On an unseasonably frozen mid-October Sunday, under threatening skies and in between gusting winds, fall fell on the Tuscarora State Forest.
Five adventurers, assembled the night prior on a whim at a karaoke bar, meandered over a gravel trail laden with fallen leaves and broken twigs. The Fall Foliage Tour’s maiden excursion would be one of only two trips where I tackled the trails with traveling companions. Here, sixty miles west of home, in a 96,000-acre forest, I was grateful for their presence.
Without destination, we followed a path along East Licking Creek, a tributary of the Juniata River. Its shallow depths ran parallel to a road of the same name, the only in-route to the forest accessible by automobiles. Swift-running waters, choked by dead and dying leaves, provided a quick photo op.
Excitement mounted. As much as I enjoy people, and as much as I have faith in humanity, its nature scenes like this where I’m at home, at ease, serene yet filled with spirit. An emotional state of mind I hadn’t known for some time, now heightened by how hard I’ve physically worked to be able to get there.
Wind gusted from the north, driving us to action. We ventured farther and higher into the woods, where changing elevations provided subtle variations of color and presentation.
The brighter hues of yellow darkened, giving way to amber and jade. Sun peaked through clouds long enough for me to capture this view.
The climb continued. No overlook was promised, but one was certainly desired. The eroded peaks of the Appalachians ran uncontested through this region. I was clamoring for a clearing a couple thousand feet up, looking down on miles upon miles of rolling foliage. Some real scenic shit. Swiftly and efficiently our company ascended, but the Tuscarora showed no signs of thinning out.
Afternoon arrived in the form of sputtering sleet. Surprisingly soothing, despite the Mercury falling. Regardless, the unanticipated weather event marked the end of our search for overlook glory. Turning back the way we came, and walking again over the only foot trail the forest allowed, we made good pace.
Muffled by vegetation, I could hear faintly the rushing waters of East Licking. Warmth followed. Breaking clouds provided the available light I needed to grab some final shots.
I could have spent the rest of the afternoon wondering these woods. The spirit was willing, but the knee was swelling. So I drained half my battery taking pictures, paying homage to the forest whose splendor would not be duplicated for another year.
Chalk the first stop on the Fall Foliage Tour a success. On to the next one.