Sunday, October 23, 2016

PA Rocky Ridge County Park: Mature Oak Ridge Forest

Rocky Ridge County Park was the first county park established in York County, PA, in 1968. It has a long history of community advocacy, volunteerism, and multi-use. Today I visited with my coonhound, Bug. She met an Eagle Scout working on a trail project, a county bird club hawk watcher, an advocacy group for families with autistic children, a deer hunter scouting the hunting area, a lady training for her Camino in spring 2017, volunteers preparing the annual Christmas light show walk, a couple from Ohio who made this their lunch break spot on their way to New York, and a park ranger who checked to see if she wanted a treat (she did!). That was all before we started hiking. 

American Chestnut is everywhere - just short.

Consolidated river cobble is the bedrock of the ridge.

Once we got underway, Bug and I hiked a combination of five miles of rough trail and smooth gravel paths through one of my favorite local mature oak forests. The Susquehanna is to the east and not far away, but with the dense canopy still holding its leaves, the river valley could only be glimpsed through the woods. To the north and south a powerline right-of-way corridor provides views over the York Valley to the south and the Codorus Creek Valley to the north. The oaks and hickories are massive and the understory is healthy and diverse. Towhees, hermit thrushes, and white-breasted nuthatches were the birds I encountered within the deep woods, and at the north and south hawk watch platforms I observed lots of turkey vultures, a sharp-shinned hawk and a kestrel. I would have spent more time on the platforms with the birders but Bug was pulling me onward!

Ancient river bottom upthrust to the top of Rocky Ridge - hence the park's name.

Conglomerate ledges give up high views of the forest glens.

Boulder fields on rough trails.

Smooth crusher run paths are wide and flat.

Once Bug had slowed down (after three miles) I was able to take the time to observe the finer points of the woods - the flaming leaves of sassafras and hickory, the tawny fern fields, late blooming fall flowers.  A tufted titmouse couple followed us noisily down the flat gravel path. 

Mockernut hickory - or in these parts - "hognut" (Carya tomentosa)
Fern field under mountain laurel and oak.
Virginia creeper.

Now at a comfortable stroll, Bug and I walked another two miles. There was still some wind left over from yesterday's cold front passing. As a mature forest, there is always the possibility of limb fall during and after a day of high winds. There's a warning sign at the entrance to the park that warns hikers that this ridge is a dangerous place to be on a windy day. The older oak trees seemed to have had a summer's worth of old limb shed as we hiked along. Luckily no loud CRACK startled us as it did yesterday at the Pinnacle in Lancaster County. But there were plenty of moaning trees, leaners caught on the trunk of another. It was odd but beautiful music to accompany us on the south ridge trails. 

Carpet of red.
Late woodland blooms.
Oak, hickory, witch hazel, and hay-scented fern.

A mature forest contains a complex network of interrelated habitats and communities. The ridge top affords enough wind exposure to topple a fair number of older or diseased trees each year that create openings in the canopy. Near every fallen trunk or massive limb fall, I observed different and often competing plant communities trying to capture the gift of sunlight. On the rockiest sections of ridge and trail, there were immense mountain laurel thickets with some laurels quite old. The twisting and angle of the old muscular limbs of the laurel can be read like a book about available sunlight as tender new growth over decades, if not a century, reached towards the light of canopy openings. 

Mountain laurel thickets twist and turn.

These are surely old growth mountain laurels with trunks big and muscular.

Old mountain laurel thickets are nearly impassable.

