Parked at the edge of a state forest in northern Pennsylvania, the view beneath the thick stand of evergreens was limited. The boles of the hemlock trees grew straight and tall, pillars to support the tight, dense canopy overhead. The trunks of the trees stood closely together and soon faded in the darkness and disappeared in the gloom.
An occasional shaft of light pierced the needled thatch overhead and shot onto the thickly matted carpet of debris that accumulated over the decades. The brown and castoff needles lay inches deep, carpeting the ground with a soft, spongy mat. It allowed anyone walking on that forest floor to do so silently, cushioned by the layers of needles.
It was easy for me to see how the Native Americans could stealthily approach the game they hunted or to approach an enemy, making less noise than the whisper of a breeze. The permanent gloom that resided beneath the foliage rooftop allowed the hunter to be just slightly more visible than a shadow moving from tree to tree.
This natural forest and some of the rough terrain that I saw left me in awe of how our forefathers found ways to traverse and survive the dangers of the wilderness. The wild animals, the harsh climate, the ruggedness of the land, and the attacks of enemies were a constant concern and claimed many lives, yet still they came. Some were drawn by adventure, some trapped, and some wanted homes and land. Others were explorers, wanting to know what was on the other side of the mountain or river. Many were soldiers, claiming land for the governors and kings. Missionaries and preachers sought to introduce native people to the kingdom of God and salvation.
Whatever their reason, immigrants and settlers joined the tide to move west, into a vast unknown world, carving homes and farms as they went. They sought freedom and relied on themselves and the land around them to survive.