A Rail, Rocks, and Rurality

I didn’t know it was a word. “Rurality”, (defined by Wikipedia/Chigbu 2013, p. 815), is “a condition of place-based homeliness shared by people with common ancestry or heritage and who inhabit traditional, culturally defined areas or places statutorily recognized to be rural”. There it is! An eight-letter, beautiful timely term describing a hometown circumstance I found myself surrounded by the other day.

A rail and rocks? Well, kinda self-explanatory.

This is the overlook at Chimney Rocks park near the southern edge of Hollidaysburg, Pa. These bison boulders seen aren’t the actual chimney rocks formed centuries ago. To gaze upon those huge stonal spectaculars, you will need to travel roughly one-hour and fourty-five minutes east from Pittsburgh. Rocks, in this place … during this time … are there as a replacement for rails once there. From the information I was able to obtain, rails were being vandalized, abused, and constantly replaced. Not knowing the exact extent of damage, I assumed it must have been steadily bad enough to warrant bull-lifting in four walloping wall crater-makers.

I sat comfortably on a bench a few feet back from the rail and rocks … also among cicada screams and an occasional, hopeful, few seconds respite from their male mating hollers. The quiet never came. Tinnitus – that ever faithful inner-ear companion of mine – took a deafening back seat. Oh, to have heard only that minor second interval ring true at any moment! Yet, there I sat – still convinced it was to be a perfect time for reflection about a rail, rocks, and rurality … a word I was convinced didn’t exist.

Rurality does exist, apparently. So do the rocks – and not just the four keeping young ones from unsafely toddlering their way past the rail. Chimney Rocks is part of “place-based homeliness” all of us around here know as Hollidaysburg.

I grew up only a block or so away from the base of the hill where the overlook and park are beautifully carved as a small plateau into the hill. We climbed the face many times, escaping perils of broken bones and snake bites. Foliage was thick and steep which didn’t seem to bother our brave, young levi-laden bodies. Finally reaching the “chief’s chair” was a two-hour effort provided we didn’t stop to argue over the best way up through thick brush and fallen, rotted timber.

Where the park is now was then a sanctuary for small critters we heard, but never saw. Many a teen trod over soil and stones since removed from the very area I sat the other day. Looking back – off to my right – large, deep drill marks could be seen against the hill face exposed by deep cuts in the earth. Cut away like a slice of the moon were centuries of hidden rocks, memories, and footprints of young teenagers brave enough to scale a Hollidaysburg hill.

The four rocks came from the hill. They were allowed to have their common ancestry remain in place. A place of familiarity – if only a few yards away and for a purpose. They can now oversee a hometown while protecting the most innocent among us.

I see these four rocks as just that: the new protectors of rurality that will oversee Hollidaysburg’s heritage for centuries.

We are passers-by, for sure. The original Chimney Rocks either pushed through the earth, or were benefactors of propitious pounding of eroding soil around them. In either case, they were here before humans and will, most assuredly, rock-on well beyond our breathable years. The four overlookers? The same. They’ll outlast the usefulness of that park, rusty rails, and young teens who, now, only have to take a casual walk up one of a few well-maintained paths from an overlook to the “chief’s chair”.

With all the recreational options available, I doubt many will know the joys of climbing that hill, however. What a shame.

I had a small urge to jump the rail and experience a little nostalgic rurality once again. That hill on the other side was tempting this 50’s body of mine. Unfortunately, I knew inevitable screams for help would go unheard as cicada mania still pierced the air. I would’ve been stuck in misery for a bit. Good news? The view north into my hometown would have been fantazmical on my back dangling from a fragile branch off the side of a bluff.

The view those rocks have all day, every day, is spectacular. Rurality is kinda breathtaking, too, when considered as an actual word … and condition of being for people who love their hometown.

I loved my sit-time there – cicadas aside, of course. I promised you a show-and-tell IF you drove a bit eastward, but have since decided to post up a few links if you’re interested in reading more about the park. Maybe if we’re ever there together, the cicadas will be gone, we can talk about your remarkable rurality memoir, and if I happen to go over the rail, please rescue me.

http://www.hollidaysburgpa.org/depts/Parks/Pages/ChimneyRocksPark.aspx

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