(Day Nine) Milford, Pennsylvania

imagesAnd we dined delightfully, but most extravagantly, at Fauchère’s at a cost of $4.00, but it was well worth the expense.

This small hotel remains. The Hotel Fauchère is one of the few stopping places about which I can positively state: Herbert Welsh slept here. I also hope to sleep, and eat, here: I am willing to pay more than $4.00.

Here and all throughout this romantic enchanted region I felt like one in a sweet and pleasant dream as the memories of more than thirty years came floating back. That was prior to the time of autos. Mr. Fauchère, founder of the celebrated house that bears his name, a French Swiss, was then alive and in the meridian of his glory as chef of great skill. His table was justly famed all over the country.

If Milford, a hundred years ago, awakened in Welsh a sweet and pleasant nostalgia  for the Gay Nineties and his thirties, what dreams will I dream here? Nostalgia is a longing for something, a home perhaps, in our individual lives or collective history, that may have never existed. On my walk I will be on my way home, but what is this place called “home,” and where, and when?

The Delaware Water Gap,  George Inness
The Delaware Water Gap, George Inness

At the Hotel Fauchère today, guests come to stay in a place that, a hundred years ago or more, was a popular spot to reminisce about the good old days. Oil paintings from the Hudson River School, hanging on the hotel walls, remind us of the romantic longing of an earlier time for an enchanted past, earlier still. Nostalgia does for time what a hall of mirrors does for sight: endless reflection and re-reflection.

In paying my bill to the very courteous and attractive lady in charge of the desk at Fauchère’s hotel she aroused my interest extremely by telling me that she was the granddaughter of its founder. I could see the old man, as she spoke, as I remember him thirty-five years back, standing attired as a true French chef, with his white cap and apron, toward summer evening time, after the labors of the day were over, in his vegetable garden, lovingly regarding those onions, squashes, egg-plants, and the like which his skill on the morrow would transform into delectable dishes for the pleasure of his guests.

 

The New Gentleman of the Road

NewGentlemanHebert Welsh wrote many books, advocating fairness for Native Americans, civic reform in Philadelphia, and condemning the shameful use of torture by the American military in the Spanish-American War. The one that I’m following is The New Gentleman of the Road.  Published in 1921, it was first written as a turn-of-the-century proto-blog, in a series of “letters” to the Philadelphia papers.

SixthLetterDetail

Here is the sixth letter from his 1921 journey. Note that it’s the record of day in May, not  published until October. Timeliness isn’t what it used to be.

Welsh’s prose style is of its time, too: Our hero has stopped at the Joan of Arc Hotel in the Delaware Water Gap.

A French lady welcomed us with a friendly charm that was in itself a benediction. This became more pronounced when I ventured to address her in her own tongue with an inquiry as to whether something to eat could be had promptly and whether a bottle of beer of the prohibition variety, strictly legal, and devoid of alcohol, might also be expected.

On earlier walks, Welsh could enjoy a full-strength glass. But in May 1920, despite Mademoiselle’s  assurances:

I made several further inquiries about the beer, to each of which our hostess replied with a diminished smile and a tone of lessening confidence.  Its sparkle and foam never appeared. I feel quite sure now that they never had any existence.

The synecdoche of  that “sparkle and foam” is rather lovely, if a little fusty. A reader of The New Gentleman of the Road will come across countless such classical figures of speech, but not much introspection. He doesn’t, for instance, ever ask or answer the obvious question: Why walk? But I will venture to address that mystery on my way.

 

 

(Days Six through Eight) The Delaware Water Gap

USGSDelawareWaterGap1924Detail
Detail of the USGS 24,000 Series Topographic Map, Bushkill (1924)

The Delaware is indeed wild–no dams, a long tidal reach, and reckless eddies. The stretch of the river from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania northeast to Port Jervis, New York, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, has been designated part of the  “National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.”

The Delaware is the longest un-dammed river in the eastern United States, and it’s pretty wild even as far downstream as Philadelphia–spring freshet washes out roads and homes in the New Hope area every year. After devastating hurricanes in 1955, the US Army Corps of Engineers proposed to build a dam at Tock’s Island. (Mislabeled as “Cock’s Island” in the center of this topographic map from Herbert Welsh’s day.)

