Overnight Excursion at Little Pine State Park
It was pretty much a last-minute thing. My wife called me from work about a week before, and asked if I’d like to take an overnight trip to Little Pine State Park. She proposed we go on July 5th.
My son, Paul Matthew, was born on July 1st. So we have a tendency to celebrate this for several days running, beginning on his actual birthday and then continuing through Independence Day and sometimes taking a little trip. So this was perfect. And in all honesty, I have intermittent bouts of clinical depression, and COVID-19 hadn’t been helping that any. So an overnight camping trip sounded like the perfect thing to me.
Little Pine State Park is in Lycoming County, nestled in the forests of the Pine Creek Valley and the PA Grand Canyon Landscape of the Pennsylvania Wilds. Normally my family camps at Kettle Creek, up at the border of Elk Country and Dark Skies, but we’d been talking about branching out lately. We arrived at the check-in time and sought out Site 49, only to find someone was already in it.
As my wife checked the confirmation on her phone, I flagged down one of the park staff and asked about that. I said,”We’re booked for Site 49, but someone’s in the site.”
“Let me call it in,” he said, and picked up his microphone.
“Site 46,” my wife helpfully called from the car. “We’re in Site 46.”
“Sorry about that,” I said to the ranger. “I got the wrong number.”
He laughed. “I recognize you, and I’m not surprised,” he said.
“Yeah,” I agreed,”My writing skills are much better than my math.”
So we arrived at Site 46, which was empty and waiting for us. I got the tent set up. My wife and I have this tent that has lasted as long as our marriage, and can be set up easily in minutes even with help from the 6-year-old. And speaking of the 6-year-old, we had to find ways to keep him busy.
Little Pine, to my delight, contains two old cemeteries: Carsontown Cemetery and Old English Cemetery, both remnants of communities that once stood there. Old English Cemetery is somewhere in the camping area, so Paul and I went to explore it. We got prepared. We took our map, pocket knives, canteen of water, and flashlights, and set out.
And then we went around the corner and found the cemetery.
I stood in the old cemetery and looked back to find my wife still waving at us from the campsite. Indiana Jones never finds an old cemetery within sight of his wife.
Carsontown Cemetery is on the north end of the park, and we drove up to see it, and also to spend some time in the air-conditioned car. On the way, we spotted a doe crossing the road, and she stopped and stared at us for several seconds, apparently trying to figure out what the Prius was.
We stopped at the lake to let Paul swim. My son loves the water, and he spent a solid hour splashing around and playing in the sand. To him, this was as good as any coastal beach.
“So which do you like better?” I asked. “Little Pine or Kettle Creek?”
“Um…..It’s a tie,” he said.
We roasted hot dogs over the fire for dinner. The last couple of summers have been disproportionately wet, and I’ve had trouble getting a fire started. It’s been discouraging. So this year, I was thrilled beyond all proportion when I was able to start the fire on the first try with my family watching. That gave my self-esteem a much-needed boost. The hot dogs were good, too.
When bedtime came, Paul claimed he couldn’t sleep. Paul is not the world’s biggest fan of bedtimes anyway; it’s pointless to try to get him to sleep when he’s all excited about camping. So we walked back to the cemetery and checked it for ghosts, which is obviously the thing to do when your kid can’t sleep. I’m a little disappointed to report that we didn’t find any.
Finally, the kid fell asleep in his sleeping bag. And I sat down at the picnic table and looked at the stars for a while before bed.
I watched the moon rise.
Hours later, I woke up and watched it go down over the mountains.
Scrambled eggs for breakfast. Again, my ego took a boost when I had no problem getting a fire started. Before we packed to go, Paul wanted to find the other playground, which he hadn’t spotted yet. So we took a walk around the park, and found it.
“Well, that’s not fun,” said Paul. “Lame. There’s not even a slide.”
“Let’s go up and take a look anyway,” I suggested.
The playground was on the hill, and consisted of basically just swings. So we hiked up, and both got on the swings.
It was decidedly not lame. Set midway up the steep hill, when you reach the end of the swing arc, you feel like you are much higher than you actually are. It was exhilarating. I could see why there wasn’t a slide; any kid on a slide would immediately shoot four hundred feet downhill. So that’s how my son and I spent the last few minutes of our trip — swinging and laughing, excited to be with one another.
It was wonderful.
There are perfect moments in the world, once in a while.
The trick is to enjoy them when they happen.
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