A Nittany Ramble

161030_pa-mt-nittany_3691acsGuided tours are fine. But sometimes I just want to get out in the woods and ramble!

My friends and I traveled to the center of Pennsylvania on Halloween weekend, to tour Penn’s Cave and Wildlife Park. It was a fascinating and enjoyable visit. It did, however, consist of sitting. In a boat and then a bus, with a small group of other tourists, all confined to a pre-planned route.

By the next day, we three free spirits were ready to strike out on our own for some leisurely exploring.

I’d attended Penn State University before health issues ended my freshman year. Lacking a car in those days, I’d never explored much beyond the campus boundaries.

This was the first time I’d gone back to the region. When Don and Robb were looking for places to hike on this trip, I quickly suggested we climb Mount Nittany. I was delighted when they agreed.

Mount Nittany is a ridge in the Ridge-and-Valley province of the Appalachian Mountains with a peak elevation of 2077’. Penn State lies a couple of miles to the southwest in the Nittany Valley. Penn State’s mountain lion mascot, the Nittany Lion, is named for Mount Nittany.

161030_pa-mt-nittany_3413acsThe hike started with a bit of a climb – 600 feet in the first half mile, up an uneven and rocky trail. Robb and Don clambered up it like a pair of billy goats.

161030_pa-mt-nittany_3495acsI had thought that the trees would have lost all their leaves by late October. I was pleasantly surprised to see lots of fall color on the mountain. This leaf couldn’t make up its mind what hue it wanted to be.

161030_pa-mt-nittany_3575acsOnce we reached the top, the ridge leveled out, and the walking became easier. Two trails go around the top of Mount Nittany. We took the shorter loop. Moss, leaves and a weathered log along the trail.

161030_pa-mt-nittany_3440acsSoon we came to the highlight of a Mount Nittany hike, the Mike Lynch Overlook. From here we had a great view of the campus of Penn State. I hadn’t seen the campus from above before. Happy Valley!

161030_pa-mt-nittany_3476aOf course, before I even got into position, Robb insinuated himself into the view, and my photographs. This is a frequent occurrence. Don joined him to examine a leaf. Because obviously a leaf is more fascinating than the expansive view of Nittany Valley.

161030_pa-mt-nittany_3432acsBeaver Stadium, home of Penn State football. I went to a few games there, long ago.

161030_pa-mt-nittany_3470acsThe cluster of buildings in the center include my old dorm. I don’t remember the buildings around it; they’re either new or remodeled. Somehow the campus seems much more built up than I remember it. But I can still find my dorm!

161030_pa-mt-nittany_3541acsBack on the trail. The path led through woodlands of oaks, maples, mountain laurel and stands of white pine, dark green against the vibrant splashes of red and gold.

161030_pa-mt-nittany_3545acsWitch hazel blossoms. Witch hazel blooms late in the year, a welcome spot of color in a landscape soon to turn brown.

At some point, as often happens when we are in likely habitat, someone suggested we should keep our eyes out for Lycopdium, a clubmoss we refer to as “teeny tiny Christmas trees.”

161030_pa-mt-nittany_3622acsSure enough, we found it. Or rather, I found it. It’s not often I spot something first, so I was pleased to have something to show the guys for a change. Here it is, Lycopdium dendroideum, aka ground pine, everybody’s favorite clubmoss.

161030_pa-mt-nittany_3671acsAnd here’s everybody’s favorite tiny mammal, the irrepressible chipmunk. There were lots of these cute little critters scurrying around. Photography was tough in the gloom of the deep forest, and I wish my images from the day were of a higher quality. But I was glad this fellow stopped long enough for me to get a photo of any kind.

161030_pa-mt-nittany_3699acsWhat goes up must come down, and all too soon we found ourselves making our way down the mountain. Cute critters, wonderful views and beautiful autumn foliage – what more could one ask of a Mount Nittany ramble?

Searching for Peace

So you speak to me of sadness and the coming of the winter,
The fear that is within you now that seems to never end…

 140703_MI Point Betsie Lighthouse_0653acsWar. Terrorism. Murder. Violence.

2015 was a banner year for mankind to be cruel to one another. I have been growing more cynical with the years, but it’s hard now to retain any faith in the wisdom and goodness of humanity.

Abroad, terrorists are slaughtering hundreds in the name of a religion their so-called “beliefs” don’t resemble in the slightest. On the home front, politicians vying for the highest office in the land spew hatred, fear and humiliation in the pursuit of attention and power. It’s enough to make a nature girl weep.

Trail time offer a respite from the cacophony. Walking along a peaceful lake or thunderous surf, watching the infinite variety of critters going about their daily lives… All serve to remind me that man is but one of the species sharing this planet. To the bufflehead ducks swimming by, I am of no consequence. Somehow that soothes my soul.

But what in nature can restore my faith in the human species?

…It is here we must begin to seek the wisdom of the children
And the graceful way of flowers in the wind.

141005_Wissahickon Valley_8925acs Art!

Man’s need to create beauty reminds me there’s a flip side to the boorishness and hatred. Even far from paint brushes and sculptor’s tools, the artistic hand of man can be found.

140503_Mt Cuba 3 Woodland_6088aSometimes it’s a small garden statue placed just so among the flowers in the woods.

141005_Wissahickon Valley_8942acsSometimes on my meanderings, I come across cairns, these small stacks of stones. Cairns originally functioned as directional signals on trails, but have been raised to an art form by creative wanderers.

140124_Bartams Bridge Guardian_0288acsOnce I came across a humorous figure perched on a bridge, placed there just for the amusement of others. And in its serendipity, I am reminded of our sense of community, our need to comfort and cheer one another.

140703_MI Point Betsie_0617acsAt Point Betsie in Michigan, the entire beach is covered with a wondrous variety of weatherworn cobble. Perfect for creating art.

Seeing these works of trail art reminds me of humanity’s love for beauty, and gives me hope that our race may one day put behind us cruelty and hate.

And the song that I am singing is a prayer to non-believers,
Come and stand beside us we can find a better way.

140703_MI Point Betsie_0651acsLyrics to “Rhymes and Reasons” by John Denver.