holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

DANA: The First Perfection

A Japanese-style zendo on a Pennsylvania hillside. I suddenly remember I too used to dream this dream, years ago. How strange to encounter it in someone else’s woods, though. It’s as if I never woke up.


After half an hour of zazen, I find the continued presence of the wooden floor with its wavy grain somehow comic: everytime I open my eyes, there it is again! Solid yet wandering.


Kettle drum.

Wooden clappers.





The growl of a stomach.

A caught breath.

A sigh.


Walking meditation: the world’s most difficult dance. So many possible steps, and none of them wrong. We go single file through the woods. If the trees aren’t laughing at us, they should be.


At the Dharma talk about honoring the body, I watch a black lab running in his sleep.


We are enjoined not to speak throughout the service. The next morning, I feel a cold in my throat.

Roadside markers

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

What is there to say about an outing where the camera batteries failed after the first few shots, and most of the best sightings went unrecorded? Well, everything, of course. That’s the trouble.


Chicory sprouts from an old leather shoe that stayed behind on the highwayside to gather moss. Where toes of some Sunday Christian used to fit, a splay of coffee-flavored roots. In place of the leg, the sex, and so on: pale blue suns.


What is an osprey doing here in breeding season, far from a lake or river, circling in the heat and haze above the small city, between the dry hills the locals call mountains because they have never travelled anywhere else?


We follow a front loader into the state forest, chafing at the slowness. Is it going our way? It is annihilating our way. They’re working on the bridge. The foreman says, People have been moving the Road Closed signs and driving through, but they’ve been doing so at their own risk. Is there any risk? I ask. No, he says. We’ll be out of here by late afternoon.


We stop for red raspberries and find beside the road the uncommonest looking bee-fly we’ve ever seen performing sexual favors for common milkweed. It’s hunchbacked and lobster-tailed, and it hovers just like a hummingbird moth — a mimic of a mimic. Later, I look it up online: Lepidophora. It doesn’t stay at one flower for more than a few seconds, but keeps circling the globe-shaped flower cluster, and buzzing from globe to globe.


Picking berries into a pail feels like work. Eating berries out of the pail feels illicit. Eating berries straight from the bush or the cane feels natural and liberating, but maybe a little wrong — like shitting in the woods.


These forest roads seem to go on forever, and they almost do. Mostly unpaved, without lines, speed limit signs, or mile markers, they follow the contours of the land as closely as a hand carressing a body, up and down and around. But they are far from innocent, I realize. What the hell is all this crownvetch doing here in the middle of the forest, I shout. The ecological effects of a road can extend for up to a mile on either side of it, L. points out. The leaf duff will be thin, dried out, and full of weed seeds for a hundred yards in.


The roadside forest gaps open and drops away: an official overlook, complete with graffiti, broken beer bottles, and shotgun shells. We are drawn not to the officially scenic view of shapely, green ridges air-brushed by haze, but to the freakish tree in the clearing, right below the precipice: a cluster of 15-foot stems, each topped with a yellow mop-head of fuzzy yellow pencils, aswarm with insects. What is that? Some new invasive species? asks my beetle-collecting brother. I look at the leaves and the bark. It’s an American chestnut! And there are two more blooming within fifty feet of it! Look at all the Cerambycidae, Steve says. I have NEVER seen beetles swarm like that, not even in the tropics. And he’s spent plenty of time in the tropics, too: in Taiwan, the Philippines, south India, Sri Lanka, and Central America. We’re now about 35 miles from home — and 80 years since the time when these ridgetop forests were thick with chestnut trees, before the blight came through. Such a loss, such a rent in the web of life here. My god.


The road turns bad. Steve gets out and walks in front, helping to spot especially dangerous-looking rocks and potholes. I sit in the backseat, craning my neck while L. pilots a zig-zag course. We’re driving a Beetle. At least it’s narrow enough to fit between the rocks, L. says.


Back on the good roads, we enter a stretch where the trees have been defoliated by gypsy moth caterpillars, and are just leafing out for the second time. It might seem like spring if it weren’t so hot and humid.


Dead porcupines start appearing in the road, in various stages of decomposition. In the space of three miles we count seven of them. It’s eerie.


When we reach our destination — a well-known spot for lowbush blueberries at a high point in the Seven Mountains — we find the patch already picked almost clean. Or perhaps pollination was inhibited at this elevation by all the cold weather in May; we can’t decide. We share this artificial bald with radio, cellphone, and microwave towers, and a generator humming loudly in a locked shed. The old firetower still stands, but the bottom 25 steps have been removed to keep people from climbing up it, which was always something to look forward to on state forest hikes when I was a kid. It turned out that wildfires in the eastern forest are naturally rare and easy to control — nothing like the out-of-control infernos of the late 19th century, when these forests were all clearcut at the same time. Now the old firetowers stand like lighthouses on a shore where the ocean has receded out of sight.


