Dear John

Dear John Serrao,

It was great to finally meet you Saturday. Your walking tours of the Pocono Mountains are legend and the weekend hike around the rim of Big Pocono State Park was no exception. You identified every tree in sight, from leaves to bark to acorns. Fellow hikers pointed to shrubs and moss and ground cover and asked “What’s that?” and you answered them all. The stories of snakes and bears and getting lost in thickets lent a gentle levity to the walk. Viewing nature is a pleasure but having a knowledgeable person explain the sights makes the journey that much more enjoyable.

Your followers were as interesting as the talk. I hadn’t seen the painter Peter Salmon since I’d interviewed him for an article more than 20 years ago and yet he remembered the piece, and my grandfather, Arthur A. “Shorty” Widmer.

The view from Big Pocono State Park

The view from Big Pocono State Park

I’m sorry Saturday’s hike was the next-to-the-last walk you’ll conduct in your adopted home but glad to hear you’re relocating to a place of calm inspiration, near forests and springs in the interior of Florida. As a native of Queens you must have been thrilled to see the abundant plant and wildlife in the Poconos, to savor the quietness of unspoiled game lands, the grand vistas of the Delaware Water Gap, the stillness of Promised Land Lake. Like many transplants you learned to appreciate the land without the need to improve it.

Thanks for encouraging others to protect the open spaces many assume will always remain. This slice of Eastern Pennsylvania isn’t metro Jersey or even Dallas, both of which make every attempt to cover nature with a concrete shroud. But the influx of city-dwellers and their appetite for asphalt, fast food and nail salons is slowly choking the region, where cars and houses stretch to the horizon like Sherman’s march on Atlanta.

Thank you for your books and your weekly column and, most of all, your enthusiasm for a quieter, inquisitive life. In our market-based economy, nature needs all the friends it can get.