Friday, December 24, 2010

this season by Ronald Rabenold

The receding Lehigh River near sunset, with long light striking the highwater ice on low boughs.

I saw a curled leaf plow across the gravel to be released onto the icy canal where it glided on smoothly. I saw a pairing of cardinals sweep across as well. They had no idea I had just filled my feeder.

Walking along I interrupted a group of chickadees and juncos sweeping across the ground from river to canal. Later a flight of bluebirds did the same. A grouping of Mallards nestled in one last remaining section of unfrozen water, preening themselves on a dry log.

The days have gotten shorter, temperatures colder. And yet we all know that the Earth will indeed once again abide us.

There’s an expectancy, a pregnancy about the days just before “Christmas.” It was long before Christ when man and woman first confronted their fear on these shortest days of the year, hopeful for longer days, for green to return to forest and field.

We have the gift of knowing.  The first day of Winter has long been a time of the hopeful and eventual return of Spring.  We know as each season passes, the number remaining to us is lessened by one.

We are always hopeful for yet one more spring.

The birds do not know the calendar. They cannot stockpile food. They have no concept of future Springs.

But even they know the days now, are getting longer.

 May you be blessed by the spirit this season brings.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Soothing, Yet Deadly: The Lehigh River's Waters by Ronald Rabenold

Marsha Felegy
~ 1967-1985 ~

“Lehigh, I dream that in thy voice

I catch a tone of gladness,

That yearning love is in thy touch,

That thou wouldst sooth my sadness.”

~Augusta Moore

Saw Mill Creek, upstream from the Pohopoco, which is upstream from the Lehigh River.
Though untied, our lives seem to flow like our river: rising in freshets of elation as easily as we are cast down into murky deep pools. We owe our existence here to the mighty Lehigh and the many mountain springs that feed her. I have my favorite one that I use to cool my feet in the summer. I carve out moments there, to find my nothingness, to indeed soothe myself. It is the balm that soothes my many fragmentations.

Spring above Penn Haven along the Lehigh River Gorge.
We are drawn to the water perhaps to catch a measure of gladness.  She is cleaner now.  The trout are back, and so are the osprey and bald eagles. So many lives depend on her. So many use her to float on, or as a backdrop, to whittle away our Sunday hours of leisure.

And yet the Sunday river can take a life as easily as any.

In 1858, a peddler, passing through our area was found dead in the Weigh Lock, remnants of which can be found about a quarter mile below Jim Thorpe’s sewage treatment plant. Though hard to know by looking at it today, it was a viable community then. There exists there still, evidence of an old iron works, foundations of lock tenders’ houses, as well as the house of the Sayre’s, friends and business partners of Asa Packer. In fact, the wire-mill-iron-foundry used hydraulic power of overflowing water from the Lehigh Canal as it poured back into the river. These baffles can still be seen there today.

Looking out onto the Lehigh from the Wire Mill Foundry foundation
in the Narrows below Flagstaff and Sleeping Bear Mountains

The murkey waters below the baffles from the Wire Mill Foundry.

It was the first of June when Mr. Geissler was found. We know he was a of German descent and nothing more. His age, his hometown, or if he left a grief stricken widow and children is not known. His grave no doubt is one of hundreds of undocumented burial sites in the Upper Mauch Chunk cemetery.

In Schuylkill County, one pond became the site of a family’s grief. In 1867, James Finn drowned in a pond in the area of “Westwood”, Pottsville. Six years later, one Saturday afternoon in December, five young boys fell through the ice on the very same pond. At about 4 o'clock, a brakeman on a passing train was somehow alerted to this scene and was able to save two of the boys. Three however drown. Samuel Simmons and Francois Roppert, ages 6 and 12, were lost along with the son of James Finn, James Finn Jr.  He was eleven, and no doubt, his death compounded his widowed mother’s sorrow.
The symmetry of the Lehigh Canal just north of where Heath drown. 
(Note that this picture is flipped: The top is the water's reflection.)
In my last post on the subject, I mentioned the deaths of Marsha Felegy and the men who crashed their car into the river from the Lehigh Railroad Trestle back in August of 1985. I also mentioned the death of Jay Kershner who was lost in the river back in October of this year (See Post “Marking Unseen, Silent Burdens,” ).

