My Mom passed on a few weeks ago and I am back in Pennsylvania helping (I think) my sisters sort things out. But enough became enough at a certain point and yesterday I took myself out to one of my old favorite places from when I was a teenager, McConnells Mill. I can’t remember the last time I walked here … maybe I was nineteen?
Even so, there has always been something about this place. Even as a teenager coming here to swim, hike, or float down the rapids in innertubes, to smoke pot (it was very illegal back then), or for best girlfriends to meet up with the boys, I could feel it. Something separate from all of that. Something ancient.
The Slippery Rock Creek Gorge (and yes, the rocks are very slippey here as we say in WestPA parlance) had been formed millennia ago by a glacier scraping its way through the landscape. Evident today mostly because of all of the boulders strewn in the gorge where the creek flows. While the Western Pennsylvania landscape in general is made up of rolling hills and roller coaster roads, it has, for the most part, been tamed by a few centuries of farming.
There is something of that geological history that can be felt here if one allows themselves to slow down and take in a few deep breaths. Put a hand on a boulder and the boulder’s memories come rushing through. The trees are new by comparison, but they have stories to tell as well. Once down the trail, alone on the path, I have always had a strong sense of native here. Whether those are my miniscule Seneca genes kicking in a genetic memory, or my WestPA roots taking hold, I do not know. I just know that any time I have been here, time seems to slip away, like the trail leads through a portal where all things exist at once, or no time exists at all. This is one of the only places I have been where I feel that so strongly.
As someone who has been hiking a lot in drought-and-fire-ridden California over the past few decades, being around so much fresh water and green is almost like a form of environmental culture shock. It’s overwhelming. It’s beautiful. There is moisture in the air. I found myself tripping over roots and rocks in the path, and had to quickly train my mind to keep my eyes down and watch where I was stepping. When hiking in California, we really only have to have constant eye contact with the ground when walking the cliffs on the coast or high up in the mountains where the trails are more rugged. The trails here in the gorge are much more maintained than they were back in the dark ages of teenagehood, but there is still a lot of wildness here.
People and teenagers can no longer come here to swim, and there are park rangers here now to enforce that rule. It seems there are a lot more out-of-the-area visitors here and they are not aware of the dangers of the rock bed of the creek, the underwater boulders, and the rapid current. There were a few kayakers enjoying the rapids – in the same way we used to use innertubes. There are a lot of places to sit or picnic along the water’s edge, to take in the scenery and the water flowing by.
If you decide to come here, enjoy! And take a moment to really absorb the geological history of this place. Maybe there will be a portal for you here too.
For directions and more information, check out the park web site: McConnells Mill State Park