Back To The Valley

Recently, two friends from high school, Jason and Mark, asked me to work on a film project with them. (The plot is top secret, but it's a horror film.)

All of us are in our mid-30s, creatively frustrated, and looking for a project to do that's fun and fulfilling. Jason does screenwriting on the side. Mark works for a local PBS affiliate as a cameraman. And I do whatever seems interesting. 

Anyway, after a few weeks of bouncing around location ideas, and doing some scouting a few weeks ago, we settled on potentially using a cabin that was located near my family's old farmhouse in Woodward. I was always kind of enchanted by it; it was in a lovely location near a stream and a meadow. Mark and I decided to take a drive to see if we could find some spots to shoot.

Yesterday morning Mark and I went tooling around eastern Centre county.  First thing he says to me in the car:

"Man, look at us, Alice! Sixteen years ago, we left Penns Valley, and now here we are, heading back."

Mark and I have known each other over twenty years, and I spent most of high school sitting behind him in classes because our names were alphabetically next to each other. At first we teased each other a lot, but we became good friends by tenth grade. We've always been like  slightly annoying but good natured siblings, which means we can work well together.

Jason was a couple of grades ahead of us, so I didn't know him as well in school, but if I remember correctly he was my dance partner during "Li'l Abner," and I remember him as being a really down-to-earth guy. He and Mark have been creatively collaborating on scripts for a while now.

We took a pleasant drive thirty miles east, catching up and plotting some ideas for the movie. It was a really nice, if hot, summer day.

We decided to check out a campsite first, knowing they had a couple of little old cabins on the property that might serve as good interiors.

Looks pretty solid, right?

Looks pretty solid, right?

While I went around the side, Mark yelled from the front porch.

"Hey, there's no floor!"

The building had long been abandoned  - to the point that there was indeed no longer a floor. It looked like a botched renovation attempt. The side porch was busted up, with junk in the entranceway. We found an entrance through the cellar around the corner, completely covered over with weeds.

Reserved...for baby groundhogs.

Reserved...for baby groundhogs.


I went in first, which was kind of stupid since I was just wearing Chaco sandals and there were probably hungry baby groundhogs down there, but the sight inside was pretty great! The paint and old wallpaper plaster were peeling from the walls and ceilings; there were light fixtures still swinging - one with a comically optimistic flower pattern (considering its surroundings); there were rotting barkcloth curtains with pictures of teapots; there was a funky 1960s Mad Men style fixture hanging on a chain by the front door. On the windowsill was some kind of weird, Tim-Burton style plant, long-abandoned, stretching out like a creepy tentacle. It was certainly a sight to behold. 



After that, we took a walk back to the original location spot, and spent an hour or so checking out the premises; Mark took some photos to get an idea of how to compose shots for the film. I took a few pictures of the place a few weeks ago.  Here's two of my favorites: 



After the little adventure in the hollow, Mark and I drove a mile over to a rural farm lane that went past a cute A-frame house, and opened to the most beautiful field of goldenrod and wildflowers you can imagine. The bridge we had to cross was very rickety and covered with tin signs from the Camp. 

"That bridge reminds me of the one in Beetlejuice," Mark remarked, starting over it cautiously. "If we die, we're gonna be stuck haunting this A-frame for all eternity."

Luckily the car made it over with no problem, and we went back another mile or so to find the hunting camp. We came to a fork in the road and continued down the straight path, but couldn't find the camp we were looking for. We did, however, find a very pretty barn in the middle of nowhere. We decided to jump out and photograph it.

The hollow was really quite magical. Aside from a tower on Round Top behind us, there was absolutely no view of anything modern anywhere. There was also a notable absence of sound, aside from a breeze floating through the grasses, and a buzzard floating above. 

"You sure we didn't actually go through a time machine?" I asked, climbing up the hill toward the barn.

"Maybe we're dead. Guess is the afterlife," he replied, taking pictures of the barn. We found the barn doors to be buckling, but overall the building was quite pretty. 





After that, we rode back over the bridge. Our last trip over it had bent the tin up to a point where it would have sliced up the tires, so I had to hop out and stand on it so he could drive over the bridge back to the lane.  

We headed over to Ingleby after that, and found a few more potential cabins. We tried to see if someone was home at one of the cabins, but they'd driven out for something, so we left. We drove around some of the back roads, passing crops of old farms and new - most of them occupied by Amish. A few Lancaster Amish have moved into the area, and some are planting tobacco. The valley is still heavily populated by Nebraska Amish, who are more orthodox. They all wave or nod to passers-by. 

It's an area of the state very dear to my heart. I love photographing the beauty of the surrounding area.