Haunts & Jaunts: A walk in the woods

Our official wedding photo on top of the falls at McCormick’s Creek.

By Rick Hinton

   Well, the weather is changing. There are more hours of daylight now, and while I may start out with a coat in the morning, it’s gone by afternoon. Bang the drum and celebrate…spring is just around the corner! My wife Laura and I have our weekend routines that I hope will continue in 2021.

   There’s nothing better after a hard week of work at the salt mines like a walk in the woods. It becomes an escape and ever-present avenue of solitude; a gift from God. Hearing your breath and the click of a walking stick, feeling the heartbeat in your chest as your feet navigate the inclines and twists and turns of a narrow trail, becomes a symphony of music for the soul. The wildlife may be unseen and just out of reach, but you know it’s out there in the shadows nonetheless.

   My wife and I make these excursions a “we” retreat. We go when we can, sometimes camping primitive style in tent, air mattress, and Coleman stove. However, most times these days, in the comfort of an air-conditioned state park lodge with electricity, shower and a buffet. We have our two favorite parks:

   McCormick’s Creek State Park in Spencer was the site of our wedding. We said our vows on top of the waterfall, while oblivious day hikers frolicked in the creek below; they had no idea what was going on above them! Centennial Shelter has replaced the shelter where we held our reception. The park’s trails wind through hill and valley, through groves of beech and oak, through “I need a break” to “I’ve got this handled.” And always, the sport of creek hopping – leaping from rock to rock while attempting to keep your boots dry.

The pioneer Hamer Cemetery in Springmill State Park.

   Springmill State Park in Mitchell is one of our go to destinations. The trails are challenging with an array of dips and sways through steep ravines and sinkholes. The forest is so thick in places that the leafy canopy fights the sun from breaking through. One trail comes upon Hamer Cemetery, an ancient plot of ground where pioneers from a different era are buried. Laura and I always stop to examine the headstones and maybe catch a quick snooze. I’m perfectly comfortable in pioneer cemeteries, but get out before dark; you never know. The trail from the cemetery drops from the hilltop, descending into the valley and into Pioneer Village….

Main street in Pioneer Village. The ancient grist mill is on the left. *Photos by Rick Hinton

  Pioneer Village was a living, breathing pioneer town, originating in the early1800s. Folks here etched out a living, working a community garden, hosting hogs for meat, raising children, and finding a sense of satisfaction at the grist mill dominating the center of the village. The streets and buildings are as they were back in the day. Many of its original residents are in the cemetery up the hill. The majority of the village’s restoration was completed in the 1920s and 1930s. At night, after the day’s invasion of park visitors, the village becomes quite something else. The consistent hum of the day has been replaced by a silence, almost deafening. One-hundred-year-old buildings seem to stare back at you. You image (or is it your imagination?) faces in the window of the grist mill. Shadows dart from your peripheral vision. Standing one night by the Leather Shop, my wife and I heard a conversation from the back side of the building; no one was there. Is Pioneer Village haunted? Yep…pretty much.

   One gets the distinct impression that some residents chose to remain behind.