The Phantom Bus and Other Observations

So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left with…  From the stunning piece, “The Hill We Climb,” by Inaugural Poet, Amanda Gorman, 1/20/21.


Walking slowly up the hill, I had the best chance of seeing something new. I would be less noisy and obtrusive, though I had my work cut out for me, plodding through a crust of snow barely softened by a fall of heavy flakes.

Turkey Ridge State Forest Road…

I had no goal in mind; I was going nowhere in particular (even more so than usual). If I kept my senses open with this frame of mind, looking first to the horizon and peripheries and then to the particulars of my near environment, I might actually experience something interesting. Even with the falling snow, animal tracks were everywhere, and if I took the time to study them, I might hear the stories that they told. The ground is never blank.

bobcat print (right of glasses)…

I had recently hiked the nearby Turkey Ridge State Forest and discovered a large flock of common redpolls veering over the fields on an otherwise bird-less day. I had known about the forest for three decades or more but, for some reason, had never walked it. Now my negligence seemed almost criminal. So I hiked the ridge carefully and began to view it as another extension of my home.

largest white pine in Bootleg Hollow?

things were looking up…

I was in the big woods on the snowy hill behind my house. Looking for something wild, I listened to the hiss of falling snow, to the cawing of a distant crow and the yakking of a nuthatch from the groves of whitened maple, beech, and ash. I stepped carefully along an icy spur of the deep ravine, the granddaddy of Bootleg Hollow gullies.

at the spur between two deep ravines…

Maybe I would see the feathered sprite, the secretive winter wren– an elfin bird that likes to feed among the nooks and crannies of upturned roots and rock debris. And sure enough,  I soon found one flitting briefly over the ice-free brook that formed the gulley. A goal accomplished on an otherwise goal-free winter day!

Green Man Overlook…

there seems to be a bus in the woods…

Maneuvering eastward over the slopes, I approached an old school bus in a field of shrubs and thorny bushes. How it got there in the first place I will never know. Its burial site is a half mile from the nearest farm or place of human habitation. When I first moved to the hollow in the early 80s, I could see the bus from a knoll behind my house, but since wild nature had wrapped its arms around the rusted form, the bus has been hidden from nearly everyone’s view.


Apparently the shattered carriage had never ceased its hillside travels. Birds have nested and flown from the crossbars near its broken windshield. Porcupines and field mice have boarded the aisle and cushioned seats like children of the past. I climbed aboard, too, as if for a ride to the school of nowhere in particular. The seats were occupied but, if I stood behind the white line near the front, I could ride the phantom bus like passengers in the days of old.

all aboard…

I went to a school of wild nature for the day and then took the bus back home. The kid inside my journeyman clothes had an assignment to do. It dealt with a large machine that worked its way down my seasonal lane. The rig was lopping off significant trees at both sides of the gravel road. Fearing what it might do when it reached my property line, I approached the operator and inquired what the hell was going on.

those were the days…

The driver said they were gonna make a “real road” out of the steep mile-long thoroughfare. No one lives on the road and hardly anyone drives it other than a few ATVers who complain that its roughness spills their opened beer containers. I have long contended that maintenance was a waste of taxpayer money and, besides, I was tired of picking up empties tossed out by the careless.

here it comes…

So, the town was out to ditch the roadsides and install culverts to eliminate erosion and wash-outs. I complained, saying, “I know you guys have a legal right to cut 30 feet on either side, but it makes no sense to butcher every tree in order to control erosion. Tree roots have a job to do. They can hold down the soil, so why are we cutting trees to stop erosion? And incidentally, when you get to my place, I hope you’ll consider leaving the trees alone. I rather like them as they are.”

all the roadside trees…

I also called up the operator’s boss, the highway super, and explained the same. To my astonishment, he was totally sympathetic and said that, yes, my trees would be spared and left in peace.

to get a better view…

Man and tree gave their thanks and sighed with relief. This small place seemed better than the one I might have been left with. Science had prevailed somehow, and common sense had spoken out. Wow. Had this effort been a homework assignment, I might have walked off with an “A.”

