Spend a Summer Day in Quehanna Wild Area
Early in the week, my husband and I began talking about Wednesday. It's been plenty hot and summery around here lately, but it looked like we might get some storms early in the week, followed by a break in the heat. I didn't have any meetings on Wednesday, so I agreed to seize the day, and take it off to go have some outdoor summer fun: an impromptu one-day summer vacation!
Our original plan was to go swimming at Hyner, followed by Kentucky Fried Chicken in Lock Haven. But when we got up on Wednesday morning, my husband outlined an alternative plan. We get to swim as often as we like in summertime, even several times a week. But what was more rare was to get a summer day cool enough for hiking in the woods. So we decided to spend the day in the Quehanna Wild Area.
We packed up our daysacks and a cooler and threw our folding bag-chairs in the car, and we were gone from the house by 9 am. A quick stop for a huge breakfast at a local McDonald's was first on the agenda (for the rest of the day, we'd be subsisting on snackage). It wasn't KFC, but it hit the spot.
And then we parked the car and hiked back into our back-country campsite in the Valley of the Elk. While more mowing is going on in the main areas of Quehanna than you might suspect, in the back country, there is none of that. In fact, back there, things are probably just as they were a hundred years or more ago.
The ferns were growing waist-high in most places, chest-high in a few others. (I'm about 5 feet 2 inches, so many things are higher on me than they are on others.) Things were very, very green. In fact, it might have been the greenest I've ever seen the Wild Area.
We did not see any elk, but we smelled some on our walk in, in a little shady area where we suspect they bed down among the trees. The whole area smelled a lot like horses, but there were no horses there.
It was overcast for our hike in, and I wore hiking pants (a must in the tall grasses), sturdy hiking boots, a t-shirt, and a white long-sleeved shirt. The latter was a mistake; it was too much, and I arrived at our campsite sweaty and overheated. (The sturdy boots were a good call, though, as we ended up hiking more than six miles.)
But as soon as we were under the pines, we settled in, ripped our shirts off, and cooled down almost immediately. It was one of those days where the difference between sitting in the sun vs the shade was significant. Suddenly I was cool again.
Then we walked out to a rock overlooking the valley, and in the sun, I was baking. I could feel the heat on my clothes, could smell the sun baking the cotton; I felt like my clothes were being ironed with me still in them! Back to the shade we went.
As the afternoon wore on, we decided to go down into the valley and wade in the water. My husband preceded me; he hopped across the creek to a rock shelf we have sat and stood on a million times, and put down my cooler atop the rock. Instantly, he was flying, nay, leaping, backward through the air and back across the creek as the rock he'd put my cooler on RATTLED.
Well, it wasn't actually the rock itself, but a rattlesnake either behind or underneath the rock, we weren't sure which. And we have learned from experience that the rattle isn't always coming from exactly where you THINK it's coming from, as snakes can manage a sort of ventriloquist act of throwing their voice/rattle. (Be MINDFUL of your surroundings, young Skywalker!)
And so we stood together on the other side of the creek, staring at the rock, waiting for the snake to materialize. Or not, as it turns out. "What are you going to do next?" I asked my husband. "I'm not sure, but I know what YOU are doing," he said; "That's YOUR cooler and you're going to have to go over there and get it before we leave!"
Hmmph. So much for manly chivalry when it comes to rattlesnakes! But of course you know me: if there was a photo op involved, SEND ME INTO THE SNAKE PIT!!! So I grabbed a big stick and my camera and I hopped back across to snake-side of the creek. (We sometimes call them rattle-pups; no, I don't remember why, or when this tradition started.)
I retrieved my little cooler without incident, and we resumed sitting on the other side of the creek, keeping a wary and watchful eye out for our rattly friend. But we never saw it, and we did not hear it again. It seemed that at that point, we had lost our taste for the idea of wading in the creek.
My husband found an escaped helium balloon, and he picked it up to carry it out to toss it in the garbage. As he walked through the woods, dragging his balloon behind him, I told him he looked like Christopher Robin, and I began calling him that. Eventually, he wrapped the balloon in its own ribbon and tucked it in a pocket. Yes, we often pack out trash we find in the woods.
And then there was time for just one last stop to take some pictures along the water on our way back to the parking area. By then, the clouds had broken, blue skies had arrived, and a very comfortable breeze was blowing.I snapped some pictures of the daisies, and the blue sky sparkling on the water. Dragonflies played around me as I walked. It was temperate and heavenly, just like a dream of how a summer day should be.
In honor of the rattlesnake who was heard but not seen, I've decided to pull my soundtrack song from U2's wonderful Rattle and Hum, from 1988. This is one of the few songs from that album that has never appeared yet on my pages here: U2, with Van Diemen's Land.