A Farm Boy's Perfect Afternoon

If you finish hoeing the asparagus patch, you can have the rest of the day off.

Wow! Today is going to be special! To understand how special that freedom was, my older brother, David, who had managed the home farm from the time of our father's death in 1937, authorized it.

A quick run to the barn for the hoe and wheelbarrow followed by three hours of vigorous effort obtained the coveted afternoon off. The actual time frame was the early 1940s. Weather cooperated nicely. We had had three or four days of rain which slowed the hay making process to a virtual stand still.


Lighting Water on Fire


The salt spring, circa 2005. By George Schreck.

Gulping a quick lunch, making sure I had a few matches, and a penny or two in my pocket started me on the eagerly anticipated adventure of the day! Ten or fifteen minutes later, I was actually kneeling at the edge of the Salt Spring fascinated by the bubbles which kept breaking from the surface of the spring.

Carefully striking a match on the dry surface of the pebble which I had found on the path from the Silver Creek Road, I ignited one or two of the gas bubbles erupting from the spring. I reveled in repeating this process until I ran out of matches. Great care was taken in disposing of the burnt match sticks to avoid cluttering the spring site. I can only imagine the quiet awe of earlier Native American Indians observing the rolling bubbles without the advantage of matches.


Hiking the Gorge


The "last falls," circa 2010. By George Schreck.

My next venture was a quiet walk up the spring side of the creek to the falls. To this day, I marvel at the grand beauty of the falls gorge! Great care had to be taken to avoid slipping on wet rocks, tripping on protruding tree roots, and jumping across narrow crevices. The path beside the series of falls required special caution.

A unique treat came unexpectedly that afternoon. Swimming in a literal rock pool just before the last falls was an 18 to 20 inch rainbow trout! As boys will do, I attempted to claim it as my own. Fortunately, stones for throwing were scarce and the quick reflexes of the trout exposed it to little danger.

The thrill of the adventure was heightened by the volume of water that cascaded over the last falls as a result of the preceding days of rain. An occaisional chatter of a squirrel in the treetops overhead accompanied the climb up the steep bank on the left side of the placid stream past the last falls.


Making a Deposit at Penny Rock


Penny rock, circa 2005. By Renee Coy.

The hike wouldn't be fulfilling without repeated ventures to the edge of the gorge to look down at treetops and protruding rocks on the steep bank. And, of course, before descending the final stretch of hillside, a stop at penny rock meant it was time to deposit the two pennies I had saved for the occasion. Careful examination exposed two or three pennies that had previously been deposited which showed varying degrees of discoloration from exposure to the elements. The mechanics at penny rock are simple. Find a protruding loose portion of the layered rock, carefully remove, insert penny, and replace the piece of rock to its original location. Deposit complete!

A few moments later I was crossing the wooden bridge which traversed the stream. The narrow path on the other side of the canyon drew me like a magnet. Visitors rarely use this path on the other side of the stream. It is approximately half way up the canyon wall and is a narrow dirt trail. The views are spectacular, especially in reference to the falls themselves. They might be called a "bird's eye" view.


Traversing the Wheaton Farm


Depue Farm, across the valley, September 29, 2012. By Debra Adleman. The field on the right was the Wheaton's cornfield (now a hayfield). The road is Salt Springs Road. The field on the left is still a cow field, but used by Phil Depue's cows now.

It is essential at this stage of the day's experience to note that Salt Springs and the falls were then part of an active dairy farm owned by Phil Wheaton. Thus, topping the hill at the end of the second path led this young adventurer to crossing a small pasture lot into a field of corn. The knee-high rows of corn followed the crest of the hilltop meadow to the west and ended at the dirt road which divided the farm.

Why follow the cornrows? To complete the day's adventure, of course. But first, it was neat to see David mowing hay with the horse drawn mower across the valley on our farm meadow.

Let's get on with the story. I crossed the road and entered the main pasture lot of the Wheaton Farm. Cows were grazing contentedly. Luckily, the herd bull had been kept in the barn that day. At the very crest of the hill was an extended area of woods which became part of the Buckley Farm, a neighbor further along the dirt road.


Mr. Woodchuck's descendants are still at Salt Springs. April 2012. By George Schreck.

The real reason for this long walk (about a mile from the falls) was to check out the rolling stone. This should be perfect timing what with the increased water flow. The choice of route, the dirt road or going across the pasture and through the woods, was simple. The road was longer. The pasture and woods would be most likely full of surprises.

The first became evident immediately while skirting the cows. A fat woodchuck was munching contentedly just before the woods. He hadn't seen me. I took a few steps while he ate and crouched quietly when he stood up. This continued for ten or fifteen minutes until he sensed my approach and scurried for his hole. One last stand confirmed his suspicion and Mr. Woodchuck disappeared down the hole under the huge boulder at the edge of the woods.

The next surprise was almost immediate. I had climbed to the top of the rock to sit momentarily and watch the contentedly grazing cows. A short distance below the rock was a skid road used in prior years to drag firewood to the Wheaton farmhouse. Perhaps one hundred yards along that skid road, a doe and her two fawns browsed. What a beautiful sight! My stay, seated on the rock, lasted for twenty to twenty-five minutes while the fawns rotated between learning to browse and attempting to nuzzle their momma. I was most fortunate. The modest breeze was wafting in my face so my scent didn't alarm the deer.

With the deer finally out of sight and Mr. Woodchuck still in his den, it was time to continue to rolling stone. The last one-third mile was interspersed with birdcalls and glimpses of farms across the valley.


Rolling Stone


Where rocks still roll. By George Schreck.

Just what is rolling stone? A slight dip in the crest of the hill, plus a gentle flowing stream at that low point, which spills over the rock cliff onto a flat ledge ten or twelve feet below, over the centuries has worn a bowl shaped depression in the flat rock. It is perhaps eight to ten inches across and two or three inches deep.

We called it "rolling stone" because nature or neighborhood boys when visiting the site usually place a two or three inch stone in the bowl. The force of the flowing water churns the stone and gradually smoothes its edges. Did I come prepared? Yes, indeed! I had picked up a three-inch stone from the cornfield and brought it along.

Replacing the perfectly smooth stone, which was gently revolving in the rock bowl, with the one from the cornfield rewarded careful descent to the lower rock ledge. The three prior days of rain had heightened the beauty of nature at work.


Perfect!

Return trip timing was perfect! Mr. Woodchuck ran hurriedly to his den. Mr. Wheaton began calling the cows as I rounded the corner by his house. The milk pail was waiting for me when I reached our barn. We finished the chore of hand milking just in time for supper.


© Stephen Depue, 2008.