Pictures of the Pocono Mountains: A Goodbye Walk

          When you go on a walk, a special walk to take one last look at everything before you have to leave it, your heart is open to all the memories you will embrace today.  You are ready with sharp eyes and ears, like a young wolf pup trying to learn everything that “Grandfather Wolf” can share.  Your grandfather is dressed in a red-and-black lumber jacket and hiking boots.  His strong hand grasps yours as you walk the mountain paths worn by deer and lake vacationers to spot leafy queens and prickly kings.  Your grandfather knows the way up and down the mountain as well as anybody.  You are safe with him.

         He knows the names of all the trees.  He knows the songs of the birds, too, and calls back to them.  You laugh.  Your grandfather would not make a good bird – he would never get off the ground!  He pretends to look stern, but you see the corners of his mouth crinkle because he likes the joke you have made.  You listen, smell, and taste everything – even pausing to touch the rough barks of the giants that sweep the clouds from the skies or the soft carpet of pine needles that muffle your footsteps.  You look up, up, up.  When you are small, the trees are so high – touching the blue edge of the world.

            Standing tall on the ridge, a row of firs with trunks, bare and brown, line up uniformly and erect – soldiers against September’s sky.  Green shadows lengthen over the path as you walk among the conifers, grassy steeples in this natural cathedral.  Soon they will be the only thing that remains green – an emerald constancy throughout the seasons. No two trees are exactly alike, and you look at each one, trying to memorize each face.  You turn to walk down the path towards the lake, but you feel eyes upon you, and you pivot on one heel, twisting your body to look back.  The trees are all bending to the side, leaning out to get one last look at you.   “Come along, Pocono Princess,” your Grandfather says with smiling eyes as green as the pines.  Goodbye, Trees!  Goodbye!

            On your walk, you pass the Knightens and wave.  Their dock makes a wooden echo as you walk to the end to gaze out onto Lake Wallenpaupack.  Your grandfather tells the story of the Leni-Lenape and how a great stream once flowed through this place where the man-made lake nestles like a silky-silver swan.  They named the stream Wallenpaupack or “Stream of Swift and Slow Waters.”  You love the Lenape word and whisper it softly – Wallenpaupack – so that only the Eastern Pines whisper the word to each other in a soft white wind.      

 The Knightens love their motorboat that gently bobs on the water.  Your neighbors wave to you as they ready to loosen the tethers that hold the boat prisoner.  Soon they will skim the lake in wide sweeps, while their daughter rides behind on her skis.  She is pretty good, and you frown as you think that you were too afraid to ride the water.  You were going to learn, but you backed out at the last possible moment.  You remember how your grandfather smiled at you and reasoned that you had conquered dives off the boulders that protrude out into the lake from the shore.  He reminded you that you were very brave and that you have an entire year to store up your courage for water skiing. You sigh deeply. You should have tried it when you had the chance. Now….Goodbye,Lake!  Goodbye!

            You turn away from the lake.  The sun is floating in a sky polka-dotted with small, puffy cloudships that sail gracefully along.  The ticklish breeze drifts in from the forest, dark and still, and you smell “green.”  You carefully make your way over the rocky shore and pause by the big boulder.  You remember how you stood on the edge, your feet warmed by the baked stone, your toes curling over the top, making up your mind to dive into the lake.  You close your eyes and shudder a little.  The boulder is so enormous and you are so small.  You can hear the splash as you hit the cool water and your “YIPPEE!” ringing out over the lake as you surface, ready to dive again and again. Goodbye, Boulder!  Goodbye!

            You sigh and push past the boulder to a quiet spot and remember that this is exactly where you and your grandfather waded into the lake on Independence Day, Grandpa with his shoes and socks left on shore and trousers rolled up above his knees and you in your patriotic red-white-blue-I-love-America bathing suit.  Together you built a low wall of pebbles piled one on top of the other – an impenetrable fortress that surrounded you.  You watched as your grandfather caught a little fish with his bare hands and set it inside your castle to swim around and around you while you squealed with delight.  But then a thought darkened your mood and you cried to open  a spot in the rocky fence that kept the little fish from the lovely lake, and your grandfather attended to your wishes like the knight-in-shining-armor that always saves the princess from the dragons that pursue her (After all, you are the Pocono Princess!). Goodbye, Little Fish! Goodbye!

            You enter the sweet, silent woods where your muffled footsteps let you stalk the chipmunks and squirrels almost unnoticed!  You glance back at the lake one last time to see the strawberry sun slice through the water, sinking ever so slowly.  Your heart is filled with a sadness that won’t let go of you even when you shake yourself like your dog, Lady, does after a swim in the lake.  At the same time there is an indescribable joy as you watch the sunset paint the sky with too much color, and you ask yourself, “How can that be?”  The sadness and joy all mix together, and you know that this is what life is about  (even if at the tender age of six you can’t put a name to it, can’t talk about it with anyone else – not even your grandfather).  You have to let go.  You have to leave something you love behind, and it is hard – as hard as the boulders at the lake’s shore and as deep as the lake waters.

            Then you turn to face the cottage, the home that your grandfather designed and even helped to build.  You remember the day when he proudly displayed the blueprints, spreading them over the workbench below the screened-in porch, showing you how he created this wonderful place for his family.  Now you look at the porch that rises up on stilts, the carefully laid flagstone steps and patio, the big picture window in the living room with the fireplace where you often toasted marshmallows or lazily napped on the sofa on rainy days.  You remember staring out that window where you could see the entire lake, praying that the sun would return so that you could play outside. Goodbye, Cottage!  Goodbye!

            You see your grandmother and sisters standing by the car. The trunk is filling up with suitcases the way your mind is filling up with all the memories – pictures of the Pocono Mountains.  The forest has grown strangely dark and quiet. You reach down to brush your fingers through the ferns that grow all along the trail.  They have an ancient beauty about them – so old and yet so new – these ferns. You reach up to touch your face, shiny and wet, and watch a tear roll off the end of your nose.  It splashes onto a frilly frond.  You stand there dripping tears and listening to the rhythmical drumming of a woodpecker somewhere above you as another splash and yet another splash of your sweet sorrow soaks deep into their long-stemmed world.  Goodbye Ferns! Goodbye!

Your grandfather takes your hand and leads you to the car that is already weighted down with heavy hearts.  You turn and wave goodbye – goodbye to the cottage, goodbye to the woods, goodbye to the lake.  But you know you’ll be back someday  to walk in the woods and along the pebbly beach.  You’ll be back (you promise solemnly, crossing your heart)!  And even though you didn’t share the thought out loud, your grandfather knows it, too.  Goodbye, Lake Wallenpaupack!  Goodbye!  Don’t forget me!

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