Another gorgeous walk! The Piedmont Nature Trails meander through an 88-acre forest behind the North Carolina Botanical Garden. On this day we started with the Streamside Trail, which follows Meeting-of-the-Waters Creek and crosses it twice. We are currently in an abnormally dry spell so there wasn’t much water flowing.
In a moment of weakened ch’i even a small patch of blue sky a glint of a sunbeam autumn light on the forest floor can grant you strength and resolve. ~ Frank LaRue Owen (Blister & Resolve, The Temple of Warm Harmony)
The above picture was a happy accident. These two squirrels were chasing each other up and down the trees, tackling each other and taking off again. Were they playing or courting? This is the only picture of the dozens taken that came out! Since the internet says they breed in mid-December or early January, and that a few breed again in June, these two were probably playing.
One online source says the fall colors peak in this part of the state in early to mid-November so we are starting to notice some larger patches of them as we drive around town. On the bright side, we will get to enjoy colors for a longer period of time since the trees seem to be taking turns being spectacular.
Another trail! After visiting Mount Mitchell’s peak we found the Balsam Nature Trail, a 3/4 mile loop off of the Summit Tower Trail. The terrain here was very uneven, much to Tim’s relief after the flat pavement going up to the summit. Lots of up and down, even steps in some places and narrow passages between outcrops.
We didn’t encounter any wildlife or hear any birds calling. I’m guessing because this is a well-traveled trail and the creatures are hiding from people, if they are there at all. Every few minutes a couple or a family or small group of friends would overtake us and pass us. And just as often we’d pass folks hiking in the opposite direction. It was the most traffic we’ve ever experienced on a trail.
The best part of this walk could not be photographed — it was the amazing scent of balsam and Fraser fir. What an unforgettable olfactory delight!
Sadly, though, there wasn’t much left of healthy evergreen foliage. Most of the green we saw was mosses and ferns.
I am very familiar with the hemlock woolly adelgid insect pest that destroyed the hemlock grove surrounding my childhood home. It originated in East Asia and arrived here in 1951. According to Wikipedia, by 2015 90% of the geographic range of eastern hemlock in North America had been affected.
But I had never heard of the balsam woolly adelgid until I saw it mentioned on a trailside sign, explaining why there were so many dead and dying trees in this forest. This insect pest arrived here from Europe in 1900 and was discovered in this forest in 1957. The devastation is obvious in many of these pictures.
Mosses and mushrooms seem to be thriving with such an abundance of dead wood. I tried to identify the moss in the above picture — it seems to be some kind of feather moss. It looked different than the mosses I usually see. According to Britannica there are approximately 12,000 species of moss distributed throughout the world.
The spruce-fir forest is a forest type dominated by needle-leaved, evergreen red spruce and Fraser fir trees. It exists only at elevations above 5,500 feet, and contains plants and animals that are adapted to cool, moist conditions. Some of the plants and animals living in Mt. Mitchell’s spruce fir forest are found over much of the state. Others, however, are the same as (or are close relatives of) those found in the spruce-fir forests of New England or southern Canada. ~ trailside sign
The climate of a spruce-fir forest can be harsh. Wind and ice storms are facts of life here: trees with their tops missing are common sights. And, as with any high-elevation ecosystem, rain, fog, sleet or snow can occur unpredictably — in any month, at any time of day. ~ trailside sign
Though spruce-fir forests are found in a broad region of northern North America, they occur south of New England only in a thin zone along the Appalachian Mountain chain. ~ trailside sign
All that being said, I was still enchanted with this forest and will cherish my memories of this little taste of New England here in North Carolina.
The turtle reminds me that I owe my small human life to the generosity of the more-than-human beings with whom we share this precious homeland. The Earth was made not by one alone but from the alchemy of two essential elements: gratitude for her gifts and the covenant of reciprocity. Together they formed what we know today as Turtle Island, or North America. In return for their gifts, it’s time that we gave ours in return. ~ Robin Wall Kimmerer (The New York Times, September 24, 2023, “What Do We Owe Turtles?”)
We found a great place to walk with uneven terrain and only two people encountered along the way! We followed a trail around a large meadow full of wildflowers and humming with insects…
And then we made our way into the woods and felt grateful for all the gifts it was offering on such a lovely day.
