Sunday was a day of blue skies, abundant sunshine and no wind—perfect for a hike. A forest can be a noisy place when there’s even a slight breeze. All those leaves rustling in unison can easily hide the sounds of the forest’s birds and animals. It’s a rare treat when not even a hint of a breeze dulls the sound of the rest of the forest. The only sound most of the time was that of my own footfalls.
Between Roundtop Mountain and Nell’s Hill runs a narrow valley that also contains Beaver Creek. The valley is not developed in any way, except for this old woods road that once led to a long-abandoned summer camp for girls. The mountains on either side help to block sounds from outside the forest but also keep the valley in shade for much of the day. Sunrise is late coming here, and sunset is early. This is especially so during the short hours of winter, but even in fall the valley doesn’t get more than about 6 hours of sunlight. The valley also holds water and dampness more than up on the mountains, so ferns are lush here and the more shade-loving trees grow tall and large.
Beech trees predominate over the red oak, which here is more prolific than white oak. Sassafras and tulip poplar are more common than hickory. Deer are less common here than higher up, perhaps preferring the more open spaces with more grazing. Chipmunks and squirrels are the animals I see the most, and they aren’t shy about warning every soul for half a mile around that I am invading their territory. In spring and summer, the valley is a haven for forest birds. Scarlet tanagers are yearly nesters, as are wood thrush, ovenbirds, pewees and phoebes. In fall, only the year-round avian residents remain. I am frequently scolded by titmice and chickadees.
Most valleys in this part of Pennsylvania are developed in some way. Flat land is at a premium here, and is of course preferred for everything from houses to farmland. That this valley has remained undeveloped is partly due to luck, though I’m sure its narrowness is also a major factor. The valley is so narrow that building a two-lane road through it is probably impossible, and even if that were not impossible, any houses would need to be perched on the steep hillsides, not an ideal situation in any case. So the valley has remained forested and undeveloped, for which I am eternally grateful.