The Lehigh River below the Francis Walter Dam and above the "Devil's Elbow."

Last year, Linda Weaver went missing on November 4th, last seen at the Boatyard Bar near Lock #8. According to her daughter, she was “deathly” afraid of water. Her friend Arlene Kugler said, “She was drinking…but God knows how she ended up in the Lehigh.” Her body was recovered below the Lehigh Gap in Slatington on January 5, 2010. She belonged to the Middlecreek Christian Church of Kresgeville.

The Lehighton skyline at sunset.  The Lehigh River and the Lehigh Valley Railroad trestle to the left.  The area of demise for Marsha Felegy, Jay Kershner, Linda Weaver, and too many others.
I remember my summer going to eighth grade when Heath McGlaughin died in the canal. He’d been swimming with Mikey Strohl on a home-made raft of logs, even though he couldn’t swim. I remember hearing the news, the neighborhood gang getting to the firehouse as the emergency vehicles were coming back. I asked one of the men standing around if Heath was ok, was he going to be alright, though I already knew the answer. He didn’t know how to say it I guess, only telling me, “Well, he sure wasn’t smiling when we found him.”

My depth of compassion was even thinner in those years. I didn’t attend the funeral nor did I feel a compulsion to do so. Looking back on it now, I have sadness for the pain his parents must have had. But the person I feel most for these days is Mikey.

I know in recent years, he’s had back problems as well as other issues. I don’t think he had much along the lines of emotionally healthy support let alone the “grief counseling” that is so quickly offered in schools today. I know my friends and I avoided all that with Mikey like nothing ever happened.  We never discussed it, as if Heath never had been part of our circle, the repression of youth.

These are the memories that flow from the dusty days of the Augusts of my life. Heath’s Junior High school picture shows the smile of a kid who couldn’t hold it in (despite his cleft palate).

Today, in moments along her edge, I am indeed soothed by her flow, I am thankful to her for bringing me here, for sustaining me here, though I know the secrets she carries within her dark waters.  And sometimes, in my mind, I see Heath and he still bears the smile of a boy in the midst of a summer day.

Heath McLaughlin
~ 1968-1981 ~

And so that is how we spent our summers, my friends and I, traveling along her, lost in our fishing in those days of countless casts, the many bluegills, and all those hours slipping through dust filled August sunlight.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Green Leaves Even Fall (Ripen Me for More Ruin) - By Ronald Rabenold

This hill must have been familiar to Betsy Miller, Mauch Chunk's herbalist and potion maker.

Betsy's grave at sunset, overlooking the hill she lived upon.

Misplaced faith ripens ruin...
Nothing ripens a people more for ruin, nor fills the measure faster, than the sins of priests and prophets.
~ Lamentations 4:13-20

And one who is just of his own free will shall not lack for happiness; and he will never come to utter ruin.
~ Aeschylus

Who rules the stones
In our paleonated souls?
Take your assumed place
Bow down in the dust
And clear your weight
Discover the subtlest rings
Of change and decision
Of poets, priests and prophets
Lesser forms know more knowing less
This story is not about a cricket
With her nose and lips in the dust
Knowing nothing of Samuel
Who never questioned
The other wife of his father
Did she know her face was in the dust?
Not seeing the Ebenezer Stone
Not feeling the Sisyphus weight?
Bend down with one leg
Press your lips to the dust
Samuel said he could see
Sisyphus wished he could laugh
And pay the weight of his own regret
You’d sooner yearn to hear
The mumblings of Hannah
While green leaves even fall
Ripen me
For more ruin
Run me more in pure keen ruin
Run me smooth as eye in lid
To know the dust between my toes
To weather the storm
When green leaves even fall.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Old Burdens...

