By Scott A. Yeager for GANT News
The veil between folklore and reality is as thin as the shadow one casts at that fleeting hour before sunset in the Pennsylvania Wilds.
Autumn is a hallowed season for both residents and visitors to our region, a time when the very world around you settles into a different state of being.
The cheer and warmth of summer nights gives way to the rustling chatter of leaves of oak, elm, maple and walnut long stripped of their viridescent glory.
The trumpeting of geese and songbirds that fills one’s ears during the ever-shortening days surrenders to the clatter of bare branches, the momentary howls of unfettered winds and the mournful cries of elk, owls and coyotes, lamenting the coming of the cold.
They know that change is imminent. The chill of Autumn nights is ever portent to those who cling to the warmth of bonfires and to their candlelit homes, as if exhaled from the nostrils of some distant polar wolf, ravenous and ready to consume time and life itself.
A testament to life in transition, this is the season best suited for the merger of folklore and that world which is known to us.
The Ancient Celts believed that Autumn was a thin time, a season when the barrier between the world of the living and the world beyond was at its thinnest.
Ask many people in the Pennsylvania Wilds why they live here; and an often-heard reply will be “Fall is my favorite time of year.”
Why? Well, perhaps many of those who reside here, along with those who would seek refuge from more complicated, urban lives, understand that there is value in transition, in transformation.
Many of the folktales that echo through our mountains, hills and valleys also seek to address transformation, its benefits and the potential for seeing the world that we know through a different lens.
Autumn is a season of mystery, one where the entire environment is transformed in a brilliant flash from greens and golds to reds, oranges and yellows to grey. What madness!
Nature plays with our senses and emotions, but to what end? Perhaps, it is the natural world’s way of letting us know that we don’t know everything that there is to know, that we are still little more than children to the greater mind of nature. What we do not know, we experience.
When we experience something unknown in the natural world, we describe it in a folktale. Science concerns itself with fact. Folklore occupies that special realm between what is seen, heard and sensed – what the experience conjures within us, what we feel.
If you dip your hand into the Sinnemahoning or into Parker Dam, you could explain it through facts, feelings or a combination of the two. Folktales are no different. Like the fire’s warmth, they are a comfort, a thing to be shared by those close to one another.
Take this recent advent in our region’s folklore into consideration. Several credible, average people from places like Sabula, Penfield, Siegel, Big Run, Ridgway and northern Centre County have all had encounters with something massive that roams our forests.
The creature stands taller than an adult human; yet, it is digitigrade in its stance. Many people have encountered it in broad daylight, some while operating their vehicles, others while out for a leisurely stroll.
People have reported seeing a wolf-like figure, a canid – or as some like to call it, a dog-man. Hunters in the area have reported encounters with large black dogs, some have even reported seeing deer stacked like cordwood deep within the forest. What does that mean?
Everyone knows that lycans, dog-men and werewolves are fictional, made up, Hollywood stuff, right? “It’s a mange bear,” says the skeptic and pragmatist.
While we may not have an explanation for everything that we experience in the Pennsylvania Wilds, it is worth our while to peel back a layer or two on these folktales to see where there resides a kernel of truth.
People are experiencing something unique, something not easily classified, categorized or coded. Living in the Pennsylvania Wilds teaches you to appreciate the natural world for the precious treasure that it is – a home like no other to all life.
So, what does a dog-man teach us about our wilderness? In point of fact, it teaches us to welcome new, strange and not-so-ordinary experiences.
There is value in a mind that is open enough to consider the possibility that modern humans do not know all their world.
Heaven forbid the day will come when we do; if ever there were a day for tears as cold as an October’s rain – that would be the day.
Perhaps the good people of our region are seeing a reflection of the self, echoed by the natural world – half human, half animal.
The Pennsylvania Wilds does have a way of bringing out the wilder side in us all. The creature that people report seeing is like us, it walks on two legs, it has two hands; and at times, it creates the illusion of facial expressions, thus exhibiting emotion.
Like all unknowns in most folktales, the creature is often described as being black in color. And there we are – black like a shadow in the twilight of Autumn.
Is it a folktale, this lycan; or is it merely a shadow of ourselves echoed from somewhere within nature?
Autumn in the Pennsylvania Wilds is a special time, a time for eerie stories, and for sharing a warm cup of cider or hot chocolate with those you hold most dear. Enjoy this time of transition.
Look for your reflection in nature’s eye; and with a seldom used lens, you can enjoy the secrets within your own shadow. Gather around the fire, tell your story – add to the folklore of our mysterious region.