The Old Map

“An adventure is a journey. An arduous trek along a winding obstructive path. Create your own adventure.” JSM

The Commune

I have vivid memories from my youth of a gated community.

My family, being active in the church and having connections around New England, were invited by a friend to come and stay within the walls of a commune; nestled high up within the mountains of Pennsylvania. A little getaway. A place as far away from reality as one can possibly get. A place to stay and engage in a different lifestyle and see the world from another perspective. It was deemed a vacation.

For two weeks.

If I had to make an estimated guess on my age, I believe I was ten or eleven. Regardless, it was many moons ago and I was a young lad.

The walled off area was two miles square. It contained a small church for Sunday mornings and for those inclined to utilize it, one convenience store for beer, snacks and miscellaneous items, and a grocery store across the dirt road.

A hardware store, a post office, and scattered throughout were varied gardens, fruit trees and green houses. One police officer scoured the mean streets at night on his ten speed bicycle with a light attached to the handlebars.

At the northern end of the community, a block of living quarters and small homes where the commune took residence. Each home was built by the carpenters in the population, each building connected or close to one another, and the complex had a playground nearby for the children. A meeting hall was constructed along the fence at the south end for large engagements and gatherings, and a one room school house sat at the village center.

Once per month a driver would leave the village, in one of three community vehicles, and drive for hours for their needed supplies; to restock, or if unexpectedly struck by hard weather and forced to resupply.

One way in, one way out, and locked from the inside.

When the wooden doors opened to allow entry to what they named, “The Main Road,” the feeling of isolation was almost instantaneous.

gate

At the center of the village, a three hundred and sixty degree panorama of nature’s majesty and rocky mountains, as far as the eyes could venture. Literally sitting within the peaks of the middle of nowhere.

The residents trickled out of their homes. They crept around bushes, trees and porch corners to catch a glimpse of the new comers as we opened the doors to the car and stepped into their world.

Our friend was jogging down the dirt path toward the gate with a large smile on his thin face, waving his baseball hat in the air above his head. “Yes! I’m so glad you’re here!” He embraced each of us, accompanied with the standard pleasantries, and one of the residents helped with our luggage while another parked the car.

“Have I got an adventure planned for you guys. Let me show you where you’re staying.”

We were led to one of the larger homes at the center of the housing complex which had unused bedrooms on its second floor. I shared a room with my sister and we each had our own individual trunks at the foot of our cots for clothing storage.

The walls were barren and bright white.

In the lobby of the main house was a large room designated as the lounge. In the lounge were two couches, a rocking chair, a small black and white television permanently locked on one station with tin foil wrapping the antenna, and a magazine rack bolted to the wall for reading material.

We were given the tour. Each location of importance was within a brief walking distance from the housing complex and required little time to memorize. Once we traveled the inside of the community to completion, had some laughs with the locals and organized our plan, we were left to ourselves for a time for wandering and drinking it all in.

That first night we dined together in large groups in the meeting hall and our friend joined us towards the end, “Tomorrow, we take a quick road trip. Just me and the kiddos. Let your parents enjoy some adult time. A short ride. I have something I want to show you. Sound good?”

I nodded my head, still shy and confused within my surroundings, but I managed a grin.

My hair was ruffled by the smiling man, and he was back to mingling with the remaining attendees.

Later that night I took a walk around the complex and kept to myself. Realizing I’d exhausted my entertainment options outside, and the kids my age were off to bed, I stepped into the Main House and entered the communal lounge.

At least there’s a TV and reading stuff.

To my dismay, the television had only one available program. A 24-7 news channel discussing everything from the local weather and stories, to stocks and financial planning.

I turned the volume down, startled, as an elderly man joined me in the room. “What’s your name, son?”

“Jeremy.”

“I’m Elihu. Are you looking for something? Or just looking.” He lowered his fragile frame into the couch cushion and rested his cane beside him against the wall.

“I don’t know. Just looking for something to do I guess.”

