Sunday, April 17, 2011
I listen through ear buds to a portable radio in my pocket during the days I work. Only I can hear and it helps the hours pass. It's allowed, for I have a job that depends more on muscle memory than brain function. The downside is every half hour they do a five minute news and then the insanity of our world intrudes.
One day this week the lead story was, "Elderly Man Accosted and beaten in Parking Lot". The details of this particular insanity began, "A seventy-year old man was..."
"Elderly...seventy-year old man," I find it hard to consider a seventy-year old elderly. For all intent and purpose, I am a seventy-year old man. That milestone is too close now to ignore. This will be a year of milestones, actually. I will turn seventy, my marriage will celebrate the golden anniversary (50 years) and it will be exactly a decade since The Bank threw me out of my job for being too old. Still, I don't think of myself as (shutter) elderly.
Being old is half a matter of perspective. If you think you are old, you will become old in mind and spirit. Granted, once upon a time I did see seventy as ancient. I knew my mother's grandparents well as a small boy. They seemed very decrepit to my childish mind, something out of history long past. They reminded me of the couple in Grant Wood's "American Gothic".
The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." Yes, that isn't Shakespeare, but a quote from the Bible, Psalm 90 verse 10. Many times I heard threescore and ten quoted as the allotted life span of a man or woman.
My maternal grandparents (pictured left the year they both passed) seemed to follow suit. I wonder now, does the Little Woman and I now look as antique in our children's eyes?
I don't feel like I am fixin' to die soon. It is perspective. My father and mother are 92 and 90. I don't think old, I think youthful.
As I said, if you think old you become old in mind and spirit. You dwell on being deadwood then the stiffer you grow and soon you are just a brittle and dried shell of life.
But I said perspective is half the matter. The other half is reality. You may wish to deny it, but the truth is your body is old and growing older. I believe in keeping a youthful mind and working on the fitness of its physical plant, but I can't deny the aches afflicting my knees constantly or that I'll never play center field again. I can't lift what once I could. I do not hear as well. I am certainly not as pretty.
As much as thinking old can make you old, thinking young doesn't necessarily make you young. It just doesn't work that way. You can cover up the wrinkles, nip and tuck away the droops if you're so inclined, but gravity and time will still have its way with you. You just have to learn your limits.
You know how I keep fit. I'm a walker. I like to walk out in the woods, not in the malls. I see old people walking the malls although many are no older than I. I have no desire to circle there, but I suppose I am seeing my fate some time in the future. But until that time, I will traipse the trails.
Still, though, I am learning the limits of what my body withstands when my minds demands otherwise. So it was the other morning as I was walking down the main trail into Brandywine Creek State Park. I have explored most of the paths there and many are fairly rugged and climb high up the Piedmonts. I get slightly out of puff sometimes on the steeper ways, but it hasn't caused me problems, other than perhaps a short pause to catch my wind.
As you enter on the broad Northern Delaware Greenway the Brandywine gurgles along to your left and to your right is a high tree-covered foothill. I have been atop this ridge, having gone up a trail that is an offshoot from Rocky Run. Now however, as I trod along I take notice of a trail straight up the side of this escarpment.
I kind of ogle it from the side of my eye as I pass. Then I stop and wander back, stand and stare. "How bad can it be?" I wondered. "Look, look, you can get a foot hold on those exposed tree roots, like climbing up a stairs." Except these stares disappeared a third way up and turned to a trough of packed earth and occasional stone. For much of the way the trees grew too wide apart to even grasp from on the track.
Two-thirds up I was straining for breath. I stepped aside behind a small tree for a moment, allowing it to hold me there while I sucked in air. Then I stumbled on, leaning far over toward the earth fighting the pull to tumble backward. Not only was I gasping, but I began to feel an odd roiling in my midsection, as if parts of me were rolling over somehow. It was a most unpleasant feeling.
I had no choice for I was committed now to making the top or falling down. At least, I though, if I fall here it will be to the main trail and someone will find my broken body. Although, I also had visions of mountain bikers using me as a challenge ramp to conquer.
At last I crested the rim and was on relatively level ground atop the plateau. Still that odd tumble in my midsection continued and then these pains began across my chest. Oh my, was this a heart attack beginning? Had I climbed too close to heaven that God was calling me further? I slowly walked around a bit and the pains subsided and the roiling stopped.
I paused briefly to admire the view down to the main trail and the creek beyond and then went to the more gradual climb down to Rocky Run.
The walk was out of me. I felt drained and had no desire to go out any trail. I went to my car and home. I was weary the rest of the day, but I had learned a limit my body demanded. It was no longer equipped for such straight up battles against gravity, even if in my mind I had thought it was.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Now Frank is a curious fellow, much like his cats, but it took a long time to ever act on these mythos. Decades in fact, yet lately he felt compelled to see for himself.
