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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hipster Joggers at Valley Green

Last week I got together with my friend Alex for a fall hike through Valley Green. Valley Green is the city’s most scenic park. Its location near Roxborough and Chestnut Hill puts it on the outskirts of the city. I’d been going to Valley Green since I was a boy, when I would hike the old bridle paths with aunts or uncles in search of the legendary statue of Tedyuscung, the last Lenni Lenape chief to leave the Delaware Valley.

The mammoth statue of Tedyuscung was created by sculptor Massey Rhind and erected on the edge of a precipice in 1902. While some of my relatives remembered spotting him on various hikes throughout the woods, nobody could remember where ut was located.

But then Alex, who lives in Chestnut Hill, told me he knew where the statue was and that he would take me to see it. So we agreed to meet one Saturday morning and begin the hike to see the statue at last.

We entered the park on the Chestnut Hill side, avoiding the ever popular Valley Green Inn area that in 1927 was a popular starting and finishing point for horse lovers. One of the most exclusive riding groups in those days was Wissahickon Farms, where member riders wore shirt and ties. The Valley Green Inn was built before the Revolution and was always a restaurant of some sort. Fishing was a very popular pastime along the Wissahickon Creek, where at the turn of the 20th century catfish were so plentiful that they blackened many sections of the creek. Gentlemen fishermen usually wore coats, ties and wide brim fedoras or bowler hats. Highly influenced by the Victorian era, men and women in the teens and 1920s saw a walk or a hike through the woods, or Valley Green, as a special experience where one could commune with Nature. It was a time when you were supposed to put your city mindset at rest. Even poet Edgar Allan Poe put his city slicker worries aside when he went rafting on the Wissahickon. In one quote, the great writer recalls how while rafting there he often recalled the time “when the red man trod alone with the elk, upon the ridges that now lowered above.”

While walking the path to the chief, Alex pointed out the number of panting, struggling joggers, some weighed down with water bottles and covered with sweat. Some of the joggers had dogs who ran in front of them in order to clear the path of hikers so that their jogger owners could enjoy an unobstructed run. A number of Lance Armstrong-like (non-doping) cyclists bounced over the foot paths littered with rocks and boulders, and seemed annoyed whenever ordinary hikers blocked the way.

This was hardly a Victorian scene. Nobody was contemplating Nature; nobody was strolling along and having a conversation. Instead, the area had become an outdoor gymnasium where lean and already in shape people, most of them in their twenties (the foodie culture age) were doing their usual competitive stints, striving for excellence as if ascending the career ladder at work. The hipsters had succeeded in turning an appreciation for Nature into a act of mortification.

Alex, who is fairly young himself, told me that he didn’t think that parks like Vallet Green should become gymnasiums. He became especially annoyed when a hipster couple sent two dogs out in front of them to help clear the path of hikers who just might be in some kind of Victorian trance. “Where are you running to?” he called out to the sweat-drenched hipsters, “Death?”

“Look,” Alex told me, “There he is.” Through a slit in the trees I could see the famous “King of the Delawares.” There was a sort of encampment around his pedestal, the remnants of a melted votive candle in one of the cornices, and a few people paying him homage. Of course, what this stately statue doesn’t tell you is how Chief Tedyuscung died: he burned to death along with some of his friends after a drunken frolic. But at least the statue was in contemplative mode, and not jogging in a competitive state of agony.