had served well as a recreational lake in its time but its time was over. Once the dam was opened back in 1999, and Six Penny Creek was allowed to run free, native brook trout returned and within a few short years, the quality of the stream reached the highest rating of health. Removing old dams was controversial back in the 90’s, but it is now a common practice seen as a greater good for the health of our streams, wildlife, and the forest.
With a little exploring, I was privileged to revisit this place of my youth, with my daughter and new son-in-law, and happy husband of 33 years. Chris, wherever you are, I wish you well. I thank you for sharing part of my youth with me, teaching me about life and love and allowing me the painful but wise decision to move past you and flow freely into the world and adulthood and the rest of my life. And thank you Six Penny and French Creek SP for making me feel gratitude one more way in my life.