Dylan Krum
~ 1995-2010 ~
We mark the good and the bad with anniversaries.  I remember my one childhood friend and how his fiance died when we were in college.  Even after he was married, he would dine with her family each year on her birthday.  His marriage didn't last.  A death not only lingers within those still living, it sometimes quietly travels forward, onto generations unknown.
Tristan Wentz
~ 1997-2010 ~

Unfortunately, most communities seem to experience tragic deaths in unforeseen patterns. Here in Lehighton, we recently lost two young men to cancer. Dylan Krum was in ninth grade. Tristan Wentz was in seventh.  Both were happy and intelligent souls who left too soon. We also lost Cody Wentz, 19 and Rueben Koch, 24 this month.  They were all students of mine. 

Occasionally we lose someone in our river.  All get weary sometimes.  Some too weary to escape harm, sometimes the harm just over takes a weary one.  Jay Kershner died in the river on  15 October 2010.  They recovered his body downstream October 30th, below the Bowmanstown bridge, about 4 miles away.

Jay Kershner
~ 1967-2010 ~

Jay had it rough.  At some point he received the moniker “Shakey” Jay from those of us who loosely monitored the slow burn of his demise. He tried football, he tried laughing with us, but he was always up against it, it always seemed no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't fit in. His record with the police included disorderly conducts and incidents of public drunkenness. Jay was 43.

I wish I had been nicer to Jay.

These deaths have sent me on a personal exploration:  Why do some deaths, both personal or distant, pull me in? Why do they bother me and linger on in my thoughts? Why write a blog post about them?  Is it some sort of vigilance born out of my own fear or am I just a poignancy junkie?

The Rabenold gravesite at Lehighton Cemetery - Leroy's gave is out of frame to the left of Aquilla.  Charles and Susan are rear left.
As a young boy, I enjoyed my grandmother’s stories of deaths that still rang with emotional depth for her. She was born in 1889. Her stories were from another age, but were told with emotional freshness that captivated me.

Leroy Splidle Rabenold was born in 1907. He was the son of my dad’s oldest and unwed aunt, Aquilla I. Rabenold. He may have been working at Zale’s Silk Mill in the dip of the kettle of old Mauch Chunk or according to my dad, the mill in the Packerton dip. A shuttle broke free of the loom and struck him on the head. He was fourteen, and as the story goes, had quit school and was only working there one week.
Zales Silk Mill on the East Side of Jim Thorpe today.
Another story of my Mamie, always accompanied with a heavy sing-songed-sigh, was the death of Jennie Rex. She was killed by a train at Glen Onoko, in Mauch Chunk. The area is so named for the supposed native woman who plunged to her death over a broken heart.

Mamie told Jennie's story with the emotion of someone who was there, though she would only have been twelve at the time. Jennie was sixteen and was said to be “quite handsome.” She and her friends were crossing the trestle that carried multiple lines. They crossed one set and avoided a southbound train that was steaming along. In all the hiss and rumbling rattle, they didn’t notice the northbound train in the next set.

The double tracks at the Glen Onoko train station.

It was said that Jennie’s friends had enough wherewithal to jump into the neutral space between the two lines unharmed. However, Jennie’s fright froze her.  Her body was torn beyond a recognizable form.

The bystanders, perhaps her friends, loaded her remains onto a train. According to the papers, “her death caused a gloom to pervade the entire valley.” Her parents were sent to pick up her remains at the Jersey Central Rail Station in Lehighton.

Jennie had lived with her parents Nathan and Alvena Rex.  Alvena was a sister to my great grandmother Susan Mosser Rabenold. The Rex’s lived on the farm next to the Maple Tree Inn (now the Maple Tree Tennis Club) of the Mahoning Valley.

The Maple Tree Inn today.  The former home of Nathan and Alvena Rex, just east of the Gombert farm.

