A Wintery Tale


It was springtime in a place called Upper Falls, in the Old Line State of Maryland. Our home there for thirty years was a clapboard house and neatly tucked inside of the house was a Log Cabin that was built in Eighteen Hundred and Twelve, that’s right 1812, just thirty-six years after we officially became The United States of America. The Chestnut logs which peeked out in front of the house were the only clue that the cabin was even there.

George Washington had, many times, passed just two miles from there when he would travel up the Philadelphia Pike (now called Belair Road) on his way from Mt. Vernon to a meeting in Philadelphia. In fact, he would occasionally stay at the spot where the Kingsville Inn now stands. It was a much smaller Inn at the time. 

Inside the log cabin, there is a large stone fireplace that was used for both heating in the winter and for cooking year ‘round. It covers almost an entire wall. 

The cabin has assumed many roles in the drama that was played out in the making of this part of America. Its first job was as a house for the families of early settlers that came to make Upper Falls a town where people could safely live. After all, this was just 1812 and there were still some Indians hanging around in the East, but they were far outnumbered by the white men and lived peacefully among them.

Eventually our cabin became a Trading Post. When I say our cabin, we owned it but it was really just ours to care for during the time we occupied it. It is a national treasure and it is the responsibility of each of us to preserve as much of our past as we can when we have the opportunity to do so. We would often sit in front of the warm and cozy fireplace on a winter’s night and wonder if the spirits of former cabin dwellers were with us by the fire.

The pioneers came to the Trading Post to get their coal oil for their lamps, powder and shot for their weapons, large hunting knives to butcher the deer they killed for meat and also knives that they used to skin the otter, beaver, mink, muskrats and other fur-bearing animals that they trapped. They traded their pelts when they needed something like seed for their spring planting or dry goods that could not be grown on the farm. The pelts were a substitute for money which was hard to come by in the early days of America. 

Later, the cabin became a Stage Coach stop, where passengers would halt in their journey in order to refresh themselves before heading east on Bradshaw Road to board the train at the new Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Station that had been built there to take on  passengers from all over the area. They would be heading north to Philadelphia, or New York, or possibly Boston or maybe even south to Washington D.C. 

Many other settlers lived in the cabin for various periods of time, too many to name in this tale. One of these settlers, nearly 200 years ago, planted a Black Mulberry tree in the area just behind the Log Cabin. Perhaps Mr. Settler did it for the Mulberry Fruit so he could turn it into good wine for the cold winter months or maybe Mrs. Settler just wanted some fruit for pies and jams. The tree grew and grew and became a champion. It was judged to be the largest Black Mulberry tree in the State of Maryland and the surrounding Colonies until its limbs got so large and heavy that they parted ways and the tree split right down the middle. One set of roots, with two huge half-trees coming out of the black and fertile soil. The tree still lives today, bearing tons of Mulberries. 

This bring us to the time of my family’s stewardship and begins the story that is based upon mostly facts that can be verified by the persons still alive, who witnessed some of the happenings.  I personally saw Woodie and his family set up housekeeping before my very own eyes that spring of the previous year, when they moved in under the spreading Mulberry tree.

They were busy as little beavers (more like pack-rats) and during the summer they gathered acorns, hickory nuts and many kinds of seeds to get ready for winter. They made tunnels and dug large storage areas. I often wondered about them, just where they came from and why they moved here. Then I met a very old man who told me quite a tale, apparently this son of a son of a pioneer had a parrot that figured out how to talk with…I’m sorry,  I was warned not to say any more. So, without further ado, here is just what was told to me: 

This is the tale of an American Gerbil named Woodie. He is commonly known as a woods rat or pack rat and our story begins on a snowy Christmas Eve. Little Woodie is poking his head out of the burrow under the old Mulberry Tree, watching the giant snow flakes cover the ground. He thinks how glad he is that they’d found this place and what a happy Christmas this was going to be. He and his momma, poppa and four sisters had moved here in the spring of last year. 

Before moving here, they had lived on the edge of the woods, not too distant from here, along the side of an old graveyard. They had quiet neighbors and the place was overgrown with briars and bushes. Then, one day, they heard a lot of activity nearby. The church had decided to clean up the cemetery in order to make it larger. Their home was being destroyed and they had to quickly find a new location. Woodie’s great-great grandmother told him of the Indians that roamed the area before the settlers came and built their funny houses, made of trees they had cut down.

Woodie’s mother and father had been looking for a new spot to make home.  Not too far away, there was a two hundred year old Black Mulberry tree with gnarly roots and places they could burrow under to establish their new “digs”. The humans who lived nearby in the Log Cabin had a box on a pole full of the kinds of seeds that they love and all they had to do was share to them with the birds. One afternoon, they packed up all they could carry and headed for their new home. They spent the rest of the year digging tunnels with storage rooms big enough to hold sufficient food for the winter and by the time winter set in, they were living a life of luxury.

Winter passed without any big problems and in the spring a new brood of pack rats emerged, they were all very happy until one day, a neighborhood tom cat who was allowed to roam freely came looking for a fight. Woodie’s happiness quickly turned to fear and he thought, ” It’s not gonna be a very Happy Christmas”.

Time to go…Pappa had heard rumors of a new location nearby, no houses for humans, very large old trees with gnarly roots and plenty of seeds and nuts. It was quite far for a pack-rat to travel so he’d have to make an over-night trip. He returned home full of excitement and told them of the Gunpowder Falls State Park. 

Hundreds of big Oak trees to dig under, streams nearby for water and acres of fields with seeds and acorns everywhere. They had packed while Poppa was gone so they were ready to travel and left just before the sun came up and by the time the sun had set, they had arrived at the spot Poppa had picked out. They spent the next day getting everything put away and digging burrows.  Then, Woodie said to himself….time for a rest.  He lay there next to the gurgling stream, looking up at the millions of stars that were just beginning their twinkling for the night and he thought: “This may be just the place we can stay for the next 200 years”.

Don Langrehr

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One Response to A Wintery Tale

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great story! It brought back many happy memories of winters and Christmas in Upper Falls.

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