The days are getting noticeably shorter and after five miles the light had softened as the sun began its descent in the west. The air turned a bit chillier and hikers began to gather at the overlooks for last views of the day. I stopped to chat to the Camino trainer, a wonderful women of about 70 who is walking up to ten miles per day with her poles. Just as we began to exchange training stories at a scenic bend in the trail two mountain bikers came clambering between us and the lead biker who was going too fast for the rocky trail failed to give us warning of his approach. I think he really didn't see us in time before he cut through us, barely missing the woman with his handle bars, then lost control when his front tire hit a hunk of conglomerate boulder. Down he went with the second biker right on top of him. I wanted to take a picture of the pile-up but thought better of it and asked instead if they were okay. They said yes, apologized for going too fast, and walked their bikes down the trail.  Hmm. Flash-backs of my Camino when mountain and road bikers sometimes made the way dangerous for us hikers. Bug and I walked with the Camino hiker-in-training out of the woods to the final overlook.

One last look - the York Valley.

A beautiful hike - again!


Rocky Ridge is one of eleven county parklands, each with its own unique character and natural history. As one park user said to me today "I don't mind paying my county taxes one bit when I know that I have these beautiful parks to visit any time I want to."  (I feel the same!)

I chatted quite a while in the parking lot before we started hiking with several families who were hiking the park with their autistic children. I have a grandson and nephew with autism so I am always interested in learning about community groups that provide opportunities for these families to enjoy time together outdoors. The families I met today were from Autism York: 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

PA Pinnacle Overlook Trails: Watching Walls and Water

I read this morning's headline story with some sadness:

"The 8-inch pipeline was breached in Gamble Township, Lycoming County, at about 3 a.m. Friday, according to a statement from Sunoco Logistics, which shut down the line after detecting a drop in pressure. The bureau said their “best guess” is that 1,300 barrels of product — approximately 55,000 gallons — spilled into Wallis Run, a tributary that flows into the Susquehanna. Comparatively, an Olympic-sized swimming pool holds 660,430 gallons of water.

"A response team from the Department of Environmental Protection is on site with local emergency responders, the bureau reported.“Personnel are still having trouble accessing the break site to put eyes on it and get a better idea of the extent and volume due to flooding in the area,” according to the alert. “Please inform local water authorities of the potential contamination if they use the Susquehanna River as a water source.”

"The breach was reportedly caused by heavy flooding in Lycoming County, which lies in the north-central region of Pennsylvania. Gockley said the area received 6 to 8 inches of rain.
“I’m sure they’re dealing with high velocity water flows because of the flooding,” he said. “My gut tells me it will take a few days to reach us, but I can’t say that for sure. This far downstream, it’s hard to know.” The gasoline will be diluted as it travels downriver, he said. And it’s still possible, he said, that emergency responders farther north will be able to contain the spill before it gets this far."
( )

Here in the Lower Susquehanna River Valley, we are on the trailing, windy edge of the huge frontal system that lumbered through over the past two days. The northern Susquehanna Valley, however, has received the brunt of the heavy rains and storms. I decided to spend the morning braving the gusty winds and hike to and around the Pinnacle near my home on the river, just to look at the water and listen to the wind and say a little prayer for the river and all the people past and present who have worked so hard to care for it. 

Pinnacle Area is now part of Susquehannock State Park.

This area has changed hands so many times it can be confusing to tell its story. When I first started coming here in the 1970s the entire enormous valley was owned and managed by the large hydropower companies that granted access (by federal law) to hikers and fishermen. After a long series of buy-outs and acquisitions, energy companies have come and gone and some have improved the area for outdoor use, while others have neglected it. Either way, a flat gravel road (sometimes open, sometimes not) has always led river watchers to the point of land that sits hundreds of feet above the water to face north into the cold winds and marvel at what's below and beyond.

View from the Pinnacle, looking north into north winds! Whew!
I met an older couple at the overlook and we started talking - though it was hard to hear in 40mph winds - about the health of the river, and how, even with gasoline expected to arrive by Tuesday, it has become a much cleaner, wilder, and loved place to spend a morning. The couple introduced themselves but the wind carried away their names. Still, they explained how they had been key players in getting important pollution legislation passed at the local and state level. "Pipe breaks, abandoned and leaking oil and gas wells, and industrial outflow was an everyday thing from the 1940s through the 1970s," they explained. "We - and our fellow river valley dwellers - had had enough when, after the incident at Three Mile Island, everyone just got together and said this was enough!" 

