Little World

Photos by James Atkins

Post written by Maria Higgins

Ricketts Glen State Park was the backdrop for many of my happy childhood memories. It had beautifully aerated waterfalls conveniently connected by a Y shaped trail. At the fork in the trail was a chain-sawed tree trunk on which my family posed for pictures. We watched that trunk shrink as we grew. The park was the scene of a hilarious picnic caught on video that started as a delicious meal and ended as a lunch hastily abandoned when bees crashed the party.  Ricketts Glen was embedded in my mind as the location where close family friends trusted me, at age 16, to drive their brand new Jeep Cherokee. And I can still hear my acrophobic mom's trembling call of "John... John.... " getting progressively louder as one of my younger siblings was approaching the edge of the cliff.

Recently, a man of interest entered my life and I wanted to share this experience with him. We planned an overnight camping trip. He had the gear, the tent, the headlamps, and the cooking stuff. He had the skills- tent making, fire starting, hiking, and common sense. I had only the idea.

We were assigned to the best campsite- on a cul de sac, not too far from the bathroom, on the edge of the lake, quiet and secluded. The other 3 sites in our neighborhood remained empty or abandoned, possibly because, as we discovered when we pulled up, the lake had been drained for repairs. Behind our campsite was a path to a barren lakebed. Not ones to be discouraged, we set up the iPad on time lapse and started unpacking.

This man, named James, is gentle and soft-spoken with a caring and thoughtful aura about him. He is careful and cautious and he set up our campsite meticulously. We talked and planned as we worked. We had 2 major activities on our agenda, the waterfalls today and the lakebed tomorrow.

We set off for the waterfalls with backpacks strapped to our torsos, hiking shoes laced tight to our feet and sweat already rolling down our backs and foreheads. A four-mile loop includes the most spectacular of the falls. James took photos that accentuated the movement of the water over the rocks. He took photos of mushrooms, and ones of me hiking, and ones of the greenery that glowed with color. It was a long hike in the humidity and the return to the campsite was welcomed. Sunset was approaching.

James had a campfire stacked and aflame within minutes. Spiraled hotdogs were quickly sizzling and the billowing smoke carried the scent of meat. Dinner seemed to fill more than our bellies, providing that sort of peace and comfort of satiating hunger that was brought on by exertion. We retired, exhausted, to our sleeping bags stretched out on the earth.

At 5am, while I slept under the extra blankets that James had draped over me, he got up and made a fire with collected wood. He prepared "french toast" with the leftover hot dog buns and we feasted on this treat and granola bars. James has a homemaker side to him that is both adorable and heart warming.

We were both excited to explore the lakebed, as it had been beckoning us since we arrived. We set off, backpacks adorned, J’s full of a first aid kit, knife, camera, water, handkerchiefs and protein bars, mine full of Starburst and Lifewater. This difference in our pack contents mirrors our personalities. I am not as meticulous or cautious as James, and I will fly without inhibition into a situation. James teaches me mindfulness by example.

We took off as scavengers, carefully stepping on crusted dry earth at high points and avoiding mushy silt in low points. I followed James as his personal lemming, his adoring shadow. I saw his silhouette in front of me, slender, sinewy, and muscular. His smooth outline was broken up with an angular camera held in one hand. When he shielded his eyes to peer at something, so did I. When he leapt over a trickling stream, I did as well. He carefully explained to me “this lure is used for bass because it is attracted to the spinning metal spoon” or “water lily's root systems are usually networked under the soil on the pond floor where you cannot see them, but here they are exposed and visible in the muck”.  “These blueberry bushes are cleared of their blueberries from 5 feet down because the deer have eaten them.” “This spider built it’s web in this shady crack in the soil because the sun will make it brittle.”

James paused in his observations and I followed his gaze to something sticking out of the weeds that caught his eye. I watched as his mind deciphered what he saw. He squatted and pulled something from its hiding place.  He carefully held it out for my inspection.  A miniature natural terrarium had sprouted in a discarded Mason jar. The jar was filled with little plants that took on the appearance of a shrunken forest scene. This jar encapsulated a tiny world.

And the idea for this blog was born…