Twenty-five years ago, I traded my Upper Michigan roots for the fast-pace and seemingly jaded existence of the mid-Atlantic. Jobs beckoned my husband and me, so I left behind jack pines, real winter snow, saunas, and my beloved Lake Superior. Would I ever find my niche in Pennsylvania?
Between the ghost yards of Bethlehem Steel and the Marcellus Shale deposits now being desecrated is a geological formation known as Ridge and Valley. When gods of the underworld pushed continents into each other some four hundred million years ago, the ground here began to bulge, like the buckling of rugs when children and puppies play. One particular ridge rises higher than the rest – to about 1400 feet near my house. While not great in stature as mountains go, the rim traverses an impressive 185 miles of the Commonwealth. The Lenapes named it the Kittatinny, Endless Mountain. Folks today call it Blue Mountain.
South of the Kittatinny, one would be hard-pressed to find an equivalent block of contiguous mixed forest. These wooded slopes are critical habitat for breeding songbirds; the Ridge is a significant migratory corridor for raptors. Follow the rim westward along the Appalachian Trail and you come to Hawk Mountain – a hallowed place of luminaries: Rosalie Edge, Maurice Braun, Rachel Carson, Roger Tory Peterson. Not far away, John James painted some of the famous Audubon images. It is hard not to be a birder when this ridge is your neighbor.
Most mornings, I am greeted by the ever-changing hues of the Ridge staring down at me through the windows. But on some, it is as if the mountain has vanished. Clouds reach down and grab hold of the fog rising from the creek below, and I am left to imagine the whereabouts of the red fox, black bears, and flying squirrels since they won’t be discernible on these days.
The Ridge is showing signs of wear from development, climate change, over-browsing by deer, and invasions by forest-threatening insects and alien species. No longer can I ignore these threats, these attacks on my neighbor. This place, my mountain, needs our help.