by Sara Wiley
Do you know what my favorite sounds are? The sound of a creek babbling across smooth rocks, the wind singing through branches, old wet leaves and damp earth crunching under my feet as I find my way down a slopping trail that leads me deeper into the twisting green wonderland, or when everything is completely still as snow drifts down between the knobby fingers reaching for the sky. I love the smell of the woods after it rains. There’s nothing like it— crisp, tangy and clean. I know my way around Pennypack Park like I know my way around my house in the dark. It’s an old family friend I seek out when I want comfort and can’t breathe due to whatever new chaotic mess has popped up in my life. Pennypack has not only watched my sister and I grow up, but my grandfather and father as well. I learned how to ice skate on the creek, how to not get my fishing line caught in a tree, how to ride my bike down monstrous hills and not end up with a broken neck, and most importantly how to listen and see things that do not speak in the same language as myself ( In fact, I’m pretty sure that if it weren’t for the bold white signs that stated it was illegal— I probably would have learned to swim in the creek too). It’s the keeper of my childhood, and of so many more memories that are not mine. When I take that first step on the ruined rubble road that acts as barrier between the real world and Pennpack’s realm, something that sleeps within me wakes up and beings to unfurl.
Hidden carefully within the interlacing trees and undergrowth, like a mischievous game of hide and seek, are dozens of skeletal remains from other times periods — mostly from the time when the creek was used as an industrial waterway due to fact that it feeds into the Delaware. Crumbling ruins of nineteenth century mills and rusted moss-encrusted train tracks that lead to nowhere are an eerie, almost mythological tease of a forgotten piece of history — as well as a reminder of how closely intertwined humans and nature are. Then there are also places like the Verree House — one of three last surviving historic buildings that made up the town of Verreeville, home to several generations of the French Verree family, and a survivor of the Revolutionary War.
Like the Verree’s, my own family has had a few generations watched over by the woods. I usually joke with my friends that I consider the park not only my playground, but my rightful “inheritance” as well. I can’t explain it , but there’s something in my blood that keeps pulling me back. There’s just something that feels….right when the hem of my jeans are caked with dirt and are sticking uncomfortably to the insides of my thighs as I scramble over tree roots and rocks like I’m an adventurer in some kind of Tolkien novel. The only soundtrack of modern civilization is the muffled roar of traffic filtering in from somewhere behind me. I can even hear the woods breathing sometimes. I can hear a friendly voice telling me to explore and let go— grabbing hold of my active imagination and endless curiosity, refusing to give way. Something tingles and sparks in my limbs as I either follow the paved paths or explore more confusing trails. But it never holds me hostage or ensnared —it always leads me home with a couple of questions answered, and pocketful of more questions found.