Roads from the 1700s can still be hiked.

The wind became so strong that we decided to go our different ways. My hands were aching with cold so I needed to get into the woods. I took to the old roads with my coonhound, Bug. Some of the roads which are now beautiful hiking trails are now maintained by local hiking clubs and Pennsylvania State Parks  (DCNR) - the land's new owner/caretaker (essentially us!) - and the Lancaster County Conservancy. I couldn't think of a better partnership for the care and upkeep of the River Hills than this.  On the heels of last summer's energy company abandonment of critical park and trails access at Holtwood (that included a public protest!), the LCC and DCNR have worked hard to connect the old roads trail network throughout the River Hills region including all of the ravine creek valleys - Tucquan Glen, Kelly's Run, Reed Run, Trout Run - and all of the spectacular waterfalls and tumbling gorges that they contain. By connecting and unifying ownership and maintenance, the problem of frequent ownership changes has ended at least here. Bug and I walked worry free for over four miles of old wagon road and enjoyed the fall colors, the singing wind, and peeks at the mighty Susquehanna far below. No trail closures, no keep out signs, no police tape. 

Hikers on a terrace trail below.

The Pinnacle Area is steep country. The old roads and trails are terraced to reduce pitch and climb, certainly a benefit to the teamsters and their horses as they traveled from the plateau to the collier's woods and the crossings far below. It is rocky terrain at any point off the wide paths and for those hiking the trails, the rocks and ledges can be tricky, so a set of hiking poles is a good idea. Throughout the old path network, signs of the past are easy to see. The road itself and well-built stone walls are obvious signs of a long-settled landscape where people lived for generations from the early 1700s until the early 1900s when the valley was acquired by the hydro companies. I'm a stonewall fan, so I took my time studying the architecture of stacked stone.

Terrace wall for wagon roads.

The river hill we call the Pinnacle juts out into the valley of the river like the bow of a ship. Very resistant rock forms the height and breadth of this wall of rock that turned the river westward at its base. Composed of ancient sea bottom schists, this hill is folded and fractured like its many sister hills.  It contains thrust faults through which ravine creeks have cut and dropped as the land mass was squeezed and lifted by continental collision faster than the Susquehanna could cut through them. Fault lines and resistant bedrock have shaped the river all along the Lower Valley. Broken slabs of schist litter the ground and it became prime material for walls. Wagon roads are supported by terrace walls four to five feet high. These can be hard to see if you are walking on the roads, but easy to observe from the trails below.

Field walls contained oxen, sheep, and cattle.

The forest here has been cut over many times. Field walls cutting through dense oak hickory woods reveal that as steep as this land is, deforested hills were once open and clear, prime pasture for livestock. Unlike the walls of New England built of glacial round till cobble and small boulders, these massive schist-built walls are sharp, edgy, and flat-topped. Built to cave inwards at the center, the characteristic V-shaped top ledge ensured that the weight of the rocks in the wall would remain in place and not roll outward or collapse. They were built to last!

V-shaped top ledge keeps the wall from collapsing.

Stone is what lasts. Sometimes you can find the wide circular collier's pits or borrow pit dug into a steep slope. But mostly what we know of the people who lived and worked on the Pinnacle exists in local historical societies and on the land in stone. What we can't learn from the walls and terraces are what the conversations of the day were about - did they look at the river far below as anything other than an obstacle, a threat, or the bringer of millions of shad? People felt much differently about the river in the early 1800s than people do today. But surely the river ran with mud after the forests were cut down and they must have wondered at it. The heavy rains upriver of the last two days haven't yet arrived. But from up here there will be a noticeable shift in color as the flood waters arrive. What we won't see is the gasoline and other chemical run-off that travels with the downriver pulse of flood.

Miles of pasture wall run through the Pinnacle area forests.

