Monday, April 25, 2011

The Dust on My Shoes - A Post Script to "Things I Learned in the Floods"

This is a postscript to "Things I Learned in the Floods," posted April 12th, 2011:

This is the old road leading from Weissport to Parryville before Route 248 was built. 
Back then, anytime you left northern Carbon County to travel to the Lehigh Gap and Lehigh County,
you passed Lock tender #10's Cold Cellar and his wife's forsythia bushes. 
The road is directly between them looking back toward Weissport.  Route 248 is about 80 feet above.

GE tried to modernize the canal with an “electric mule.” A motor mounted on an I-beam guide-rail, operated by two men, was to replace one boy and his mule. That was considered progress. It didn’t last long. The latest flood wiped away the modern resurfacing on the tow path and once again the concrete anchors of these blips of canal history are visible.  They can be seen once again at regular intervals between Lock #4 and Long Run. They were something I thought I’d never see again.

Here is one of the anchor points for GE's
failed "Electric Mule" experiment.  They
are visible now only in flood damaged
areas above Long Run on the Lehigh Canal. 
An I-Beam shape is noticeable at center.
One of the advantages of living close to one's roots is you can unknowingly and unexpectedly find yourself on the same path of an ancestor.  You can also find yourself on the same worn down paths of your own making  on your own ruts of routine. Our oldest son Nate is working as an insurance agent in the very building my grandparents Cal and Becky built as their home and store, the same place my mother’s own borning cries once bounced.

Though comfort can be found on these familiar paths and old routines, new ones must be struck upon. My mom’s great uncle Albert Nothstein struck out to the Pacific Northwest. The nay-sayers said he’d be back with his tail between his legs. Well they were certainly wrong.

Rarely, though I fill many of my days walking along the canal, do I try to imagine my great, great grandfather James Nothstein captaining his “Mary Ann” on these waters. Nor do I always think about my wife’s great grandfather and great, great grandfather Amos and Calvin Ahner operating the Weigh Lock. Staying within ourselves, digging through our own layers, redressing old injuries we didn’t even know we had, isn’t a place to allow yourself to get stuck in either. There are days I find comfort in my own old days and there are days I find myself caught up in the romance of how I imagine my ancestors’ lives to have been. And sometimes, looking back seems all too pointless, a waste of energy.

Uncle Albert Nothstein took the path
that lead him to the Pacific Northwest.
Though you never knew me, nor I you,
I thank you for the lesson Uncle Albert.
Our oldest son seems to be content for now to stay within the vicinity of the old paths of his ancestors. And yet he has become, and continues to become, his own man. Our youngest, Jon, is ready to set off like his great, great, great uncle Albert. Perhaps he is bored or unconcerned with his history here or perhaps his determination is too strong to be ignored. There are new paths that beckon, they must be struck.

But in the end, those who are truly fortunate, will one day touch their own humanness that lies beneath their silt, clay, and dust. It will be those, with the dust in the corners of their fingernails, their shoes coated in the dust of their journeys who have searched the land where the waters have washed the layers away, who will have earned it.

They will be the lucky ones, for they took the chance to really feel.

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