In the Woodlands of Northeastern Pennsylvania – A Discourse on Deer Hunting, Nature Spirits, and Altered States of Consciousness.
Frankly I am no stranger to the forest lands of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Being an avid deer hunter and outdoorsman I have spent many a day tramping through the woods on my way to somewhere-or nowhere at all. The woodlands have always been my friend, an ever-present retreat from the stress of this fast paced life. Ever-changing yet always the same. A place of wonder and beauty-of loneliness and decay.
Early December in Northeastern Pennsylvania ushers in the Buck hunting season once again. The forests are an ash grey pruned by the cold November winds and sometimes whitewashed by new fallen snow. Most of the birds have long gone to wherever it is they go but the Chickadees always remain, flitting from branch to branch and complaining loudly about one thing or another. Their gray, white, and black colors blending well with the somber forestscape.
This day began for me like countless others in the Pennsylvania deer hunting season. I was up in the wee hours of the morning and into the woods before first light. It was a cold, crisp December morning and the leaves crackled under my feet as I attempted to settle in to my spot. My back planted firmly against a tree, I sat motionless waiting for the first hint of light to peek over the treeline signaling the dawn of a new day.
This year I had chosen a new location from which to hunt my prey and I had been coming here for three mornings now. There was nothing particularly different about this area from any other place in the general area. Most of the woodlands around me are second-growth forest, the old growth forest timbered out over a century ago when the land was raped and layed to waist by the ravenous timber companies. The giant White Pines that once covered the ridges, valleys and swamps quickly fell victim to the axe and saw ultimately becoming ghosts of their former selves in the many sawmills on the banks of swift flowing streams–the drone of the mills echoing endlessly through the hollows and draws of the Appalachians. What remained now were mostly leaf-bearing trees with a white pine here and there like solemn sentinels- reminders of the former grandeur of the Northeastern PA forests. But the past is the past; what is done is done–or is it?
As the forest slowly came into view weakly illuminated by rising sun-a reversal of evening twilight-I thought I noticed movement among the trees. ‘Wait! There it was again!’ As a seasoned game hunter my senses have been trained to go into hyperdrive at the slightest indication of movement or noise. Vision becomes finely tuned zeroing in and focusing on the area of movement. Auditory processes do the same, head cocking and turning towards the determined direction of noise. Tactile sensation heightens immensely as hands slide quickly over the firearm instantly locating trigger and safety simultaneously. The weapon is gripped firmly but delicately in anticipation. No, these movements weren’t deer-or any other animal or bird or insect for that matter. At first I attributed it to a trick of the light but, as I’ve made clear, Ive spent much time in the forest and movement such as this I had never experienced before. It was subtle but all around me. Very small shadows blocking out the light between branches and scrub. I remember cracking a smile, free associating and laughing to myself, ‘Wraiths, faeries hmm. I have invaded the woodland realm of …’ The movement seemed to dissipate but every once in a while I thought I saw it again although not as frequently.
The sun had almost completed its slow ascent above the treeline within view. I settled back against my tree in anticipation of my long vigil. As I scanned the area, my head moving slowly in a semi-circle I suddenly felt extremely relaxed, as one with the forest. I noticed every tree, upright or fallen and an overwhelming realization washed through me. I remember thinking how beautiful this all is, this whole earth-the woodlands and streams. How fortunate we are to have all of this within our grasp. I had been relaxed in the woods before-but not like this! I became cognizant of something else; I didn’t feel like it was me–or it was me thinking this (Very difficult to explain), yet I sensed something–something very old. As I processed these newfound feelings the beauty around me seeming to course through my veins; to the very depth of my soul, a question suddenly materialized and was brought to the forefront of conscious thought: ‘WHY! With all of this beauty around us; here for us; why can man not live harmoniously with nature–with each other?! What is so difficult about it?! The absurdity of it was suddenly crystal clear to me. It had never been so clear before. Emotions welled up inside me as images flashed through my head. In what must have been a few seconds, I visualized what seemed to be every war that man had ever fought for thousands of years–from the beginning of recorded time. I saw man fighting man; swords thrusting, guns firing, explosions and mayhem–and I wept as the eternal question “WHY?” repeated itself over and over. As the tears subsided and the visions faded along with it went the feeling of inner peace which I had experienced previously. I began to feel my old stressed-out self again.
What had happened?! Had I psychically connected with The Memory of Trees from Celtic folklore? The Celts considered trees to be sacred and repositories of memory, lore and the presence of spirit-beings-or was it an Elemental’s cruel joke? First imparting on me a sense of well-being and one with nature; then telepathically implying: “Now here is man, see what he has done!”
I returned to the same area for two days after my experience this past December of 2009. Nothing unusual happened again. I will be sure to return to those woodlands this spring and many times thereafter. I will never forget the day I wept; the day the forest wept-for all of us. ~ JJA
“Once there is a certain degree of Presence, of still and alert attention in human beings’ perceptions, they can sense the divine life essence, the one indwelling consciousness or spirit in every creature, every life-form, recognize it as one with their own essence and so love it as themselves.” (From: A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle 1999)