The next morning we said our goodbyes as my mother-in-law stuffed our bags with apples and snacks and we headed out to catch the ferry to New York. The gusty cool autumn wind formed white peaks on Lake Champlain and I bundled up to run out of the car and snap a photo of the boat. As we waited, another ferry boat pulled up to the dock and unloaded. We watched several cars disembark and then, no joke, there were probably ten tractors that roared off the boat like a small town parade. We chuckled as the proud owners waved and we waved back.
This was just our first indication that we were traveling to another world, a place deemed “forever wild” when it was saved from deforestation and declared a park in 1892. While we crossed the lake we planned our route via paper map. Our smartphones could not help us find the most beautiful way through the mountains or the direction to go to spy the most lakes. Anyways there was no cell service in many areas we would be driving through. For a while we were free.
As we weaved through the windy roads we marveled at the unique architecture and outdoor furniture style of the area. It reminded me of my dad and his house full of mounted animals, a bear rug and rocking chairs made of twigs. The leaves here were the brightest and most colorful we’d seen yet. People with phones held up packed into small turnoffs along the roads. We planned to stop for a hike and thought we were clever but getting a few miles off the road, but we got a big dose of reality when we saw cars lined up for miles along the forest road. It was a short hike and we figured we would have to double the distance to include the walk from the car to the trail head. We decided to skip it and stop instead for brunch in Lake Placid.
The sun hovered above the horizon as we scanned the last of the Adirondack lakes for moose (we didn’t see any) and the way became flatter and filled with corn fields and farms. This was the beginning of the familiar territory that I recognized as my home land. The sunset colored the endless fields with a soft yellow glow. We counted deer in the fields between tiny towns as we crossed into Pennsylvania. By then it was too dark to see much, but we would see more in the days to follow. I was home.
The next day my dad took us to my favorite outdoor places growing up. He took us the “back way” on gravel roads bearing my maiden name through yellow and orange hardwood forest. I kept my eyes peeled looking for wildlife like I always did as a kid while driving through the forest. We drove to our old cabin filled with memories of family gatherings, lots of cakes and cookies (I inherited my sweet tooth from my dad and his five brothers), card games and laughter. On the way we stopped at a overlook where my uncle’s ashes were spread.
While driving back, we spotted a beautiful white church across the road from an apple orchard. I asked my dad to stop so I could get some photos. While I took photos my dad wandered through the tiny graveyard next to the church. He found that almost all the gravestones had our family name on them. He’s driven by that church more times than you could possibly count but had no idea that we might have relatives buried there. It was a beautiful discovery.
Lastly we stopped at Halfway Dam, a small lake with a sandy beach where I spent many a summer day with friends and family. I remember running wet and barefoot through the stone structures built by the CCC to the concession stand to buy popsicles and hotdogs. I hadn’t been back there in years but it all came back to me like it was yesterday. These places are so ingrained in my being. My family’s roots run deep here in central PA and we can trace our ancestors back to the Revolutionary War. And no matter how long I’m away, it will always feel like home.