Myrtle Rabenold was my grandfather's sister and 'Mertie' was sent to live with the Rex's after Jennie's death.  But this remedy, may have only compounded their pain.  She died seven years later. She was eleven. Her grave lies along with Jennie's and their parents in Mahoning Valley’s St. John’s Cemetery.

Over 100 gather to celebrate Andrew Gombert's 25th Anniversary.  That's Andrew on the step with raised arm.

The Gombert farm house as it looks today, just west of Lehighton.

Next door to the Rex's, Jonathan and Annie Gombert received my grandfather Zach Rabenold when he was around sixteen.  He and some of his siblings were "farmed-out" due to family need.  He was sent to make his way in the world and also to help keep an eye out for his sister Mertie.

Jonathan Gombert was a one-armed Civil War Veteran wounded at Antietam, Maryland.  When Zach came to live with him, Gombert had recently been elected as county sheriff.  It was said that Zach was an orderly at the Carbon County Prison (today known as "The Old Jail").  At the farm, Zach was a general farm-hand and learned how to run a tack shop.

Years later, Zach's death was said to have saved my father's life.  Zach died in 1950 when my Dad was a 20-year-old Marine fighting in Korea.  While on leave from duty to be with his mother, the First Provisional Marine Brigade was wiped-out at the Chosin Reservoir.  My Dad later returned to find the remnants of his unit, the living transformed into shells of men with "thousand yard stares."

Gombert's son, Andrew, took over the farm shortly after Zach began living there.  He and his wife Annie celebrated their Silver Wedding Anniversary there in 1909.  It was a grand occasion with over 100 family members gathered on a snowy lawn and along the gingerbread porch to pose for a picture.  Perhaps Zach was there among them. 

It was shortly after this day, when Andrew met his end. He was out tedding the hay, no small task when feeding 70 head of milking cows.  Whether it was too much of his wine (as he was known to be fond of drinking) or a snake that startled the team (as some have said) that caused Andrew to fall off the rear plank is unknown.  That evening, the horses returned to their barn with the rig and Andrew still in tow.  His mangled body was found among the metal tines. He was 43.

The Gombert farm and fields as they look today.

Deaths have a tendency to demarcate the lives of survivors and hang like an unseen fog into future generations. 

In 1985, four Lehighton men, well into their twenty's, after a determined effort of beer consumption, decided it time to drive their car over the old Lehigh Valley Railroad trestle in Weissport.  They didn't go alone.  Upon the hood rode the recently graduated young girl most people knew who had an eye for thrills and pushing limits.  All four men killed were found inside the car.  Marsha Felegy wasn't found right away, creating speculation and conspiracies of a cover-up and a staged death.  She was found days later miles downstream.  She was seventeen.
The Lehighton skyline with the LVRR trestle on the left, over the Lehigh River.

One of those men, Kevin Moyer*, had already given his name to a child before his demise.  Kevin Moyer II never seemed comfortable within the conventions others take for gospel.  Today he sits in prison for starting a fire in a couch "for the fun of it."  Two toddlers died in that fire.  At first he passed himself off as the hero, saying he retrieved one from the flames.  Soon the facts pointed his way and two years later he was sentenced to life in jail. He was a high-school student of mine and as I recall, he had thought it funny to melt things with a lighter one day in class.    (*This name has been changed.)

And just the other day, on cafeteria duty, I sat myself down near a few of the more boisterous youngsters in the eighth grade when I saw Kevin Moyer III.  I could only shake my head and wonder.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lehighton Girls Field Hockey In State Finals Again

Bittersweet: The team poses with their medals and State Champion Runner-up Trophy moments after the game.

Coach McCain, Lauren Michalik's family and the Rabenolds cheer just as the team was leaving town under police and fire dept escort Saturday morning.

In an unprecedented run, the Lehighton Girls Field Hockey Team fell short of consecutive state championships when they lost to Wyoming Seminary on Saturday November 20th, 2010.

