The night sound interrupts our chat. Sarah, a mother from Philly, and I sit before a crackling fire at the Nature Inn at Bald Eagle, midway up the ridge with the inn behind us. Below us, the sound, the woods and Foster Joseph Sayers Lake.
The night is clear and chilly. The lake ripples silently. There it is again, above the chirping crickets. What kind of animal makes that sound? Not an owl or a bat. I remember Park Naturalist Nick Thomas explaining earlier how bats use sound to find their way, but don’t recall him enlightening us about a sound like that.
I ‘m hankering for a bird encounter. Near the inn’s main entrance, a display of labeled bird eggs – artist-replicates so realistic a bird might just sit on them – inspire thoughts of careful watching. I peruse the record of bird observations on the user-friendly computer setup in the lobby. I hope to contribute my own.
Back to the noise. Could a bird make such a sound from the brush?
Whatever the animal, it sounds a bit peeved. We decide to head inside.
Sinking into the crisp white linens and plush bedding, I decide I’ll ask Naturalist Nick about the snort tomorrow. And there, mere feet from the wild of the Pennsylvania Wilds, I surf channels on a 40-inch high-def TV until I find the day’s baseball scores.
Just 35 minutes from State College, the Nature Inn – the first of its kind in Pennsylvania – is comfortable, high-tech and guilt-free: Much of the wood in the 16-room building is Forest Stewardship Council-certified Pennsylvania hardwood harvested from within 200 miles. Stainless steel features like hand rails and giant cisterns that collect rainwater to flush toilets give the lodge a modern presence. Geothermal energy warms and cools it. Sunshine heats the water.
Modern marries with handcrafted creations by Pennsylvania Wilds artisans: Elkwood Arts in Ridgway built the solid oak frame for the guest room vanity mirrors; Briar Hill Rustic Furniture milled and finished the half-log butternut fireplace mantel. Rick Boni chainsaw-carved the heron sculpture greeting guests as they approach the inn.
A display case in the lobby showcases the work of more local artists like Stephanie Distler’s fabric birds and Jim Merritt’s nature photographs.
Artwork by ornithologist and artist John James Audubon and Pennsylvania artist and naturalist Ned Smith – corresponding to the uniquely bird-named guest rooms – infuses the lodge with a respect for nature.
On Sunday morning, the sun rises from behind the ridge and the sky is bright blue. Out on the private deck, the night’s chill (a taste of the coming autumn) yields to the day’s late-summer warmth. I sip my coffee – certified Fair Trade and named “Tree Frogs’ Chorus Blend” – look down upon the lake and envy the park’s two resident bald eagles. This must be the same view they enjoy from their nest.
Different sounds now from the woods below. Definitely birds: a chirp in the direction of 2 o’clock, a whack-whack-whack straight ahead and sweet, high tweets in the brush.
One guilt-free hot shower later, I sample the full spread in the breakfast room downstairs. Cheesy scrambled eggs with ham and peppers. French toast. A fruit smoothie. Innkeeper Charlie Brooks sources what he can from local farmers’ markets. A wall of windows offers a view of the lake and the opposite ridge, soon to be speckled with autumn’s crimson and orange. Cue the soaring bald eagle, glimpsed through the stained-glass mural above the lobby and registration area and crafted by Dave Harring of nearby Siegal.
On the Sunday morning nature stroll, a small group walks with Nick, passing a Swamp Oak tree at least 200 years old. I quiz our leader about last night’s sound.
A deer, Nick says. He hears it often while hunting from a tree stand. But the noise, he states, means the deer has detected him. It is the sound of defeat.
I, on the other hand, feel lucky to have heard it. I didn’t have to wait around in a tree stand, schlep gear or sleep on the ground.
I’ll be back to stay at the inn and hope the night sounds become second nature. But next time, I’ll allow more time to just be, to explore the trails and beach, to savor the creature comforts – and the comfort of wild creatures.