June 20 – Wintergreen Gorge. As a child I thought that was the best place in the whole world to be.
From our house on Zimmerman Road, we trudged up to the entrance of the cemetery, at that time much smaller than it is now. We followed the unpaved roads back to the area near the little chapel built to honor the memory of Mr. Behrend’s son.
Facing the gorge towards the east, we could see what was left of an overlook. If I stood behind the wall, I felt very safe because I could barely see over the top. However, if I was as daring as my brothers—and I usually was because I didn’t want to be a sissy, I inched my way around the wall to stand on the little bit of ground in front of the overlook.
One slip of my sneaker, and I would go sliding down the steep slope to end up in the creek hundreds of feet below. Of course, my brothers assured me that there were lots of big trees I could run into or hang onto on the way down!
Since I believed them implicitly, some of the fear and dread would disappear. But I was very glad to creep back around the wall when they decided they too, had had enough of being daring.
Since most of the cemetery area really wasn’t a cemetery but just open fields of grass, we often chose to play softball near that same overlook. Several times our balls would fly over the wall, and be lost forever. I can remember going down to the bottom of the gorge just hoping we might find the lost ball, but we were never successful.
Because we were lucky to have even one softball in those Depression days, our game would end abruptly and we would begin the long trek back home to Zimmerman Road.
You may wonder why we weren’t smart enough to put the batter near the overlook so he could hit the ball away from the hill. The only reason I knew of was that we were told not to desecrate those graves and a good long hitter could easily smack the ball hard enough to send it into the cemetery.
Behind the little chapel a shaded footpath wound in and out among the trees and big stones. Following it for about a block, we came to the steep drop off where a path wound down to the bottom of the gorge. As we zigzagged our way from one part of the dirt path to another we slowed down our speed by hanging onto roots and trees that were in good positions along the way. Take a few careful steps, and then make a run for the next tree. Turn a corner and repeat the process.
Sometimes in order to show off (and if I wasn’t too scared), I would grab a tree with great gusto and swing off into space, all the time clutching the tree for dear life. I’m sure my brothers sniffed with disdain. “What ya tryin’ to do? Act big? Just be careful ‘cause if anything happens to you Ma’ll blame us!”
Finally, as we neared the bottom of the slope we could hear the creek singing and gurgling its way through the flat shale shelves hemmed in by the steep sides of the gorge. With one final rush we leaped the few feet remaining on the trail. Sometimes I landed on my feet, but sometimes I didn’t!
There I would hunt for as many flat stones as I could carry. Dropping them in front of me, I picked them up one by one, and, grasping them in my palm, aiming them with my fingers and thumb, I let them sail off into the water. How pleased and proud I was when I finally caught on to what my brothers had been trying to teach me since I was small.
As those stones slid across the stream, bouncing, flying, and landing again, making their way all across the water, I felt grown up. This activity lasted for a long time because all of us were competitive and wanted to be the one with the most skips.
“Hey, did you see how many times that one skipped?” asked one brother.
“Bet mine can beat that!” answered another as he grasped the stone in his hand.
I can’t remember that I could ever beat any of my five brothers at that game, but all of the practice I had in those days stood me in good stead in later years as I could show my children and later even my grandkids how to skip stones right there along the Wintergreen Gorge.
Finally tiring of stone skipping, we moved south on the creek, walking on the shale or jumping from rock to rock. Sometimes trees hung out from the banks. Coltsfoot grew in the not-too-good soil among these rocks in the early spring. White or red trilliums in great patches made the banks beautiful. Blue jays called raucously as they flitted from one tree to another, scolding us as intruders in their territory.
Inevitably, before we finished our journey up the creek, I would slip on some of the wet shale and slide right into the icy waters of the stream. If I kept my balance I was lucky. Worse than slipping into the creek was falling into it! With a great shout and flailing of arms, I jumped out as soon as possible, feeling half frozen. Even in the summertime that water was frigid! Sloshing along with the water squishing out of my tennis shoes, and my long hair dripping wet, I must have been a sad sight.
Sometimes we would stop along the way at a particular quiet and peaceful pool. There we would sit and think. No one said anything. No one even moved. We just sat staring listening to the birds and enjoying the sunshine on our backs and the soft breeze blowing through our hair.
After awhile we gathered some of the big leaves of the wild grapes or those of the basswood and fashioned little boats to go sailing down the creek to some unknown shore.
Taking the leaf stem in one hand and bending the rest of the leaf with the other we pushed the stem end through, making a little sailing ship.
Carefully placing it in the water we watched the successful boats twist and turn their way around bits of debris in the stream, then sail on out of sight. If a little boat caught on some grass or was marooned on a little sand island we lifted it off and sent it on its way again.
Who knew? Maybe that little ship would find its way to Lake Erie and beyond! – CHRIS
Please note: I did not take any of the pictures in this article.