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December 20, 2014
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By the light of the silvery moon


I love astronomy, and Moonlight Drive is just around the corner from the house, but a blurb I read in The River Reporter calendar had me curious enough to venture a little farther from home to observe the heavens with other like-minded folks.

The Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC), located in Dingmans Ferry, PA, offered me (and a few unsuspecting friends) the opportunity to join forces with a group of nature lovers on what was described as a “short hike to a scenic overlook to watch the full moon rise.”

The gathering, which is but one of many the organization offers year round, sounded like fun—and in many ways, it was. Approximately 25 adults and children, ranging in age from four to 70, gathered at the center,

PEEC, in cooperation with the National Park Service, is the largest residential center in the Western Hemisphere for environmental education. Listed among Renew Americas Environmental Successes, PEEC ( peec.org ) has also been singled out as a Pennsylvania Outstanding Conservation Organization. It’s mission is to foster “environmental awareness, knowledge and skills through education in order that those who inhabit and will inherit the planet may better understand the complexities of natural and human-designed environments.”

A museum, gift shop and hands-on exhibits greeted us as we milled about introducing ourselves and preparing for the “short hike.” Our guide, Jessica, gave a (brief) outline of what was about to transpire. Thinking that I had done my homework (with an advance call to ask pertinent questions), I was surprised that there had had been a few hiccups of miscommunication.

Although I had been told that sturdy hiking boots were a good idea, the mother with an infant strapped to her back and thegrandma who had been told that sneakers were “fine” for the trek were both a bit surprised when it became apparent that the “easy, beginners walk” was actually two-and-a-half miles each way, riddled with snow (duh), ice, streams and a highway or two to cross.

It wasn’t long before the group realized that we were getting more than we had bargained for, but we soldiered on through muck and mire, since really, there was no turning back. As nightfall approached, questions regarding “How much farther?” and “Does anyone have a flashlight?” filled the night air.

“Short hike, my aunt Ethel,” I muttered to anyone within earshot, as our guide pronounced that we were “about halfway there” just as we collectively thought that we were nearing the outlook. We were on one of the many glorious trails that the center has to offer: this one being designated the “Tumbling Waters Trail,” which should have been a heads-up. Sure enough, there was plenty of tumbling water, and our shoes, boots and (poor grandma) sneakers were soaked by the time we reached the summit.

Still, spirits were high as we climbed the mountain. The group meshed wonderfully, and although there were a few slips and falls, the kids were amazing in their tenacity to keep up, even with darkness fast approaching. The materials I picked up before the “slip n slide” adventure pointed to the assortment of flora along the way.

The pamphlet went on to caution us to “please respect the environment—pay attention to your presence in the woods and practice ‘Leave No Trace Hiking’ (Take only photographs, Leave only footprints, Kill only time).”All well and good, but with no head count, dead flashlights and an eight-minute respite before turning back (to actually catch a glimpse of the full moon rising) it’s a miracle that no ankles were turned, much less my withering, whimpering corpse left behind for the wolves to devour.

PEEC is cool, no doubt, and the programs they offer (many free of charge) to the public are enriching and educational, but I found that there were a few gaps, like defining “short” “easy” and “hike.” When asked how assorted callers could receive such diverse descriptions of what to expect, our lovely yet quizzical guide suggested that the answers depended on who was manning the phones at various times throughout the week.

Call me crazy, but if I’m calling to ask, then (IMHO) surely the answers should not be dependent on what day of the week the question arose. I suppose it’s all about the learning curve, and I have concluded that my next adventure will be in a more hospitable season. The kids led by example, and I determined that if they could handle it without whining, then I should be able to as well—maybe next time. Meanwhile, I don’t believe we’ll be seeing grandma again anytime soon, but if we do, she’ll be sporting mukluks, a walking stick and emergency flares, just in case we stray off the beaten path.