If you just wandered in here from, say, China, you'd think, "I thought this was a blog about public occurrences, wtf?" Yeah, you're right. I decided a little while ago I wanted to write about Western Pennsylvania but had intended there to be more "writing." Fewer pitchers. I intended to write something "literary," something about water and mountains and life and death and fear and courage and all them literary things. Set in a place I know. I have only written a little of that stuff. I have been "setting the scene." I've been "getting ideas." I don't know where I'm going with it. Yet. I hope there's a "yet" there. So I'm just trying to keep moving.
That map up there. Easy right? You don't have to be Mark Twain to understand that, right? Eight little towns all lined up along a river. Transportation, right? There was lumber and coal in them thar hills and once you got it out of them thar hills you put it on barges or whatever, boats, and floated it down river. To Pittsburgh or Johnstown or whatever. Frigging float it all the way to China. That's what's going on there, right? No.
That thinnest of thin squiggly blue lines, the one almost completely obscured by the bigger cross-hatched green line, is about as deep as it appears to be. The real thing is about six inches deep. The functional transportation artery on that map is the railroad in green. The West Branch of the Susquehanna River is worthless for transportation. You see where Cherry Tree is? Now, I have not verified this as I write but I am pretty sure Cherry Tree was known in Indian times as Canoe Place. You wanna know why it was called Canoe Place? Because that was the first place where the frigging river was deep enough to float a goddamned Indian canoe! You could maybe put a lump of coal in a bathtub toy boat and float that down--or up--the West Branch of the Susquehanna. Logging? Oh yeah, right. Unless you're logging twigs, you are not floating anything bigger on that river. So, why does the railroad parallel it? Overlay it. I don't frigging know. The land was flatter, maybe? I don't frigging know. But I know you cannot float coal or logs down that frigging thing. My brother and I once had a discussion. "That's the West Branch of the Susquehanna runs through Barnesboro," says I. "That's not the frigging West Branch of the Susquehanna," says he, with warmth. "What is it then!" "It's a shit creek!" "It's not...I mean, it's not just a frigging shit creek, it's too big!" "It's a big shit creek!" That's what we used to call it growing up, the shit creek. Maybe that should be capitalized.
It is the West Branch of the Susquehanna and it also is a big Shit Creek. It was an open sewer for those eight little towns. One time when I was a kid, I was on my paper route and I stopped on a bridge to be lazy for a minute. And I looked down at the water of one of the little tributaries, the one that comes from Number 9, that flow into the big shit creek. Behold! I saw a log float down toward me. Followed by some toilet paper. Just movin' on down the river. That really made me sick. It's one thing to know it's a shit creek, it's another to see it. That was the end of that rest stop. I moved on.