Friday, September 15, 2006


(News-Herald, September 14) You can have the muggy heat of summer, the snowy mounds of winter, or that special springtime mix of mud and new greenery. For my money, there is no better time in Venangoland than the fall.
I’m partial to sweatshirt-and-shorts weather, just cool enough to be comfy, but warm enough that you can still feel your feet when you go shoeless. It is a perfect time to enjoy the natural beauty that we tend to take for granted.
Last weekend I was reminded of how great it can be out there. I have been bikeless since July. Someone was apparently so inspired by the Tour de France that they just had to grab the first bicycle they saw, which, unfortunately, was mine. Even bicycle theft was a small town experience—on the one hand, I was enough of a trusting small town rube to have my bicycle stolen from my front porch. On the other hand, the bike sat there for about four years before anyone walked off with it.
At any rate, I finally scraped together enough shekels to head over to Country Peddlers and rejoin the ranks of bike riders. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed it. Venangoland bike trails are an absolutely gorgeous resource, providing mile upon mile of beautiful woods and water. You set your own pace, pick your own distance. And this time of year it only gets better and better as the waves of green slowly slide into the golden warm colors of autumn, then part slowly to reveal a better and better view of the river slipping by to one side and the hills rising above you on the other.
Depending on the trail you pick or the direction you head, you have some-to-none background noise of roads, motors and civilization. But you always get the steady sound of birdsong and breeze.
I also had the chance to take to the river. It’s kind of cool to imagine earlier folks paddling up and down our waterways in delicate constructs of wood and canvas, but I love my middle-aged man’s kayak (courtesy of Wiegel Brothers Marine, where they have a great local selection of paddling stuff—just ask for Ryan). I never have to worry about hurting it—kayaks these days are made out of some sort of super-duper space polymer. I occasionally exaggerate, but I am not stretching anything when I say that a fairly hefty tree once fell on it and didn’t leave so much as a scratch.
Not that I need the protection. You will not find me kayaking straight down over sixty-foot cliffs like the studly young SUV drivers on tv. I like my water flat and peaceful. Last Sunday, French Creek was as calm as could be, and the inlet behind the island at the confluence of the creek and thee river is a miraculous spot where you can slide silently between a canopy of leaves and sky overhead and its perfect mirror image below. There are plenty of wildflowers in bloom right now, provided just a dash of color.
Geese, ducks and heron are easily found on the water, and on a especially good day you may catch an eagle coasting by overhead or a deer catching a quiet drink. I am always surprised at how close I can get to deer on the water. Apparently upright humans are scary, but a guy in a boat is completely unimpressive, even if the boat is a sort of fluorescent yellow capable of blinding unwary fish.
The river has to be approached with some respect. Under the wrong conditions or with inappropriate handling, the water can be dangerous stuff. But with care and preparation, it offers enormous rewards.
I’m always amazed at the people who don’t get this stuff. Across the country, in large cities, there are people who invest a lot of time, trouble and money just for the chance to sit on a hyperthyroid lawn next to a tepid pond. Some Venangolanders are like people who live in the middle of a picture perfect postcard and complain that it doesn’t have enough plastic and neon. I have no doubt that Venangoland would be a better place if every resident spent an hour or two each week on or beside the water.
This weekend looks to be a good one. And in addition to the chance to get out and enjoy the outdoors, you can swing by downtown Franklin, where the convention of band organs (you know—the kind of mechanical music machines that you remember from merry-go-rounds) will be in town making much music. All in all it should be a good couple of days to remember why you’re glad you don’t live in a big city.

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