Back to Rickett’s Glen

Going in Circles, from the Undiscovery Channel on Vimeo.

Gnats circle our heads without biting as we climb up and down the rock steps with cameras or strip down to bathing suits to swim in the plunge pool, each attentive in our way to the mysteries before us. The stone face beside the waterfall stares unrecognized from a thousand vacation snapshots.

walking birch

walking birchThis is one of the most popular places to go walking in Pennsylvania; even the trees seem to want to join in. Black and yellow birches balance on stout root-legs, the stumps on top of which they sprouted having long since disappeared, like crutches thrown away after a visit to the healing waters of some sacred spot.

The understory shrubs known as hobblebush, or witch-hobble, lean out over the water to escape the ministrations of the white-tailed deer. They’re already in radiant bloom, with their heart-shaped leaves only half-grown.


“Deer Park,” says the label on the plastic water bottle bobbing below the falls. But deer numbers in the park must be low, or there’d be no hobblebush at all, and far fewer of the wildflowers that carpet the ground: trillium, foamflower, trout lilies.

lichen on hemlock

Twigs shed by the hemlocks are covered in arboreal lichen, as one would expect from an old-growth forest. I try not to focus on the unnaturally thin and grayish foliage on some the trees — a sign that the hemlock woolly adelgid has reached North Mountain, and in a few more years all the hemlocks here may be dead. If and when that happens, it will be catastrophic for lichens and the invertebrates that feed on them. Cold-water stoneflies, brook trout, and other species dependent on the cooling properties of hemlock groves will suffer, as will some of the songbirds that reach their highest densities in old-growth conifer forests: Acadian flycatcher, Blackburnian warbler, black-throated green warbler, and blue-headed vireo. All but the flycatcher have returned from their winter vacations in the tropics for another breeding season, and sing from the treetops.

truck in the woods

Brook trout dart across the bottom of sunlit pools in Kitchen Creek, seemingly oblivious to the traffic on the two-lane highway. I think I know why some people find fishing addictive: staring at the water and the fish moving through it is a passport to another, more timeless dimension.

We’re on our way home from a funeral for a great aunt, the last of her generation. My paternal grandmother, her husband, and most of her extended family are buried within fifteen miles of here. My ancestors have been making the circuit hike of the glens probably since before Rickett’s Glen was a state park, and my parents courted here back in the days when couples still courted, putting over from Bucknell University on Dad’s motor scooter. Somehow without really intending to I end up visiting at least once a year myself. It’s beginning to feel almost like a pilgrimage.

11 Replies to “Back to Rickett’s Glen”

  1. Great video! Love the meandering leaf, then the shock of it replaced by a plastic bottle. I know what you mean by how some places are like a destination for a pilgrimage. We feel that way when we got to our favourite spot on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

  2. oh, I just knew that video was going to end badly. I had the “bambi’s mother is going to die” feeling in the pit of my stomach.

    sigh. nice while it lasted.

  3. marja-leena – That island spot of yours does seem pretty special. I’m wary of misusing terms like “pilgrimage” and “sacred spot” – hence perhaps my inclusion of the plastic bottle in that video. But I visited Lourdes as a kid, and a number of pilgrimage spots in Japan, and I don’t recall any of them being especially pristine, either. It’s a different concept altogether from wilderness, a sort of separation from everyday life in which people are nonetheless an integral part.

    taradharma – Sorry about that! You realize, of course, that I am a thorough-going ogre: for ecological reasons, I cheer on the deer hunters, too. Thanks for stopping by, though.

  4. Gorgeous photos and nice contemplative video. But the text leads off with a garden path sentence… the gnats were climbing up and down? With cameras, yet? ;-)

  5. Wonderfully hypnotic video and perfect soundtrack. What is the music? Not sure the waterfall and plastic bottle were needed – for me, that broke the spell of the lone travelling leaf. But maybe the spell needs breaking.

  6. Hey, thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked the lichens – it was so dark where I shot that, i wasn’t sure if it would turn out at all.

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