The walls may not have much to say about the intimate lives of people on the river hundreds of years ago, but the fact that they are still with us on protected land that my grandchildren and great grandchildren will be able to enjoy speaks volumes. My coonhound sniffed out every 'possum and racoon trail while I enjoyed the play of wind in the trees and fall colors - but a sudden CRACK! startled both of us! Just uphill on our old road path a large oak split open in the wind. We hurried past it and kept up the pace all the way back to the overlook!

A mighty oak split in the wind!

On our way down Pinnacle Road I stopped to look out over the Amish farms that spread beautifully out across the plateau of river hills. There has been a great effort among Old Order communities to heed Biblical and social calls for conservation and along with "English" farmers, methods have been changing to protect the Susquehanna and the Chesapeake Bay.  Bright green bands of winter cover crop are starting to emerge, planted after harvests of crops, beans, and tomatoes to take up extra nitrogen and phosphorus and provide a late winter hay or early spring forage crop. Post-harvest cornfields are deep in ground stalk waste, covering soils that twenty years ago would have remained bare until next planting in spring. At the bottom of the farm lane where run off from the dirt road and barn roof once carved a gully, a beautiful rain garden grows. I stopped at their roadside stand and bought a bundle of sunflower heads for a bird seed hanging. We stood trying to share conversation in the roaring wind but soon gave up and waved goodbye.

Atop the plateau, farmers are using conservation tillage and green infrastructure to protect the river.


An excellent video produced by the Lancaster County Conservancy can viewed here. It does a nice job of explaining the goals of conservancy partners in connecting rover hills natural areas and trails and touches upon the abandonment of a favorite trailhead this past summer. If you live or hike in this area, please considering donating to the LCC - they do such great work!

Monday, October 3, 2016

VA Stonewall Jackson Shrine and the Empty Beds

This weekend I attended the annual symposium of the Institute for Pilgrimage Studies at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. There were many excellent papers presented and so many deep and thought-provoking conversations between sessions and over meals that I now have many new and interesting ways to think about my Camino de Santiago experience this past spring. I met up with several friends from that hike in Spain, and met new friends as a bonus! The most intriguing aspect of the symposium, however, was exploring the theme of borders and border crossings, certainly relevant to these troubling times (made even more troubling by uninformed and pandering demagogues).  

Question Mark Butterfly - leaf mimic. Polygonia interrogationis

The idea of borders and boundaries has intrigued me for some time, especially as I look to frame new ways of looking at environmental history of the Mid-Atlantic region - one of the reasons for keeping this blog. Over the years I've studied stonewalls, hedgerows, field boundaries, trails, and other tactile, physical structures that define landscape boundaries. At the symposium we were all challenged to think about our role as pilgrims and to consider the meaning of border crossing for refugees, immigrants, migrants, and religious/political dissidents. On the long drive home, I stopped for lunch and to stretch my legs. My mind was swimming with ideas, inspired by everything I had heard. I stopped at the National Park Service Stonewall Jackson Shrine. I'd never been there and was curious what a shrine to a beloved Confederate General would look like. But like on the Camino, nothing is accidental - it is all serendipity. 

The plantation office where Stonewall Jackson died.

I pulled in to the parking lot in front of a small wood frame structure and a stone marker. I was expecting to see a giant Paul Bunyan-like statue of Jackson like the one at Manassas Battlefield. I looked around a bit, sat at a picnic table and ate my lunch, then read the signs. The small white building looked lonely and empty. I thought I might get a peek inside through a window. I waded through the flooded yard (it rained mightily all weekend!) and was surprised when a ranger came out on to the porch and smiled "We're open! Please come inside!" I was the only one in the park. It didn't seem like a shrine to me - especially considering the near cult-like status "Stonewall" Jackson has among Civil War buffs. Ranger Kevin gave me a brief history of the events and the building, but I wanted to know more. He was the perfect match for my quest to relate the ideas of the symposium to this place in its time. "We use the word shrine as it was used in the mid-1800s," Kevin explained, "not like Jackson-on-steroids up the road (Manassas). So shrine would have meant a place to pay respects, not a place of hero-worship or that holds religious connotations." 