On the way back, we stop at a lonely spot on top of a broad ridge. This gravel road was once a throughway of sorts, and someone named Keith built a small stone cistern here for watering horses. Water gushes out of a pipe and into the roadside ditch, and we fill up our water bottles with it, exclaiming over its taste and likely purity. I find myself reluctant to take too close a look in the rectangular cistern where the pipe originates. It’s dark with rotting leaves, and is just large enough to accommodate a body, stretched out in a position of repose.


Peering between the front seats, I spot a bear-shaped stump beside the road. It moves; we stop. It’s a small bear, no more than two winters old, and probably only driven off by its mother a few weeks ago. A stone’s throw from the road it stops running and appears to forget all about us, which is always a useful and instructive experience for a modern human. Running in this kind of humid heat can’t be pleasant for a bear, even one so small. We watch as it ambles along, flipping rocks, digging into rotten logs and nosing about, heading back the way we came. We keep it in sight as long as we can, driving slowly backwards through the hills of central Pennsylvania.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall


Yesterday I finally paid a visit to the Rhoneymeade Arboretum, Sculpture Garden, and Labyrinth, which is about 35 miles northeast of here, right out in the middle of a farm valley. The only other sculpture gardens I’ve visited have been those attached to major urban museums, so I was interested to see what difference, if any, the rural location might make.

blue atlas cedar

Well, for one thing, not all sculptures here are made by humans. Also, trees both native and exotic take pride of place in the garden and in the nearby labyrinth, a refreshing shift in emphasis from most modern presentations of Art, where nature plays a supporting role at best.


Nor were all the human sculptures either anthropomorphic or completely abstract, though the majority did fit into one of those two categories. “Flight” was one of a half-dozen or so that seemed to take its surroundings fully into account.

Brown Man 2

The birds here do what birds always do to public statuary. This plaster and resin sculpture is identified as “Brown Man” on the website, but “Thoughtful Man” on the laminated directory in the studio at Rhoneymeade itself. One way or another, it’s obviously getting lots of attention from the local birds.

Brown Man 1

The plaster was beginning to fall off in a couple of places, and the grass had been left to grow long around it. Given its manner of composition — a life cast from a living model, according to the owner — I imagine that the artist fully anticipated its slow return to nature.

Complete set of Rhoneymeade photos (9) / Slideshow

Back to Rickett’s Glen

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

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.

Coal and sadness

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Prayer, from the Undiscovery Channel on Vimeo. Music traditional Tuvan, performed by Ay-Kherel.

A fervent wish: that the water in this ephemeral pond last long enough for the wood frog tadpoles to complete their metamorphosis this year. When I walked up there this afternoon, I found just two egg masses, anchored to sticks near the center of the pond. Many of last autumn’s leaves floating just under the surface had turned green again, thanks to a fresh bloom of algae. I suppose you could take that as a sign of hope if you wanted to.

wood frog eggs
Click photo to see the full-size image at Visual Soma

As of this morning, the “pond” down in the corner of the field has a single egg mass, and wood frog mating activity seems to be over for the year, so the resident newt will probably make short work of those tadpoles. I have serious doubts about the long-term survival of our wood frog population in Plummer’s Hollow.


Speaking of hope — or the lack thereof — somehow I’ve managed to avoid saying anything about the famous people who have driven past the mountain in recent days: NPR’s Linda Wertheimer, Senator Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton. It was fascinating that Wertheimer discovered outspoken social conservatives whose views just happened to confirm outsiders’ preconceptions of this part of Pennsylvania… in a local Baptist church. I gritted my teeth to read of Obama’s vocal support for “clean coal” (an oxymoron, since there’s no clean way to extract it) and wind turbines everywhere (the ecological costs of which would outweigh the benefits here in the east, according to a report from the National Academies of Science last year). In fairness, the Clintons also support these environmental shell games.

As far as I know, Jon Stewart hasn’t swung through western Pennsylvania recently, but he must’ve been here at some point, because his one-liner on April 1 captured the essence of the region as well as anything can:

This area best known for its chief exports, coal and sadness.

It is perhaps a measure of his greatness as a comedian that he managed to turn that into a laugh line.

Compton tortoise shell

A very tattered question mark Compton tortoise shell butterfly landed on the trail ahead of me as I made my way back to the house.