Talk of the Tocks Island Dam went on for twenty years, in 1975 the plans were finally filed away and abandoned. “Though it had promised drought abeyance, flood mitigation, power generation, and lake-based recreation, in the end, the project was deemed too costly.”

It’s thought of as an early victory for the environmentalists, but note that the official story blames its high cost.  We do not, for the most part, protect our wild rivers because they are scenic.  They remain wild as long as they can’t be monetized.

Walking here in 1915, Herbert Welsh “traveled a broad, good automobile road, but not many machines passed going north or south.” The scenic charm of the Delaware Water Gap escaped him somehow. I will be traveling the full thirty miles of the Joseph MacDade Recreational Trail, where I will be paying attention to wildness that is the preservation–if only preservation by neglect–of the world.

 

(Day One) Bryn Athyn

(Days Two through Five) The Delaware Canal 

Walking the Woods and Water

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) wrote three volumes that chronicled his 1933 walk across the spine of Europe to Istanbul: Time of Gifts (1977), Between the Woods and the Water (1986), and the posthumous The Broken Road (2013). I have read the first two, and when I have read the third– in my literary preparation for my walk–I will write about the lot.

Inspired by9781857889536 “Paddy” Fermor, much as I have been by Herbert Welsh, young British journalist Nick Hunt walked the same route from Holland, up the Rhein River, across the Alps, and down the Donau to the Black Sea and Istanbul in 2011. Hunt walked and wrote Walking the Woods and the Water (2014) to see what had been lost since 1933, and what remained.

An astonishing change in Europe in those 78 years is that post-WWII Communism came, and then went.  Hunt sees that the rise and fall of the “Iron Curtain” was, in fact, a brief intermission, hardly an act or even a scene, in the drama of European history. The eastern legs of his journey are the most fascinating, witnessing the survival of folkways that were ancient on Paddy’s day, the ruins of “socialist utopias,” and return of Ottoman Islam to Europe.

Like many who walk long distances (I have experienced this as well as studied it), Hunt sometimes wanders into  a realm of hallucination, where he wonders if he’s entered real danger or just, for once, a real life.

Perhaps all adventures are like this: flirting with the wilderness but knowing that we can’t truly enter it, wanting to lose ourselves in imaginary realms like we once did in childhood stories, in the part-remembered,part-confabulated landscapes of Paddy’s books, but being afraid to go too far in , so far we might not comeback. 

Walking the Woods and the Water  is a wonderful read, a model of both a walking book and a walking-in-another’s-footsteps book

In answer to the question, “Why walk?,” Hunt cites Fermor, whose simple three-part goal should inspire all who walk and write:

“A new life! Freedom! Something to write about!”

 

(Days Two through Five) The Delaware Canal

The Delaware Division of the Pennsylvania Canal runs 60 miles from Bristol to Easton, Pennsylvania.

MulesDelawareCanal

I’ll be walking the towpath from New Hope to Frenchtown, New Jersey, to Upper Black Eddy, then to Easton.

When Herbert Welsh passed this way a hundred years ago, this was still a working canal.  Built in 1832, it floated limestone, lumber, and mostly anthracite coal to the port of Philadelphia until 1931. Welsh praised the “winding, secluded, dustless canal from New Hope to Easton…” and the “smooth and even tow-path,” even if he had to share it with the mules. “A lovely walk of two days it was, and one that to those who cannot get across the sea to Holland, I heartily commend”

I heartily concur with Welsh’s sense that the canal seems somehow “European.” Perhaps it is the civilized amenity of a cheerful, if somewhat shabby, country hotel every ten miles or so, where a hot and thirsty walker can enjoy a cool glass of beer.

(While he was a steadfast pedestrian who kept a steady pace, Herbert Welsh never missed the chance to pause for a cold beer, an ice-cream cone, or a pretty girl. I admire his old-fashioned style)

Day One:Bryn Athyn

The Route, First Part: The Undammed Delaware

As I walk, I will make my way eastward–against the all-American admonition to “Go West–” and upstream–against the flow of the Delaware, Hudson, Housatonic, Connecticut, and Merrimack Rivers. And also against the flow of my life, which has always been to leave the tragedy, as well as the pastoral romance, of my childhood in New Hampshire and New York State behind.

The long walk home is something like a fractured mirror of the course of my life: my mother’s family origins in the Massachusetts highlands, my earliest memories in New York’s Hudson Valley; my schoolboy years in the hills and forests of New Hampshire, college and work in Amherst, Massachusetts; my present life along the Delaware.