The bed where Jackson died - in an outbuilding furnished for his rest.

This is where Jackson was brought to rest and recover from serious injuries - the amputation of his arm after being shot accidentally by one of his own men at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May, 1863. The plan had been to move him by rail ( a station was only a few hundred yards away) but Union troops had damaged rail lines to Richmond. While repairs were underway and the general rested with doctors, family, and his enslaved servant in attendance, Jackson became ill with pneumonia and died.

Fairfield Plantation main house, smokehouse, and office, shortly after the war had ended. NPS photo.

The grounds of the old plantation had been a large Confederate camp at the time. Large battles were raging in the distance and skirmishes were happening  just miles away in any direction.  The countryside was awash with displaced people - farmers whose farms were ruined, city folks fleeing the bombardment of the cities, troops moving to battle, slaves escaping to freedom, soldiers streaming back to camps. "It must have been surreal," Kevin said. "There were so many dead in this triangle of war - 85,000 we think. There are so many unmarked graves, so many missing and unaccounted for. It was the bloodiest landscape in North America." I explained where I had come from, what I was thinking about. Kevin looked out the window into a meadow. "You've come to the right place to think about that."

Jim Lewis, personal servant to Jackson, slept on this rough-built cot.

I moved from room to room and observed the beds. Daybeds, rope beds, a couch, a rough wooden platform. Though few slept during the days of Jackson's dying, the Chandler family whose once-productive plantation had fallen to ruin, had moved their furniture to the farm office building to accommodate the small party of medical and military staff who would remain by the general's side. A deeply religious man, Jackson uttered his last words on Sunday May 10 at 3:10pm. "'Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees."  Crossing boundaries, living to afterlife. Crossing battle lines. Crossing from enslavement to freedom. The theme of the symposium seemed framed by this small park, even within the walls of this old plantation office-turned-shrine.

Beds and chairs were placed in another room for staff.

Kevin suggested that at the time of Jackson's death there may have been upwards of 65,000 refugees and displaced people streaming through the rolling countryside between Richmond and Fredericksburg. With no homes, no beds to rest upon, where did these people find safety? Dr. Mark McLaughlin explained to his audience at the symposium that the empty bed is symbolic in Hindu shrines dedicated to gurus or saints that had passed on. The one who slept on the bed while living is still present after death in the absolute sense, he said. I certainly felt that here as Kevin pointed out that the bed linens, blanket, frame, pillow and case, even the rugs rolled up in the corner, were original to the event. The Chandler family, whose descendants still live nearby, carefully preserved and cared for the fabrics after Jackson's body had been carried away for burial.

This is not from the Stonewall Jackson Shrine! (Manassas Battlefield, NPS)

The loss of Stonewall Jackson was a stunning blow to the Confederacy. Across the land, as his body was carried to burial in Lexington, Virginia, a deep sadness added to the grief over a ruined land. Resources were scarce. There was sometimes violent competition for food, water, horses, and shelter. Yankee troops as well as Confederate soldiers had little to share. Large numbers of refugees begged at the camps in search of food, shelter, clothing, water. The Chandler family guarded carefully the linens and furniture from the office building. Kevin stressed that nothing much survived the months of battle, especially as farms and plantations were raided for resources. The bed frames might have been destroyed for cooking fires in the camp. The linens might have served as bandaging. But the family worked quickly to dismantle and hide these items from raiding parties and desperate people. After the war, they were cared for by family, various friends groups, and put on display in the old building as a local museum. Like Hindu temple beds, everything was placed as it had been while the beloved general lay dying. By the 1920s and 30s there were caretakers, keepers of the space, tellers of the story. "It never became a "holy" place," Kevin insisted, "they were careful to not let that happen. Just a place to come and pay respect. A shrine of beds." The National Park Service came into ownership of the site in the 1930s.

