The end of summer always brings some self-reflection. My thoughts turn to those special places both as a child growing up in Pennsylvania, to today, living life Down East. On a recent trip back to Allentown, Pennsylvania, the place I was born and raised, I had the opportunity to visit one such place — a place I have not been back to in a very long time.
Growing up on the south side of Allentown, I never gave much thought to the places we spent most of our time. I guess as children we looked at time differently. Perhaps the obscurity of time is essential for childhood exploits as one moves through a young life of games, play and sometimes, questionable behavior.
But as we grow older, those same places and the memories they hold begin to float back, tugging at heartstrings in moments both good and bad. On this particular visit, walking through the Lehigh Parkway, the memories were all good.
The Lehigh Parkway is the jewel of the Allentown Parks System. It is a greenbelt, created before it became fashionable to do so, that is home to anglers, walkers, joggers, cyclists, motorists and the police academy. During the holiday season, the trees that dot the landscape are all decked out in an LED splendor of holiday color. This park of vast greenery, covered bridges, paths of water and ground was home to my group of friends as boys growing up.
To our young eyes, it was an outdoor jungle gym of grass, trees and a creek that split the park into two. This place was a vast landscape of nooks and crannies to be unfolded and explored when I was a young boy. I never noticed its beauty back then. Today, it is a beautiful and thoughtful place that provides respite to young and old. On this visit, I experienced a wondrous journey back in time, as that same creek now brings it all together revealing memories at every bend.
The grass is still plentiful, the trees much larger and graceful, and the bounty of wildlife in water and air lights the senses; it is magic to me now that I am older. The waters move and rapids form and roll with sounds from my past saying hello once again: childish giggles from hiding places, kick splashes made from inner tubes, dangling feet and a worm-laden fishing line into its cool waters. This was a nice moment for me as I walked the groomed paths, remembering.
Here Down East, I, too, have some special places that I have found in recent years. Some of them are well-known and visited by me, family members and many other people, and, of course, there are a few places tucked away here and there that I keep to myself, for my time in the company of thoughts and Mother Nature’s whispers.
The Bold Coast Trail in Cutler is a favorite, especially the short hike out to the cliffs. It was this trail that was my first introduction to the serene beauty of Down East Maine, and it was here I decided to call this place home and live here full-time.
Jasper Beach in Machiasport, with its polished perfection of stone and solitude, is a welcoming sight from both shore and water. To sit, with eyes closed, while its shoreline speaks in a muffled clatter, is quite special. Its bounty of stones, equally impressive, begs the question: How on earth did they all get here?
Reversing Falls in Pembroke, is another spot where the calm before the storm can be witnessed again and again as the tide squeezes itself through the cramped confines of topography. The sound is like a freight train, quiet at first from a distance, and then, rushing into the station, pulling up, slowing down and eventually stopping, allowing the quiet, once again, to wake the senses. It’s an awesome experience every time I visit.
West Quoddy Light in Lubec and the hike out to Green Point are magical experiences. The beauty that appears at every clearing along the coast is breathtaking, and the carefully balanced cairns at Green Point, placed by many people visiting the most eastern part of the continental U.S., are worth the extra time to get there.
But to be truthful, if I am looking for that “Robinson Crusoe experience,” I take to the waters in a kayak or blaze a trail by foot and eventually find myself in a small cove along the shore, perhaps, on an island. It is in a place like this, where I alone take in the beauty of nature and spend some quiet time, hoping not to be found and ever vigilant not to see evidence of Crusoe’s companion “Friday” sharing this place with me or exiting the foliage to disrupt the moment.
And what’s real special is that, on every return visit to any of these places, it always feels brand new, nature’s bounty wrapped as Christmas presents waiting to be opened.
RJ Heller is a journalist, essayist, photographer, author, an avid reader and an award-winning book critic who enjoys sailing, hiking and many other outdoor pursuits. He lives in Starboard Cove.