Roots ‘n’ Boots

For most citizens living in a modern world, to talk about the “home place” is an unfamiliar exercise. Most of us today are socially mobile and often move from place to place for economic or recreational reasons. Today, we rarely live in one place long enough to establish an emotional bond with our home, or to develop a deeper understanding of how it fits in with the world-at-large.

As one who has been committed to living in a single area now for several decades or more (while appreciating many travels to and from the home), I enjoy such talk occasionally and still attempt to broaden my horizons in that place which I define as “home.”

The mountain trail along Buckseller Run, a minor trout stream, can be found along the northern edge of the 264,000 acre Susquehannock State Forest in north-central Pennsylvania. I consider it a small part of my New York/Pennsylvania home place. I began my latest hike on the Buckseller as a late winter sun began to thaw the slopes after a night of zero degrees (F.), perhaps the coldest night of the year so far.

a cherry tree forest

For years I would drive past the trailhead, not thinking much about it, while travelling to favored streams and hiking paths in Potter and Lycoming counties. One day, a couple of years ago, I finally stopped to fish the lower Buckseller Run for brook trout. On subsequent visits I would hike a short way on the trail and reassure myself that one day I would hike it to the end. The trail is relatively short, but walking might provide a clearer picture of the place, and a better understanding of myself as an inhabitant of this region.

a trail between two seasons

The trail follows the stream, or the run, through a narrow valley of deciduous forest. Today it was interesting to note the steep southern slope and its thin blanket of snow in contrast with the northern slope where the snow had completely melted. The late winter sun hadn’t risen quite high enough to melt the white southern blanket. Total melt-down would arrive soon, but for now I walked a line between snow and mud, between wintertime and spring.

a rail from the logging era, early 1900s

Edging my way up the slope, I sometimes had to step carefully at about a 45-degree angle on the path. I was glad for my old boots and a walking stick for support. I thought about Thoreau’s description of the spring earth thawing along his railroad bank near Walden Pond. Indeed, the sun and the earth were at work here, and it was all about transition.

At about the half way point along this three-mile climb (another trail would link the Buckseller at the summit and descend to Pennsylvania Route 6), the stream simply disappeared for a while. A  spring gushed water, forming the little trout stream, but then above the spring, there was just a trace of moisture and the ghost of Buckseller Run.

Several springs would reissue the flow higher up the ravine, but for now the sound of  water stopped completely. I, too, halted in my tracks and listened hard.

For several moments, for a minute, perhaps, there was nothing to be heard. Not a motor from some distant highway, not a jet in the blue dome overhead. Not a breath of wind, nor bird note, nothing but the beating of a heart.

The perfection of silence is a rare and precious thing. A stranger to civilization, yes, and most often associated with death, but this was life, thank god, and I felt privileged. The silence didn’t last long, but it was so unusual that I met it with a combination of surprise, anxiety, and hope.

The deep silence broke, of course, with little sounds that came from here and there. Melting ice popped high in a tree. A kinglet lisped. A woodpecker tapped. I thought the barking of a coyote might become a howl, but some transitions are the mind’s alone.

I exchanged the sound of one heart beating for the breath of real things in the world. Time resumed its harried pace, and Buckseller Run regained its place within the dark ravine. The forest opened slowly as I gained the summit and the logging track known as Ellis Hollow Road.

Ellis Hollow Road, at summit

This area of the state has some of the finest cherry wood on earth, and this summit has been heavily logged of late. Great cherry trees slumbered in piles along the rutted road. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but one that comes with the cost of being human.

cherry wood slumber

The world is filled with wonderful places both civilized and wild. This place, a part of the Susquehannock State Forest, belongs to my home region, its land and water stirring the senses when I hike and fish for trout. It’s appreciated, for sure, and worth standing up for, and giving voice to, if it’s threatened by environmental deregulation or other nefarious designs placed upon it by corporate greed or government neglect.

lookin’ up





About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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15 Responses to Roots ‘n’ Boots

  1. plaidcamper says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed your reflective hike here, Walt! Transitioning from winter and into spring, little signs all along the trail, and having a boot in each season as you go – wonderful! All that, and some rewarding silence too? Your roots ‘n’ boots are all good…
    (Enjoyed the music choice!)