UPDATED 4/11 to correct the butterfly I.D., thanks to tigerbeetlefreak on Flickr. (See the Massachusetts Butterfly Club page for a side-by-side comparison with other brushfoots.)

Updated 4/9 with a couple more sentences and links on our all-too-brief brush with greatness.

Canoe Creek

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Canoe Lake

It was a bright, sunny afternoon with temperatures in the mid-50s. I hitched a ride with my brother Steve and his three-year-old daughter Elanor to Canoe Creek State Park, about 20 miles south of here, to look at waterfowl through his high-powered spotting scope. We went first to the picnic area, where a few buffleheads were swimming in a small patch of open water. But most of the birds were crowded in an inlet at the far end of the lake. Even at 75 power, it was hard to tell what some of them were, and I was surprised by all the heat shimmer off the ice-covered lake.

on the beach

Elanor was delighted by the little artificial beach. Another parent was there with two, slightly older boys, but they left shortly after we arrived and Elanor had the place to herself. She loves water in any form, and can spend hours staring at it, throwing things in it, and generally messing around in it. Fortunately for her, the lake had ignored the “beach closed” sign and had breached the fence.

The real excitement came an hour later, as we were heading back across the picnic area toward the car, having decided to drive to the boat launch on the other side of the lake for better views of the waterfowl. Steve spotted a small animal rooting around in the grass between the picnic tables. A skunk!

Charles Fergus, in Wildlife of Pennsylvania and the Northeast, notes that “The fur industry gives the highest grades to skunk pelts having the least amount of white,” so this was a very valuable skunk. As luck would have it, my mother’s nature column for March was on skunks, which are often seen this time of year. Not only is March their mating season, but they are apt to be famished at the end of a long winter, as this one appeared to be:

Striped skunks fatten up before winter and sleep through the coldest weather. But their body temperature only drops from 98 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit, and they frequently appear during warm spells. Nevertheless, from November to March, females lose from 32 to 55 percent of their weight and males from 15 to 48 percent.

And what do they eat, exactly? It might be easier to list what they don’t eat.

Striped skunks, which find food by using their keen sense of smell and hearing, eat just about anything including garbage and carrion. That’s why they thrive in a wide variety of habitats, including lawns and golf courses where they dig up grubs. But they prefer forest edges, old fields, and brushy farmlands where they do more good than harm, eating an incredible diversity of insects such as beetles, crickets, moths, ants, and grasshoppers, and specializing in such harmful to agriculture insects as bud worms, June beetles, army worms, cut worms, and scarab beetles. They dig up yellow jacket nests and scratch on beehives to entice honeybees outside so they can eat them and are seemingly unperturbed by their stings. They also relish spiders, toads, frogs, snakes, young rabbits, chipmunks, shrews, voles, salamanders, crayfish and earthworms.

And then there are the birds’ eggs, the mice, the roots and berries… For a striped skunk, it seems, nearly every area is a picnic area.

goose girl

On the other side of the lake, Elanor finally got a close look at the creatures that had left all those impressive turds in the grass. Steve and I were more interested in the displaying mergansers, the canvasbacks, and four tundra swans standing out on the ice. And as usual, we were ready to go long before she was, though she fell asleep soon after we got into the car.

The greatest value of Canoe Creek State Park to biodiversity lies elsewhere than in its artificial lake: it has the largest maternity colony of little brown bats in the state, and a bat hibernaculum that includes the federally endangered Indiana bat. With the mysterious white nose syndrome decimating bat populations to our north, and the growing threat of industrial wind turbines, which kill bats by the thousands, Canoe Creek will probably be an increasingly important refuge for these slow-reproducing keystone species. But the recreation-oriented portion of the park has value to wildlife too, and on a nice day in early spring, we were perfectly content with a few close views of some common but undeniably charismatic creatures.

Invasion of the swamp things

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

brokeback maple 2

Red maples are one of the few tree species capable of becoming grotesque at an early age. In a way, their highly malleable forms reflect their superior adaptability: they are at home in wide variety of soil types and exposures, and though a first-succession species, can also take advantage of relatively small gaps in the canopy. They are, however, not long-lived trees, so unlike oaks, for example, they must start producing seeds at a young age. It makes sense, therefore, that they would evolve a mutable architecture geared toward short-term reproductive success at all costs.

