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Thoughts on the Wissahickon

sara.gladwin's picture

I’ve been here before.


There is a sense of excitement that accompanies encountering the familiar, paralleled by discontentment at being unable to articulate the vague and seemingly random connection I am feeling...


I felt it even as we drove to our destination, passing the rooftops of buildings in Manayunk. Manayunk, which according to Wikipedia, literally translates from the Lenape language as, “place to drink.” It was their word for River. I take note of the tall sign that marks a movie theatre. It is also the sign I look for to indicate the entrance to a small outlet containing a liquor store.


“Place to drink” was indeed my experience with Manayunk this past summer, though I recognize that the Lenape Indians and I most likely have different interpretations of the word “drink.” 


I’ve been here before.


We step out of the vans and the sense lingers. Anticipation holds a sense of remaining unfulfilled… Is that what this unease is, being unable to place a finger on how you know a place or why you know it?


I study the rules for Wissahickon Valley, depicted on a sign at the beginning of the trail. A few jump out at me:

“No alcoholic beverages.”

“No littering or dumping.”

“No Swimming.”


We finally reach Devil’s Pool and I have found what I have been looking for during our trip and I am unable to keep myself from declaring to the group:




I cannot keep from smiling.


It is odd to view Devil’s Pool from the other side of the River, because I am literally watching a memory at a distance. I am here on the other side and yet, I am also sitting down by the water, smoking a cigarette on a rock and thanking my bad habits for giving me something visible to have in common with those around me. I am getting picked up and thrown into the water; I am submerged in memory. Is it evident how lost I am? Am I the only one who can see all these ghosts; sunbathing by the water, and peering over a cliff edge, afraid to jump off?


These invisible connective threads, which can also be called memories… how do they shape our experience of place? Why does it matter to me whether others can see the stitching I feel, binding me to the ground we all walk on?


sara.gladwin's picture

photos from Wissahickon trip