I will walk out my front door in prosperous Center City Philadelphia and through the wildest place I will encounter all the way to New Hampshire: the city streets of Germantown, the old suburb where Welsh lived. Now a wasteland, only a few blocks from Welsh’s home or mine, North Philadelphia is largely abandoned today. These urban badlands are as desolate in 2015 as the clearcut New Hampshire mountains or the poisoned Pennsylvania coalfields were in 1915.

Leaving the city, I will follow Welsh’s trail step by step, by canal towpath and rural boards, up the Delaware River to New York State.

The Route, Second Part

The Route, Third Part

The Route, Second Part: The Haunted Hudson

When I start out, I will be following Herbert Welsh’s footsteps pretty carefully, traveling the public roads. But I will walk a few miles across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut on the famous Appalachian Trail.  This woods trail was only a gleam in Benton MacKaye’s eye in 1915: he didn’t propose “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning” until 1921. MacKaye’s essay reveals the frankly socialist ambitions of the Trail.  I would like to recover some of the spirit of that original Appalachian Trail, “something neither urban nor rural,”  as its founder imagined it, not “ a return to the plights of our Paleolithic ancestors,” but “the strength of progress without its puniness.”

I want to explore this wilder route, which was being marked through the mountains in the very years that Welsh’s was walking a parallel way. Its founders imagined a “reconstituted wilderness,” but I will not be taking a wilderness trek. The geography of the Jersey Highlands, the Catskills, the Croton Reservoir–and throughout my walk–echoes the twinned themes of protection and predation. It is an uncanny landscape.

As I cross the Hudson River into New York State, I will be wandering the haunts of Sleepy Hollow, that strange, foreboding  land where Washington Irving perfected the American ghost story. It is also where many quaint and curious events befell my family, when my parents started their family here.

The Route, First Part

The Route, Third Part

The Route, Third Part: Up the Connecticut

Leaving the AT’s long green path, I will return to the public roads and walk up the Housatonic and Connecticut Rivers. This is the land of my ancestors. Elizabeth Wheeler, my grandmother, was born in 1900 into a fine old New England family, and married into another ancient American lineage, the Putnams. The Wheelers and Putnams have been in Rutland, Mass., since the seventeenth century. Their names mark the landscape. I will walk through Putnam County, New York. A monument to the Wheeler family stands before the Wheeler Homestead, on Wheeler Road, in Rutland.

I will walk in the “accidental wilderness” behind the Quabbin Dam, built in 1930, not long after Welsh’s walks. The city of Boston removed several small towns to  build a massive dam and drinking water reservoir here. Under the Quabbin Reservoir lie abandoned towns. When I reach “home” in southern New Hampshire, I will walk through East Weare, a “ghost town” that fascinated me as a child, because its residents had been removed for the raising of a flood control dam.

I will walk to Lake Sunapee. Just this fall, the name of Herbert Welsh was used in an advertising campaign from the commercial ski area on Mount Sunapee. The landowners believe they are developing the land in the spirit of Welsh. After they published a photograph in an advertisement, his heirs complained that his legacy was being misrepresented.

I can see the logic of the heirs, but also of the capitalists. The story of Herbert Welsh, like the story of the American environment, is complex. Men like Welsh were both protectors and predators, who sometimes saved a wilderness by controlling access to it. Local lumberjacks in the timber industry, wealthy flatlanders who can afford to buy ski lift tickets, second home owners: all have property rights. Even an indigent and intelligent young person, like me, coming of age in that wilderness, might come to imagine he enjoys a legitimate claim on the land.

I will reach home. I don’t know what to expect here.  When I was a child, I never ran away from home, but I often walked in that direction. I “wandered off,” as my mother came to phrase it–as young as five years old, the police found me in the next town and escorted me home. As violent as life was,  the chaos at home didn’t provoke an angry reaction, just a deep Wanderlust.

But often, especially in the late afternoon in autumn, when I had wandered away after school, I found myself miles from home, and wondering: “Will I get home before dark?” Fifty years later, I recall that foreboding moment as the sun set early behind the western hills, and I was alone and afraid. Sometimes today, when I feel that I have reached the late afternoon and the Indian Summer of my life, I wonder again: “Can I make it home?”

The Route, First Part

The Route, Second Part