maple leaf

The one thing red maples don’t tolerate very well is fire, being thin-barked and shallow-rooted. Oaks and hickories, by contrast, are good at isolating fire scars and preventing them from becoming an avenue for infection, and their roots go deep. A hundred years ago, small, low-intensity ground fires were a relatively common occurrence in the drier parts of the eastern forest, and as a result, red maples were rarely found outside of really wet areas. But with widespread fire suppression, the oaks and hickories lost their competitive advantage and the maples, being faster growers, were able to dominate natural and man-made forest openings such as blow-downs and clearcuts. It doesn’t hurt that the over-abundant white-tailed deer seem relatively unenthusiastic about red maple sprouts, and acid rain apparently doesn’t affect them much, either. So what was once a creature of the swamps has virtually taken over the state, and studies of forest composition show that it is now our single most common tree.

ready or not

That’s scary news to anyone who cares about natural forest ecosystems. Maple seeds aren’t nearly as popular with wildlife as acorns and hickory nuts, possessing only a fraction of their nutritional value, and my insect-collecting brother Steve informs me that dead maple trees don’t support anything like the diverse invertebrate communities that populate dead oaks. It’s a good bet their decay doesn’t contribute much to the soil, either.

So if you’ve been around for more than a few decades, it’s not your imagination: the fall foliage really is getting more spectacular with every passing year. Whereas oaks are fairly temperamental, going straight from green to brown as often as not, and being fairly monochromatic by species when they do color up, you can count on red maples every year for an array of bright reds and oranges as variable as their architectural forms.

Knowing what I know, how can I still admire their colors and their grotesque shapes? But I do. Hell, it’s not their fault they’ve become so goddamn numerous. I love red maples the same way I love people, come to think of it.

Don’t forget to submit links to the Festival of the Trees by October 26 for the special Halloween-themed edition.

And yes, I have written about red maples and fire suppression at least once before, so Google informs me.

Disaster area

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

bark study 2

It starts innocently enough: just a small rift, a discontinuity in the otherwise seamless joinery of our days. The pulse quickens. We feel a bit more… alive. Yes.

birch roots

We were always told such frightening things about courting disaster. But what do the old people know? Surely they are just jealous of our youth and energy — they want to deny us the heady pleasures they themselves are too worn down to handle.

bark study 1

And the pleasures now are nothing if not heady. Bark turns to bite; bony dinosaur hide splits open and lifts into feathers. Welcome to evolution, baby!

girdled birch

But each new opening only retains its brightness for a little while before it, too, turns dull. The body is continually subverting the mind’s best efforts to fly free, and returning us to our cages of solid matter.

Wolf Rocks

Nothing matters: that is our chant as we look for new chasms to outgrow, new eyeholes to peer out of, new mouths with which to whisper in disaster’s ear: save us.

Wolf Rocks 2

And so we become like snakes, slipping our skins, going belly to belly with our parent rock. Our tongues taste the wind in stereo. We tap into the simple on-or-off reptile brain.

Wolf Rocks 3

With our fellow heads we talk, we dance, we howl. Disaster possesses us in turn. We paint our headstones.

All photos taken at or near Wolf Rocks, a popular teen hang-out spot in the Gallitzin State Forest of Pennsylvania.

Insect Fare

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

meal worm tamales

The mealworm tamales at Penn State’s Great Insect Fair this past Saturday were, indeed, a meal. The capsaicin hit about thirty seconds after the last bite, as a hot tamale should, and I found myself going back for seconds, and then thirds. There’s always something special about food that needs to be unwrapped, and if it contains the larvae of that most poetically named of all beetles — the tenebrionid or darkling beetle — well, that’s gravy. Of course, it helped that I’m not in the habit of examining my food too closely before popping it in my mouth.

Consuming mealworm larvae can amount to a kind of poetic justice, too, if they’ve managed to infest one’s grain supply. I’ll admit I’ve cooked up rice with flour moth larvae in it (though I’ve never served it to guests — don’t panic, y’all). It’s a way of making lemonade from lemons, and the results are usually much more nutritious than the unadulterated grain would’ve been. I’ve been told that the kinds of locusts that devastate crops are actually a culinary blessing in disguise.

insect food booth

They didn’t have any locusts on Saturday, but they did have two additional Mexican insect dishes at the food booth, and surprisingly, it was one of the few spots at the entire fair where I didn’t have to stand in line. My cousin Morgan graciously stepped to the side when I wanted to have a closer look at the wax moth bean dip.

wax moth bean dip

This time, the insect ingredient was a little harder to ignore. But isn’t that the most succulent larva you’ve ever seen? Beekeepers, take note: when the wax moths start eating your hives, you can can simply turn the tables on them.

wax moth guacamole

Then there was the guacamole. All three dishes were free, and very tasty.

It’s funny the prejudice we have against consuming terrestrial invertebrates, especially considering how much we prize certain aquatic invertebrates — shrimp, oysters, lobsters, clams, squid. But I guess that’s the point of the Great Insect Fair: to get people — especially kids — thinking about insects in a more objective light. It’s become a hugely popular annual event, packing the Ag Arena right across from Beaver Stadium, home of the Nittany Lions.

