Michaux State Forest: often admired, rarely explored. For four years, I passed through these woods on my way to and from Shippensburg University without meandering off course once.
Today, I’d wander.
I approached the 85,000 acre woodlands from the west, through Chambersburg. The plan: to journey down Route 30, eventually arriving in Adams County – my homeland.
Autumn greeted me at the forest’s gates.
Already sojourning off course, I turned left away from the forest entrance in Caledonia. An orchard lie dormant against a rising sea of autumn. At its center, a sapling saturated in saffron. I sat down on the dirt path, undoubtedly private property, framed the shot, clicked the shutter, paused. Then reminisced.
This was vintage fall. The one you remember from your youth. Wind blowing. Clouds scattered. Leaves leaving. A hint of winter in each breathe. Fucking. Whimsical. But not as whimsical as the dinner Mom promised me upon my return home for the first time in months.
The orchard was tranquil, serene, and neat,
But I’m hungry and beat,
And have miles to go before I can eat.
Motoring down Lincoln Highway to Caledonia, I found a path worth exploring. A gradual ascent into South Mountain, littered with oak, maple, and birch petals. Evergreen bract sprouted at the base of the hike, giving way to taller shrubbery as the elevation climbed.
Foliage here was intermittent. Trees more exposed to the elements were stripped bare or half naked. The remainder, though, was vibrant. Ruby and gold. Hazel and coral. Strung like Christmas ornaments on the edge of branches, just a mishap away from falling.
I continued a half mile into Michaux when I came to a small clearing. Trails split threefold, each path looking more ominous than the last. Shadows grew longer. My stomach rumbled. The knees showed signs of fatigue.
I would have followed that trail to the very fiery peaks of South Mountain, but wisdom stayed my progress. I was a solo adventurer with metal appendages isolated in a foreign forest, and I was losing daylight. Turning around was logical…but far from easy.
To have the vigor and yearning of youth, but the fragility and injury of old age. A constant battle. Today, though, a small victory.
Intermittent gusts strew leaves across the walkway en route to Shadowfax, the Lord of all Subarus. Sunlight burst through a broken canopy, countering the temperature drop ushered in on winter winds. I made good pace, fueled by the thought of homemade food.
Back on Route 30, foliage forged a gateway to Adams County. Traveling west, looking south, the rolling hills of Ortanna were undeniable. So I veered off the beaten path one last time.
Old Route 30 descended from South Mountain. Farmlands dotted sloping hillsides. Homes grew half miles apart. I didn’t have to see the people who resided here to feel the pride that resonated from each dwelling. The tiny town on the Franklin/Adams border where hope was harvested each fall.
Voyaging home, many a picture opportunity presented itself, and many a picture op was denied. Mental snapshots, preserved in my memory bank.
The best views aren’t seen through a viewfinder. They’re experienced. Sights, sounds, smells, sensations. You remember what you feel much longer than what you see.
And this night, I’m feeling Mom’s homemade stuffed shells.