After a lunchtime struggle with a canoe and a short and sloppy time on the North Country Trail, my frustration level was at a high for the trip. I felt I couldn’t do anything right in the woods, and I didn’t deserve to write about the outdoors. But I put on my chess face – I don’t play poker – in anticipation of meeting the man orchestrating the launch of our new website, and to give Marilla a chance.

Ten miles to the east of Willow Bay, and five miles from downtown Bradford, lies Marilla Reservoir. First built a century ago to provide fresh water to the oil boomtown, it was refurbished in the past couple of decades, and a gravel walking trail runs around the lake and across the dam. Among the highlights of the trail is a covered bridge. Since it’s new construction the covered bridge purists turn up their noses at it, which is a shame. When I arrived the light was perfect, and my heart leapt. This was the first photo I took on getting out of my car.

No wonder Hatch wanted to hike with me here, I thought. This is amazing.

My spell was broken by the arrival of Joshua Hatcher, children, and a friend.

You might notice I’ve used Josh’s full name in this post, and a couple of others. I don’t normally do that, as while people don’t usually object to their appearing in my writing, most of them don’t want to have a web presence. I’m breaking that rule not only because Mr. Hatcher’s livelihood is ABOUT having a web presence, but because in a very large nutshell he’s what I love about Westsylvania and Westsylvanians. That can be summed up in two words: unstudied eccentricity.

Eccentrics are all over Pennsylvania, and everywhere, but whenever I’ve been in a city – say a very large city in Pennsylvania on the Delaware River – I’ve always had the feeling everyone is trying to be like everyone else. Even their oddities are all the same – for instance, the hipsters in the coffeeshop all trying to be unique in the same way.

Once one gets outside the suburbs of Philadelphia – in other words, into Westsylvania – that sameness disappears, and people aren’t striving to be unique in all the approved ways. They are just themselves. The woman who wears a leopard pattern skirt to the supermarket in Ligonier, the man who draws maps for a railroad magazine in Confluence when he’s not on his handcycle, the organic farmer and movie actor in Meadville… and Mr. Hatcher. I could have hired any number of Philadelphia area web designers for A Taste For The Woods. None of them would raise and slaughter their own meat. Or, as you will see, do what Hatch did for me.

Back to Marilla. The Hatcher children went off to fish in the reservoir as Joshua led me and his friend Gary on a walk around the lake. The trail consists of crushed gravel and dirt, and unlike other trails I walked on the past two days, it was dry. The views of the lake are spectacular.

As we neared the covered bridge, we turned onto a spur trail. This spur trail led back into the woods and was a little rockier than the trail around the lake, but the hiking was still easy. And I was in good company. The conversation ranged from matters of faith to locker room talk…. as well as conversations about the website you are reading now. My heart felt lighter.

We separated as the sun set on the pines. We’d walked only a couple of miles, but I’d covered a lot of ground. Friendship and a beautiful walk in the pines helped me forget the disappointments of the past week, and remember the message that motivates all my writing – that the outdoors is for everyone. Including me, the formerly sedentary man rediscovering the outdoors. I was participating. I belong.

The author and Joshua Hatcher.