Postcard from nature: ‘Wish you were here’

by Marcus Schneck, reposted from PennLines, July 2015 --  Someone I know argues that viewing photos or videos of a place is equivalent to going there and experiencing the place.

     I couldn’t disagree more. Case in point: My acquaintance would not know to exaggerate the length of the 7.2-mile Falls Trail at Rickett’s Glen State Park to 17 miles in her retelling of that time we hiked that incredibly challenging trail that descends and ascends steep gorges on rocky, sometimes slippery trails. Without having struggled along that trail, with just looking at photos of the trail, she wouldn’t know that her exaggeration is fully justified.
falls trail map sign
     Beyond setting up some great exaggerations, no place I’ve ever been was fully explained or completely understood without experiencing that place firsthand.

     Looking at photos of the rocky ledges and “Rattlesnake Research Area” signs on the southwestern slope of Blue Mountain at Port Clinton tells me there are timber rattlesnakes there. Being forced to leave a trail on that slope and bushwhack around a rat tler that refused to end a sunning session on the trail is the experience beyond the photos, complete with the flicking tongue of the reptile, the worry over encountering another rattler, and much more available only to those of us who have been there.

     I am firmly in the camp of George Washington Carver, who wrote, “Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in the books, for they speak with voice of God.”

     St. Bernard of Clairvaux made a good point: “... you will find more lessons in the woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you what you cannot learn from masters.”

     I wonder if I would be sharing this column with you today if I had not walked in the woods and learned the lessons of the trees and stones so many years ago, as a child allowed to stray miles from home, all on my own, for hours on end.

     Would I have true tales to tell of the iron taste of the stained water in a stream polluted by acid mine drainage, had I not taken an unsupervised sip in my youth?

     Would I see into the investigations of a raccoon waddling along a creek from the tracks it leaves in the mud had I not pursued other raccoons on other creeks in earlier days?

     Would I know the effort involved in lugging wood and nails and tools into the forest to build an elevated deer stand in some tree, or the frustration of placing that deer stand in a spot frequented by deer too early and too late in the day for legal hunting, if I had not “been there, done that?”

     “Let nature be your teacher,” wrote William Wordsworth. But, can nature teach us if we’re not in the classroom?


reposted from PennLines*, with permission from the author, Marcus Schneck.  Visit his website at


(also, to plan your visit to Rickett's Glen, see "Top Ten Activities" and/or facebook: RickettsGlenStateParkDCNR , where their SUMMER YOUTH PROGRAMS ARE NOW UNDERWAY!!! )