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.
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.
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.