|Mast Hope Creek, late winter 2016, in PA Gamelands #316|
This unnamed level trail follows the pristine Mast Hope Creek. Boulders perfect for sitting upon beneath the canopy of Eastern Hemlock line the creek as too pebbly shores that invite you to come dip your toes in the warmer weather. The embankments are tall enough to prevent flooding during a wet season but not too steep to prevent you from climbing down and crossing on a multitude of flat rocks to the seemingly endless woods on the other side of the creek.
|Female cone of Black Birch tree (Betula Lenta)|
|Scott and his chest-high Cardinal Flower gone to seed, with shorter red Cardinal Flower at knee-height|
|Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)|
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), a member of the BellFlower Family (Campanulaceae), has history of use among native people from our region. It is said that the leaves and flowers were dried and were smoked as an effective remedy for bronchial spasms. The dried leaves and flowers were also steeped in a tea in relieving headaches, fevers, and nosebleeds. The roots were utilized in a tea to treat intestinal worms. Personally, I have not had experience with using Cardinal Flower medicinally and there are references to its toxicity as well, so this is certainly a plant to explore further before using.
Alongside Cardnial Flower were the mischevious yellow-faced Monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens) as well as the ivory colored mouths of Turtlehead (Chelone glabra). These two neighbors used to be related, both members of the Figwort Family (Scrophulariaece) but due to recent DNA studies, Monkeyflower has been placed in the Lopseed Family (Phrymaceae). Both of these plants were also favorites of the native populations that probably once inhabited or traveled alongside this creek.
|Monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens)|
|Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)|
After admiring these plants for sometime, we finally made our way downstream and down trail. Along the way, we paused on one of those flat rocks perfect for lounging and soon found that we were being watched...by this magnificent grandmother Black Birch Tree (Betula Lenta). Rarely do we see them so craggy with scaling bark as they are reported to become with age, but this one surely has been witness to this creek for sometime. It took us peering up at it's lowermost branches, still well above our heads to see its egg-shaped leaves, and breaking a small twig from a sapling at its base to smell wintergreen, before we were able to discern that it was indeed a Black Birch.
|Black Birch Tree with fissured scaling bark|
Since researching this area further, I have also learned that these gamelands are on Pike County's list of Natural Heritage areas, as it is home to Slender Panic Grass (Panicum xanthophysum), a species found in few other places in the state of Pennsylvania. This grass is said to inhabitat dry slopes, therefore we did not encounter it where we ventured, but perhaps we would have if we had continued to explore the other side of the creek.
Although little traveled by hikers, it is evident that this portion of land is appreciated by far more than ourselves from Cardinal Flower to Grandmother Birch to kin seeking worms. It is a treasure I am thankful is well protected for the sake of the plants and those who reside here in this valley. Now, although I have spent the bulk of this post dreaming of warmer days, I want to remind you, that this area is simply magical in the winter, so put on those showshoes and hit the trail! I am sure these woods will reveal themselves to you in ways we have had yet to even see.
|A wintery photo of Mast Hope Creek in PA Gamelands #316|