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Fall Tapestry at Lake Scranton

by Mary Jasch

The woods are deep and colorful on the Hemlock Trail at Lake Scranton in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on this late October evening. Red sweet gum, soft green Canadian hemlock and red and orange maples create a bright mosaic of tall trees with an understory of bronze-gold witch hazel and deep green mountain laurel. Craggy trunks of sugar maples twist and cross each other as if in dance, their yellow leaves glinting in the sun.

Heading down to the lake on a wide cinder path through these tall flora bodies is spiritual. Occasional trees downed long ago lay bare except for moss, sunlit against their taller companions. A young witch hazel dazzles in peach, yellow, burnt orange, rusty red and green.

A bright yellow witch hazel flounces downhill under orange oak and hemlock while others seem to float through the woods. Rusty-gold witch hazels are the star of this show. They cascade on an embankment above the rocky Stafford Meadow Brook on its way to Lake Scranton. The lake is fed by the Stafford Meadow Brook and also by water siphoned from Elmhurst Reservoir, 10 to 12 miles away at a higher elevation, via a gravity system built in the 1890s.

The trail meets a paved 3.5-mile path that circles the lake and is popular with joggers and young athletes. Along it, a blue lichen-covered fieldstone wall in a carpet of colored leaves sprouts ferns and what looks like lawn grass. It seems to be a remnant of a lake-front homestead, though none is documented.

The setting sun brightens the multi-color forest, imbuing it with a sense of warmth for a while, till the sky turns to winter.

A short path leads to the lake where the sun on my face is warm. Carpets of lichens and tufts of moss with occasional short, dried goldenrod appear before the shore-lined boulders of black and grey bedrock. Golden leaves of stunted river birch shimmer against the darkening sky. No more than two feet tall, their trunks mutilated by water and wind, they became shrubs at an early age. They dot the big slabs of rippled black rock that resembles sea lions.

The slabs of striated black rock are most likely Llewellyn sandstone which contains layers of sandstone, siltstone, shale, conglomerate and anthracite coal. It was deposited 308 to 300 million years ago and was covered by ocean, rivers and forests. As a result, it contains about 100 fossil species.

Further along the shore, whitish, blocky rock resembles concrete with stones in it, but it is Pocono conglomerate, Nature’s concrete. This semi-metamorphic rock with embedded sediments was once under great pressure, “then eased by the eruption of rock onto the surface,” says Bernard McGurl, Executive Director of the Lackawanna River Corridor Association. “It’s one of the hardest, densest rocks around here.”

Up along the path again, the last golden leaves of black birch saplings flutter throughout the understory. They have taken over and I suspect signify that the area was cleared just a few years ago. Here, the high tops of trees look eaten by beavers, an impossible task unless beavers climb trees.

Lake Scranton is in the Acadian Mountain range, a predecessor to the Appalachians, says McGurl. The Acadians eroded 380 million years ago. Brothers George and Seldon Scranton mined these hills for iron and coal for their iron furnaces owned by their company Lackawanna Coal and Iron Company, around which the city of Scranton developed. In the late 1890s, brother Worthington Scranton built Lake Scranton as the city’s reservoir.

Lackawanna River Corridor Association:

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published November 08, 2015

Photos to enlarge

Hemlock Trail at Lake Scranton

Yellow birch

Name this shrub please!

This stone (wall?), perhaps once the perimeter of a home and garden, is covered with ferns, grass, moss.

Same spot. Once a lake-front home?

Lake Scranton

Rippled black rock on the shore of Lake Scranton

Sunset over Lake Scranton

Mutilated trunks of shrubby river birch.

Do beavers climb trees?

Dense regeneration of black birch

Natural brilliance of chestnut oak

Nature reclaims and restores. Nature abhors a vacuum.

The Pennsylvania American Water Company

Fern grows in wall of dam

Shrooms and moss

A river runs to it.

Nature's groundcover

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