Hammersley Wild Area in the Mist

When I have written about one of our outdoor adventures, I sometimes read the story out loud to my husband. And so I did that last night with the first day's tales of our Hammersley Wild Area backpacking trip. Upon its conclusion, my husband said, "Stop! You'll make people want to GO THERE!"

I rolled my eyes and replied, "Which part do you think will lure them in? The arduous backpack with multiple difficult water crossings? The prickly nettle?" (And by the way, we both thought there were more verses to the prickly nettle song, but neither of us could remember the words.)

And so now I shall continue my tale. We left our intrepid backpackers, which is to say my husband and myself, enjoying the amazing, golden foliage on a fine October afternoon. We had hiked in to the Hammersley Wild Area and so we got to spend the day there in the sun, luxuriating in its warmth and in the beautiful foliage colors all around us.

But the shadows come early in the hollows, and so by about 4:30 pm, we were starting to lose the light. We could watch the sunlight moving up the hill away from us, but along the creek, it was too dark anymore to get good pictures.

It was also time to start thinking about something to eat. And perhaps you are wondering what it is that backpackers take along for their meals. So I shall tell you. We usually take sandwiches of some kind (often cheese, as it travels well), along with numerous granola bars, yogurt, pretzels, and other handy snacks.

In the old days, at least when we were on the road for more than a night (for instance, when we went to Florida for a week and a half in winter time), we often took along a small Coleman stove for cooking. But that means you must trek in the stove and the fuel, which is easy to spill. There is actually a campfire ring in our campsite, but when we are outdoors, we don't usually build fires for cooking or otherwise.

What? you say! No fire!? There are three main reasons for this. One, we are not afraid of the darkness and we both have decent gear to keep us warm already. Two, it is too easy for a fly-away ember to put a hole in your good backpacking gear. And three, in building a fire, you become a slave to it. Who wants to spend hours and hours dragging dirty, possibly bug-infested wood out of the forest to burn? Not me!

This time, we tried something different. We brought along cold lasagna. I had just made it last week, and it was a very mellow, simple lasagna. No extra meat or veggies, and not a lot of extra sauce. (I had considered bringing a can of Chef Boyardee, to eat it cold, but we both agreed that my homemade pasta would probably be better.)

So I cut the lasagna up into tiny bites, like hors d'oeuvres, and we ate them daintily using a fork. It wasn't as good as HOT lasagna, of course, but it felt like we were eating real food. Which is a good thing in the woods.

As darkness fell, we tidied up our campsite and brought our backpacks in closer to our tents. I was camping right along the stream bank, where I had a fantastic view in both directions. My husband's tent was a bit higher up on a shelf under the hemlocks.

We take along a little plastic LED lantern that we bought years and years ago from a catalog. We usually hang it from a tree nearby and then turn it on low and leave it on all night. It's handy for navigation purposes, in case you need to leave the campsite after dark: just follow the light!

It's tough to stay up late when you camp out because it's dark so much of the time, this time of year. I always feel fortunate if I make it to 9 pm before getting into my tent. Sometimes we don't make it past 8 or 8:30.

But with going to bed so early, there's a price to pay: you're pretty much guaranteed to wake up and toss and turn for a bit in the middle of the night. (And this is actually my only REAL complaint about camping out from about late September on: it's just so dark, so much of the time!) The water of the creek was the only noise, and it seemed it sang a lullaby to lure me into sleep; otherwise, the woods were completely quiet.

I awoke between 7 and 7:30 in the morning, and from inside my tent, I could see the shine of the colors, even in the half-light of dawn. As I have mentioned, the colors seem to have supernatural powers: you could almost swear they are generating their own light.

And so I lay there in my tent in the morning, initially just feeling happy and watching the colors without even moving. Shortly after I woke up, I heard my husband stir, and he called out to me, Did I see the colors? And I said Yes, and was happy. And he said, in a slightly choked voice, "Thank you for coming with me. I am so happy to be here."

For, dear reader, I must admit to you something now that I am ashamed to tell you: I did not initially want to come on this backpack trip! When we discussed our plans for this week, I wanted to take the easy way out. To be more specific, I wanted to go car camping, and in a completely different state forest.

We'd been on two backpack trips already this fall, one in Quehanna and one in Sproul, and on Sunday morning, I was feeling slightly peevish about going on yet a third backpack trip. Car camping is easy; you toss your gear in the car and go, and when you get there, you get out your gear and set up camp. Backpackers have to WORK to earn their rest.

