Because the area people now call “The Poconos” has been a vacation destination since vacations became a “thing,” there has always been a sort of urbanity about the local population, and it was not uncommon, in the heady days of my youth, to drink ill-gotten beers or Boon’s Farm back in the woods with friends and talk about the sugar content of maple sap, the literary goodness or lack thereof in the Scarlet Letter, and whether catfish caught before the shadbush bloomed really were better eating, and why.
It was a world which John Steinbeck created in parallel in his work Cannery Row, rough and tumble locals who sometimes were also well-read and thoughtful, and, perhaps from generations who tried to decode the vagaries of fate and nature, always keen observers of the world around them.
Not that they would ever let on to that, though.
That was one of the first rules of Being A Local. Locals usually listen more than they speak, so much so that they often never speak at all. Of course, being “from around here,” I can go into a store and listen to people talking about how much better this or that thing is in New York, and find another local’s eye right there in the line with me at the Shoprite, and we can secretly trade smirks about the conversation we are listening to. Only when they start talking about locals am I tempted to chime in and set them straight, like the time I heard one lady say, “Oh, NOBODY is from around here! They’re all gone!”
I said, “Ma’am, believe me, we’re still here. We just can’t get a word in edgewise with all you so-smart folks going at it.”
Even when I played ball, I couldn’t lay off a fat one over the plate, which has gotten me in some scrapes, I can tell you.
At any rate, I grew up hunting, fishing, camping and canoeing, learned woodcraft and building, and the years in which I came of age were fertile ground into which to cast those seeds.
The 60’s. What a decade! It’s hard to pin down one pivotal event that guided our growing up, but the Shawnee was a strange nexus of forces which included the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Natioanl Park Service, hippies from New York, and the back-to-the-land movement, immortalized in publications like The Foxfire series, Mother Jones News and The Whole Earth Catalog. In 1963 Lyndon Johnson, in a calm moment when he wasn’t sending thousands of young lads to their death and destruction, signed a bill creating a park around a lake which was to be formed by damming the Delaware River at Tocks Island.
My family was ground zero and we were invited to leave, getting pennies on the dollar for the place my Dad, bless his heart, had worked his whole life to create. Then, while we were still reeling from that, the brainiacs in DC thought it would be a good idea to rent the houses which they had just stolen from hundreds of families, many of whom had been there since the Revolutionary War.
Overnight “The Valley” was populated with hippies of all stripes and denominations, and a bunch of townies even took up residence in some cabins down by the river. None of them paid any rent. Their reasoning was simple: the gummint had stolen the land to begin with, actually not once, but twice! They stole it from the Indians, then sold it to some white people, and then they stole it back again!
So the population was dubbed “Squatters,” and boy were they a lively bunch! Since the Army Corps owned the land where the houses were located, they had jurisdiction over it, but no policing capabilities. The Park Service did, but they didn’t “own” the land, so they couldn’t do anything about what was going on. Of course, the State Police were dying to get in there and clean things up, with pot growing everywhere and people walking around, smoking pot, half naked on cool days and completely nude on warm ones, except for the occasional side-arms or socks with sandals. But the Feds wouldn’t hear of it. They had the road, and that was all. As long as you weren’t standing on it, you could do pretty much whatever you liked, and the squatters did.
As a 16 year old facing an uncertain future, that was enough to get my attention. In short order, the Squatters were tapping maple trees, building domes out of PVC pipe and plastic in the fields, planting gardens, playing rock and roll, raising livestock and hell. It was like the wild west. Periodically my brother’s 1960 Chevy Bel-air would be hot-wired and stolen, and the local cops once called me to come and get Crazy Barry’s dog out of the car, parked in front of Tony’s Pizza there on Crystal Street, after they had arrested Barry for being drunk, disoriented, disorderly, disrespectful and disgusting.
At every opportunity, squatters (and perhaps one or two locals) destroyed drilling rigs, dumped core samples, flatted tires and put sugar in gas tanks, anything to slow up the geologic work needed to plan for a damn, which increasingly looked like a terrible idea, environmentally and every other which-way.
As Rosanne Rosannadanna would have said, “It was always something!”