Greatest Show on Earth

It felt a little odd to attend a free event at the Penn State University Park campus. The fair did have its share of vendors, though. My mother couldn’t attend due to a back attack, so as a consolation gift I bought her a t-shirt with a picture of a caterpillar taking a crap and the message, “FRASS HAPPENS.”

Morgan wanted to buy a pair of live Madagascar hissing cockroaches in the worst way, but her mean old parents nixed the idea. She found plenty of kid-friendly activities to console herself with, though: making a paper butterfly out of a coffee filter, for example, and fishing for crawdads with a flyswatter (see the video in yesterday’s post).

mosquito table

In general, any display with live invertebrates drew a crowd. The mosquito guys were great, wielding a scary handpuppet of the World’s Deadliest Insect, and pointing out the differences between male and female mosquitos in the jars in front of them, which tempted visitors to crouch down and wait for one of the swarming larvae to complete its course and graduate to the upper chamber. A stuffed crow served as a reminder of the real victims of West Nile Virus, which tends to be downplayed in the local media because, after all, it rarely kills people.

hornet on the window of the Ag Arena

The turnout itself was the thing that impressed me the most. Who’d have thought going to the cockroach races would be a bigger draw than sitting at home and watching the Penn State-Illinois game? Next weekend, the fields across the road will once again be packed with tailgate parties, and the empty Ag Arena will echo with the roars of 100,000 football fans, but for one day, at least, insects reigned supreme.

In response to a prompt at Creek Running North.

Singing in the bog

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Bear Meadows blueberriesPicking highbush blueberries with the Amish, we discover that, unlike the other pickers scattered around the bog, they don’t like to shout back and forth to each other. My brother tells me they prefer to whistle. Steve loves to pick, and takes Amish with him every time he goes — it’s too far to drive in a horse and buggy.

This is a bog where occasional holes in the sphagnum can pull you in up to your waist. Some people wear hip-waders like trout fishermen; others, like me, wear old shoes and long pants and plan on getting wet. The Amish women pull on short rubber boots for better traction and wade out into the bog in the same dresses they wear for everything else. I guess they’re able to find areas free of sawgrass to do their picking in. On their return from the bog, they pour the water out of their boots, wash their legs in the creek, and change back into their shoes.

The Amish men and boys pick a little apart from their female relatives, I think. The day I went out with them, I twice heard the teenaged boy roaring like a bear, and each time his sister obligingly shrieked.

I was picking out toward the middle of the bog. It was on one of the last days of July, and I counted myself fortunate to hear the distant songs of both a veery and a hermit thrush from the fringe of old-growth spruce and hemlock that encircles the bog. Flocks of cedar waxwings coursed back and forth as always, catbirds and red squirrels scolded from nearby hummocks of blueberry bushes, and dozens of tree swallows swooped and circled over the sea of sawgrass at the center of the bog. Now and then I heard the croaking cry of a raven high overhead. Surrounded by ridges on three sides and protected as a network of State Forest Natural Areas and Wild Areas, this is as close to true wilderness as one can get in the valley-and-ridge province of central Pennsylvania.

Our Amish friends were too far away for me to pick up more than an occasional murmur — not that I understand a word of Pennsylvania German in any case. But I heard them clearly enough when the singing started: the 50-something maiden aunt’s voice raised in what I took to be a hymn, the only form of music their brand of fundamentalism permits. It was a haunting melody in a minor key, and I was disappointed when she stopped after a single verse. I suppose she might’ve been singing to illustrate some point she was making to her neice, because I heard two more, all-too-brief snatches of song in the next ten minutes.

By that time it had turned into a very hot day, and I was glad to see that my bucket was almost full. The slog back to the car was exhausting. My mother was already there, panting in the shade, and our car was the last vehicle left in the small parking area. We blew the horn in the agreed-upon signal — three series of three short blasts — and waited for the Amish to return. I wasn’t at all surprised to see that the older woman — the one who’d been singing — had picked about three gallons to my two and a half, while the boy had picked close to five and was disappointed to have to leave so soon.

On the way down out of the mountains, as we passed the ski lodge, we saw some people out on the go-cart course despite the heat. I tried to explain the attraction of driving in circles in tiny little cars as best I could. “Why would anyone come all the way here and not want to go for a hike in the woods?” said S. in her slightly clipped English, and I had to smile — it was exactly the sort of thing my mother would say. On the long drive back, she asked us to be sure and tell them as soon as the mountain that looms over their farms came into view.