But as this week is our wedding anniversary week, I will share with you just one bit of my personal philosophy about how to keep a happy marriage, and that is this. Try to find a way to say Yes to any reasonable request made by your loved one.

And do it happily, without begrudging. For who wants to hang out with a grumpy giver? And do it without expectation of recompense. For expecting tit for tat is not love, but mere transactional thinking: to give in order to receive. Real love gives because it truly wants the other to be happy.

And so I was glad, in the end, that I had given in and consented to go backpacking yet again. For such beautiful things we saw! Such adventures we had! I am humbled to think I might have talked us out of going, and so I may have been responsible for us missing all of this. Such a loss it would have been. And thus endeth the marital advice.   ;-)

As a lover of mist, I had been curious to discover whether there would be mist rising along the creek in the morning, and I was initially disappointed. When I woke up, I grabbed my camera and walked down to the main creek, but all was clear, alas.

But around 8, I was rewarded: there came the mist, moving off the ridge and settling down into the valley. And it stayed with us until about 10 am, when the sun burned it off. The main photo for this posting is a view up the creek into the mist. (Yesterday's was a view down the same creek, both taken while standing in about the same spot.)

And then it was suddenly time to leave our little campsite by the creek and start planning our return to civilization. We packed up slowly through the morning, stopping to have a breakfast of yogurt and granola bars and low-salt V-8 juice. Just before we left, I had half a sandwich and my husband polished off the lasagna.

By about 11:30, less than 24 hours after arriving, we were all packed up and in our water shoes, crossing the creek, to begin the hike out. It was starting to warm up by then, and I wished for more time, so that I could take a quick dip in the pool! But alas, there was not time for that.

This time, we walked along the other side of the stream. On our walk in the day prior, our travels had been made more difficult by flooding along the stream. On our walk out, we were on higher ground, so flooding was not an issue. However, the trails (or what passed for them) were almost completely overgrown with vegetation! Thus the term: bushwhacking!

On our way, we passed by a little swinging bridge, and we took a break to hang out on it for a few minutes and catch a breeze. It is lots of fun to jump up and down on such bridges; not so much so if you are wearing a backpack! The leaves were a bit slippery, and so I held onto the railing and watched my step. I've included a photo of the little bridge in the extra photos area.

And eventually we were back at our car, where we checked the time and made haste to get on with our return trip. We had books waiting for us at our local Bookmobile back home, and had actually brought the Bookmobile schedule along with us on our travels. (Yes, books are very important to us!)

We figured that if we beat it home expeditiously, we'd make it to one of the Bookmobile's last stops of the day and then arrive home in time to feed the cat wet food for supper. (In case anyone is curious, we have an automatic pet feeder, and I set it up to dispense dry cat food at regular intervals while we are away.)

Our aggressive schedule didn't leave any time for dallying. However, we talked hopefully of a quick stop in Lock Haven for some food, as that is one of the primary hobbies of starving backpackers: obsessing about their next meal. Sadly, there wasn't time for a sit-down Kentucky Fried Chicken meal complete with mashed potatoes and gravy (which is what I REALLY had a craving for). Plus cole slaw, of course. But maybe next time. . . . .

However, we managed a quick McDonald's stop for a pair of Big Macs. And they were hot and fresh, and the burgers almost tasted char-grilled, and the lettuce was fresh and plentiful, and the special sauce was tangy and tasty and perfect. I ate mine in about three minutes flat. And I am not kidding when I tell you it was the best Big Mac I ever ate in my entire life! (My husband agrees, by the way. It was just . . . Better.)

And on that happy note, I think I will conclude the tale of this adventure. I hope you've enjoyed riding along through the wilderness in my pocket. I'll bet it was an easier ride than the walk was, in and out!

To be serious for just a moment, I believe there is a longing inside of each of us for the wild and the untamed. We may each feed that need in different ways. For some, it may manifest itself in wild living, or a feeling of disquietude for something that seems to be missing.

For my husband and for me, we feed the needs of our wild hearts by heading out into the wilderness absolutely any and every chance we get. To sum up, my last bit of advice is this: leave room in your heart (and in your life) for something wild.

The song to accompany these images of the Hammersley Wild Area, which we left - in the end - quite reluctantly is an all-time favorite and I can't believe I've never used it here till now. Here is Cat Stevens, with Wild World.

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