Sunday, April 1, 2012

ALLEGHANY (A-Z April Blog Challenge)

We camped in Alleghany State Park a few weeks each summer with my godparents family when I was around five.  Too young to have clear memories of the time and I’ll concede that most of my recollections are most likely from years of repeated stories and a few pictures. However, there are a few that I can fully claim as my own, either by experience or through the tactile memory of the senses. 

The bears and the fear go hand in hand.  Somewhere near midnight, pajama clad, us kids and an adult or two would pile into the pale yellow convertible with the top down and head to the garbage dump.  The heater did no good to dispel the cool air, so we’d huddle under blankets and snuggle in for warmth.  At the top of the crest, my godfather would turn the car and the lights off, put it in neutral and cruise down the hill towards the dump. 

After we came to a stop, he would turn on the headlights and there, in front of us were the bears.  Wild bears.  Pausing in their hunt through the garbage, they would turn and look at us.  Sometimes, they took a step towards us before returning to their meal.  It wasn’t until years later I realized all they could see were the bright lights and not us.  I’d always held my breath, waiting while they decided whether I would be a tastier find than what they held in their paws.

As if it wasn’t enough that we interrupted their meals, during the day we would trek up to the bear caves.  Amongst the boulders there were impossibly small openings, winding down and into the rock.  They were cold and damp and pitch black except for the glow of a flashlight.  We’d wind our way through the tight passageways that led to the dens.  I was terrified of finding bears there but even more terrified of refusing to go in and be the one left alone outside at the opening.  I don’t recall anyone pointing out that they were abandoned caves…

We made camp in two cabins and the lazy days held trips to the stream to search for salamanders and walks to the general store where you were allowed to buy candy and “Indian souvenirs”.  We played board games, walked through the woods, put on elaborate plays that were written and directed by the older kids and cooked marshmallows and hotdogs on sticks around the campfire. 

There were movie nights and although I don’t recall any of the movies, there are flashes of memories: taking our sleeping bags and pillows with us as we headed to the general store at dusk and playing on swings and the slide until the movie started, projected on a large screen in the open area near the store. The ground was rock hard underneath us, the mosquitos always biting, but the popcorn flowed and I remember feeling incredibly small under the night sky.

Wasn't this car exactly, but it was a big 'ole boat like this one!
The most vivid memory I have is climbing into that same yellow convertible and pretending to drive.  I played with the gear shift and must have popped it into neutral as I soon found myself rolling backwards down the dirt driveway that led to our cabins.  It stopped with a thump against a tree after rolling across the road at the bottom of the driveway.  Beyond that tree was the ravine.  I got out and didn’t say a word to anyone.  Soon after, the car was discovered, and after much yelling and questioning, someone ended up taking the fall for me and the punishment that went along with it. I was never even considered as the culprit. I don’t recall who ended up being blamed and punished.  

These are the childhood moments that begin to shape us. The fear of taking a risk. The joy of simple pleasures with family.  Loving the smell of a wooded forest. The magnitude of the night sky and feeling so small beneath it.  The guilt associated with a lie.  And there, in the hills of Alleghany is as far back as my childhood memories, and my shaping moments go.


  1. The car ride sounds funny :) nice star for the challenge!

  2. Your car memory reminds of my own. Knocking the gear shift, and how it rolled out of the driveway and hit a tree.

  3. We used to camp out a lot. Wow! I miss it. Thanks for the vicarious trip.

    Catch My Words

  4. I loved reading this! Although I just don't know about's


  5. This was excellent!! Thanks for sharing the bear story--and how fear begins to shape us early. I can easily relate!!


  6. Lovely childhood memories - except I wouldn't fancy camping so near to bears!

  7. I love the feeling of being in the middle of the woods. This was a fun journey back into the outdoors.

    A-Z 2012

  8. Thanks all - it was a fun look back and didn't realize until I started the piece that these are the earlier memories I can truly lay claim to . That was a surprise for me!

  9. Great stories, Amy! I would've been terrified by the bears but intrigued by the caves--I always found caves fascinating. And aren't outdoor movies the best? The last time we saw one was on the beach in Hawaii--sigh. I was never a camper but you make it sound lovely.

  10. I love reading childhood memories and this kept me on edge. good start to the A-Z challenge. Hope you'll come read my letter A!

  11. Good start and I look forward to lots more!

  12. I'm so not a camper, but I do love other people's camping stories!

  13. I love to camp, and you have amazing memories!


  14. Those are such lovely snapshots of life in the bear country.

    Look forward to your challenge posts!

    Twitter: @AprilA2Z

    ---Damyanti, Co-host A to Z Challenge April 2012

  15. WOW - that's amazing that you got to see wild bears. At the dump of all places!

    Great story - thanks for sharing.

  16. Many many camping memory..we did the Rainbow Lake thing each year...and it held true to it's named...whether the weather report said it would or not, we could depend on waking up at least one of the fun filled mornings in about an inch of water...aaaahhhhh the memories!!!