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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.