Friday, June 17, 2016

A Hundred Mile Walk in the Woods - Allegheny National Forest

Mountain Laurel in bloom adorns the North Country Trail in southern Allegheny National Forest.  This is near the northwest edge of the range of this species.

"Hither to Yon" - Days 42 through 48

To hike in the deep woods, away from the scourge of the man-machine, is to revisit the creation.  The forest evokes a primeval time when man still depended on his connections to the forces that molded him.  Coming here awakes vital ancestral memories that are etched into our genes like glyphs on a stone.  It gives those memories life, lets them speak again.

It is to breathe this clear and ancient air that I come to Allegheny National Forest today, to read the runes within, to re-connect with myself.

These are connections that we forget at our peril.  This path through the woods is a true path, shaped by the timeless land, not straight, not smooth as our machines would make it.

Trees are king here in Allegheny National Forest.  The trail builders have respected that, and have built minimal footpaths that avoid roads or the rumor of roads.  They even avoid tracks cut long ago that have not seen a machine in half a century.  The trail through this national forest is a joy.

Few people hike here.  In the more remote areas the trail stands knee-high in the fresh late spring vegetation.  Yet it is well blazed and easy to follow thanks to a few dedicated maintainers.  A trail can be loved to death.  I'm here to declare that this trail is worthy of such love.  Heaven forbid that too many read this!

When I walk in the woods I find that it is not the trees that gain my attention.  It is the little things.

But there are a few big things, too.  This forest is notable for some massive rectangular house-sized blocks.

And there was the walk beside Alleghany Reservoir, built just fifty years ago.

The reservoir is a monument to the power of our machines, and when it fills with silt our folly will be exposed.  Yet today it sits quietly on the land and I can imagine that it formed naturally, as the nearby Finger Lakes did.  Most of the forest animals do not know the difference, and for me it's just a little self-deception that lets the runes etched in my DNA continue to speak as I wander the trail. 

The deer huffs and scampers away.  The one small bear I saw fled before I could say 'boo'.  The birds fill the sky with wing and song.  The chipmunks scoot into their holes chirping their alarm.  And I pass by and smile, because all these voices come from the same deep-rooted glyphs that drive me.

It took me a week of day hikes to traverse the national forest.  Here's an overview map.  The section of trail discussed here is marked in orange, within the green-stippled portion of northwestern Pennsylvania.

Zooming in, here are the seven daily GPS tracks.

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