Monday, January 16, 2012

Central Location

Sometimes even the most intrepid need a break from the Lehigh Valley for a weekend.  When that happens, the valley's central location makes any number of different adventures possible all within one hundred miles.  Just North there is skiing; further North, the Poconos.  Directly East is New York City; to the South-East the Jersey Shore.  To the South, Philadelphia.  To the South-West Amish County.  To the West gorgeous Farmlands and the Allegheny Plateau.  Something along all the rays of the compass rose.

Historically, it was this central location which made Allentown important as a commercial and industrial hub in the 19th century.  Coal produced in the anthracite regions had to pass down the Lehigh & Delaware Canal (through Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton) and later the Lehigh Valley RR before reaching ports in Philadelphia.  Even today, the Lehigh Valley sits at the population center of the Atlantic Metropolis which makes it an ideal location for shipping and distribution (as evidenced by the trucking centers at the Western edge of Lehigh County).  Since its first moments, the Lehigh Valley's identity has been tied together with its proximity to both a rural hinterland and the great metropolitan markets of the Mid-Atlantic seaboard.

While these commercial concerns may not have much to do with an exciting quality of life, the physical proximity that creates the Valley's distribution success means varied activities and landscapes are quickly in reach.  This weekend, I ventured Northward to the county seat of Pike County--Milford, Pa.

There is not too much to say about visiting a small town like Milford.  The place speaks for itself.  The old brick courthouse bespeaks a time when civic pride rose high enough to finance grand public buildings.

And where people may still genuinely have pride in their sense of political community.  The cynic in me does sometimes ask how much this "pride aesthetic" is done for the tourists--though probably not that much as it was the middle of winter and about 10 degrees F (-12C) when I visited--not peak season.  And, even if the town's aesthetic and way of life is maintained by outside money, what is the harm in that.  What greater truth suffers violence by letting others see a particularly pretty way to live one's communal life.

Inside the Milford Dinner was an actual picture of life in the town.  Because It was so cold and so off season, there did not appear to be many tourists in the place.  People sat and had eggs and coffee in the warmth.  There is a particular yellow hue to the place that made it very inviting compared to the cold, biting, blue sun outside.

Before leaving Pike County, I made one last stop, to Raymondskill Falls, just outside of Milford.  The Waterfall is the highest in the Commonwealth and even though I had once worked as a counselor in a camp about two miles away and had jogged by it nearly every day, I had never taken the time to stop and admire it.  I was afraid that the falls would lack contrast without the verdant warmth of spring or summer.  Luckily, the freezing-cold played wonderful visual tricks with the water.

Instead of the still and clear rush of warm water, the creek that fed the falls was interspersed with flows of ice.  The ice swam like dye in the water, circling and eddying in the complex hydrodynamics of the natural pool.  The gentle spirals it formed contrasted by the crystal clear water and washed marbles of the upper pool bed was hypnotizing even in the bitter cold.  Then, out of the gentle circles, a piece of ice would gently slip into the main current channel and be swept away and down a plunging white torrent framed by draped ice.  The complexity of the ice choreography was profoundly more difficult and more elegant than what the human imagination could imagine.

As the water and ice passed the mouth of the falls, it plunged downward across sheer rocks into a second pool.  And there with the force of its fall crystallized into a mist of ice in the cold.  This micronic ice then billowed up out of the churning pool into the sky.  Back as high as the first pool and higher still until you were enveloped in ice and it coated your body and clothes.  The sides of the falls, exposed as they were and in shadow built up up thick deposits of brilliantly pure ice.

Trying to describe in words or in a picture the tremendous beauty of great natural monuments is an insane folly.  They must be experienced.  Thankfully, the Lehigh Valley is so near that its possible to venture out and experience all of this on little more than a quarter tank of gas.  Another reason for to appreciate living here in Allentown.


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