“There’s plenty of reading material right there,” He waggled his finger toward the wall and lowered his gaze to the floor. “Help yourself.”

I reached for the rack and pulled out a National Geographic dated from three years earlier. I thumbed through the pages, dropped the book back into it’s slot and pulled out a newspaper dated from over a year ago. I continued to check the dates of printing on each magazine and paper, and each one was from years before; some upwards of ten or more.

I turned to my aging companion and asked, “Why is everything so old?”

He snickered at my expense, “We don’t pick up much reading anymore. Years ago, we bought newspapers and magazines and we just never threw them away. It’s old stuff, but if you’re bored, feel free to use them. You said you were looking for something to do. There you go.”

I found a crossword puzzle book at the bottom of a pile, and to my satisfaction, one page discovered without any scribbling or drawings. Unfortunately the puzzle was sports related and I didn’t know the answers, and felt like an idiot. I believe I managed to fill in Larry Bird when finding a Celtics clue.

This sucks. I thought, tossing the book on the couch beside me and sighing out-loud. There’s nothing to do. This place is the definition of boring.

I fell asleep that night confused and mad.

The next morning we gathered in small clans to plan out the afternoon and create a routine. As newcomers, we had the choice to decide what functions we played while inside the walls. We could learn and work with the gardeners and gatherers. We could attempt wood working and low level carpentry if desired, or help with meal preparation. The choices were varied and my field of study revolved around their variation of a Boy Scout troop. Tying knots and learning bird calls. Applying pleasantries and manners. How to properly set a table and serve guests. Chin up and make eye contact when speaking to others. Body language and non verbal communication.

I didn’t fully understand the purpose and meaning of the training, until the final night inside their community.

Before the training began, it was time for Mike’s big adventure with us kids.

We stood at the hood of a village vehicle while he reached into the glove box and withdrew and old and tattered road map. He splayed it out across the hood, instructed us to hold down the corners while he traced his finger along a route.

“I haven’t been there for awhile. Gotta make sure I get this right, ya know. Don’t wanna get us lost.”

Smiling his approval, he found what he was looking for, and with care to avoid more damage, he folded the old map slow and careful, and then drove us a half hour away from the commune.

The bulk of the scenery during the road trip was trees and pastures, until the moment he spoke again,”Keep your eyes to the left. We’re almost there.” I turned my focus toward the window while the car rounded a sharp corner. “Ahhh… There it is.”

Speechless, I stared through the glass. It was all I could do. Mouth agape, eyes wide and throat dry, I gawked at the limitless beauty beside us.

Sprawled out from east to west and up to the horizon line were the Gum Drop Mountains. Neon green and side by side, the landscape was peppered with short flat hills that resembled the candy from which they were named. Running parallel to the road we traveled, as far as the eye could see, was nothing but rolling hills and vibrant greenery.

Otherworldly.

Mike turned off onto a dirt road and we traversed an additional mile through the mountains to the base of the Gum Drop range.

The hike on foot was a short walk from the parked car, but at our destination within the woods he led us to a bench. “You feeling strong today?” He asked as we sat down to drink some water and catch our breath.

“Sure.”

“Got a lot of work ahead of us.” Mike stood up and grasped a thin tree growing from the side of the hill and gave it a shake. “You know where we’re going?”

I shook my head and he looked into the canopy above. He smiled back at me and pointed to the sky. “You climb trees at home, right?”

“Yeah.”

“We call this Jacob’s Ladder. The trees grow from the mountains horizontally and weave together. It’s natural growth creates a ladder to the top. Come, have a look.” I peeled myself from the bench and joined him.

I shot my eyes skyward and to my surprise, each tree protruding from the hillside was perfectly horizontal, some braided and fused together, and continued up and up to the point where it was too congested to see any further detail.

Mike approached the base and placed one boot on the lowest, thickest trunk. “Follow me,” he commanded as he started the ascent.

I stood below him and spoke low, “Isn’t this dangerous?”

Mike glanced down through the natural ladder and smiled, “Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to you.”

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