Day bed and couch in the attendants room.

As the war raged on more people fled from the terror that had become north-central Virginia. At the time of the terrible battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg, and Richmond,  there was ample opportunity to leave. "Slaves ran at every chance," Kevin explained. "They abandoned plantations, industry, and domestic service by the hundreds and risked their lives to forge through the conflict to find places to hide, roads and paths that were safe to travel, rivers to cross, all heading northward or westward." The plantation's seventy slaves had gone long before Jackson arrived on a litter carried atop a slow moving wagon. Jim Lewis, Jackson's personal manservant, was given a bed in the house where Jackson was laid, though he never left his master's side and did not sleep in it. "Loyal slave narratives abound in these parts," said Kevin, "Partly because of Jim Lewis, and partly because some enslaved peoples were too old or too young or too afraid to run for it. Fear of escape meant staying put. This was re-interpreted as loyalty to their masters." The loyal slave narrative, indeed, gave us the gray-haired butler (who would dance with Shirley Temple) and the rotund kitchen maid (Aunt Jemima), familiar "grateful servant" tropes in literature and films of the early 20th century.

Plantation office turned dispatch room.

This was a region on the move. "Everyone was running - into battle, away from battle, to safety, to freedom." Kevin said. "You wouldn't be in one place for long before a battle swung too close, a place of rest was taken over by troops, or you feared capture." Underfed or starving, people surged across the land like skeletons. On the Camino there is a rule that in any albergue you may not stay more than one night. It's an old rule that addressed the number of 'fake' pilgrims in the Middle Ages, people who took advantage of the free and nearly free services provided to those traveling to holy sites. For anyone who looked suspiciously unkempt, dirty, underfed, or without credentials, there was often "no room at the inn" when in fact there may have been a bed. I encountered these people for myself as I hiked across northern Spain and was nearly robbed by a person pretending to be a pilgrim in need of "supplies." I remember one afternoon when a hospitalier escorted a ragged-looking young man from a spotless albergue. "Please find another place," he instructed. "I have room only for honest pilgrims." No room at the inn. Where are those honored Christian principals when the unwanted show up? From this place just south of Fredericksburg, I stand about 150 miles from the Mason Dixon Line. The price on the head of a runaway slave could easily triple or quadruple if he made it across that line. Fortunes were made recapturing fugitives or ambushing freemen above the Line to sell into slavery below it.

Plantation office front.

A pilgrim is not a refugee, however. Pilgrims choose to engage in their long quest. Refugees are launched into the journey, often without warning and with little preparation. Pilgrims will eventually arrive at a destination and look forward to returning home. Not so for the refugee who wants to go home but may not have a home to return to. We had discussed transformative journeys at the symposium. Certainly, many scholars agreed, a refugee's story can become that of a pilgrim. Francis Fredric's account of his long escape to freedom is an epic tale of pilgrimage laced with fear and uncertainty.

Last winter I read Fredric's Fifty Years a Slave (1863) and Solomon Northrup's Twelve Years a Slave (1853) after watching the film 12 Years A Slave (2013). I found the actual accounts to be powerful counterpoints to the film which, despite its hard hitting and often brutal scenes of slavery and a great story based on Northrup's book, still relaxed into the well-worn "white savior" narrative. Here is a short excerpt from Fredric's 1863 book that I thought about while visiting the Stonewall Jackson Shrine:

I had been flogged for going to a prayer-meeting, and, before my back was well, my master was going to whip me again. I determined, therefore, to run away. It was in the morning, just after my master had got his breakfast, I was ordered to the back of the premises to strip. My master had got the thong of raw cow's-hide; when off I ran, towards the swamp.

He saw me running, and instantly called three bloodhounds, kept for the purpose, and put them on my track. I saw them coming up to me, when, turning round to them, I clapped my hands, and called them by name; for I had been in the habit of feeding them. I urged them on, as if in pursuit of something else. They instantly passed me, and flew upon the cattle. I saw my master calling them off, and returning. No doubt, he perceived it was useless to pursue me, with dogs which knew me so well.