Turkey Ridge (1)…

Turkey Ridge (2)…


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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28 Responses to The Phantom Bus and Other Observations

  1. Brent says:

    A lot of new developments here! It looks like the town highway guys are up to their usual nonsensical “engineering” moves, but I’m glad you were able to spare the trees on our line. I also remember seeing the bus on the hill and had completely forgotten that it was up there, just hiding and rotting as the trees grow higher.

    I’m glad you were able to catch Amanda Gorman’s poem. That was an awful lot of talent and poise from a 22-year-old stepping into a high place of exposure. (I would also note that much of the rhythm she uses to deliver her lines, as well as the particular way she uses wordplay and alliteration to convey her worldview, are influenced by hip hop.)

    • alex55manta says:

      I thought her poem sounded like a great speech! I thought to myself she’d make a great speech writer. But I defer my opinion to all of you who are much more qualified and literate than I. UB – was a great poem though!

    • Brent, the Gorman poem was well-researched & delivered with a lot of poise & talent, reaffirming my faith in the youth of America. As for the local “engineering” moves, some things never change, but the fellows were approachable, in this case, and understanding. If we don’t stand up for our beliefs, we can fall like so many of the trees have fallen. Anyway, thanks for adding some brightness here.

  2. alex55manta says:

    If that school bus could talk eh? What stories it may tell. We had a tree trimming maintenance to the public roads performed here a few year ago. The egress from my property out on to the public road creates a ‘sight’ issue. That is, it’s difficult to see down the road far enough as one pulls out. The people doing the maintenance cut branches form a thick, healthy white pine – the only thing was the branches from the pine tree were NOT obscuring the view. They shaded the ground beneath and prevented growth of brush. So, now brush and weeds grow tall in places that hadn’t before and the visibility is even more diminished. Sometimes we need to think about leaving ‘well enough alone’ before we try to ‘improve’ something. Glad to see you got out for a walk. UB

    • Thanks, UB. Yeah when the guys come out with their road machines, a lot of them are just doing their job with blinders on. They are typically skilled at what they do but, clearly, they have interests that don’t always mesh with ours as roadside property owners. I think it pays to keep an eye on road developments & to intervene with constructive ideas when necessary.

  3. Jet Eliot says:

    Wonderful to see Amanda Gorman’s poem here, Walt, reminding me how dazzled and inspired I was by her exquisite art and performance yesterday. And what a joy to see your words and experiences on the snowy, winter woods. I liked your goal-less adventure, and smiled at your goals; such a great way to adventure. I, too, get edgy when we have large crews come through our woods, too, with projects that make no sense. In our woods they cut down trees to prevent wildfire and leave all the trunks, limbs and leaves that cause wildfire. I’m really glad your follow-through made a difference. Thanks for sharing these words and wonders….

    • Thanks much for that appreciation, Jet, and glad that you also found inspiration in the inaugural performance. Hopefully we can start to see improvements in our social lives & in our interactions with the world of nature. Sometimes the best action we can take is to step back from our inclinations to “improve” nature with our quick high-tech fixes, and to listen to what the Earth & its inhabitants are saying.

  4. Don T says:


    I applaud your efforts in saving the roadside. I only wish some would have been able to stop the bulldozing of Bennett Creek decades ago.

    Best wishes

    • Thank you, Don. Yes, Bennett, like many other trout streams, got destroyed by a combination of the Flood of ’72 & the ‘dozers that came in to “repair” them. As you know, Bennett used to be a decent trout stream, but it could never fully recover. I came into the picture after those events, but we still feel the pain….

  5. plaidcamper says:

    Walt, I think an A+ is in order here! Another fine piece, full of connections and contemplations, local and national.
    I enjoyed Amanda Gorman’s words and delivery yesterday, and agree with you on how youth can inspire hope.
    It’s nice to think (or hope) we’ll be able to wander in the woods feeling slightly less weighed down, to think about different concerns, and reflect positively. Yes, still many challenges and tipping points to confront, but perhaps there’ll be a more cohesive approach the next little while?
    Anyway, thanks for another good one, and for sharing a little victory.

