Pennsylvania Travel Destinations

If Big Motor Homes Are The Mcmansions Of The Road, My Compact Truck Is Like A One-Room Cabin Without Electricity Or Indoor Plumbing. It Keeps Me Warm And Dry In A Storm But Is Rustic Enough To Require A Sense Of Adventure. Last Night, I Slept In The Back Of My Truck Under A Canopy Of Hemlock Trees. In The Morning, I Crawled Out And Made Myself Breakfast In The Clear, Cool, Evergreen Air. The Trail To The Old Growth Began Right Next To My Campsite. Life Is Sweet.

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What Does It Feel Like To Walk Through Cook Forest? Well, If I Were A Cartoon Character On My Way To See The Seven Dwarves, I Would Have Been Skipping And Singing. The Rest I Didn’T Have To Imagine The Chipmunks Were Scampering Along Beside Me, The Birds Were Chirping And Hopping On The Trail In Front Of Me, And Patches Of Moss Were Glowing Green From The Slender Beams Of Light That Made Their Way Through The Canopy Far Overhead.

I Felt Almost As If I Had Been Drugged. I Was So Filled With Joy I Had A Cheek-Splitting Grin On My Face. (Fortunately, I Was The Only One On The Trail.) In Every Direction, The Forest Floor Was An Art Installation Composed Of Moss And Rocks, Mushrooms, And Twisted Roots. Looking More Closely, I Saw Miniature Compositions Of Berries And Acorn Caps, Tiny Spore-Bearing Parasols, And Leaves In Abstract Shapes. Each Composition Was More Beautiful Than The Last.

Trees Of All Sizes And Types Loomed Overhead. Around Every Bend The Species Composition Changed Slightly. How Could One Pick A Favorite Forest Type? But Finally, I Decided My Favorite Must Be The Hemlock Groves With Their Dark Shade And A Soil So Spongy It Seemed To Spring Back As I Lifted My Foot. Overhead Were Dark, Feathery Boughs; Underfoot Was A Soil Created By Hundreds Of Years’ Worth Of Tiny, Fallen Needles And The Organisms That Feed On Them.

Conservation Biologist Aldo Leopold’S Most Often Quoted Lines Read, “A Thing Is Right When It Tends To Preserve The Integrity, Stability, And Beauty Of The Biotic Community. It Is Wrong When It Tends Otherwise.” As An Ecologist, I Have Been Trained To Focus On The Integrity And Stability Of Ecosystems, But Here In The Old Growth Of Cook Forest I Was Thinking More About The Beauty. We Tend To Discount Beauty Because It Is So Difficult To Define And Measure, But Beauty Is A Physiological Reality: The Experience Of Beauty Changes The Levels Of Neurotransmitters In The Brain. We May Need The Beautiful More Than We Know.

The Abundant Variety Of Tree Species Here Can Be Intimidating For Anyone Trying To Identify Them, Even A Tree Lover Like Myself. But Even More Important Than The Tree Species Is The Rich Treasure Of Genotypes That Has Been Preserved Here. During One Hike, I Identified A Red Maple With A Bark Texture I Was Familiar With, But Next To It A Maple Of The Same Size And Leaf Shape Had Very Different Bark. I Puzzled Over This For A While Before Deciding That I Was Probably Looking At One Species, But Two Genotypes. Trees Have Genetically Based Individual Differences, Just As Humans Do.

Environment Does Have Some Effect, And Both Well-Nourished Trees And Well-Fed People Grow Taller Than Others Not So Well-Nourished, But Genetics Cannot Be Totally Overridden. If You Are Born Into A Family Of Short People, You Are Likely To Be Short Also. Here In Cook Forest, The Trees Must Have Good Genes And Good Nutrition. For Many Years, It Was Thought That A Tree In This Forest A White Pine Named Longfellow Was The Tallest Tree East Of The Mississippi River. But A Few Years Ago Someone Found A Taller White Pine In The Smoky Mountains, So Longfellow Became The Second Tallest Tree In The East, At Least For Now. Searching For Champion Trees Is A Sport For Tree Huggers, And, Like In Any Sport, Champions Come And Go. One Tree Might Grow Quickly And Regain The Title, Or Perhaps Its Challenger Will Fall To Insects Or A Storm. But There Are Enough Record Holders In This Forest Tallest Hemlock, Pignut Hickory, American Chestnut, And Black Cherry To Award The Forest As A Whole The Title Of Tallest Canopy In The Northeast.

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