Musings While Hiking in Oil Creek State Park

Oil Creek State Park


May 1999

Overcast as I leave the car, but warm.  Soon the rain starts, enough so that I need to put on my water repellant jacket.  Ten minutes later, the rain stops and the temperature climbs.  Time to take off my jacket.  Fifteen minutes later, temps drop and the rain begins again, so I put on my jacket.

Every time I put on my jacket or take off my jacket, I must stop, take off my backpack, change my jacket and then put my pack back on.  I mean, rinse and repeat.

This happens at least a dozen times.  By now, I’m looking over my shoulder.

Every time I walk between two trees I step into another world.

Sign the trail register.  Unlikely, but find my entry from six years ago which reads:  What better way to give thanks on Thanksgiving than to be in the woods.

I eat two cookies and take several steps, walk between two trees.  A deer comes bounding through the woods up on my right.

Pittsburgh is not a glamorous town.  Nor would Pennsylvania be considered a garden spot although we have more rural land than any other state.  There is not the romantic and exotic regard that Hawaii has, nor the progressive and hip rep like California, nor the glitz of New York and it doesn’t attract retirees in the winter like Florida.

But just two hours north of Pittsburgh is where Edwin Drake set up the first operating oil well in the known Universe.  Much of the initial technology from the oil boom of the 1860s is still in use.  You can find original wells in this area still bringing up the oil.  Possibly, these wells may be the last dry land producing wells on the planet.

Northwestern Pennsylvania.  Lots o’, lots o’ mushrooms.  Kennett Square, on the other side of the state where I hike today, has been crowned the Mushroom Capitol of the World.  But Creekside, a borough just a couple hours south of here, closer to home than Oil Creek, houses the world’s largest mushroom growing facility, cranking out about 60 million pounds of mushrooms a year.

Switchbacks lead down to the suspension bridge, voices below.  These sounds annoy and disappoint me — I don’t want to see anybody.  I’m out here because I want to be by myself.  What is it about me?  What is it about people who do things by themselves?  I was here on Thanksgiving day last year, thinking about all the people gathering around their family holiday dinner.  I’ll be here next November, thinking the same thing.  The turkey plays a large part in almost everyone’s life this time of year.

And just now, crashing through the tree limbs, is a small flock of turkeys.

My sandwich today:  roast beef with cheese and lettuce with a slice of tomato and a squish of spicy mayo.  No turkey.

What was Oil Creek called before oil was discovered in this area?

Off the trail is a rusted out shed, clearly been here for years, untouched, a remnant of drilling days.

Last weekend in the woods east of home, and now, on today’s hike, I am getting face bombed by butterflies.

As I approach the suspension bridge, I hear commotion in the water.  I don’t think much of it — maybe it’s goofballs in a boat with paddles.  Now I see the source of the noise.  A line of ducks the full width of Oil Creek paddling duck-crazy downstream.  Looks like a duck race.

When I drove through Oil City yesterday morning, it smelled bad, like industry.  Here in the park it smells really good, like trees, like dirt, like moss and ferns and living things.

City of Oil City.

Some large animal is thrashing around in the run down to my left, but I haven’t been able to see it.

For some reason today, I’m thinking about taking T____ on a hike like this.  At the age of nine she isn’t ready for today’s elevation gain, but it would be a good starter trail.  And now that she is approaching ten-dom, and teenage-dom, her rebelliousness has recently begun to emerge and, I expect, will continue more so as she gets older and more sarcastic.  These are the years.  The sarcasm is annoying on its own, but it is the implied rejection of me and my values inherent in the biting comments which are so uncomfortable.  I have only recently begun to understand this.

Or perhaps I will be able to remember that the rejection from a nine-year-old is not truly sincere.  She is testing her world, she is testing me.  I try to pass the test.

How the hell does one be a successful parent!?

More lemony-smelling sassafras than I’ve ever seen before.  Insects today are not a problem and rarely bother me.  Maybe it has to do with near record low temperatures last night.

I watch a daddy really long legs as it moves around holding its body aloof from the ground.  Reminds me of the images of the Martian attack fleet in H G Wells’ <War of the Worlds.>

A daddy long legs smells with sense organs located on its legs.

A daddy long legs smells like cherries.

Philistine:  a person who is lacking in or hostile or smugly indifferent to cultural values, intellectual pursuits, aesthetic refinement, or is contentedly commonplace in ideas and tastes.

Bohemian:  a person, as an artist or writer, who lives and acts free of regard for conventional rules and practices.

Hello. Here’s a snake on the trail.  Slithers off as soon as I come near.  Small and gone.

Another one!  Two in a row.  Take two steps and there is another one.  Look around for some more.  A fourth?  They move away so fast, by the time I see them they are gone so the best description I can get is, “snake.”

Quiet charm to today’s trail, feeling of remoteness, no people.  Oh yeah, that’s why I come here.

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