The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Spooning, exploring graveyards, and other spring pastimes

McClellan Cemetery, Black Horse Tavern Rd(Originally published in Gettysburg Times, March 29, 2013)

Spring is coming. The ice is out on my favorite canoeing pond, though some mornings I wake expecting it to be back. Grady the Golden and I are ready to go exploring.

At a recent Sunday morning breakfast with friends, someone mentioned going fishing, and catching “sunnies” to bury under the corn seeds. I recall similar days, sitting on a big rock I’d waded to from the shore in front of my home, dangling my feet in the water and having clouds of Bluegill Sunfish – sunnies – nibble my toes and eat my worms.

Mother declined including the fish in the evening repast. Too many bones, she said. I think most critters, including us and fish, have about the same number of bones, but those had a paucity of flesh surrounding them.

I’d read in a book that Indians used the fish for fertilizer. Dig a little hole, lay a sunny in the bottom, cover with a some dirt, lay on a couple corn kernels, and cover with more dirt. I guess it worked; the corn sure enough grew.

That was the test for a lot of things we knew when I was young. If it worked when it was supposed to, or didn’t when it wasn’t, it became gospel.

Like planting onions among the corn stalks to keep the elephants out.

But elephants don’t grow in Maine, or Pennsylvania, you say?

See. It works.

Another thing I read Indians used to do was “spoon” for fish. Cut a 10-to-15-foot alder into a fishing pole and tie a piece of line to it. Then cut the bowl from a soup spoon and drill a hole in either end. On one end, attach a fish hook and tie the other end to the line. Whirl the spoon above your head, then move the pole down low so the spoon skitters across the water and weeds.

It’s almost guaranteed to draw a vigorous attack from a suddenly hungry Chain Pickerel formerly lurking beneath the lilly pads. Catching pickerel was fun for a boy, and Mom ruled the catch was not so “bony,” and therefore made good fare to accompany the garden-grown corn and other veggies.

I may have to try spooning bass from my favorite canoeing lake. And I’m getting worked up about hiking the multitude of trails in the more than 87,000 acres of prime hiking ground that is Michaux State Forest.

For those who can’t, or don’t want to, hike the deep woods, there are some scenic drives through the county’s history. I’ve shot some pretty pictures from the amphitheater above Camp Nawakwa, near Wenksville. Nawakwa began nearly 85 years ago as a Lutheran leadership training camp. Campers in those days were given eight minutes to climb the hill to the amphitheater, to participate in evening prayers.

A more secular find is the gravesite of “the strongest man that ever lived on Earth.” Samuel Hodge is said to have proved his prowess by lifting a barrel of apple cider over his head, and drinking from the bung hole.

I like visiting graveyards. (Someone told me the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery, but I don’t recall the distinction.) There are plenty around, though some are small and set back from the road; finding them requires slowing down and looking at what’s passing by.

I’ve traveled Black Horse Tavern Road a lot in the 15 years I’ve lived here. A few months ago I happened to notice, set back a bit from the road, a group of headstones, fenced in and marked with a sign declaring, “Cemetery being taken care of by Michael Peffer, for Benefit of the (Daughters of the American Revolution).”

I wonder who is buried there, whether any of the family is still around, and whether they caught fish from nearby Marsh Creek to eat, and maybe fertilize their corn. It’s getting almost warm enough to find out.

1 Comment

  1. I enjoy walking through cemeteries and reading the headstones. Have done it in several states. Seldom do any more. One cemetery with paved paths was my favorite bike riding place. Good story and video. Keep up the good work.

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