Sparkling Sunday

A drive and a walk. A simple first Sunday in April. Not something I usually do.

This is Canoe Creek State Park. A few minutes drive east from where I’d usually be on a day like today. Hometown – Altoona, Pa.

Don’t know why it was necessary to experience this calm and silence. I’m not the guy who looks for natural moments like this. I like reflective, insightful keyboard thoughts at my desk with warm mugs of tea sitting by as friendly hellos. Whisking away on my phone – while elbows rest on a well-worn, faded picnic table – is quite the different experience.

Up in the distance sky, a few small aircraft break the silent blue. Small pebbles crunch under the feet of the few passerbys on the stoney path behind me. The lake ahead is so calm. Small ripples touch the same breeze moments later crossing over my relaxing shoulders. Even the chatter coming from a dad and his toddler playground playing nearby doesn’t distract from sounds of soothing wind sails crossing over my ears.

This is a Sparkling Sunday – not a brilliantly shiny one. Just one that has, for me, a spark of something new … different. This is the first Sunday in years – in April – I’m not at a particular location doing my “thing”. My concession stand, for 13 years, has been – loyally, without fail – at a particular location every Sunday from April through October. Today, I’m not there. Through a series of decisions not necessarily my own, it wasn’t to be. They announced an opening day of April 4th (today) … I drove by. Closed.

So, I continued onward. The drive was necessary. Down a few local roads and one state highway, my car ended up here. I sit on a bench looking out over a lake remembering all the family reunions, church picnics, and events I attended at this very park. Most folks I remember now are eternally silent. They are as silent as the lake, but as alive in my memory as all the folks now walking and playing within my eyesight.

The spring sun is warm against my beaten leather jacket. That same sun gives me the opportunity to look at a beautiful, shimmering glow across the lake. Each little sparkle could be a memory … a new experience ahead … or simply a reminder to us that one day at a time is all we really have.

Another toddler has joined the fun with her dad at the playground. They are playing quietly with each other. Dad has a hand over his eyes looking out over the lake – while keeping guard over his loved ones. I suspect he sees the same magic I do. His thoughts and experiences perhaps a bit different than mine, but still appreciating the calm and quiet of the moments.

This is a special Sunday for me. Yes, it’s Easter for Christians. This, today, is a sanctuary.

I’m so glad nature was at the end of my drive and walk today.

Prince Demetrius and the Leaves of Loretto

It’s a few short minutes drive up the mountain from home, but I don’t go often enough. Prince Gallitzen State Park. Named in honor of Prince Demetrius Gallitzen, a Russian nobleman turned Roman Catholic missionary priest who founded the nearby town of Loretto, the park is home to Glendale Lake – a 1635 acre man-made lake. This state park is near PA Rts. 253 and 53 close to Pattton, Pa. This picture is very familiar to my friend you’ve met here before … a skilled photographer with an eye for the beauty around us.

This location is familiar to me. Our family went there early on in my life. A significantly larger group than today’s remainder met there for smotherings of hugs and non-judgmental gatherings back when divorces were less common and death seemed less familiar to me. A space where old and young kin folks talked, laughed, and played games around checkered tablecloths on splintered tables, and swarms of bees chased us little ones into the woods. Bees that, unfortunately, are as distant as the memories I have to this day.

My dear friend sometimes captures these memories of mine as I look at her pictures she posts. This one above is one of many from her collection labeled, “Glendale Roadtrip 2020”. Her gift is walking along our memory lanes with us without knowing she’s beside our footsteps.

There are times she strides alone, I suspect. She, like all of us, need those days when no company is desired. A picture taken during a solitary saunter can mean a lot when life requires self-reflection from a pond of either regret or satisfaction. Her roadtrip reasons are for her, alone, to settle into her personal picnic basket of emotional needs. She feeds her soul without the need to justify any fruitful endeavor to us. We’re just the fortunate viewers of her gift.

This photographic journey trip to a princely park is worth writing about because today’s breaths are better spent on leaves and a wonderful friend’s keen eye than election what-ifs and presidential prognostications. A small, quaint Loretto, Pa, leafy fall picturesque lake only a few minutes drive from the hustle of Altoona is soul settling – even if only looking at it on a Facebook page. A railroad city where empty buildings sit – in contrast to empty park benches quietly remembering a family’s reunion forty-five plus years ago – can never replace the images in my mind. A grandmother, with her arm around me, saying, “Look at the lake. Isn’t it beautiful?”

Why, yes it is … yes, it is.

Over the benches and through the leaves, we see the reflection. Black against blue is my favorite contrast in all her photographs. There are no people in this photograph like there are in my memories stirred up by looking through her album. Granted, you can’t see my mom with her frosted 70’s hairdo, or my now bald dad with a crew cut back then. My sister, brother, and I together throwing a football, frisbee, or half-deflated ball from the Murphy’s five-and-dime store is a memory once locked up, but free again. Uncles, aunts, cousins, … all mostly removed from my life now due to unpreventable reasons. Events the trees at Prince Gallitzin and Glendale have seen over and over, family by family, generation by generation.

Life moves at a remarkable pace. Quicker than I ever imagined years ago staring out over a lake years away from my first driver’s license or first date. This is where life is.

I don’t know where you are, nor do I know what ever happened to Prince Demetrius. A quick Google search would turn up the answer, but I like the mystery of not knowing. We shouldn’t want to know everything even if everything is accessible and at our fingertips.

The mystery of the leaves of Loretto included.

I do know I have my memories and a well-respected friend who helps me reach back to grab them every now and then with her pictures.

Life is a shared journey. A Roman Catholic missionary, local State Park, picture, friend, my past, and I – all on the bench beside a calm lake are we … bound together by that unbreakable understanding that life is one picture at a time. One day at a time. One virtual hand-hold together down memory lane.

Today is a good day.