Triptych (Part One): High Meadow by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Our house came up the lane on two flatbed trailers in the summer of 1962. My mother and father had ordered it out of the Sears catalog, not an uncommon way to build a home in those days. They had already laid down a concrete slab for a foundation and sunk a well down almost 200 feet before they hit water. Within a couple of days, the walls of the house were up and the roof was on. A couple days later, there was a wrap around deck overlooking a large meadow, as well as a large field stone fireplace in the living room with a mantel hewn from a beam salvaged from an old barn that had burned down years before. My mother named the place High Meadow.

I was 14 that summer. We lived in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh so High Meadow was to be a weekend retreat. Folded into the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania, it was about an hour and a half away—three exits on the winding old Pennsylvania Turnpike. The closest town was Mill Run; the next closest was Ohiopyle which straddled the banks of the scenic and fast-running Youghigheny River, a mecca for whitewater paddlers. To a city kid, High Meadow seemed to be near the middle of nowhere, the end of the road, a place of nothing-to-do.

But it was land my mother and father loved and I quickly came to love it too. They were good stewards: they planted blueberry bushes and an apple orchard, two chestnut trees, and a large garden where we grew corn, rhubarb (my father’s favorite), beans, peas, squash, tomatoes and potatoes. Later we added an arbor for grapes, a shuffleboard court, and two hives for bees. (We planted an acre of buckwheat near the hives so the bees would make buckwheat honey, another of father’s favorites.) We made a wind break of trees along the gravel lane and a local Boy Scout troop planted a stand of pine trees down in the lower meadow. I lobbied for a pond but my parents worried there would not be enough water; I settled for a half a rain barrel sunk into the ground big enough for three goldfish. There was a John Deere riding mower for the lawn that bordered the house and a moon buggy and a go-cart for the grandkids.

Wild daffodils were the annual woodland heralds of spring; the apples in the orchard tasted like summer; the chestnuts made for good roasting in the fall. Mother knew the name of every wildflower that grew in the meadow and along the woodland trails: trillium, sweet alyssum, adder’s tongue, Indian chickweed, witch hazel, May apple, Queen Anne’s Lace. A sturdy Yankee, she loved to walk the meadow and the adjoining trails; I struggled to keep pace. One year, she decided to raise quail in a pen down the hill from the house but she gave that up the next year when she realized hunters liked quail, too. At dusk, the meadow came alive with deer and wild turkey. There was an occasional bear sighting in the woods and once a visiting friend swore he saw a mountain lion.

Two or three times a year, a local farmer hayed the meadow; the bales fragrant as they dried row upon row under the summer sun. In the distance, the purple ridges of the Laurel Highlands looked like waves rolling off toward the time-worn Allegheny Mountains and the Eastern Continental Divide. On hot summer days, we would go down to the river to swim; when there was winter snow, we tobogganed down the big hill or snowshoed through the silent woods. Fall was the season for burning the brush pile; spring was mud time. On the Fourth of July we made ice cream; at Thanksgiving we moved the long farm table into the middle of the living room and packed it with family and friends.

Father died in 1987. His Lazy-Boy chair retained his shape and smell for years. He is buried in the quiet cemetery behind the Indian Creek Baptist Church, a mile or two down the road. Mother passed away in 2000; she asked me to scatter her ashes in the meadow, near where the quail pen once stood. By then, my siblings and I had all moved away and it didn’t make sense to keep High Meadow in the family so with my mother’s blessing, we had already decided that upon her death, we would donate the land to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy who owned an adjacent property—a very famous one, as a matter of fact. But that’s a story for next week…

(Next Week: Second Panel: “Our Famous Neighbor”)

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A new collection of essays titled “Musing Right Along” will be released in June. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Laura Ventura says:

    Lovely. I can almost smell the wildflowers and feel the breeze lightly blowing in your “High Meadow” homestead. Have a guess about that famous neighbor….will stay tuned in for next week. As a kayaker, just love the Yough.

  2. Michael Brunner says:

    Alright Steve, that marketing course you took recently is really paying off. Set the hook and reel em’ in. Part 1 in the bag and we all can’t wait for the next two installments. I know what is coming and I can’t wait. And oh by the way, I just bought your new book at The Bookplate. Can you personalize it for me? Everyone should own a copy, but hurry before they are all gone.

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