It isn't that he believed any of it. He doesn't believe in ghosts and such and he felt these things were easy to shrug off. Strange growing trees and mystery vehicles could be easily explained. He'd seen many odd and spooky trees in his life, especially along the banks of the Brandywine and the narrow country roads thereabout. And mystery cars could be teenagers playing pranks on more gullible teenagers.
So on this April morn Frank decided to find the so call "Devil's Road" and take a look. You will notice despite all his professed skepticism he did decide to make his drive on a Saturday MORNING rather than a Saturday (or any) NIGHT. It wasn't he had any apprehension about the tales he had heard or fear of things that go bump in the night (or morning as this case was), but only the road was in unfamiliar territory and he needed to have good light to find it.
At this point you probably should hear the basic details of the legend.
There lies up in the wooded hills in Pennsylvania, just across the Delaware border a place called The Valley and the Cult House. The rumors persist this was yet another duPont Estate, but a sinister one, where malformed children from family inbreeding were stored away from public view. Other tales speak of Satan worship being conducted in this house, thus the name Cult House, as well as stories it was also a gathering place of the Ku Klux Klan. Dead animals, warning signs and the usual accoutrements further surround these fancies. The M. Night Shyamalan film "The Village" was supposedly shot in the woods about the Cult House, although from scenes Frank saw, it could have easily been shot in the Brandywine Creek State Park where he often hikes.
Allegedly, a mother left her baby at the base of the tree to die and the roots absorbed the child and formed the skull face. Claims are made that if you stop here in the night you will hear a baby crying. If you look you can see the form of a skill in both the heavy root structure at the base of this tree and also within the large hollow on the right. Frank did not find the tree or the Cult House for reasons explained later.
The Mystery Vehicles are another commonly reported feature of Devil's Road. If a person drives down the road too slowly or lingers in the area of these legends, a black (in one reported instance, the vehicle was red) pickup or SUV will suddenly appear and chase the loiterer down the road. No matter how one tries, though, the face of the driver can never be seen.
And so with these rumors and tall tales in mind, Frank decided to investigate. The first trick was finding Cossart Road. This did not seem too challenging. It was said teens went out Montchanin Road to where it intersected. Montchanin Road is Old Rt. 100 and actually passes right by Brandywine Creek State Park then runs to Baltimore Pike at Chadds Ford. So after his morning walk, Frank headed down Old Rt. 100.
Old Rt. 100 is a narrow twisting road following along the Brandywine. In Pennsylvania, where Frank grew up it was called Creek Rd. It also has a plentiful share of spooky misshapen trees along it's twisting route.
However, the entry to Cossart Road was not found and Frank ended up in Chadds Ford. So thank heaven for Google Maps, for he knew Cossart ran from Old Rt. 100 to Rt. 52 where it ended just below the Fairview Inn from studying Googles overhead shots. (The portion of map on the left shows the area where the cult house is to be found.) Otherwise, Frank would have never found the road. It has no street signs, not at either end or along its length when it crosses roads. An oddly, unmarked byway, even though there are homes here and there along it.
Thus Frank now entered from Rt. 52. The road was very narrow and soon seemed strange. Now long after turning in, he saw something black in the very center of the street. As he came nearer, this black object raised a head and he saw it was a very large black bird. It stared at him a bit before it finally flew from his path. Certainly this was a foreboding omen.
A bit further and now a white van sat motionless in the road. Cossart is very narrow, barely wide enough to allow two vehicles to pass and Frank wondered whether he could get around this van. He also wondered why it was sitting there in essentially nowhere. But then it began to drive away and he was able to continued unimpeded.
As strange as it seems, Frank was getting a bad vibe from the area around him, an unease. He was getting nearer the enchanted area and here and there were objects narrowing the road. First a small evergreen, like a Christmas Tree cut in half appeared. One half on the left and the other on the right and both intruding onto the road surface. Then there was a long canvas-like bag, perhaps six feet long, filled with something and also lying on the road.
Beyond all this Frank came to his presumed destination and snapped the photo seen at the top of the post and turned on a video. At this point the rain began streaming down and after a half minute his camera batteries died ending any filming.
On normal days if such a thing had happened, Frank would have pulled over briefly and reloaded the camera. Why didn't he this morning?
Because at that moment a black pickup suddenly appeared behind him, even though this was daytime, not night, and it followed him all the way out of Cossart to Old Rt. 100. Frank recalled the stories and he wondered if it would continue behind him on 100. At the dead end of Cossart, Frank turned right. He looked in his mirror to see if the pickup followed, but it seemed to go left instead, except it didn't go left afterall, it was simply turning around and going back into Cossart Road.
It makes you wonder, doesn't it? It certainly made Frank wonder and someday he will return and explore further. Someday...when he can take some friends along.
The short video Frank shot before his batteries died is below.
At the end of the video you can see the white van in the distance. It turned out to be a Verizon FiOS truck, obviously lost.