On Seven Hills

Driving to Cassadaga, I’d occasionally see a highway sign that said, “Hill Obstructs View.”  I’d scan the horizon for the hill in question. I never saw one. Was I reading the sign wrong? Did it say, “View Obstructs Hill?” No, I had it right. When I’d see this sign, I’d feel a slight lift to the car, like a gentle swell when you’re in a rowboat, as the road rose a little and then dropped.

Sometime later I realized that gentle incline was the hill in question.

By Sonoma County standards, northeast Florida is flat.

The founder of the Spiritualist Camp of Cassadaga, George P. Colby,had a spirit guide named Seneca who directed him to the south, to “a land of interlocking lakes, and a place with seven hills.”  After taking a steamboat south up the St John’s River — the river flows north– then a packmule train through mud and swarms of mosquitoes, Colby found a place, and Seneca informed him that it was the spot.

I will agree, with only a tinge of Sonoma-hill superiority in my tone, that Cassadaga is hilly. They are gentle hills. I’d be temped to call them “rises,” but they are hills. I did a lot of walking, and my calves concur. The cemetery where Colby is buried occupies a pair of low rolls of earth that rise noticeably above road level.

"The Chapels." This is not the mansion where Al Capone once hid out.

“The Chapels.” This is not the mansion where Al Capone once hid out.

In town, the hotel and the camp office/store definitely are at a higher altitude than the fancy mansion called the Chapels or even the Cassadaga Historical District sign.

Basically, this is how you find the camp.

Basically, this is how you find the camp.

When I first read about the “seven hills,” I thought it was a reference to Rome, and that spirit guide Seneca was having a joke at Colby’s expense. It seems that was not the case.

To my credit, I never actually said out loud to a local, “Oh, you call that a hill?” or the even worse, “Oh, that’s adorable!”

Still, it’s sad to discover that I am a terrain-bigot.

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