walk to school
The lay of the land is something you measure yourself against when you're growing up. It starts indoors, with the arrangement of furniture, walls and doors in the rooms you're allowed to crawl and toddle around in. There are tables you never see the tops of, and shelves you can never reach. When you're finally allowed outside to roam unattended everything is adventure, and the landscape shapes you at some deep level.

Center Hill was on the main road through Conestoga, and when I was very young it consisted of a series of steps, each deep enough to park a team and wagon. I was told that the entire hill was too much for a heavily loaded wagon to climb in one shot, and that the steps were provided to rest the team. This was a very odd feature in the late 1950's, when the road was asphalt, and all but a few cars could climb the entire hill without resting. It did make riding on it more fun than most hills.


Still, Center Hill was not as steep as the lane down into our hollow. From the red star indicating the location of the Conestoga house to the top, which was at the same elevation as the summit of Center Hill, was about 180' whereas Center Hill was longer and about 120' from top to bottom. I didn't know it at the time, but in Conestoga that hollow had an air of mystery about it, and was said to be a dangerous place. Really, the most danger we ever faced there was trying to ride our sleds chariot style* down from the top of the lane in winter.

Important to understanding the shape of a place is the composition of the underlying ground. Here is a detail of my old town from a survey of Pennsylvania geology. Below it is a key to the kind of rock formations there.

local geology

key to local geology

This part of the county lies just to the north of some very old rock, some of which was ancient ocean bed, crushed together during the Alleghanian orogeny, when what is now Africa crashed into what is now North America and formed the supercontinant Pangaea. The rock that is now on the surface was once deep under a big mountain chain, subjected to high temperatures and great pressure. What we see there are forms of metamorphic rock, something my geologist cousin once told us was schist. Dad had a laugh over that.

The heavy black lines on the map indicate known faults in the area around our house. My sister always feared earthquakes, which happen near fault lines. She said they caused lambslides, but that was something that didn't seem very frightening to me. We found a lot of quartz in the streams and excavations in the area, and cubes of iron pyrite, which we called monkey gold.

Conestoga Elementary is near the bottom of Center Hill, so when I say I had to walk uphill both ways to school, I ain't lying. It was a fun walk, except for when passing the old place in Center where Keith Hertzog, the town bully, lived. I never saw, nor was ever bullied by him, but his legend was fearsome. I sort of picture him hanging out inside his home with the curtains drawn, basking in his reputation and reminiscing about the good old days.

the wreck

I had my first driving accident while still in kindergarten, walking to school one morning with my new "Buddy L" truck for Show and Tell. Mom was with me, and when I suggested that it would be fun to let it roll all the way down Center Hill to school she said "Sure, why not?" So we let it fly, and watched as it gained speed, only to leave the road and flip end over end for about a hundred feet. It held together, though the windshield was cracked and the mirror busted off. Cool!

When I was older and walked home in the company of my friend Bobby, we enjoyed setting sour oranges we couldn't bear to eat at lunch on the hill for passing cars to smash. But the most amazing thing was finding a complete HO scale model race car on the side of the road. No kids lived anywhere nearby, and its appearance there remains a mystery, but, as they say, finders-keepers. Thing of it was, it had been tricked out with big rear tires and custom wheels, and was spray painted an irridescent green, like some kind of beetle. It sure gave me the slot-car bug.

*half chariot meant riding on your knees holding on to the tow rope through the steering bar. Full chariot meant riding standing up while holding the rope. There was one great showfall when the entire lane, from top to our house, was deeply rutted and refrozen, creating banked turns like a bobsled run. We did not attempt any chariot riding around those turns.