  6. Like you, Adam, I’m all for some cohesion & positivity, and the talents of our youth (no thanks to the mess some of us older ones have left behind). We’ve got a lot of work to do. And, teacher man, old pal, I appreciate that A+ commendation!

  7. tiostib says:

    yes, it is inspiring to feel the inspired commitment of young spirits who remind us that if we each do our parts to respect each other and honor the natural world with which we have been blessed, our country and world will gleam in Spring’s sunshine once more. Thanks for doing your part and sharing your stories.

  8. Bob Stanton says:

    Good for you for approaching the road crew and stating your thoughts and opinion on their work, and for your request to leave your trees alone. Seems like a waste of public money and no doubt it could be better utilized elsewhere. The pictures of the bus conjured up images of the one in Krakauer’s Into The Wild, and closer to home, the many abandoned vehicles dotting the woods where I grew up, including a small bus that was used as a sort of hunting camp.

    • Bob, thanks! I hadn’t thought of Krakauer’s work, but now that you mention it, I’ll recheck that tale. This is not the first time that you’ve helped me magnify my scope! And I think it’s possible that this bus, too, once served “as a sort of hunting camp.”

  9. Star student! Yes, well done, Walt. Loving the abandoned bus pics too. Also, it’s been some time since I’ve seen or heard a bobcat in PA. Maybe I need to get out in the snow more. Also, I have been LOOKING for redpolls all season, searching birch trees, nadda.
    Always a joy to catch up with what’s going on on your world.

    • Thank you, David! I hope the bobcat spirit will find you doing well on your PA outings this year. Keep an eye out for those redpolls & evening grosbeaks this winter. Saw them here for the first time in years. I lucked my way into that flock of redpolls– seemed like a couple hundred of them flying over the field nearby.

      • I love it when that happens. I found a Merlin eating lunch while I was looking for the reported redpolls near the culm banks in December. 2021 has brought me my first dark morph Rough-legged Hawk though! I’ve seen them before, but it’s been quite a few years, and never a dark morph until now. I’m heading back to the local mudflats tomorrow to see if I can luck out on a closer view.

  10. I’m not sure if I’ve seen the dark morph before. In a typical winter I’ll see a few of the lighter rough-leggeds, but none yet this season. Good luck with your visit to the ‘flats!

  11. loydtruss says:

    I like the Northeast in all seasons, but winter would be my least favorite. I have been watching some videos dealing with Euro Nymphing on Spring Creek featuring George Daniel. I seem to recall you doing a few posts on Spring Creek and landing some nice trout there Euro Nymphing???
    Thanks for sharing

    • Bill,
      Daniels’ nymphing was probably on Spring Creek near State College, PA (I haven’t seen the videos), where I did some nymphing in late 2019. I’ve done more of it on Spring Creek near Caledonia, NY which, in my opinion, is more accessible for the Euro-style although it’s also shorter in length. I recently did a post on using a European style of nymphing that’s especially effective on larger, faster streams. For that, you could search “Operation Perdigon” or any of my other posts that feature “Spring Creek” in NY.

  12. alex55manta says:

    Not to ‘double post…. aka comment’ but I think you need to take another hike!…. lol … UB

    • Thanks for the lift, UB, and I hear you. Another one is needed soon! Have been taking lots of short ones while busy writing & doing other jobs at home, but I don’t want to repeat myself either, with posting on a subject already covered previously. When the weather warms a bit, I look to be on the streams, as well, with new ideas.

  13. AJ Morris says:

    John James Audubon wrote: “A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.”

    I suppose if he had written that today, he would have said person and parents, but the sentiment is still valid.

    I think of that quote often, and not just in the context of conservation…

  14. Thanks, AJ! Well said by both you & Audubon. Reminds me of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) principle of the Seventh Generation: whatever we do of significance today, should contribute, at least, to the sustainability of the seventh generation in the future. Ben Franklin used that principle in his thoughts contributing to the formation of the U.S. Constitution.

  15. Klausbernd says:

    Great winter pictures. The bus reminded us on the novel “Into the Wild” by Kracauer.
    All the best.
    Keep healthy and happy
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

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