Our Family Cabin in the PA Wilds: Part III
Now that I’m older with a family of my own, we gather at the cabin on holidays, with deer and trout season being our high holy days in the Alleghenies.
Sleepy Tidioute, PA, only has a population of a little over 600 people during the rest of the year, but during trout season the number swells; during deer season you’d think that the town would just burst if another member of the orange army were to show up.
We’ve taken to having our Thanksgiving in the mountains ever since my sophomore year in college, when I could escape from the city for a few weeks in between quarters and spend time hunting and enjoying the holidays. Each year now I plan several weeks around Thanksgiving where I return with dogs, guns, and a pocket full of tags.
A two or three week span allows us to chase pheasants, grouse, turkey, black bear, and white tailed deer. What more could a weary cubicle dweller in search of adventure want?
With so many kids now seemingly being raised in front of the warm glow of a television or computer screen, it’s harder than ever to get them outdoors. However, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere I’ve been that’s better than the Allegheny Mountains to do it. You’re never more than a couple minutes from broad swaths of public land to wander, creeks to fish, trails to hike, or game to hunt. It’s not surprising that you can turn that love of technology into a love of the outdoors through the use of fancy GPS devices, showing people how to read and navigate by way of topographic maps, and a little photography or geocaching.
I don’t have any kids of my own right now, so I take friends with me into the woods, oftentimes adult onset hunters or people who grew up in families that didn’t hunt. Given my industry in IT, a majority of these new hunters don’t necessarily have the background beyond hiking, but — in my case — some of my military coworkers had bush-craft training and field experience. Hunting and fishing together in camp provides a reunion of old friends around the campfire, and an opportunity to swap stories and knowledge to add to the camp collective.
I’ve had the good fortune over the last decade to have an employer with a fairly liberal vacation policy, allowing me to spend more and more time in the woods scouting and honing my woodsmanship skills. While I may not have huge racks hung on the wall at camp, I assisted one of my best friends in learning how to hunt, and helped him bag his first deer. The time spent in the woods getting to know each ridgeline of your home range is reward in itself, but it’s so much sweeter being able to use that knowledge to point out birds, find deer, and fill tags.
Our camp is not just a single species one, as many seem to be in our area, focusing primarily on whitetail or black bear, grouse or trout fishing. Ours is an opportunistic one; we’re generalist hunters and anglers. Not to say that we don’t do well on birds or trout — that’s probably where my family shines with an affinity for setters and ultralight tackle. In recent years we’ve expanded our haunts, adding grouse coverts farther away from camp than we’d ever gone, and digging out topographic maps and checking Outdoor Journal for different trout streams. We never tire of hunting the areas we have for many years, but sometimes you just need to challenge the status quo; the birds might not be in the same tangle of brambles from year to year. As the forest grows, so must you.
It’s taken a lot of time, but I finally realized that the reason that I’m drawn like a tractor beam each spring and fall back to the woods of the Pennsylvania Wilds and the Keystone State is that I spend so much of my precious time in a room illuminated by fluorescent tubes or a server room humming with equipment fans that I can’t even see outside. Long hours as an IT professional where I create things that in the end have no tangible outcome to speak of have driven many in the tech sectors to have other more manual hobbies. While I work on cars and target shoot, I find hunting, fishing, camping, and generally spending time outside recharges my batteries to the fullest.
The weekend preceding the whitetail opener, my friends come from great distances to converge in the mountains. An orange hat on the dashboard establishes you as one of “us” versus one of “them” during hunting season. While there may often be a disdain for people who have out of state plates in the small towns that have a preponderance of seasonal cabins, in the small scale environment it’s quickly resolved that many are displaced Pennsylvanians, for some reason or another, oftentimes work taking them places beyond the Keystone State. This year will be especially interesting as I drive from my new home in the Rocky Mountains for two full days to chase Pennsylvania whitetail and small game, running Colorado plates for the first time.
There’s always a flurry of activity before the opener, you’d think it was a national holiday with the crowds of people amongst the Christmas shoppers, just looking for steaks and bacon, or perhaps they forgot their orange cap — or, like one of my friends, his camouflage jacket and bib overalls! In most camps people can only get together for a few days each year, like a trappers’ rendezvous, bringing in new hunters to plus up the ranks as older hunters retire to their camp chair — dreading the day they just can’t make it out anymore.
Driving back to camp from a supply run with the guys we see blaze orange dotting the darkening ridge lines next to the camps, fire rings lit for the first time in months, taking the chill out of the fall night air, and filled with anticipation for the opener to come.
This is the final part of a three-part series entitled “Our Family Cabin in the PA Wilds” by Alex Getty, wherein Getty shares details about his family cabin in the small town of Tidioute and the many traditions he carries with him today from those experiences.