Escape to the Mountain

A Family's Adventures in the Wilderness
By Marcia Bonta
Paperback: $12.00 • ISBN: 978-1-60419-002-1

Expanded Edition with a New Epilogue by the Author

“To…experience winter solitude, mountain spring, endless summer days and autumn peace, all you need is Marcia Bonta’s book Escape to the Mountain.

Erie Times-News

Summary

“This place doesn’t exist,” a visitor once declared. After a mile and a half drive up a primitive road through a dark wooded hollow, he had been amazed to discover the Bontas’ sunny open farm right on top of the mountain.

In her book, Mrs. Bonta tells how she, her husband Bruce, and their three young sons discovered such an unusual farm. During their first year there they survived a blizzard, which snowed them in for nearly a week, a flood, which cut them off from the outside world, and a drought that destroyed their first garden.

Her book is a hymn of joy to sledding on moonlit nights in winter, to the arrival of the birds in spring, to insects of the milkweed patch in summer, and to harvesting garden crops in the autumn. She relates how they discovered a family of wild puppies in the barn, a porcupine in the apple tree, a shrew in the laundry bucket, mudpuppies in the well, and opossums on the back porch.

Despite their isolation, she and her family cannot escape the influence of the outside world. She deplores the excesses of our materialistic society and the “me-first” philosophy that also accompanies it. In an effort to make the family stronger and more independent, she tells how they decided to use the land by growing as much of their own food as possible.

About the Author

Marcia Bonta was born in 1940 in New Jersey. At Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, she met and married her husband Bruce. After one year of teaching in the Danville, Pennsylvania High School, she had her first son. Dedicated to staying home and raising her family, she found interest in studying the natural world with her boys, first in Washington, DC, then in rural Maine, and finally on her mountain top farm in Pennsylvania.

She has written numerous articles and books including Women in the Field: America’s Pioneering Women Naturalists.

Evelyn Anderson (Erie Daily Times):

“To . . . experience winter solitude, mountain spring, endless summer days and autumn peace, all you need is Marcia Bonta’s book Escape to the Mountain: A Family’s Adventures in the Wilderness . . . . It’s a book worth rereading, plus it now has an epilogue you won’t want to miss.”

Acknowledgments

1: Discovery

2: First Year Woes

3: Rambling over Plummcrest

4: Winter Solitude

5: Fellow Inhabitants

6: Mountain Spring

7: Mammal Adventures

8: Endless Summer Days

9: The Lesser Creatures

10: Autumn Peace

11: What Do You Do with Your Time?

12: A New Life

Epilogue

Index

Map of the Property

From Chapter 1: Discovery

Slowly our Volkswagon bus ascended the steep mountain road. Five eager faces peered out of the windows. “Gee, we could really go over the edge there,” Steve shouted exuberantly as we all stared down the sheer drop to the tumbling mountain stream below.

“Are we going to live up here in the woods?” David asked excitedly. Mark just wriggled in his seat, uncomfortable in his wet diapers.

Bruce kept his eyes straight ahead as he carefully navigated up the deeply rutted dirt road. Finally he turned to me. “Are you sure you have the directions right?” “Oh yes,” I answered confidently, but I was quite relieved when we came at last to a fork in the road.

“The realtor told me to take the left fork over a small wooden bridge,” I said, peering down at my scribbled notes. We bumped over the primitive plank bridge and continued climbing. Suddenly, as we emerged from the woods, we could see a wide expanse of fields and a cluster of buildings ahead. Rounding the last curve we passed a small white tenant house. A large bank barn and a tool building were above us to the right, but our eyes were drawn up to a terraced knoll on the left. A large white house with green shutters and stately columns loomed almost level with the tops of the locust and black walnut trees clustered on the lawns below. Framing the scene on the lawn was an old stone springhouse and well. It was the springhouse that sold me. “I don’t care what this place looks like inside. Let’s buy it!” I exclaimed.

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From Chapter 2: First Year Woes

We moved to the mountain at the end of August. No large moving van could make it up our incredible road, so Bruce hired some willing teenagers and a truck. As they backed the truck up to the door and started unloading, a major problem developed. The second floor of the house could only be reached by a narrow, winding staircase. Even bureaus wouldn’t go up the stairs, let alone our enormous double bed with its 7-foot high headboard. After surveying the situation, Bruce removed the sashes from one of our bedroom windows, put a ladder against the side of the front porch roof, and hoisted the furniture up with a rope. The teenagers and I stood agape, but Bruce had learned that country living is synonymous with getting by somehow. And to our amazement all our bedroom furniture did make it through the window and into the second floor.

The suburban-bred teenagers stared at the house we had bought. Paint was peeling off the veranda where the roof leaked. Most of the rooms had faded, peeling wallpaper, several bedroom windows were broken or cracked, and many of the floors were hideously painted or covered with old, cracking linoleum. The tool building and the tenant house (which we planned to use as a guesthouse) were badly in need of paint, and both buildings had roofs that leaked. “Well, good luck,” one of them muttered doubtfully as he left. But lost in the euphoria of rolling fields and wooded hilltops, we hardly listened. Even if we had, nothing could have dissuaded us from buying the house. It had lots of land, and that was all that mattered.

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From Chapter 5: Fellow Inhabitants

Sometimes we live closer to nature than we like to. Our home is actually invaded by the small creatures that live about us. The red squirrels which occupy our walls all year ‘round have apparently always built their nests there. They clatter up and down the attic steps and occasionally scamper across the basement floor. One autumn they discovered my open shelves of jams and jellies—I found tops and chewed paraffin scattered all over the shelves and floor. Sweeping up the mess and moving the untouched jelly to closed cabinets, I muttered angrily about their invasion of our home. Most years the squirrels gather huge caches of black walnuts from the many trees in our yard, and they store them in the walls of the house. As we sit in the living room, we often hear them rolling the heavy nuts across the ceiling.

But squirrels are not the only invaders. Our first winter on the mountain I began to notice tiny teeth marks on the apples stored under the outside cellar door. One day when I went to gather some apples, I surprised a large-eyed, large-eared little creature with white under parts that scampered away through a small crack in the door. It was an exquisite white-footed mouse. Townspeople rarely see this mouse, because it prefers brushy cover and a woodland habitat. Not wishing to trap the beguiling creature, we went into action to save the apples. A heavy piece of plywood was fitted over the cardboard apple box. Now we could relax and “suffer the mouse to play,” as the old Pennsylvania Indian chief had said.

Another time I discovered a strange little animal trapped in a bucket in the basement, dashing about in a frenzy, trying to get out. Steven identified it as a short-tail shrew. We learned from Mammals of Pennsylvania that shrews are the most common mammals found in the state, but they are rarely seen because they are elusive nocturnal animals. It was 4 1/2 inches long from snout to tip of tail, and it seemed to have no eyes at all. Actually, its eyes are no larger than small dots. According to the book, their keen sense of smell and tiny ears, hidden in their fur, guide them to food. As an experiment, we put some canned cat food in the bucket. It sniffed about for a moment, rushed over, and quickly consumed it. Shrews require from one-half to three times their own body weight in food every 24 hours, and they die of starvation in one or two days if they don’t eat. After drawing and studying it, Steve released it in the grape arbor, where it darted away, no doubt desperately searching for more food to keep alive.

Shortly after we moved here we found a heavy mesh screen covering the drain in the concrete basement floor. When we questioned the former owners, they told us that a copperhead had come up through the drainpipe one day. I didn’t protest even though I was quite certain that they had seen a harmless milk snake. I remembered the old Italian belief that a milk snake in the basement is a lucky omen for the owners.

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