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Gnarled stumps of pine trees cut down a century earlier jut from the tannic waters of Black Moshannon Lake. Though like most lakes south of the glaciated portions of Pennsylvania it is a man-made reservoir, a smaller, boggier series of ponds preceded it, and descendents of the beavers that built the original dams remain. Last Saturday, my mother and I were admiring the banks of cardinal flowers in the streambed below the dam when a small birch tree beside the trail toppled over less than fifty feet away. We went over to look and discovered that a beaver had chewed it almost all the way through, presumably the night before, but for some reason had left it standing.
Black Moshannon is a pretty special place, home to rare orchids, carnivorous bog plants, and many other strange and wonderful things. Botanists consider the 1,500-acre Black Moshannon Bog Natural Area to be “the largest reconstituted bog/wetland complex in Pensylvania.” The park is surrounded by a much larger state forest on the Allegheny Plateau a few miles west of the Allegheny Front. I won’t give the exact elevation, because I know my western readers will laugh, but let’s just say that it’s high enough to be significantly cooler than most of the surrounding area. So the small swimming beach is always a major draw.
In fact, our main reason for going there on a beautiful, cool summer day was to introduce my three-year-old niece Elanor to the joys of a swimming hole. She’s always been drawn to water, but her fascination has included a healthy admixture of fear. With some coaxing from her father, though, and with the example of all the other kids to follow, she was soon splashing and yelling with the best of them.
My own interaction with the water was solely photographic. Like Elanor, I’m drawn to water and never get tired of looking at it: the plants that grow in and around it, the trees and branches that fall into it, the frogs that sit quietly beside it, leaping in at the last possible moment. By the end of the afternoon, we were each relaxed and besotted from our long immersions.