At age fourteen I packed up some belongings and went to work at a Boy Scout summer camp in the Laurel Highlands–two thousand acres of Northeastern forest with a three hundred acre man-made lake. That summer while teaching youth about nature, I hiked the trail around the lake many times with friends. I caught frogs in the dark and chased raccoons up into trees at dusk. I spent time alone staring out across the still lake water as I soaked my feet, listening for a coyote calling from the distance. My eyes were full of the green hues of leaves and my ears with the chime of birdsong and frogs calling. My hands were almost always as muddy as my shoes and I was quite happy.
Summer after summer I returned to camp, each summer learning more and more about the living things in those woods. I also found myself increasingly obsessed with nature and passionate about conserving anything wild, particularly the camp that I had grown to love.
This season, I remain at camp for a few months doing maintenance work with the ranger staff and Kathleen–my coworker and girlfriend. The weekly rush of scouts and the staff of roughly one hundred have all left and the woods are now quiet. The quiet presents an overwhelming sense of awareness which can bring about enlightenment, discomfort and confusion all at once. For me the quiet brings out the sounds of every other living species; the soft rustle of oak leaves on a light breeze, the distant cackling of geese on the lake, the buzzing of a wasp in the leaf litter, the squeak of a chipmunk before diving into its hole.
August and September passed quickly and October bursts into colors that gradually fade without pause. Yellows and reds and light greens and scarlets all give in to the annual winter fad of brown and gray. The summer world around the lake ends in a phoenix blaze of color, leaving only ashes behind to emphasize the quietness and stillness of these woods. I take joy in the gift of quietness and lack of cover for wildlife; deer and turkey foraging carelessly, mink and feral cats darting across the road for mice and chipmunks, owls calling at night between chirping katydids and crickets, songbirds flocked together and passing through this oasis on their way to the South.
Days grow cold in November. A hail storm drops pellets of ice on the ground and then a few days later a snow comes in but doesn’t lay. Two warm days fill the air with the scent of decaying leaves reminiscent of the early Spring. Then two days of freezing cold drop more snow; winter attempts to claim the mountain.
On my last day of work, before heading back to the city–back to the noise–I drive out around the lake through the small pellets of falling snow to retrieve a camera trap. I stop the vehicle and look out across the lake. Thirty or so tundra swans came in during the night and sat on the lake chatting in musical honks–much more appealing than the reedy wailings of Canada geese. The swans are likely staying here until the weather is more agreeable for flight to the mid-Atlantic coast, but their arrival here is symbolic to me today as I leave these woods and live in the city for a while. These woods may be where I love and find peace but I am not meant to stay.