We stood on the bluff, looking east over the town that lay at our feet.
It was a clear November day, unseasonably warm. You could make out the red brick many-windowed building on the square, catty-cornered from the grey granite slate-roofed structure, both signature edifices in this historic Pennsylvania town. The main street was lined with maples, now scarlet in their late fall foliage.
The river made its wide blue arc, skirting the grid of streets to the south. Two hawks soared in great circles on the air currents overhead. Off in the distance, beyond a plume of smoke, you could see the bridge and the white ribbon of highway going up into the mountains of New York.
Although we had been getting together for an afternoon at least once a year over the past decade, this was the first time we had hiked to the Knob for a panoramic view of the town. The waitress at the inn had afforded us directions: head south across the old concrete bridge, turn off into the cemetery and drive to the trailhead at the top of the hill.
We paused to inspect the metal structure lying on the ground at the bluff: a rusted cross constructed from steel pipe wired to a galvanized steel star — the town’s signature holiday decoration, erected with colored lights every Christmas.
We retraced our steps down the steep leaf-covered trail to the car and headed back to the inn for a round of Guinness and an extended dinner by the fire in the great room. We talked medicine, we talked work. We talked family, we talked about writers and the book we had both read. Four hours is not a long time for conversation over a meal at an inn with a good friend that you only get to see once or twice a year.
Eventually, darkness descended over the town. Here in the east it comes early after the timepieces are turned back for winter. Where my friend lives and works, time is untouched — the clocks are let alone.
We ambled to our cars along one of the back streets. My friend would traverse the extended detour back down through the gap in the darkness, groping toward Bethlehem, while I followed the moon, nearly full, across the dark river and up into the black mountains beyond.