Whether we enjoy the notion or not, everyone who strives for well-being needs to stay in contact with the wild. Such contact is readily attained in sanctified places like our state and national parks, but we can’t always reach those wild enclaves when we need them. The “rough country,” on the other hand, expands availability and is readily attained nearby. In such books as Gary Paul Nabhan’s Songbirds, Truffles, and Wolves (Pantheon Books, 1993), we’re reminded that the rough country, or the therapeutic contact zones of nature, is as easy to reclaim as stepping into a backyard or a local green place and opening our senses.
Technically speaking, I live year-around in some pretty rough country– a rural place where humans can live in health among wild plants and animals, among hills and valleys rich with the essential forms of nature. But every now and then I feel the calling to expand, to explore adjacent territory that I haven’t yet managed to map inside my head. And so, on a recent day of heat and great humidity, I finally hiked to Apple Tree Hollow in the highest reaches of the Slate Run watershed in Pennsylvania.
Apple Tree Hollow may sound a bit pastoral, echoing a lost paradise or Eden, but it’s nothing of the sort. It’s actually a heavily forested rivertop, among the wildest tracts of land in Pennsylvania. It’s been on my fishing “bucket list” for years, ever since I overheard a conservation officer extol its wild brook trout population in hushed matter-of-fact tones.
The place is also locally renowned for timber rattlesnakes, a beautiful reptile that can grow quite large. Until recent decades, ignorant people slaughtered these docile creatures or collected them for bounty money. Thankfully, the rattler is protected now, but in places like Apple Tree Hollow where one bushwhacks with a fly rod or a walking stick, it pays to ramble with an open eye.
I pulled off the narrow mountain road and prepared for a half hour hike. The early morning air was already heating up, and the blackflies and mosquitoes were on the hunt. The 7-foot cane rod was for brook trout, and the wading staff was for serpents sunning in the high grass and rocks. It wasn’t the best time of year to be invading such haunts, but I figured it was now or never. Life is short, and trout streams are many.
When I reached an old log cabin at the end of the trail, I knew I had arrived. I climbed down to the stream and started fishing. The wild brook trout were obliging, but the black flies and mosquitoes were hellacious despite my bathing in a spray of OFF. Rattlesnakes were the least of my concerns while fishing in these beautiful surroundings and their insect hum. I think the wading staff split more clouds of no-see-ums than it separated jungle growth.
It was rough country and it wasn’t far from home. I’ll go back some day when the air is clear and the weather more inviting. I felt satisfied for finding a new “contact zone” and for brushing up on outdoor basics. It was yet another portal to the wild, and good practice for the summer road. It won’t be long before the rough country of the Rocky Mountain streams and hiking trails entice an upland rambler.