It was a new team with the same dream.  The 2009 team went 23-0 and won it all last year.  This year, the Lady Indians fell one game short, placing 2nd in the state in AA class.  Prior to 2009, no Lehighton team had even reached the final game before.

It is time for this great group of girls to take stock of what they accomplished: They won the Mountain Valley Conference and they are also District XI Champions and State Champion Runner-up.  But more importantly, they worked together toward a common goal and demonstrated great class in their hard work and determination. 

They will be remembered for this accomplishment.  They will remember these days among the best of their lives.  And we the fans are grateful to them for taking us on this thrilling ride into the post season once again.  You gave us something to cheer about!  Thank you!

Kim Rabenold and Kathy David, Lauren's aunt, share a laugh at catching "H-Indian Fever."

Coaches Hindy, Schenberger, Frey, and Schleicher we thank you.  Congratulations Team!

Lehighton, Mahoning, and Franklin Police and Fire Departments offer the team a proper send-off on their way to the title game.

Coach Hindy in a post game interview.

Current and former LAHS students gather for some body painting.  That's Sara Snyder, the goalie from the 2009 team, painting Mark Schaeffer.  Jon Rabenold and Kyle Hunter are also all maroon.

Lehighton fans gather early and display their team pride in signs.  Neither Seminary, nor either team in the AAA game decorated like the Lehighton Fans. ,

Proud mom Cindy Berger takes a break from decorating and wonders how effective her voodoo doll will be.
Jon Rabenold with his game chest and face on.

Jordyn Homyak provides her take on the game to Times News reporter Emmett McCall.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Somewhere in the Woods of Carbon County

A meadow within the state game lands near Pin #11.

It was a nice walk today, scouting for White-tail.  I found fresh beds and new runways.  The forest itself was all anew from the two weeks since my last visit.  Then it still had the color of life, it offered a fuller canopy for the dwellers of the forest.  Today, it was as if someone had suddenly ripped the blanket off and it has turned colder.  This was Nature insisting that these things must change.  The browse now burnt orange and brown.  Growth and renewal must be halted.  For some it is time of rest. 

Two grouse, a female and a dark male, drinking in the road.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Lehighton Middle School Students Conquer Mt. Pisgah

Students get glimpse into the Switchback Railroad's glory days by ascending the old Wagon Road.  At the top, they walked along the old Trestle foundations and out toward the old pavilion and on to the old strip mine pits, toward the Indian Spring and the Hacklebernie Mine, which is the first deep tunnel mine ever driven in the United States.

Maura Phelan is all smiles as she catches her first glimpse of the Lehigh Gorge from 900 feet above, just below the Mt Pisgah Engine House along the former Switchback Railroad bed (All photos courtesy of Fenna Millen-Phelan).

Students viewed an old cast iron pipe that brought water to these cisterns for the Mt Pisgah Engine house just above the bank on this picture (Picture: Fenna Millen-Phelan).

Students Elena Beckett, Maura Phelan, and Traci Edmunds pose at the base of the cistern (Picture: Fenna Millen-Phelan).

Students see historical artifacts and beautiful fall views of the Lehigh Gorge, the Lehigh Gap, Little Gap, the Upper Mauch Chunk Cemetery, and climb the old culm piles from the strip mining from atop Mount Pisgah.

West of the Trestle, students found this culm pile, debris coal from the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company's mining operations on the top of the mountain.

To descend, the students went down the plane the empty coal cars were pulled up.  It's about 630 feet of relief to the bottom to Sam Miller Baseball field.  Originally, the plane was about 660 feet in elevation but they filled about 30 feet of dirt atop of what was once the Barney Pit.  The Barney pit housed the cars that were pulled by steal bands and pushed the cars to the top of Mt Pisgah.

Students pose high above the gorge with quite a view.  (Photo courtesy of Mrs. Beckett)

Ethan and his mother enjoy fooling with an abandoned car atop Mt Pisgah.  (Photo courtesy of Mrs. Beckett)