I was awakened by something like a door slam thud at about 3:00 AM. Unfortunately, I did not see a bear behind our site. I say that only because it is really exciting to see large wild mammals nowadays, considering man’s structures are crowding them out. I finally go back to sleep and the next thing I know I smell coffee. It’s so wonderful to have a smell rouse you when you are between worlds. Rich and Annarita had already broken out some apple coffee cake from Rich’s mom and were having a pre-breakfast munch. The sun seems to be zigzagging a path from the window to the trees, as if to beckon us out.
Rich and I decide to hike down to the lake while Annarita stays back to enjoy some quiet reading. When we arrive, there is a beautiful mist sweeping its way across the water. We stay on the water’s edge walking on the road until we hit an area with tons of birds. I can make out the “ner-ner” of Nuthatches and see Chickadees bouncing in the branches. Then, I hear a bunch of woodpeckers calling. Some of them are Downy and some are Red-Bellied. As I tune my binocs to another bird, Rich shrieks “Pileated!”. Sure enough, I see a crow sized bird fly off with the unmistakable tuxedo wing markings. Nearby, I spot a tree covered with the elongated holes of a Pileated. It’s just astounding how powerful their beaks are. We lose track of the bird, but note that the time is close to 9:00 am. Birds are creatures of habit, and we know where we need to be tomorrow morning!
We continue down the road where we find a cute lean-to that I just have to try out for myself. I wonder if it was a scouting project? Eventually we reach the Hay Trail. This trail leads us deep into the woods where it is completely silent except for the occasional leaf jumping off its branch. I breathe a deep sigh as it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the woods without any sign of man in four directions. There are ferns, leaves of crimson color and lichens that appear like little steps on trees. It’s one of those perfect ecosystems they make you study in school. In fact, it’s almost a downer when we finally reach the trail blaze for Seneca, which leads us back to the cabin.
Annarita greets us from the porch and we are all ready for a mega breakfast. Rich goes to work on making some Blueberry Corn Griddle Cakes, with a recipe by Christina Pirello, a popular vegan chef in Philadelphia. Some things are perfect just as they are, and this is one of them! What really makes them tasty is the lemon zest with the blueberries. Fearing that our frozen blueberries would make the batter too thin, Rich opts to make a sauce out of them and promptly serves the griddle cakes with our fave vegan apple sage sausage. They are a golden blue heaven. Rich insists on using his travel mug that looks like a camera lens. Smile!
With the sun holding out and a prediction of rain in our future, we opt to wash dishes later. We set out for the ranger station to learn more about the park and to choose our next hike. The station is closed, but on the map we find a bog path that looks interesting, and we decide to check it out. We discover a long boardwalk leading out into Black Moshannon’s bog, which turns out to be one of the largest bogs in PA. There is interpretive signage giving tidbits about the wetlands, including the difference between three popular aquatic plants — Spatterdock, Water Lillies and Water Cells. It’s so nice to finally note the differences! Sphagnum Moss, which is plentiful, appears in bright green patches in the bog growth. I had only ever seen it dried for use in potted plants. Who knew it grew like this? The wind starts to pick up hinting at a storm, so we make our way back to camp.
After cleaning up dishes and putting beds back in order, the next priority is to start drying out the damp wood. Rich sets to work making a tee-pee style fire. The wood bubbles as it lets out its moisture and things begin to get smoky. Around this time, we notice that one of the tires on the car is low. Not good since our trip home is 4 hours away. Annarita and I decide to make it our mission to find a gas station and some dry wood. We hop in the car, and as we exit the park, we notice a sign for the Black Moshannon Lodge. I quickly turn in the driveway, where we spy a pickup truck parked outside. Thinking it can’t hurt to ask for directions, I open the door to the lodge expecting to find a lobby, and instead find myself in someone’s living room. I can just make out a woman sitting at a table in the next room. I don’t know whether to bolt or just act casual. I call out to her and she finally offers me a smile that makes it apparent she’s not holding a shotgun. Apparently the whole lodge is a rental as a cabin, so I had truly just walked in on a family! They aren’t local, but the woman’s husband mentions a gas station about eight miles away. So, back in the car I go, and we continue down the road.
I happen to notice a sign for a regional airport. Now my thinking is that an airport would certainly have an air pump for airplane tires. We decide to take the risk. We follow the road for about a half mile until we reach a clearing. What we think is an airport is actually a factory with a dead end sign beyond it — sheesh!. As we start to turn around, we see a group of professionally dressed hunters. Feeling already foolish, I wave hello and stick my head out the window to explain my far fetched theory of airports and tires. The hunters laugh as they explain the airport has been defunct for many years, but encourage me to pull over. Apparently they have an air compressor in one of their vehicles. Maybe my logic was off, but this was a stroke of luck! I back the car into place, and as the youngest hunter set about connecting the hose, we chat it up. Most of them are from Northeast Philadelphia, and we joke about how friendly Philly can be. They have all been hunting together for a while and are using muzzle loaded guns and compound bows. As a vegan, I’m not a hunting fan, but these men seem to be by the book and extremely respectful of the land and how things are done. They engage us with stories of bears, coyotes, deer, ducks porcupines and turkeys. The most important thing we learn is that some of the hiking trails are considered part of the hunting area. So, it’s imperative that campers wear bright colors-especially hats. One hunter mentions that he saw a bicyclist wearing a black and white outfit that looked just like the back of a deer. I was glad I was at least wearing a big lavender ski hat. After sharing some trail mix and more stories, we finally get back on the road to find some firewood. It turns out a house has some for sale on honor system right near the park entrance. We deposit $5 and are back at our cabin in a few minutes.
Rich finally has some hot coals, but it starts to drizzle. That means dinner will have to be prepped quickly, but first things first! We warm some flat bread over the fire as a snack with hummus. Then, Annarita and I start to prepare foil packs for dinner. Foil packs are an old staple from scouting trip days because they are an easy way to prepare meals that cater to individual tastes. Laying down a large piece of foil, we fill it with cubed potatoes, carrots, onions, broccoli rabe and vegan apple sage sausages. We swirl some olive oil, italian seasoning and/or cajun seasoning on top. Then, we fold it up, adding another sheet of foil and repeating the folds to make sure it is protected from burning. In the coals they go!
While the foil packs are cooking, we prep some Hot Banana Boats, another scout favorite. Keeping the banana in its peel, we slit the banana lengthwise, without actually cutting all the way through. Then, we stuff it with chocolate bits and a little bit of trail mix. Then, like the foil packs, we wrap them up, making sure to notice which end is up. As we finish wrapping, Rich takes the foil packs out of the fire and then places the bananas in their place. Time to feast!
Never doubt the power of vegetables simply roasted in a fire. The potatoes have just a hint of brown and the olive oil and broccoli rabe create a bath of moisture for the rest of the veggies, similar to a stew. Add the warmth of melted chocolate with bananas, and you are sure to unleash some vigor for more storytelling. Well, actually all the sugar must have gone to our heads because Annarita and Rich ended up playing cards, while I quickly documented our day. Sadly, our time to explore the park is running out. Weekends are way too short.