by Lynda McKinney Lambert
July 9, 2016
High humidity and stifling heat on this July afternoon begins to urge me to dream of the month ahead. I admit it! I love late August days even more because they signify the approaching end of summer.
When nights become cooler I’ll begin to forget the predictable, unrelenting steamy days and nights of July. Temperature readings by mid-August will drop down into the 50s. I’ll open the windows; feel the cool breeze move through the familiar old house. July’s humidity and stuffiness will be swept away from the house and my thoughts when I begin to sense the shift of a quickly approaching change of seasons. My senses begin to stir my imagination today. There is something brewing in the atmosphere as I stand in the mid-day sunshine and look at the landscape all around me. I see every imaginable hue of green. Is it a sort of nervousness and anticipation for…what? I cannot readily say. But I get excited and anxious for the coming of August every year.
Last night I lay in my bed, listening to the soothing insect sounds drifting upwards to my open window. Unseen creatures sounded like the tuxedo-clad musicians I have listened to as they tuned their instruments before the concert began to play. Right now, it is night songs that I hear coming from below the window. The sounds blend into a nocturnal symphony, a cacophony of a summer serenade. In my meandering thoughts, I wonder if perhaps it was on a night like this one that Mozart had the first inklings of a tune that would become “Eine Kleine Nauchtmusik.” I paused for a moment and shifted my thoughts to the sounds of that familiar music.
Our century-old home is located on a ridge overlooking an ancient, winding creek that meanders for fifty miles through western Pennsylvania. People from this area call it “The Connie.” Its actual name is the Connoquenessing creek. The arrival of people, who settled eventually in the Village of Wurtemburg, began arriving in America in the early 1700s. That is the time period when settlers from this area traveled to Germanic lands to recruit artisans to come to America and settle here. They needed skilled workers for the settlements and for over one-hundred years Germans were recruited to come to Pennsylvania. Skilled crafts and tradesmen were necessary for the survival of the settlements. My own ancestors were recruited during that one-hundred year period and arrived on ships that landed in Philadelphia. When descendants of the first Germanic people begin to do research they are often quite surprised to discover some of their ancestors married Indians who were already living in this area during the 18th Century. The Connie has been an axis of our own community history for generations. As is true for all people, we are forever tinged with history and that history is a part of our present day lives. The Connie is part of our shared communal memoir.
In the summer time, the Connie comes alive with the voices and sounds of the local “Crick Culture.” That’s what Western Pennsylvania people call it. We find that different activities take place during each season along The Connie. And here is where my own life story converges with the flowing waters of The Connie.
Kayaking begins in earnest in late winter as soon as the ice begins to dissipate. Hearty enthusiasts will continue to ride the rapids through the summer days in into the fall season. The Connie’s whitewater rapids provide the perfect setting for a swift course for kayakers to perfect their skills. Often, a slollum line will be threaded back and forth across the creek and the brave kayakers will spend the weekend honing skills when the water is high and fast. Here is where they can learn how to avoid rocks and dangerous areas to complete the course. Later, they will move on to the most dangerous waters of West Virginia.
On summer nights I can hear people laughing from down below the ridge. People arrive at the “crick” in the late evening, in the twilight, just before it gets dark. They park their cars or trucks under the old trees. Generations of local people come to spend the night fishing. I often watch as they pull out their gear. They bring coolers and jugs, flashlights, buckets of worms, fishing poles, nets, and blankets. Most of them wear baseball caps. One by one, they quietly scramble down the steep, rocky path that leads to the deep water below. This is the place where another creek, the Slippery Rock Creek, converges with The Connie. We local folks refer to this part of the creek as, “the point.” Many myths are perpetuated about the depth of the waters at the Point, and the terrible whirlpools that lie hidden beneath the placid surface. It is here at the Point, where the night time fishermen like to come to spend the night in hopes of taking home fresh fish for breakfast. On a still night, I hear them talking softly off in the distance. Their voices merge with the insect concert.
In childhood memories my father and I are in the back yard behind our home in the foothills. I still live in the valley between the steep hills. Like most of the steelworkers in our village, my father loved to go fishing in the Connie. In the darkness of a sweltering summer night, I helped him find earth worms. His steelworker’s helmet had a strange yellow light on the front of it. I smelled the acrid smoke, heard it sizzle and sputter as we bent over the dark ground. We poured mustard water down into the little tunnels where the earthworms lived. In just a few seconds, a worm came to the surface seeking fresh air and we grabbed that earthworm, dipped it into a bucket of clean, warm water to rinse the mustard off of it. Finally, we put our captured worms into Dad’s metal pail with the holes in the sides. He had put dirt into the pail before we went searching for the worms. We turned over rocks and found creepy creatures hiding under them. Dad called them helgramites and they made me shiver when I looked at them.