I now hurried on further, into a dismal swamp, named the Bear's Wallow; and, at last, wearied and exhausted, I sat down at the foot of a tree, to rest, and think what had best be done. I knelt down, and prayed earnestly to the Almighty, to protect and direct me what to do. I rose from my knees, and looked stealthily around, afraid that the dogs and men were still in pursuit. I listened, and listened again, to the slightest sound, made by the flapping of the wings of a bird, or the rustling of the wild animals among the underwood; and then proceeded further into the swamp. My path was interrupted, every now and then, by large sheets of stagnant, putrid, green-looking water, from which a most sickening, fetid smell arose; the birds, in their flight, turning away from it. The snakes crawled sluggishly across the ground, for it was autumn time, when, it is said, they are surcharged with their deadly poison.

When awake in the morning, I tried to plan out some way of escape, over the Ohio River, which I knew was about thirty miles from where I was. But I could not swim; and I was well aware that my master would set a watch upon every ferry or ford, and that the whole country would be put on the alert, to catch me; for the planters, for self-protection, take almost as much interest in capturing another man's slaves, as they do their own.

At length, driven by hunger and desperation, I approached the edge of the swamp; when I was startled by seeing a young woman ploughing. I knew her, and called her by name. She was frightened, and shocked at my appearance - worn, from hunger, almost to a skeleton; and haggard, from the want of sound sleep. I begged of her to go to get me something to eat. She, at first, expressed her fears, and began to tell me of the efforts which my master was making to capture me. He had offered $500 reward - had placed a watch all along the Ohio River - had informed all the neighbouring planters, who had cautioned all their slaves not to give me any food or other assistance, and he had made it known, that, when I should be caught, he would give me a thousand lashes.

The woman went, and fetched me about two ounces of bread, of which I eat a small portion, wishing to keep the rest to eat in the swamp, husbanding it, as much as possible. When she told me that I should receive a thousand lashes, I felt horrified, and wept bitterly. The girl wept also. I had seen a slave, who had escaped to the Northern States, and, after an absence of four years, had been brought back again, and flogged, in the presence of all the slaves, assembled from the neighbouring plantations. His body was frightfully lacerated. I went to see him, two or three weeks after the flogging. When they were anointing his back, his screams were awful. He died, soon afterwards--a tall, fine young fellow, six feet high, in the prime of life, thus brutally murdered.

Abundant rain brings mushrooms.

Outside the sparse rooms was the small park that surrounded what remained of the plantation. The outline of the main house was barely visible in damp grass and it exploded with new mushrooms. The skies were gray, heavy with storm clouds. It had been a long three days of heavy rain. Tidewater areas had flooded. I remembered how miserable I was on my hike when the rains came. Blisters would bubble up as soon as my socks got wet. My boots did little to keep out the deep water. I fretted over my feet. When I came into an albergue for the night I made sure take a hot soapy shower, dry my feet carefully, sit in the sun (if there was sun), and apply pain relieving ointment and fresh bandages for the night. Pain was definitely part of my Camino experience. (I am still dealing with some pain months later - mostly from calluses that press on nerves when I try to wear shoes or boots that before the Camino fit well - and now don't.) I realized that my Keens were still wet from hiking through the flooded yard. I'd left a trail everywhere I walked in the plantation office! Embarrassed, I offered to wipe up the water and mud.

Kevin, NPS Ranger.
Kevin assured me, again, that the idea of "shrine" did not mean sacred or religious and that some water and dirt added to the authenticity of the place. Please don't worry, he said. People had been tracking in water and mud for days."Imagine the water and mud tracked by 65,000 people fleeing this area," he added. "And the care some took to erase their steps."


Stonewall Jackson Shrine

You can read Fifty Years a Slave online here: