Potter County in northern Pennsylvania is where I grew up. It’s beautiful terrain, mainly farmland and woods. Every main road coming into the country has a large rustic wooden sign: “Welcome to Potter County, God’s Country.” And it’s sparsely populated. As I remember it, the human population was 20,000 and the estimated whitetail deer population was the same.
The summer I was 20, in between my junior and senior years at college, a local Christian camp organized a trail camp. I helped lead a group of 14 of us hiking the Susquehannock Trail System, 85 miles winding through the wilder parts of the county in a huge, irregular circle.
Here’s an anecdote from my journal of the hike. On Day 3 (Wed, Aug 13, 1975) at 5pm we arrived at Cross Fork. We built a fire, cooked some supper, strung some ropes between trees to make a shelter with big black tarp—in case it rained. My entry is dated that night at midnight.
What is so interesting about a night? Well, what is?
This night was pitch black. I could vaguely remember what woke me up. I had picked up a furry object with long coarse hair and it had given me a protesting nip with its teeth. A furry thing! The cobwebs of sleep vanished in a second. What was I petting? An opossum? Skunk? Raccoon? My hand gingerly explored and decided for the latter, especially when it started purring as I continued petting him. Soon he, too, wanted to explore, so I lifted the edge of my sleeping bag and in it went.
I wasn’t really sure if the others would believe me in the morning. And joy shared is joy doubled. So I woke my cousin who had a flashlight. It was a raccoon and the little fellow was cuddled next to me washing himself.
Soon everyone was back to sleep except him and me. Then suddenly he seemed to want out. I soon saw why. There, not five feet from my sleeping bag were five pairs of eyes glowing in the night. Soon there were six. Evidently Mama and the youngsters were out hunting supper and one little fellow got tired. So he picked out a soft spot to wait until Mama returned, and that soft spot happened to be me.
Don’t know why I was given the privilege. Maybe he knew I was writing the journal.
Did the other campers believe me and my cousin in the morning? Yes. I had some corroborating evidence. Some little dark droppings. In my sleeping bag.