As Goldilockses go, I make a pretty poor one. For one thing, it's been years since I've sported "locks" of any color, and for another thing, I have enough trouble falling asleep in my own bed, much less someone else's. But I do share Goldilocks' curiosity, and I would love to publish photos of the private property where I tresspassed today! But alas, photos could get me in trouble.
This is one thing I love about the Allegheny National Forest: it's splintered by small, odd-shaped slivers of private land. This means that you can be bushwacking far from the beaten track when, suddenly, through the trees, you see what looks to be a cottage or even a full-scale house. Some of these places are pretty nice, like the one I discovered today. It was an old, beautifully maintained brick house in the middle of the woods, with a deep wrap-around porch. This place was entirely snowbound. The long private road that connects it to the world is impassable under the snow, and so the only way to get out there is on foot or snowmobile. Its winter isolation is spectacular, but it's obvious that no one ever goes there in the winter.
There were no "no tresspassing" or "private property" signs, so I didn't even know I had strayed off public lands until I was in the front yard. Also, there were no curtains in the windows, so I didn't know I was peeking inside until I saw the quaint, grandmotherly little rooms full of antique furniture, old wrought metal beds, carved wooden dressing tables, and ancient woodland prints on the walls. (Okay, so I had some idea I was peeking in the windows, but it was pretty clear there was nobody home.) This place had the distinct feel of someone's granparents' house. It had a big fireplace in the living room, a wood stove in the kitchen, antlers on the walls, old fashioned trinkets. It even had a full basement!
But my favorite part of any house is its porch, and this place had one of the best, a porch worthy of The Chautauqua Institution: broad, deep, impeccably well-kept, with a view out over a steep forest valley and a little frozen pond in the front yard. All the Adirondack chairs were stacked upside down along a wall, so, like Goldilocks, I chose my favorite chair and sat on that enchanted porch for half an hour and listened to the melting snow as it dripped off the roof. My dreams in life are few and simple. I've already attained most of them. But this one still goes unmet; I want a cabin in the woods. I want one so bad I would give a lesser-used body part for it. (Use your imagination.) But life hasn't positioned us in a place where we can justify the luxury expense, and good property in the forest is never for sale.
The Allegheny's charms lie--in part--in the traces of humanity that you can discover in the forest. This is its paradox. We who love the forest are forever trying to resist all the human incursions into it, especially the expansion of drilling. And yet, it's precisely the "incursions" that make the place so fascinating to explore. Sure, it would be nice if we had a pure wilderness here. But the ghostlike traces of human presence and activity make this forest unique and enticing, the ghost towns, the abandoned industrial sites, the cottages tucked away in little pockets of private land, the grassy old roads leading nowhere, even the old oil works. They add their own dimension of human interest to the forest, giving the curious hiker opportunities to dabble in archeology and occasional Goldilocks ventures.