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Under my hat: Making the best of a bad year

It was a year like no other.

Twelve months of fear, hope and even defiance.

It began with two seemingly normal months, then everything went to hell because of the pandemic.

Truth be told, the first two months weren’t so hot either.

Many of us were sick in January and February. Just about everyone I knew was ill, including me. My sickness lasted into March and I still don’t know what it was.

It was impossible to get a coronavirus test at that time unless you’d visited China or Italy.

Medical experts were saying it was too early to have COVID-19. Of course, they’ve since changed their tune. They’re saying the virus could’ve been here as early as 2019.

Whatever the case, the year forced dramatic lifestyle changes, starting with alarmingly bare shelves at supermarkets and closed doors at restaurants.

When dental offices finally reopened, we were afraid to schedule appointments.

We became accustomed to celebrating holidays in very small groups. For some of us, it was remarkably easy. It’s the normal routine for many of us without children or grandkids.

In fact, I made the best of the year and did things I wouldn’t otherwise have accomplished.

With my highwheel riding season canceled, I found myself with extra time in what was my fourth year of retirement.

I took advantage of the opportunity to do more cooking, more day trips and lots more photography.

There were plenty of highlights because I explored natural and man-made wonders in my own backyard.

The spectacular canola fields at Cherryville added color to the month of May. A highlight of summer.

On the down side, there was major flooding in Gilberton and I spent two days there photographing the impact.

It just seemed dramatic things were happening on the ground and high above.

On July 17, I positioned myself atop Vulcan Mountain at nighttime and grabbed some once-in-a-lifetime photos of Comet NEOWISE, using time exposure and remote shutter release.

On Nov. 10, I did the same thing at Mount Penn in Reading, with interesting night shots of the pagoda, its warm glow over the city below.

Many day trips afforded me a chance to mark off items from my bucket list.

I hiked to the spot of the 1959 Knox Mine Disaster near Port Griffith, where an icy, swollen Susquehanna River broke through the riverbed and entombed 12 unsuspecting miners below. A fascinating place to visit, but if overgrowth continues, the site eventually will be inaccessible.

In November, I hiked to the 1911 ghost town of Concrete City, an abandoned community made entirely of poured cement, located in woods outside of Nanticoke.

Once called the Garden City of the Anthracite, it was ahead of its time in many ways. But concrete walls, floors and ceilings proved too cold in winter and too damp in summer. The town was abandoned in 1924. Yet it still stands today because, well … it’s made of concrete.

Earlier in the year, I made a final trip to the ghost town of Centralia, just before Graffiti Highway was buried under tons of dirt to deter future visitors and resulting vandalism.

Closer to home, I hiked to Tank Hollow in Penn Forest Township to photograph breathtaking views over Lehigh Gorge.

Then it was back to Reading to visit center city to archive a few images of the 1857 Reading Railroad skew arch bridge, an engineering oddity still in use.

All in all, much to do and see all year long and too little time.

For me, it was a busy, memorable 2020. The freedom of retirement is a pleasure. I’d much rather spend time exploring the wonders that surround me than staring at a Zoom meeting on my computer.

We only have so much time to enjoy ourselves and I’d like to make the most of it.

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2021!

Contact Donald R. Serfass at dserfass@tnonline.com.

In the woods outside of Nanticoke is 1911 Concrete City, a ghost town. The community survived only 13 years because it lacked indoor plumbing but had a common well. Also, residents had to remove furniture once a year to hose down mold growing on the homes' interior walls, a recurring problem. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS