This weekend I took a trip with my friend Andrea to visit my family in the Pocono Mountain region. We hiked through parts of Nescopeck State Park, a protected watershed that was historically inhabited by the Lenni-Lenape tribes. The weather was beautiful, and the woods were full of breeding songbirds; as expected, we found quite a few warblers of the genus Setophaga, including Chestnut-sided Warbler (S. pensylvanica), Black-throated Green Warbler (S. virens), Black-throated Blue Warbler (S. caerulescens), Yellow Warbler (S. petechia), and American Redstart (S. ruticilla). We also found a group of counter-singing Scarlet Tanagers (Piranga olivacea), and had wonderful views of a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus).
The name Nescopeck comes from the Lenape word meaning “deep black waters”; the Lenni tribe inhabited the watershed for 1000 years before the Europeans arrived, fishing in its cold acidic waters for native brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). I like to imagine what this place might have looked like before colonial times, when the forest was dominated by old growth hemlocks and American chestnuts. Some large hemlocks still line the banks of the Nescopeck creek, where you can hear the familiar zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee of the Black-throated Green Warbler high in the canopy. Close your eyes for a second and you can imagine running barefoot down a path a la Conrad Richter’s classic A Light in the Forest, with the leaves of the deciduous trees rustling above you and scattered rays of sunlight penetrating to the forest floor. The Lenni-Lenape people were eventually forced to leave their ancestral home in the Nescopeck valley in the 18th century, precipitated by the expansion of the Iroquois (“the longhouse people”) and European settlements. Unami, the language of the Lenni-Lenape people, is now extinct. Although the book is a work of a historical fiction, A Light in the Forest delves into the conflict between the Lenni-Lenape people and the white invaders, and helps to paint the picture of a cultural conflict that is hard for us to understand today because so much has changed.
This land, so rich in natural history, is also very dear to my heart because of my family roots. I am descended from European immigrants who arrived in these parts much later (late 19th century), the great grandson of anthracite coal miners in the nearby town of Freeland. So many changes have occurred in this region over the last few centuries, so many new people have come and gone, leaving their memories and relics (both ancient and modern); today we decipher their stories and celebrate the wild species that have persisted in this place despite the constant upheaval of the last 300 years. Still, wild turkeys roam these forests, and black bears forage for blueberries in the late summer along the banks of the Nescopeck that have seen so much. Still, this ancient landscape inspires wonder in little boys and begs them to come explore.