The family that camps together

25 JULY–1 AUGUST 2017
The Hibdons got together for a week of camping and adventure in the Poconos.

To the Poconos!

This year, the Hibdon clan decided to get together again, but instead of going to Donner Lake, we decided to try a new place: Promised Land State Park in Pennsylvania, which I discovered by searching for lakes with camping in the Poconos. I’m glad we found it, and I hope we go back again.

On Friday, 25 July, after a few days of family emails discussing supplies and arrival times, Dustin and Fiona went to pick up our car from New Jersey. While they were gone, I read a blog post titled “Why I Took My Kids’ Toys Away (& Why They Won’t Get Them Back)” and I was inspired to go through Fiona and Colin’s toys and pack up a lot of them. I decided that I’m okay with building toys (blocks, for example), art supplies, and musical instruments, but other than that, I tried to get rid of as much as possible. Most of them weren’t trash, of course, so I stashed them away until we could take them to Goodwill. It was convenient that Fiona had decided to go with Dustin, since I couldn’t have culled the herd with her present. It was also convenient that we were about to leave town for a week, so that she wouldn’t notice that some of her toys were gone.

When they got back around 14.00, we were already far behind schedule. I had estimated that we would leave around noon and get to the cabin around 15.00. We packed up and I adjusted our estimate to 17.00. We drove and drove, but we hadn’t had any lunch, so we decided to stop at about the only place there is near the highway in Troy, New Jersey: Dunkin’ Donuts. We finally got into the vicinity of the state park as the sun was setting. It was then that we discovered that Dustin’s phone, which we had been using to navigate, had no service — and we didn’t know how to get to the park.

We drove down one road, state highway 447, that looked promising (no pun intended), but the bridge at the end was closed, so we had to turn around. At the end of 447, where it branches off from Pennsylvania highway 191 in East Stroudsburg, there is a retro-looking roadside ice-cream stand called Mary Anne’s Dairy Bar. I suggested we stop there for directions. I hopped out of the car and asked the teenage girls working there if they knew how to get to Promised Land. One of them did, and she gave me very good instructions. (Apparently people stop there all the time seeking directions, so she had some practice.)

We finally got to the cabins a few minutes before 22.00 — very late and very dark (as forests are). Grammy and Papa had a brand-new flashlight for Fiona. She was thrilled to use it to find our cabin, which was a cozy two-room affair built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. It had an electric cooking stove, a wood-burning stove for heat, a refrigerator, and a table and chairs in one room, and four bunks in the other. It had a front porch with a picnic table, and in an outbuilding just behind the cabin was a bathroom with hot running water and a shower. Even in the summer it’s pretty chilly in the Poconos, especially at night, when the temperature usually dips into the 50s (10°–15°C). We curled up on our bunks — which, honestly, were not that comfortable — and went to sleep.

A week of fun, adventure, and family

Grammy and Papa discovered that a church just up the road from our cabins was having a rummage sale. The entire family ambled up to the sale right first thing after breakfast on Saturday, 26 July, but of course we didn’t really need or want anything there, especially after getting rid of so many toys a few days earlier. Michael found an electric frying pan that would be great for his crew trips. Dustin found two tennis rackets for $1 each, which seemed like a great idea since we can take them across the street and play on the handball courts. Fiona found a wooden bear that she bought for, I think, $1.50 — her first purchase ever. She was very pleased.

The next day, Sunday, 27 July, I woke up sick. We hadn’t really planned to go to church, because it would have been really far anyway. Dustin took Fiona and Colin with the rest of the family over to the lake, where they found some wild blueberry bushes! I’m sad I missed that part. They picked a lot, I think. Meanwhile, I was throwing up on the path to the bathroom. Fortunately, though, I felt better right after that. I never did figure out what was wrong, since I had eaten the same things as everyone else.

That afternoon, Karen threw a birthday party for Fiona. We had an egg-and-spoon race in the road, and Fiona dropped her egg pretty much instantaneously. We also played pin the tail on the donkey, although I’m not sure it was a donkey — it may have been some other animal — and also I think we used tape instead of pins. There were two Sarah Lee cakes, one vanilla and one chocolate, as well as streamers and flower banners and cupcake papers full of candies.

