From my back porch I can see the place on Tussey Mountain where Rothrock State Forest begins at Landis Path. That’s where we merge.
As a boy with dog or friends, I would pass the yellow gate to Landis Path and into Rothrock. Pileated woodpeckers cackled. Barred owls called from secret nooks. Fallen hemlocks’ flaked, their heartwood turning to coffee musty soil. We children tromped, sticks like swords or spears in hands, intrepid explorers of the wild.
On my own and with friends, I have ridden my mountain bike up that path decades later. I churn my pedals past leaf-clogged mires and bubbling headwaters to Kepler, an old state forest road. Oaks, maples, and hickories. Laurel blooming in June. A few miles of undulations later the trees change to a lane of tiny-needled hemlocks. The shift from deciduous to coniferous makes new channels for the light. Depending on the time of year turkeys disappear up the slope, a coopers hawk streaks through the canopy, scarlet tanagers flit away, or Canada geese fly in formation high overhead.
Farther along, I climb Pennsylvania Furnace Road to gaze from a rocky ridgetop vista into the next valley over. Up top, bees meticulously work in roadside thistles. Below, verdant forest fabric on the mountain meets a summer flannel patchwork of valley farms.
I cried there the day after my father died. Down other forests roads—Harry’s Valley and Pine Swamp—are the places where he cut firewood and the creek where we put his ashes.
I’ve been to every part of this journey with my son now. We saw a six-point copper-coated buck at the switchback on Landis Path. It sited us with obsidian eyes and bounded downhill, white tail hailing us, coat melding into the leaf litter. We’ve walked from Kepler Road up the Indian Steps to the Mid-State Trail at the ridge’s top for autumn lunch. We’ve sat at the vista looking down on the valley and the woods where my father cut firewood.
Three generations of us have lived in that forest. All of it lives in us.