Western Part Of State, Garrett County. Closest Town: Oakland. From U.S. 219 Between Deep Creek Lake And The Town Of Oakland, Turn West Onto Mayhew Inn Road. Follow This Road To The End (4.3 Miles) And Turn Left At The Stop Sign. In Less Than A Mile, Turn Right Onto Swallow Falls Road. After Two Miles, You Will See A Sign On The Right For Swallow Falls State Park. Immediately After You Go Through The Gate, There Will Be A Parking Lot On The Right.
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The Trail Is An Easy Walk, Well Marked, From The Parking Lot. There Is A Short Wheelchair-Accessible Trail As Well. You Won’T Really Need A Map, But They Are Available At The Camper Check-In Office Located Next To The Parking Lot, Or Online At
Www.Dnr.State.Md.Us/Publiclands/Western/Swallowfalls.Asp. There Are Bathhouses And Camping Spaces Available In The Park, And Cabins For Rent At The Nearby Herrington Manor State Park. It Is Advisable To Reserve Ahead For Campsites Or Cabins As They Fill Up Quickly (301-387-6938).
Swallow Falls Is A Small Bit Of Old Growth That Can Be Seen In An Hour Or Two, But What A Delightful Hour Or Two It Is! Hemlock, White Pine, Yellow Birch My Old Friends. I Was Reminded Again Of What Watery, Rocky Places Many Of The Ancient Forests Are. The Drought Was Definitely Over. It Was Hard To Believe That This Was My Maryland When I Saw The Rushing Freshwater And The Clouds Of Mist Pouring Over Rock Ledges.
In The Eastern Part Of The State, Where I Live, One Has To Search To Find Even The Smallest Rock. But Here At The Western End, There Were Huge Slabs So Delicately Balanced That It Was Almost Frightening To Walk By Them For Fear That They Would Choose That Moment To Let Go.
The Thought Of Letting Go Reminded Me Of My Forest Friend Bob Degroot, Who Had Recently Let Go Of This Life. The Last Time I Had Been In This Forest, Bob Was With Me. He Had Been Making A Video To Educate Others About How Important Uninterrupted Tracts Of Old Forest Are For Wildlife, And I Had Agreed To An On-Camera Appearance In Return For A Ride To This Area And Information About The Locations Of Lesser Known Old-Growth Remnants.
As You Enter The Trail At Swallow Falls, A Sign Notes, “The Towering Hemlock And White Pine Here Are The Oldest In Maryland Some Of The Trees Have Never Been Touched And Others Are Over Three Hundred Years Old.” The Same Ancient Trees That Drew Me Here Attracted Other, More Famous Visitors During The Summers Of 1918 To 1924. Henry Ford Designed A Dozen Of His Early Automobiles Specifically For Nature Expeditions, Giving Birth To The Era Of Car Camping. On The Banks Of The Creek Where I Was Standing, Ford Camped With Thomas Edison; Harvey Firestone, The Maker Of The First Automobile Tires; And John Burroughs, A Well-Known Nature Writer. They Stayed Up Late Into The Night, Sitting By The Fire Discussing Science, Their Latest Inventions, And Their Views On Religion. Other Movers And Shakers Would Sometimes Join Them, Including Presidents Warren Harding And Calvin Coolidge.
As I Try To Imagine Those Leaders Of Industry And Government Gathered Under The Old Growth, Sleeping Among The Sounds Of Splashing Water And Calling Insects, I Find Myself Wishing For The Same Today. I Would Like To See Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, And Writer Wendell Berry Talking For Days With President Barack Obama Under The Deep Shade By The Creek’S Edge. How Would Our Tools And Our Policies Change If Our Leaders Were Truly Grounded?
The Shade Here Was Deep, As Only Coniferous Shade Can Be. Evergreens Cast Year-Round Shade. Only A Few Special Plant Species Can Photosynthesize In This Sort Of Gloom, And I Saw One Of These All Around Me At The Edges Of Rocks, On Rotting Logs, On The Brown-Needle-Covered Forest Floor. It Is Oxalis Montana, The White Wood-Sorrel. This Plant Loves Old Growth And Lives In Many Old-Growth Forests In The East. A Different Species Of Wood-Sorrel Thrives Under The Old-Growth Redwoods In California.
How Appropriate, I Thought, That This Old-Growth-Loving Plant Has Leaflets Shaped Like Little, Green Hearts. Three Such Leaflets Join Together At Their Bases To Form A Cloverlike Leaf, The Shamrock, Considered Sacred By The Druids Of Ireland. (Folklore Says St. Patrick Used The Shamrock To Teach The Druids About Christianity And The Holy Trinity.) I Walked Along Through The Deep Shade Of Swallow Falls Fantasizing About The Goddess Gaia Sprinkling Her Best Forest Creations With Little Hearts The Way Girls In My Seventh-Grade Class Would Dot Their I’S.
The Little Hearts Captivated Me, So I Was Lying Down On The Ground Trying To Photograph Them When Two Young Men, Just A Bit Older Than My Students, Stopped To Express Interest. Ever The Teacher, I Suppose, I Showed Them That This Plant Has Two Types Of Flowers: One That Opens For Insect Pollinators, To Share Its Genes With Other Flowers; And Another That Never Opens And Has Sex Only With Itself. A Handful Of Other Plant Species Have Permanently Closed Flowers, Too, But Only The Wood-Sorrel Produces More Closed Flowers When Living In A Place Where It Grows Best.
The Handsomer Of The Pair Smiled Broadly. “I Just Love Learning New Things Like That,” He Said With A Sparkle In His Eye. And He Really Meant It Too,
I Thought. Feeling A Bit Like Eve, I Told Him The Leaves Were Edible And Asked Him If He’D Like To Taste One. I Went First, Placing A Green Heart On My Tongue, And Declared It A Bit Lemony As I Chewed. I Handed Him His Own Heart, And He Followed Suit. “Hmm, Yes.”
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