Taking time to wonder at Moraine State Park

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Sunken Garden Trail
Sunken Garden Trail, in Moraine State Park in Portersville, Pennsylvania, is a 3.4-mile loop that follows the edge of Lake Arthur and then circles back into the woods. (Julie Geiss photo)

While listening to a podcast recently, I heard some profound advice offered by a professor of philosophy. In this tech-savvy world, with smartphones offering all the answers instantly at the push of a button, she encouraged the listeners to take time to wonder. Instead of googling for an answer right away, take a moment and think it over. 

Wonder about why things are the way they are or think about how things work. Give your mind some time to work it over before jumping into the answers. 

Trees

My husband and I have an ongoing feud that makes me wonder what is going on in his head. He likes to cut down trees. In contrast, I love all the trees surrounding our house. He doesn’t like trees that are crooked, too close together or too close to the house. He’s all about roaring his chainsaw to life to chop a tree down and then using a backhoe to pull out the stump and roots. 

On the other hand, I am basically a treehugger. If I had my way, our house would be surrounded by a forest. Since I can’t figure out why my husband likes to cut down trees so much, I have resorted to more seasonal questions, like, “Why do some trees lose their leaves before other trees? Which trees do not lose their leaves at all?” 

I had time to mull over possible answers as we headed across the state line to visit Moraine State Park in Portersville, Pennsylvania. 

Moraine State Park
Moraine State Park, in Portersville, Pennsylvania, offers 38 miles of trails. (Julie Geiss photo)

Pondering

Visiting the park in the fall was new to us. During the summer months, we kayaked and went paddleboarding on Lake Arthur. The scenery looked very different in late fall. We had many options when it came to hiking; the park has 38 miles of trails. 

As we walked along the shoreline, instead of feeling the warm sun on our faces, we felt a cold breeze whip by, stirring up brown leaves on the trail. 

Our dog led the way along the Sunken Garden Trail, a 3.4-mile loop that follows the edge of Lake Arthur before circling back into the woods. We passed over wetlands on a small wooden plank bridge. Amid the fallen leaves, green ferns stood out as the only remaining green color of the forest. Red maples and black cherry trees were lacking in color, their leaves already littering the ground. 

Following the trail, we saw white pines. Like other evergreen conifers, they have needle-shaped leaves and produce seeds in cones. Most trees we passed by had already lost their leaves. Broadleaf trees like walnuts and maples are deciduous; they lose their leaves in the fall and regrow them in the spring. 

We had to stop several times because our dog thinks everyone she meets is a new best friend. We didn’t pass another person on the trails that didn’t have a dog. While walking and stopping, I came up with another question to ponder, “Are there any broadleaf trees that are evergreens, or are there any coniferous trees that are deciduous?” 

It was hard to picture a pine tree losing all its needles and coming back to life in the spring. In my mind, all I could think of for broadleaf trees was tall massive trees, and they all seem to lose their leaves in the fall. 

Answers

After plenty of time to wonder and discuss the question on the trails and on the drive home, I did my research when I returned to our house. Like most rules in nature, there are a couple of exceptions.

Growing on Roosevelt Island on the Potomac River, bald cypress trees are coniferous but shed all their needles in the fall. Dawn redwood trees are non-native trees originally from China that are also coniferous but lose all their needles in the fall. Dawn redwoods are related to the coastal redwoods and giant sequoia trees. 

As far as evergreen trees that are broadleaf as well, there are a few species. American holly trees, southern magnolias and mountain laurels all keep their leaves through the winter months. There are also some non-native trees, like boxwoods and Asian azaleas, that are commonly used in landscaping to provide green color year-round. 

As for my husband, the best reason I can come up with for him liking to cut down trees is that he doesn’t like to rake leaves. We did agree on one thing. We need to return to Moraine State Park in the winter to enjoy winter activities like snowshoeing and cross country skiing.

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