Throughout my childhood, The Connie was the place where we went swimming as soon as spring arrived. But, The Connie can be treacherous after a day of rainfall. On such a spring day in early May, I ventured into the raging water in a swimming place called, “Mitchell’s.” I only had to take a couple of strokes to reach the big rock and that was my intention when I plunged into the water. Instantly, I was swept away from the big rock. An older boy was at the creek swimming that day and he was a lifeguard. Somehow, he grabbed my hair and pulled me to the rocky shore. There is no doubt in my mind that my life would have ended in The Connie that day if the other swimmer had not been there. I, too, would have been one of the unfortunate victims of The Connie. While The Connie is beautiful and refreshing, she is also vicious and raging at times.
Nearly every summer there have been accidents on the banks of the Connie near my home. We know when we hear the ambulance arriving in this area, they are most likely going to find that someone has drowned in The Connie, or at least been injured. I often wonder how many people have lost their lives in The Connie and I say a prayer of “thanks” for my own rescue when I was fifteen years old.
Our children grew up beside The Connie, too. In their adult years they often relate stories of their own experiences and mishaps and they usually have many tales to reminisce about their childhood swimming and floating excursions in inner tubes down the creek on hot days.
Not only was The Connie my favorite place to explore in warm weather, it was also my first encounter with ice skating. We carried a broom to the creek and swept off a large area to remove the snow from the icy surface. Even with such careful preparations, it was a rough and uneven place to skate. That never mattered though, and there were many winter days when we walked on the ice for miles. The Connie snapped and crackled as we walked on her surface but we never even considered that we might fall into the water or even something worse.
By the end of June, the banks along The Connie are changing rapidly in their appearance. Early July is when the foliage looks soft and fragile looking with the first blooms of the Queen Anne’s lace and some varieties of sweetly scented bushes with tender little white flowers.
I stop to take a deep breath, smell those flowers, and watch the tiny bees gathering all around them. It’s like looking at a whole world of mysteries, to look into those delicate flowers. The most elegant flower gardens in this world are the ones planted by the birds and bees, and growing wild and free along the roadsides and meadows. Here is where we find the glory of nature. This, surely, is what the first inhabitants in the Garden of Eden must have experienced. Breathtaking beauty!
M y favorite sight in August is the Queen Ann Lace mingled with the periwinkle blue flowers of Chicory. The two wild flowers grow together along all the roads in early August. I take my camera outside so I can capture the beauty of these disorderly flowers. I remember the fields of these uncultivated flowers long after they disappear for the winter.
Oh, I should let you know, Queen Ann Lace is my favorite flower because of the delicate tiny flowers clustered on thin, celadon green stems. The flowers seem to float in space and ride the soft wafts of the August breeze. Fragile lace blossoms dance in the fragrant afternoon air. The white blossoms of the Queen Ann Lace contrast with the sturdier chicory flowers. Chicory resembles a daisy with petals branching outward from around, dark, center. Each Chicory bloom has little oval petals that come to a tip that looks like someone snipped it off, flat, with zig-zag pinking shears. The brilliant blue color of the Chicory seems to pop out from among the white Queen Ann Lace in full bloom side by side with Chicory. When I see the Chicory begin to bloom, I know that the season will soon be changing to autumn.
And, it always seems that it won’t be long before I’ll be shuffling my feet through the colored leaves on my daily walks through the woods, along the Connie. My thoughts drift to the stories my father told me about his Indian grandmother. I stop and look around through the woods, and down to the white-water creek. Some days my spirit calls out to her as I look around in this same rural world that she lived in, too. Often, I have a keen insight while walking along The Connie. I step slowly over layers and generations of my family members. I ask myself, “Am I an overlay from past generations of people who lived in this place?” I realize their presence because they surround me. I can feel them. Today, I asked my grandmother, “Did your feet walk on this path, too?”
Copyright, July 9, 2016. Lynda McKinney Lambert. All rights reserved.
Lynda McKinney Lambert is a Christian author, blogger, visual artist. She is the author of the book of essays and poetry, “Concerti: Psalms for the Pilgrimage” by Kota Press. She is a retired Professor of Fine Arts and Humanities from Geneva College, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.
Lynda earned BFA and MFA degrees in Fine Arts; MA in English Literature. She has traveled and taught courses in writing and art, internationally.
Lynda specializes in writing poetry and creative non-fiction. Currently she has three books in development for publication in late-2016 and 2017. Her stories, essays and poems appear in many anthologies and literary magazines.
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