By Scott A. Yeager for GANT News
Mid-spring in the Moshannon State Forest is a magical experience. Under sapphire skies on clear, sunny days, the new growth in the forest bathes the world around you in soft, cool tones of jade.
Unlike other parts of the world, the region is blessed with consistent rain and an occasional storm, but for the most part, the rains are as gentle as the Mayapples that cup their leaves skyward this time of year to gather rays of sunshine before the forest canopy above them hogs the warmth and bounty.
Ample rains call forth lush ferns from tightly-wound fiddleheads with an alien grace all of their own, and they dance like children in the first warm winds of the year.
Visitors to the Pennsylvania Wilds and residents alike discover that no two days in the spring are the same. Each day, subtle changes ignite the senses and conjure primeval memories that are as familiar as they are frightening for modern humans.
We begin to remember – little by little – those instinctual utterances from our genetic ancestry that beckon us to wander and explore.
Do yourself a kindness when you visit the Wilds in mid-spring. Humor those whispers that echo from deep within you. There is virtue in lending an ear to that most ancient of human urges, the need to explore.
Consider how routine the modern human’s existence is; we work, learn and socialize based upon schedules, routines and the chime of devices.
What’s even more bizarre is that we willingly do so and appear to resign ourselves to the notion that routine and regiment are healthy for us.
Any activity – even a perceivably healthy one – taken to an extreme becomes the very thing that it seeks to remedy at its inception.
So, what happens if, from time to time, we follow that primitive urge to wander – especially, if we chose to wander in a wild place?
Amidst the cathedrals of hemlock and hardwoods in the Moshannon State Forest would we be foolish or blessed with Fortune’s smile? Before fears stir to stifle your progress, you may want to think like a shaman.
The Moshannon State Forest was enjoyed by First Nations Peoples for thousands of years before becoming the place that we know of today.
In a time before the convenience of grocery stores, human beings relied upon the forest to provide them with their meals; Moshannon loosely translates as “Moose Creek” from its language of origin.
While we have plenty of elk, black bear and white-tailed deer, the notion of their being moose or even bison in Clearfield County seems odd to some folks. Places earn their names for a reason.
Living in accord with the forest, the region’s first inhabitants were able to thrive. Yet, like us, they would often fall into routines.
These routines impacted their thinking, their ability to learn and to adapt – above all, it hit them right in the dinner bowl.
Nothing is more deflating to the human spirit than an inability to feed one’s self and one’s community. What to do?
Enter the shaman. In many cultures, there are special people – those tasked with helping others get to a better place. They are often people who live within but comfortably beyond polite society.
They occupy a fringe of sorts – with one foot in the known world and one foot in that place just beyond what we know, that wild and unexplored territory that stirs the fears and unleashes fresh anxieties.
In challenging times, the people seek the shaman’s counsel. Typically, a shaman would listen; and then, the shaman would withdraw to a place of contemplation.
For example, the community may need help finding new sources of food. The familiar places were not productive, and people were going hungry.
After hearing the issue, the shaman would grab a piece of leather or birch bark and retire to a quiet spot.
While contemplating a solution to hunger and an ever-growing depression amongst the community members, the shaman would soak the leather or birch bark in water.
The roll of material would be twisted, wet again and twisted again. The shaman would repeat this several times until they were satisfied that the forest provided them with a solution to their dilemma; after all, the forest did, and still can, provide solutions to many of the ills in life – even growling bellies.
The shaman would roll out the leather or birch bark on the ground before them. They would take a feather or stick and dip it into a mixture of ash or pitch.
They would then trace the wrinkles and lines that resulted from their consistent twisting, taking care to draw familiar landmarks and locations near the new lines as points of reference.
The shaman would share this new map with their community. You can’t get lost if you have a map, right? But if you never got lost or simply stepped beyond that which was familiar to you, wouldn’t you stunt your own growth, your own ability to learn and your success in relation to others?
The Moshannon State Forest in mid-May is the ideal place to wander and to get lost.
By no means should you ever deliberately seek to place yourself in harm’s way; however, when you visit the Pennsylvania Wilds, tuck your mobile device away or leave it at home for a couple of days.
You won’t miss it. If you see a road, path or game trail that is new to you, give into your primeval urges and take that step beyond your life of routine, scheduled activities and planned functions.
Enjoy a dance with the ferns. You may feel a bit hesitant at first. Step beyond your apprehensions and push your fears to the back burner for a moment.
Let your senses guide you, listen and do not stop moving until you see that new place, thing or thought that you were looking for in the forest.
A few uncomfortable steps beyond the world you know may open an exciting new chapter in your life. Just like the people who sought new answers in the Moshannon Forest long ago, you will also find that there is great reward in taking a new path. There is virtue in getting lost, especially in the Pennsylvania Wilds.