    • Thanks Plaid! Glad you liked this stuff. Yeah the transitioning is getting pretty serious around here. High winds blowing the seasonal traits back and forth. I guess that’s preferable to having full-blown spring come in too early, though. Gotta keep those boots in shape!

  2. Brent says:

    After all these years, I still reflexively describe the area within a short radius of Steuben County as “home.” It’s more than just a learned label, I think–there’s something deeper. Home is a place where you can still find something new that you hadn’t explored before. Only recently, I’ve been trying to find those peaceful, unexplored (for me) places in my adopted hometown.

    • Brent, Yeah, well said. I think there is something deeper and it has to do with how we respond to stimuli that make us feel both comfortable and challenged. I think I’ve built on notions of home over the years, starting with house/hollow/town and moving the focus more toward the Triple Watershed Divide. Home is more than where you hang your hat, but it sure is nice to have a place you can relate to and grow.

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    Nice post, Walt. I had a dream that featured golden-crowned kinglets the other night. Why? That’s for the psychologist to determine, I suppose. Thought of you tonight as I listened to Eno, Captain Beefheart and the Residents.

    • I’m no psychologist, Bob, but I’d say you’re living on the wooded edge: kinglet dreams, the music of Eno, Beefheart, and the Residents… The sights and sounds don’t get much better than that! Wow. And thanks!
      P.S. I’m becoming more and more a resident of The Residents universe. Scary, huh?

  4. Doug says:

    Walt, Thanks for the journey through the Susquehannock, and Buckseller Run. It is necessary for the human condition to get out and feel the world at first hand. Looks like you’re doing a good job of that. I feel like I took that hike with you brother. Thanks again.

    • You’re welcome, Doug, glad you could take the reader’s hike with me, and hopefully you’re able to get a bit of “first hand” every now and then. As for me, I’d go bat crazy without it. Thanks bro!

  5. says:

    I resist commenting when my reply would break the mood of your stories. You are generous with your readers and I hesitate to intrude. Blogging is too much work!
    But, if this isn’t too presumptive, you may like this by Sylvia Linsteadt, from Dark Mountain, about mythology of place…and Riding the Bear King.

  6. Steve, Please always feel free to comment here, positively/negatively, left/right, medium, whatever– I welcome not only support but criticism and, ideally, would create a forum for discussing just about anything. I enjoy that sort of thing even, though, yeah, blogging involves quite a lot of work! So, good to hear from you again, and thanks for the link to the mythos which I’ll be checking soon and will try to comment on shortly…

    • P.S. to 24-6.
      I’ve read The Mythos We Live By… on the Dark Mountain blog, and I recommend reading it for its story-telling and for reinforcing the fact that myths remain a potent force in the way we connect to the land and its particular places and derive a meaning and understanding from them. This is more than simple fantasy. It’s like looking into a mirror and seeing the plant and animal lives that make us who we are. Thanks again for this!

  7. I thoroughly enjoy all the hikes you take us on Walt. I made up my mind years ago that I would spend most of my time exploring around home because there is so much to see and do here. However, I do envy your spirit of adventure.

    • The home place, wherever it is, can provide endless opportunities for enjoyable exploration. You’ve got that spirit, too, Howard, and I thank you for the kind words of support.

  8. loydtruss says:

    What a fitness workout, and to add to the hike some fantastic scenery. Just curious did you find any brook streams to wet a fly in the coming months? Thanks for sharing

    • Bill, I’ve got my eye on a bunch of streams to fish this coming spring, but winter has returned to the region in a big way and put those casting dreams on hold. I’ll be returning to these woods with a fly rod just as soon as I can. Thank you!

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