The Mystery at Pucker Bush Overlook: A Mystery No More!

Step aside Nancy Drew. Growing up, I was a Trixie Belden fan through and through. Trixie was a teenage super-sleuth with freckles and strawberry-blonde hair (like me!) and I lived vicariously through her adventures, friendships, and romances. Although I often daydreamed that I was Trixie (and positively swooned at the thought of dating Jim) I never found any real-life mysteries to solve. Until now.

My mysterious structure.

I went for a hike in mid-July and came upon a curious wooden structure in the middle of an empty field. The thing had a pleasing symmetry and I pondered it from afar on my way out, and detoured for a closer look on the way back. Interest piqued (and completely stumped), I spent the next month showing folks photos, scouring Google images, and even asking for ideas through my blog and newsletter, all to no avail. The best idea to surface: a drying rack of some sort.

Enter Nancy, my very own Nancy Drew incarnate? We wanted to squeeze in one last hike before closing our respective cottages and saying goodbye to Keuka Lake, so I chose a short section of the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) from Robbins Road to the Pucker Bush Overlook. The hike was one of my favorites this summer leading through hushed woods, around rolling fields, and topping out with an expansive view. It also happened to run right by my perplexing…thing. Two heads are better than one, right? Trixie may have had her “Bob-Whites of the Glen” but Nancy and I became the Catbirds of Keuka (or Bats of the Bluff, or Salamanders of the Gully; I haven’t consulted Nancy, so we don’t have an official name for our club yet).

An electrical hookup with the mysterious structure visible in the distance.

The hike started just as I’d remembered and the “drying rack” appeared on cue, but with eagle-eyed Nancy along, the puzzling discoveries multiplied quickly. First, a small wood structure in the woods, then a second larger structure tucked even deeper in the trees, a small royal blue gem (a clue!), an electrical hookup in the middle of nowhere, and a cleared circle with colorful pennants attached to 2-foot stakes. Curioser and curioser.

We found this tucked in the woods. Changing stalls??

As baffled as I was, the lawful-good side of me hesitated to veer off the FLT (and onto private property) to walk down and inquire. Nancy gently encouraged, pointing out that no signs were posted and we’d of course leave immediately if intruding. Thank you Nancy! Our “super-quick” diversion turned into a 50-minute field trip that answered all of our questions plus a bunch we didn’t even know to ask.

Nancy heading into a greenhouse to speak with Kevin, our man on the inside.

So what is this intriguing property? None other than the PeaceWeavers’ Thunder Mountain Peace Sanctuary. Nancy and I knocked and halloooed and wandered until we discovered a young man working in a greenhouse. He kindly invited us in, ran us through PeaceWeavers 101 (we kind of grilled him), and invited us to explore the property. Many thanks Kevin!

Ah! The PeaceWeavers. Now we're getting somewhere...

Though the PeaceWeavers are a known quantity to locals, I’d never heard of them. The movement began in New Jersey in 1990 and came to its current location near Bath, New York, in 1994. It was founded by people who generally follow Buddhist and Native American teachings and philosophies, and strive to promote greater peace and healing in the world. According to their website, “Our mission is to model sustainable community. To live sustainably we eat a nutritious, plant-based diet that supports us to be well; grow our own food organically; build and live in green, energy-efficient homes; and celebrate daily with joy and laughter.”

Colorful flags overlooking the PeaceWeavers property.

I dug around the PeaceWeavers’ website and they offer a host of activities year-round including fasting cleanses, silent retreats, peace weekends, harvest weekends, a New Year’s visioning retreat, summer peace gatherings, kid’s peace camps, and a teen leadership course. Those curious structures? A few were created for natural building colloquiums where participants learned to use straw bale, cob, timber framing, earthen plastering and more. The clearing with colored flags is a medicine wheel, and my “drying rack” is actually - drum roll please - a shade arbor with shade provided by pine boughs strewn above.

Who wouldn't want to play in this whimsical little house?

A shade arbor! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We also found an inviting children’s playhouse, a serene 5-acre lake, a sweat lodge, and a ceremonial lodge tucked in the woods. Chris doesn’t know it yet, but I’m smitten with the idea of attending at least part of next year’s summer gathering. Past gatherings have included guest speakers, drum circles, live music, yoga, talking stick circles, meditation, yoga, natural building, a Tibetan sand mandala, and vegan meals. I’ve never done anything like it.

I also want their delicious produce. The PeaceWeavers’ 250-acre property has an apple orchard, 5 acres devoted to vegetables, and 75 acres earmarked for cover crops and edible grains. Their organic farm sells produce to local grocery stores and restaurants (Nancy realized she’s seen their micro-greens at Wegmans) and offer limited Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares each season. CSAs allow individuals to purchase directly from local farmers and are essentially farm shares. In 2016, PeaceWeavers offered 130 shares with each share consisting of 6–10 veggies per week for about 20 weeks from mid-June through late October. Shares cost $320 for a working share (~$16/week and requiring 2 hours of farm work per week throughout the defined season) or $500 for a non-working share (~$25/week). As an added bonus, members receive weekly recipes and tips from the retreat center’s vegan chefs. Woohoo! Nancy and I hope to split a working share next year, divvying up the required work and weekly pick-ups.

One small section of the "shoe garden" along Robbins Road.

To take this lovely walk, we parked at the FLT Robbins Road parking and hiked north on Robbins/Brewer Road until the FLT ducked back into woods. There’s exactly one house along this segment of Robbins Road and it provided two sources of entertainment. First, the “shoe garden” with plants growing in dozens upon dozens of old shoes - quirky and clever.

Nancy demonstrating "SIT"

Second, the big, aggressive dog that scared the bejeebers out of me last time and came racing out once again. Nancy calmed him a bit with a firm “Go home!” but he stuck with us and remained agitated until Nancy got his attention, put her arm straight out with hand in a fist, and commanded him to “SIT”. He did and was pretty darned friendly from then on. It was an effective trick that I’ll file away for future use.

The Runkeeper data for our hike from the Robbins Road parking area. The Pucker Bush Overlook is in the blue circle, and this is also the spot where we turned off the FLT to head down to Thunder Mountain Sanctuary.

The hike to the Pucker Bush Overlook would have been a 2.8 mile out-and back, but we walked a 3.5 mile loop dropping down to the PeaceWeavers’ main house, along the lake, and up to the shade arbor before linking back up with the FLT. For more hiking info, this CNY Hiking article describes the portion of the FLT that runs through the Bath area.

The old church steeple at the intersection of Robbins Road and Harrisburg Hollow Road.

Last but not least, we took the long way home and came upon a quaint church (or part of a church?) where Robbins Road and Harrisburg Hollow Road meet. Nancy struck up a conversation with a stranger who turned out to be Jim Robbins, of Robbins Road fame. Fortuitous! Turns out Jim’s grandfather helped save the steeple from the old Methodist church that once stood on the spot, and Jim (with help from others) hopes to refurbish it in the next year or so.

Carved stone inside the church steeple.

What an enlightening day. I clearly need to go exploring (sleuthing!) with Nancy more often. Click here to read her blog post about our little adventure.

A mystery no more. I felt quietly triumphant on this final approach to the PeaceWeavers' shade arbor.

And here it is in use:

The PeaceWeavers' shade arbor with pine boughs overhead and gathering underneath. Photo courtesy of the PeaceWeavers website,