I haven’t come close to spending months alone in the wild since the years written about in The Dying Fish but I manage to sneak in a few days and nights even while chained to Pittsburgh.
The woodlands immediately east of the Allegheny Reservoir on the NY border have been intriguing to me for years but I’d never made time for them until last week. I arrived at a remote bay, the last point accessible by road, on the reservoir late one evening and started hiking an unfamiliar shoreline. This shoreline was broad and rocky, the water now near its normal summer low on this impoundment of the Allegheny River. There was a far more lonely feel to the place than anywhere near my Allegheny County home. In the dark, I found an abandoned road bed covered with moss and leaves near the shore and fell asleep on it.
Night creatures crept by curiously from time to time, crumpling parched leaves.
It was good to be back in the wild. The morning started with a couple of smallmouth bass before sunrise. The zip stove hummed and smoked. The day warmed drastically and, as it did, I found that this place wasn’t really at a great remove from humanity; motor boats still access the whole reservoir with ease and the rest of the day was characterized by the drone of motors. And this was the pattern of my time in the north country: motor noise during the day and near-silence in the evening and through the night.
I found none of the Indian arrowheads I’d come looking for but it was really all that
a good foray into the wild should be. There were trout to be found, though only looked at and photographed generally. The water was extremely low in the brooks and I would have felt bad for harassing them. There was some vigorous hiking and exploration. Nocturnal visitors were plentiful including 3 species of owls, raccoons, moles, and a bear. Fossils were ubiquitous though fairly uniform.
There was even a little hardship and adventure when the last night turned into an extended deluge. The little tarp I carried instead of a tent was laughably inadequate and I spent the night laying on the ground with water running down my face and accumulating in the sleeping bag. Before 6:00 AM, my hike back out through the fog and ferns went on for miles through the dripping woods as dawn spread between the leaves, a view of the Allegheny forest that I was privileged to be there for. Everyone sees the bright summer sunshine down by the lake shore but to really appreciate the natural world, a person needs to learn to love nature’s wet, inhospitable eerie side, I think.