By Scott A. Yeager for GANT News
Unless you are close to town, nights in the Pennsylvania Wilds are dark, pitch black in most areas.
Granted, there is a certain brilliance in the night skies – the Milky Way, the cast of characters in the familiar constellations overhead and the occasional meteor shower provides a comfort of sorts to your senses.
If your gaze naturally pulls skyward, you are never lost and seldom alone; on the other hand, if you are keen to keep your eyes closer to the ground, you come to appreciate the serenity of misty hollows, dark paths and a life without any discernible borders.
There is something to be said for the inky black and for the peace that it affords one’s mind.
While there are those who would argue that black things are something to be suspicious of or to raise one’s utmost caution, most people come to find that black things in the Pennsylvania Wilds are pretty intelligent – take for instance the common crow.
Crows stand out from other birds in the PA Wilds because of their intelligence. Scholars as far back as the venerable Aesop, the author of many celebrated fables, have recognized the problem-solving abilities of crows; in fact, there are those who would suggest that crows taught human beings the value of working smarter, not harder to achieve a given objective.
Like humans, crows are highly social creatures. They coordinate and strategize with other crows, making them a formidable force when confronted by larger threats.
Crows are omnivores, they can make a meal out of just about anything. But in the end, they are black and people have often associated them with ominous tidings and even death itself.
Thankfully, crows are not the only black things in the Pennsylvania Wilds that are often misunderstood.
If you are a resident in Clearfield, Elk, Cameron, Clarion, or any of the other counties that comprise our region, you enjoy feeding birds – sadly, bird seed is also a favorite treat for black bears.
And while many view the black bear as a nuisance or a dumb brutish creature, rest assured their color proves them to be just the opposite. Black bears are great climbers.
This is why it is always a good idea to stand your ground when you meet one on the trail or if you have one wander into your camp. You do not want to turn tail and run.
Face them, let them see you – they tend to have bad eyesight – better yet, let them hear you. They aren’t much for loud noises.
Like crows, the black bear is an adept problem-solver, especially when food is involved. Many a car window and interior have been “redecorated” because an empty fast food bag was tucked away in the back seat.
Black bears, like crows, have been given a bad reputation. They are smart and always stand at the ready to demonstrate the limits of human ingenuity bent toward securing tasty bits.
Speaking of tasty bits, the black bear and crow are not the only black inhabitants of the Pennsylvania Wilds who demonstrate a higher than expected range of intelligence – the black rat snake is also a friend to farmers, homeowners and campers alike.
The black rat snake is a friend to human beings. Like black bears, they are excellent climbers and like their feathered cousins, the crows, they are inevitably maligned because of their appearance.
The black rat snake is one of the largest reptiles in the Pennsylvania Wilds. They keep our homes, businesses, camps and communities free of mice, rats and other rodents that might seem cute, but who also carry disease in check.
They are Nature’s contortionists. A black rat snake can squeeze itself – all of itself – into places that will leave other creatures scratching their heads in amazement. Black rat snakes are peaceful creatures.
They might peak up over a log at you as you walk down a trail or past a wood pile; but rest assured, they are on your side.
Black things are intelligent things, at least it would seem so in the Pennsylvania Wilds. Crows, black bears and black snakes are as misunderstood as many humans who adorn the color black.
Are they evil, vile or to be marginalized? No, that would be our mistake. The most important lessons that we learn in this life are those which we acquire through observation – it is the action of a thing, its behavior that reveals its purpose to us – not its appearance.
The next time you see a crow, a black snake or a chubby black bear, suspend your initial judgements and just watch the animal.
What does it do? Like people, the creatures in the Pennsylvania Wilds will teach you more through their actions than what first meets the eye.
They may even teach you a thing or two about how to approach others in your world. The purpose of a thing is always revealed by way of its actions and behavior. The only real darkness is fear, the blackest of all things.