This year we camped on the cusp of spring.
According to the calendar, the vernal equinox had turned on the 20th of March; but in the mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania it was still winter the first week in April.
I arrived at Ricketts Glen mid morning to find Lake Jean locked in ice under blue skies. My partner had arrived earlier and was already busying himself setting up camp. We had not seen each other since the previous autumn, when last we camped together at Promised Land.
After a quick lunch we set out scouring the surrounding forest for fire wood and found a thirty foot grayed tree trunk lying on the ground, perhaps a foot in diameter. This would provide the bulk of the fuel for our fire over the next three days. We took turns chopping the trunk into sections and splitting the shorter logs into burnable wedges.
After supper we sat around the campfire and talked well into the night. Eventually the cold wind drove us into the warmth of our sleeping bags in the tent. I awoke in the middle of the night, felt for my boots and poked my head outside. The sky was filled with stars too numerous to count. Orion had risen with Canis major at his heels, lifting his club in timeless battle with Taurus to his right. Across the night sky the dippers danced, spiraling round one another at the pole star.
Next morning the thermometer read nineteen degrees.
After a hearty breakfast of bacon ends and eggs, we set out to hike the Falls Trail, only to discover that sections had iced over. We picked our way along the path, descending to F. L. Ricketts falls, a 38 foot cataract that cascades down over a steep rocky precipice to the canyon below. We paused to take in its grandeur, then turned to hike the Highland Trail through Midway Crevasse to Lake Rose, following the road back to base camp under cirrus filled skies.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon gathering, cutting and splitting wood in anticipation of the coming weather.
Next morning we awoke to a blanket of heavy wet snow. Fog enshrouded the forest. We started a fire to warm ourselves, had something to eat, then decided to make a side trip to World’s End to hike the High View Trail for a scenic vista of Loyalsock Creek.
Mist hovered above the mountainous valleys. The Loyalsock sparkled like emeralds as it flowed through the great bend below the summit. Needles from a lone ancient white pine lay in tufts, red against the white sand beach above the dam. Rivulets cascaded down the sheer rock face opposite as winter ice gave way to water. I pocketed a red stone worn smooth by the waters.
That afternoon, back at camp, a pair of chickadees appeared, searching for food. We threw them bits of bread. I placed an offering in the palm of my gloved hand and waited an eternity for that final moment when one of the birds alighted on my finger to take the tiny morsel. My partner captured the scene with his camera to convince ourselves that it really happened.
That night it rained heavily. The following morning the snow had disappeared. We shook the water droplets off the dining fly and tent before dropping and stowing them into their bags. Ironically, it took several rounds of water to extinguish the final fire; billows of grey smoke rose above the pines and hemlocks, a final farewell offering to the woodland gods.
We set out in separate cars under layered clouds the color of newly poured concrete, heading south through the mountains toward home.
“If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale.…” (Thoreau, Where I Live and What I Lived For,” Walden)