Near the church where the rummage sale took place was a little dam, and above that was a beach where we went to play on Monday, 28 July. Karen and Bob had brought some beach toys, including a mask and snorkel and a purple inner tube. Fiona loved it. Her judgment was not always great, but she was very enthusiastic about hanging around right next to Karen and Bob, who fished her out when necessary. Colin liked splashing around.

Later that day, we all drove to a town north of the park called Hawley. It was one of those really cute litte towns with a nice Main Street (and, impressively, even some things off of Main Street), a nice library, and a creek running through it. We walked around a bit and explored some shops. There is also an old silk mill outside of town which has been converted into a hotel and some shops, with a trendy-looking but non-franchised coffee house named Cocoon in a building out front. We also stopped there, of course.

On Tuesday, 29 July, we started the day working on tie-dyeing shirts that Karen brought. Michael made one, and Karen made one for Colin and one for Fiona. I made one, too, and sadly it ended up looking more like the pox rather than the cheerful sunbursts I was going for. Fiona’s tie dye shirt is still one of her favorite shirts to wear, and it’s still very bright, unlike the tie-dye shirts I remember making when I was little.

Later, we drove to Scranton, which is Pennsylvania’s sixth largest city and the nearest large city to Promised Land State Park. Scranton is also the setting of the TV show The Office and is nicknamed, as we learned while we were there, “The Electric City”. As it turns out, it has kind of a nice downtown. I suppose that’s not a surprise, since older small cities generally did have nice downtowns. It’s just not what I think of when I think of Scranton, probably because The Office is set in a grungy suburban office park.

We explored the lovely old Lackawanna train station, which is on a hill on the edge of downtown. Unfortunately, no passenger trains stop there anymore, though the platforms are still there. But at least it has not been abandoned or demolished, like so many other lovely train stations across the United States: it has been converted into a hotel, and we think would be a pretty cool place to stay sometime.

We also visited Nay Aug Park, which is the largest park in Scranton. The Nay Aug Gorge right in the middle of the park, with a covered bridge over it, was really lovely. We also went to a huge tree house. One of the trees supporting the tree house we were in had a little door on it, which I had forgotten until Fiona reminded me. Actually, I still have no recollection of it, but there are pictures, so I guess it happened.

On Wednesday, 30 July, we went on a hike on the Little Falls Trail on the other side of the lake. There were some people out, but not a lot, and I was a little nervous about bears — especially when, partway around the loop, we found a giant pawprint in the mud. It was not a dog paw. We made sure to make plenty of noise as we finished our hike.

Throughout the week, when we weren’t out on hikes and exploring, Grammy and Papa’s cabin was the hang-out zone. Colin spent a lot of time hanging out on a blanket in front of their cabin. He wasn’t that stable yet, so sometimes he toppled over backwards, but it usually wasn’t a big problem for him.

Fiona found a big rock she could sit on. Someone had scaled a fish there, so she collected a lot of fish scales. There were plenty of opportunities for exploring, so that she did not feel any need for toys. She even told us that she wanted to live there, in the cabin, because there was so much to do and she liked being able to walk over to Grammy and Papa’s house every day. I also showed her that she could eat some of the plants nearby, though sorrel was the only one I was sure about.

There was plenty wildlife, too. We heard woodpeckers pretty often and sometimes managed to spot them in the trees. On Thursday, 31 July, Dustin repeated the Little Falls Trail hike with Grammy and Papa. At the beginning of the trail, near the top of the creek, several people were gathered looking at something in the water. Grammy, Papa, and Dustin looked and saw a snake taking a swim.

Some people, including Papa, reported bear sightings near the cabins. Dustin made a habit later in the week of waking up before everyone else and sitting in our rental car. The seats were much more ergonomic than the hard beds in the cabin, which gave his back a chance to recover from the previous night’s sleep, and he could listen to NPR. He also hoped to have his own bear sighting but, unfortunately, it never came.

On Friday, 1 August, our week of fun, adventure, and family came to an end. When it was time to go, we packed up all of our stuff, including a lot of stuff that had been purchased at Goodwill or at the rummage sale so we could drop it off at another donation site. (It’s always nice to get rid of stuff.) And, sure enough, when we got home, Fiona didn’t even notice that some of her toys were gone.

Read the entry Susan and Fiona left in our cabin’s guestbook.

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