An ode to stick season

After a morning of house cleaning and farm chores we looked up at the clear sky and decided that it wasn’t too late for an adventure. Leonard Harrison State Park, in nearby Tioga county, provides easy access to the Pine Creek Gorge; what the locals refer to as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. The valley there is 800 feet deep and nearly 4000 feet wide. In comparison, the Grand Canyon averages 10 miles wide and its greatest depths plunge more than a mile beneath its rim. So, ours is a small Grand Canyon to be sure. There was blue sky above when we reached the trail head to the Turkey Path. As we descended the gorge however the clouds rolled in and by the time we reached the creek bed it was clear that north central Pennsylvania was well into Stick Season (Stick Season is a phrase new to me and one which I learned from reading a post by fellow photographer Stephen Gingold. He described it as that time of year known for its lack of woodland color). I had been looking forward to this little adventure for more than a week and was crushed at the dearth of color and photographic potential with which I was presented. I scanned the drab vista, a near-colorless, late fall, pallet. I noticed that a few cairns had been constructed some distance from the shore. There was nothing for it, I walked into the rapidly flowing creek to get closer to my only available subject. The water was cold and the rocky bottom seemed more than usually slippery. Joanna and Darcy had gone for a walk and were out of sight. I walked slowly, and with care. When Joanna returned, we agreed that evening was approaching and, although our descent into the gorge hadn’t taken long, getting back to the rim might be a bit more arduous. We started back. On the way, Little Fourmile Run descended noisily along the walls of its nascent gorge. Although Stick Season had, I thought, rendered the surrounding wood colorless, the sandstones, siltstones, mudstones and shales that formed the valley walls lay exposed, alternating in subtle slices of gray, red, brown and green pastel. Perhaps this place hadn’t been devoid of visual interest after all. Perhaps I should have stopped to remember that there is more to nature’s beauty than vibrant spring and summer color. If I had, I would have been able to enjoy the colorless beauty of Stick Season. For as I stood in the creek I knew there was beauty in motion, all around. There was motion in the water which surged around my ankles. There was motion in the trees which recorded movements of the wind which traversed the valley to the south. As I stood there was beauty in the sounds which surrounded me. The sounds of the wind. The sounds of rustling leaves. The sounds made by the water as it flowed, for there is no such thing as perfect and unperturbed stream flow; boulders, rocks, cobbles, stones, gravels, and sands all impede progress and eddies and waves produce the chaotic music of moving fluid. And, there were smells. Smells of wet soil and of decaying organics, and of the clean air itself. And, there was texture. Texture in all that was alive, all that had died, and all that lay dormant. All of these inputs, though they lacked that very particular modality which we sense as color, combined to provide a complex sensory message. Inputs came from the stream, the riparian transition to woodland, the wood itself, and from the skies above. What was I thinking when first I thought that Stick Season lacked interest? Interesting things are always there to delight us. To find them we must learn to adjust the ways in which we perceive this place in which we live.

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