Monday, October 5, 2009

An Urban Oasis

Strollers, joggers and bike riders pass by on a sandy road. Just beyond the path, children play on a well-kept lawn by the side of a narrow and shallow creek. The pines and broad leaf trees are in full bloom. It’s a rustic setting that is far removed from urban distractions, yet I am in the city of Philadelphia. It’s Labor Day and I, along with my wife, Maria, and her sister Lucy, are enjoying lunch on the front porch of the Valley Green Inn.

The white-painted building with the shingled roof was first built as an inn on what was a stagecoach path during the 1850s. Today, it is a restaurant and banquet hall in what is now called the Wissahickon Valley. The Wissahickon Creek runs past the front of the building. The inn operates under the joint care of the Friends of the Wissahickon (a volunteer organization) and Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park Commission, yet is a privately run business.

The inside is divided into small dining areas and a bar area. There’s also a banquet room and a takeout window selling hot dogs, ice cream and other treats.

While the rooms inside are cozy, the seats of choice on this cloudy, cool, comfortable day are outside on the expansive porch. We all ordered sandwiches which were all good, but could have used a bit more flavor. However, the day wasn’t about food. It was about relaxing. The setting that is at the same time alive with people and nature while serene couldn’t have been better.

By the time we were finished our meals we were practically melting. We moved to sit on a park bench by the creek and watched as a family, with children and a dog in tow, walk out on a rocky creek bed to feed and otherwise annoy a flock of ducks minding their own business to our right. After awhile the ducks had enough and the entire group flew past us and joined another flock of ducks about 10 yards to our left. The dog then repeatedly burrowed its face into the creek bed as if chasing something under the ground.

Around us children continued playing while their parents talked among themselves. The path, now behind us, remained active, and the front porch of the restaurant was filled with contented diners. Time passed slowly. I don’t think there’s a better way to spend a holiday.