Trailing Pine and Deer Stampedes
We need at least one more wintertime visit to the north side of Peter’s Steps to examine some of the remarkable, unique, singular features and youthful experiences of this woodland playground.
One absolute rarity that occurred in a spot behind Peter’s Steps was a small patch of what dad referred to as trailing pine. This is the only time and place I have ever seen this specific, particular plant, despite spending many, many hours tramping around in several counties of Penn’s northern woodlands. No plant that I have discovered while searching the “Source Of All Knowledge”, aka the internet, has matched the ground cover we called trailing pine. Our trailing pine grew flat to the ground, had long, stringy tendrils that felt almost leathery to the touch, and grew in incredibly long, entangled strands. These strands were supremely strong, almost impossible to break with one’s hands. They needed to be cut with a sharp knife or scissors. Their preferred growing environment encompassed several square yards beneath a dense stand of small pine trees, about six or seven feet tall, in the shadow of the hill, so that it is conceivable that sunlight rarely penetrated to its home on the forest floor.
We would use this trailing pine to garnish the Christmas lights that we strung around our front door for the holidays. The stuff was stubbornly hardy, staying green for weeks after being cut.
One Christmas season, mom hinted that she would like a holiday-themed centerpiece for her dining room table, so dad and I set out for Peter’s Steps. We cut about a fourteen, sixteen-inch section from one of those small pine trees, which were about 3 or 4 inches in diameter, give or take, and cut a length of trailing pine to take home with us.
Once we got our pieces and parts home, dad squared off the bottom of the tiny log so it would sit flat on the table, and then drilled three equally spaced holes of about half an inch or so in diameter along the length of the centerpiece to accommodate three candles. He left the bark on the wood, and then stapled the trailing pine to the log, stringing it tightly back and forth across the width of the log to make it look as if the trailing pine was growing on the log. To this basic design, mom added a red velvet bow and three red tapers to complete her centerpiece. Very attractive, in a home-spun sort of way. I believe we used it for at least two Christmases, it held together so well…
THEN, there was the Peter’s Steps Deer Stampede episode…
A good snowfall one Christmas vacation found us back up behind Peter’s Steps, sleds in tow, looking to do some epic sled-riding down our winter Track Of Doom. We decided to go clear to the top of the trail, where it terminated at an old farm field tucked into the woods that had grow up around it. The fresh snow was pretty deep on that particular occasion, probably about mid-shin or so, and it was a slow slog to get all the way to the top. We were kind of strung out on the trail, not all bunched up. I was ahead of Frank, who was trailing about fifteen yards behind me, and his brother John was following Frank.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, in the silence of that forested, snow-muffled peace and quiet, somebody behind me screamed at the top of their lungs, “STAMPEDE!”
I turned around just in time to see three deer, hurtling through the snow at full speed, in great leaps and bounds. And they were headed straight at Frank. It was if they couldn’t see him. He was kind of frozen in place for a split second; you know the feeling, when your brain can’t quite process the information your eyes are sending it? What was even more surreal is the fact that the deer made absolutely no sound as they galloped through the snow.
Well, when he finally reacted to the impending collision, his only available act of self-defense was to hold his sled up in front of himself and try to hide behind it. By this time, the deer were within two body lengths of Frank.
His sudden movement with the sled must have given the deer something to focus on, because somehow, they changed direction, seemingly in mid-air, swerved around Frank, and continued romping on up onto Round Top somewhere. We were left standing there, staring at each other in disbelief, wondering if we had actually just seen what we thought we had seen. We measured the deer tracks from where they changed direction to where Frank had been standing. It wound up being about five paces.
We really cherished Peter’s Steps… a playground like no other….deer and all.
Scott Williams is a former resident of Upper Lockport, and once delivered The Express in Lockport, from Haussener’s Farm down to the Woodward Elementary School … all 125 copies … with help from Keith. Thanks, Keith.