Pennsylvania (August 20 – 22)

On Saturday, we planned to head into Philadelphia, because I wanted to see the Liberty Bell! It was actually the only thing that I definitely wanted to visit in the city, since the kids had recently learned about it and even been tested on it in their annual homeschool testing. 

Philadelphia is a neat city, but crowded, of course, especially on a weekend. We lucked out with a metered parking space near the Visitors Center, after a couple of trips around the block…And we walked down to the Liberty Bell Center, enjoying the beautiful, historic buildings along the way, stopping in at the historic Arch Street Friends Meeting House, which is still active but also open to the public with one wing dedicated to historic exhibits. It was interesting to me to read a description of the Quaker way of life, upon which Pennsylvania was originally founded, called “Simplicity by Design.” It described how William Penn and the Quakers specifically practiced careful thought in speech and in action, and simplicity in speech, dress, and daily life, including the way they built and decorated their homes. There was a strong belief in individuality and in freedom of expression, with the responsibility that each individual should thoughtfully consider the appropriate and simple expression of their own tastes. No wonder I like their buildings!

At the bell, we discovered a line. A very long line. A longer line than our 2-hour parking would allow, lol!

Lucky for us, there is a window that allows you to view the bell from outside, not the iconic view with the crack in front and Independence Hall in the background, but good enough for me! 

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We read the story of the bell, how it was commissioned in 1751 for the 50th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges, in remembrance of the founding values of personal liberty, Godly living and simplicity. We read about the inscription from Leviticus 25:10, which called the Israelites to consecrate the 50th year, and to “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof.” We read about the crack, how it appeared upon the first testing of the bell, how the bell was recast, but still cracked…How it rang for the last time in 1846 in honor of George Washington’s birthday…And how, though silenced forever, its message of liberty was taken up as a rallying cry to end slavery in this nation.

It’s quite an interesting little bell, and an interesting little crack…It made me wonder, though of course I can never pretend to really know, why the Lord left this bell and its holy message broken and silent, what that might say about the intent of our country at its founding and the truth of our nation even in its early days of independence…I mean, if you think about it, I don’t believe the Lord ever sanctioned our conquest of the American Indians, or the plantation empire built upon the labor of African slaves…So maybe, for all the good intentions of early colonists to establish a new community based on God’s liberty, the cracks were already in place that would prevent freedom from truly ringing.

We walked back to the truck, past Ben Franklin’s gravesite littered with pennies, through the old Carpenter’s Guild building, and through Ben Franklin’s old neighborhood. I have to say, the architecture in Philadelphia from its early days is the most beautiful I’ve seen, and wonderfully preserved. 

Our next stop was the Valley Forge National Park, where Joe used to spend a lot of time as a young adult. He lived just a few minutes away, and has fond memories of taking a short walk through the grasslands out to one particular tree, where he would settle down with a good book and enjoy some peace and quiet. The large tree shaded out the grass, creating a clear space underneath, and all around the grasses were waist-high, making it a private little nook where the city seemed far away and deer would often wander by…

We found the very tree, but now it looks like this…

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Besides the fact that the tree itself had died, there were no grasslands anywhere, just weed-choked fields, full of burrs and brambles and messiness that you definitely wouldn’t want to set foot in. And no deer, anywhere. Weird. 

We stopped by the Visitors Center, where the kids entertained themselves…

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…and we wandered through the exhibits teaching us about the Revolutionary War…And where Joe asked the Park Ranger what, exactly, had changed the landscape so much in the 10+ years since he had been here. About 10 years ago, the management plan for the park changed. It used to be a grassland, on purpose, which they harvested once or twice a year, to maintain it in a prairie-like state that the Parks Department felt was representative of the historical timeframe that they were preserving. But, the Park Ranger explained, they began to have trouble with invasive species. And with Lyme disease. The deer were bringing Lyme disease and invasive plants into the park. And they also kept hitting cars. So the deer were culled. So now, you have a non-grassland choked with invasive plants, and no deer. I’m not totally clear on the new management plan – maybe with the deer gone, they hope to eventually do something about the invasive plant species and create some type of enjoyable fields again? Or pave the whole the thing since they clearly never have enough parking for all the visitors? It’s a little vague. Weird. I said that already, right?

At any rate, I enjoyed re-learning a little bit about the Revolutionary War, which I have long-forgotten from my school years, but I came away ever-more-greatly-puzzled at the strange state of decay of this park and the fuzzy human logic that went along with it.

After a little history, it was time to visit some family! We spent the evening with Nonnna, Joe’s mom, and then headed back to camp for the night, armed with light-up-foam-swords that the kids made interesting use of! 

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And Sunday was another family day, with a wonderful stop to see Joe’s great-aunt, in her early 90’s and still spritely, who we found sitting on her back porch chatting with her sweet next-door-neighbor. We picked up sandwiches from Screpesi’s, a favorite with Joe and his grandfather, which was still in the family and still making amazing Italian hoagies! And then it was time for fun in the pool with Nonna, home-cooked meals, and lots of running around in the yard! You can see the results, below 🙂

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The toy that Spencer is snuggling, after having fallen asleep on the 15-minute car-ride back to camp, is a Hess truck, a toy from Joe’s childhood. The Hess gas company used to release a toy truck every year, 18-wheelers of all different kinds, one with a helicopter on the flatbed, one with a racecar inside the trailer…It was a great find in Nonna’s garage!

On Monday morning, we began another small journey through Joe’s past. We began in the town of Reading, where as a kid he remembered picking up fresh bread from the locally-famous ATV bakery, which we did, and it was still delicious…

And he remembered picking up fresh pretzels from a little neighborhood house, which was still there, so we got a dozen…

And then we drove out to the site of one of his childhood homes, which had been completely demolished and replaced with an assisted living community…Sadly, the largest-mulberry-tree-he-had-ever-seen was gone.

We continued on to the Hawk Mountain raptor sanctuary, where Joe had enjoyed many-a-hike back in the day. We had actually hiked here together once, years ago, when Asher was just a little guy in an infant-carrier!

It was lovely! It was a sunny, cool day, with the very beginnings of fall in the air. Rangers were up at the summit, counting species, as the first signs of annual migrations were beginning.

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We were surprised, once again, by the incredible variety of mushrooms springing up on a sunny day after a damp evening!

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This one looked like gray velvet, though I didn’t touch it…

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And this one reminded me of the Creator, who made the things in the ocean as well as the things on the land – you can see how some ideas could be equally beautiful in either setting! Doesn’t this look just like some lovely ocean coral?

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Or these, that mimic the crystalline calcite sculptures that you find far underground in a limestone cavern!

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Well, anyway, it was a beautiful day for it, and we thoroughly enjoyed our walk through the forest up to the rocky hilltop that held an expansive view across the surrounding areas.

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Some things never change, and some things do…Walks down memory lane are always a mix, but always worth the time!

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