Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cletus Knows the Way

We're back from another adventure, with only one of us the worse for wear. To celebrate JM's 40th and my recent birthday (yeah, way beyond 40), JM and Pat took us along on a return trip to Wellsboro, PA, where they had gone two years previously. In the "Northern Tier" of rural counties lying below the N.Y. state border, Wellsboro and Tioga County (which is larger than Rhode Island) are famous for the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, site of an ancient glacial lake and quite green and leafy, unlike its western cousin. It's been preserved by two state parks, a state forest and game lands, fortunately, because the northern half of the state was stripped bare a hundred years ago by the white pine loggers and left to erosion; the wildlife was decimated. Now the bears and bobcats are back, and oaks, hemlocks and hickories feed legions of chipmunks. Agriculture, hunting and tourism have replaced the early 1900s rapacity, and despite forbidding winters, the wide stretch of hills and valleys is well worth the drive to see during the milder half of the year.
We stayed in a French-themed Victorian B&B, La Belle Auberge, with Jacuzzi tubs and a breakfast spread that will be long remembered (burp), saw the Canyon and hiked around along the hardwood forest trails a little, and enjoyed two of the several surprisingly good restaurants. There is natural gas production and some industry in the area to raise it up from the usual rural claptrap poverty, and the logging era left behind more perfectly maintained Victorian mansions than you can tip your top hat to, so Wellsboro is one of the most prosperous and diligently kept small towns I have ever seen. It even has a family-owned department store (no WallyMart!).
The next day we headed out to the hamlet of Ansonia to go horseback riding. The weather forecast was not good, and the terrain is steep, rocky and muddy in places, so we greenhorns thought we were about to star in City Slickers, Part II. We didn't need the outerwear and gloves after all, because as the day progressed it just got more perfect. After a very good introduction by Rachael, our guide, we hoisted ourselves up onto our 1300 lb. hayburning Harleys, namely Poe, Freedom, Firefox and Cletus. This last rascal was red, about 16 years old, and pretty determined to do whatever he wanted to; he was my buddy up hill and down for the next couple of hours. We took a different trail than usual, and that turned out great--not as much steep mountain climbing, and we crossed a broad rocky stream twice (just like in Western movies). On the opposite bank, halfway up in the dense treeline, sat a bald eagle -- never saw one of those in the wild before! In the tangled growth and tall grass, the horses are tempted to eat their way along, and you're not supposed to let them, but try telling Cletus that. I jerked up on the reins (as instructed) to dissuade him, but he's been doing this a long time and proved to be a master of the salad bar we threaded our way through. He really liked sycamore tree saplings (must be horse arugula).
All the horses just headed to their parking spaces, to be tied up to trees, when we stopped at a high, dry lunch spot in the forest. They knew what they were doing; we pretended we were giving them directions which I'm pretty sure they just ignored. Cletus had to be first even though I started out in back, and nudged and squeezed his way to front of the line. When I tried to control him and keep an even pace, he fixed my wagon by breaking into a trot and bouncing me around like a lottery ping pong ball.
Back at the corral, Nancy's horse Poe had to step back while being tied to the fence, and unintentionally stepped on her little toe. It wasn't broken, but that little piggy sure is a livid shade of purple today!


  1. Sounds like Cowboy G and Lil Lovebug will be starting the Triple G ranch any day now.