Monday, April 18, 2005

Since it's been so dry and sunny recently, I went for a walk up Shinglestown Gap on Saturday with my copy of Beatie on hand. Shinglestown Gap is an unmarked, unadvertised little parklet off of Rt. 45 on Tussy Mountain behind Boalsburg. As advertised, it's a gap, a place in the mountain where a stream - Rocky Run - cut through the outer lip of the ridge on its way into the Spring Creek watershed. They've got signs all over the front of the gap warning against fires near the creek, and fires in general.

There's a tiny, half-hearted parking lot at the end of the road, and it was pretty full. Families like to take their dogs and kids on walks up the creekbed trail, which is kind of an ankle-turner, but relatively flat, and cool from the rapid-running stream even in the heat of summer. For some perversity of character on my part which I don't quite understand in its entirity, I tend to take the ridgetop path into the Gap, instead of simply following the families along the gap floor. The outlying ridge, or spur, between which and the main ridge the stream cuts a path, offers a fairly fine view of the valley between State College and Mount Nittany, as well as the Bald Eagles in the distance, depending on the air quality of the viewing day in question.

There's a sort of path up the leading edge of the spur, if you want to call it so. In its beginning stages, it's as much a rock-climb as anything else - a scramble up a two-fifths vertical collection of tumbled stone, boulders, fine pine-needle dirt, and the occasional tree. It's the sort of path on which I feel most comfortable on three points, as the loose pine-needle dirt and the occasional wobbly rock makes for uncertain footing along stretches where a fall could and would take you several hundred feet down a jagged slope. I almost never go with anyone else up this path, as those who are in worse physical shape than I would never make it, and the vast bulk of humanity which is in *better* shape than I would never tolerate the half-dozen breathers I have to take in order to make it to the top of the ridge.

The Beatie was for entertainment purposes while I laid panting on said breathers; however, the bugs and flies had had an early spring, and were quite unbearable in the afternoon sun. Why is it that gnats and flies seem to prefer sun-scorched, tumbled high rocks over the cool and moist air of the creekside trails? I suppose it might have to do with how much time you spend laying motionless in either space - you're not about to lie, exhausted, by the flat and easy stretches of the creekbed trail. At any rate, I was exhausted enough by the climb that I took the first trail off the ridgetop trail back down to the creek, and thus back to the parking lot. This was still a mile or so from the initial climb.

I had disturbed the birds of prey from their preferred roosts on the ridgetop crags. Hawks and turkey buzzards are alarmingly large from three dozen feet away; the thermals didn't get them far enough away from my exhausted perch, not far enough for them, and not far enough for I, for that matter. The exhaustion was such that I didn't enjoy the walk and the view as much as I normally would.

At least I called and told somebody where I was going before I went off to risk my neck on a high walk. At about the same time as my ridgetop climb, our county district attorney turned up missing. He apparently called off work, told his girlfriend he was going driving, and disappeared. They found his Mini Cooper a county over, on the outskirts of Lewisburg.

Nobody's sure where he is, but there's a terrible lot of speculation. Some think he's just gone on walkabout - he's done similar disappearing acts during baseball season in the past. But then why would his car be abandoned? There's some paranoid speculation about drug gangs and/or the Mafia. First of all, the Mafia doesn't have squat for organization in central Pennsylvania. Secondly, drug gangs have better ways to deal with prosecutions than stirring up a hornet's nest by killing or abducting an obscure country prosecutor.

Personally, I suspect he either had a heart attack on a walk, or somebody did a hit-and-run, and they haven't found his body yet. Shame - he wasn't a half-bad district attorney.

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