Tim spotted this box turtle ever so slowly swallowing its breakfast. I cannot tell if he was satisfied or not when he finally got that thing down. When we came back by to check on the turtle ten minutes later he was looking more alert and I was able to get the picture at the beginning of this post.
What would a woodland be without squirrels scampering up and down the tree trunks?
The woods here have many similarities to the ones in New England, but they do have a different feel to them. The heavy presence of loblolly pines, not found up north, is one strikingly obvious difference. Likely I will start seeing more subtle distinctions as time goes on.
Resuming our walks! When we arrived at Moore Woodlands the birds were singing and it sounded like spring. It was 44°F/7°C and cloudy on this warm-for-January day. As we started walking around the meadow a song sparrow came down to the bushes and started singing for us. This made my whole day!
It is not enough to weep for our lost landscapes; we have to put our hands in the earth to make ourselves whole again. Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift. ~ Robin Wall Kimmerer (Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge & The Teachings of Plants)
In the woods we found a great many eastern red cedar trees that must have come down in a storm. Where they fell across the trail they had been cut and moved off to the side. It was interesting seeing the redness of the freshly cut wood.
We also saw a lot of English ivy growing on the ground and climbing some of the trees. I did some research when I got home and learned that the ivy is invasive and greatly weakens the trees they climb, making them more likely to fall during strong winds. It looks like the Avalonia Land Conservancy has been working to remove the ivy from this patch of woodland. We also saw quite a few eastern white pine saplings.
It also looks like the land conservancy is starting to identify the trees with little tags! I’d like to get more familiar with our local trees and welcome this new aid. This was a lovely first walk for the new year. 🙂
Back in May a group of seven volunteers from the Groton Open Space Association replaced a dilapidated bridge over Haley Brook in this nature preserve. The new bridge is longer, wider and has more secure handrails. So on this pleasant day we decided to use some mosquito repellent and take a rare walk into the summer woods to check out the new bridge.
To compare with an autumn view of the farm relic pictured above, see here: autumn afternoon.
I didn’t want to risk contact with poison ivy or ticks so I couldn’t get too close to the spotted wintergreen flowers, but I was very excited to spot them out of the corner of my eye. I’ve only seen these plants before on my winter walks and have never seen the flowers. Tim used his walking stick to hold some of the surrounding vegetation back so I could at least get this blurry picture.
All of us derive security and comfort from the imaginary world of memories and fantasies and plans. We really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. It goes against the grain to stay present. These are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humor can give us the strength to settle down. ~ Pema Chödrön (The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times)
There were lots of damselflies fluttering through the air. One finally landed on a leaf long enough to get some pictures. Unfortunately another leaf was obstructing the view of its body but I was happy to capture some of the detail on her wings. The white dots at the end of each wing identify her as a female.
The bug repellent seems to have worked. I heard one mosquito around my ear but never got bit. Since I discovered a couple of things (wintergreen flowers and black-winged damselflies) I’d never seen before I wonder if it might be worth the trouble to take more summer walks in the woods…
And now the covid positivity rate in Connecticut is about 10%. Heading in the wrong direction…
It was a lovely spring day and the air was filled with birds singing and bees buzzing. I couldn’t catch most of them with my camera but the scenery at Coogan Farm reminded me of a setting from a historical drama. I half-expected to see a character from a Jane Austen novel come around the bend on our path.
It is clearly posted that dogs must be on a leash at Coogan Farm. This one arrived at the same time we did and was darting around the parking lot while its owner was getting things out of his car. We had two doors of our car open as we were getting ready for our walk, too. Next thing we knew the dog jumped into our car through the back door Tim was at, then squeezed between the front seats and exited the car through the front door I was at. She seemed very friendly and not too big so I wasn’t afraid, but, startled and annoyed. The man she belonged to called “Sadie” away and offered no apology. I assumed he would put her on a leash when he saw the signs at the trailhead. They took a different trail but our paths crossed later on and there was no leash to be seen, the man wasn’t even carrying one on his person.
We moved on, trying not to let the selfishness of others spoil a lovely walk for us.
Intensely selfish people are always very decided as to what they wish. That is in itself a great force; they do not waste their energies in considering the good of others. ~ Ouida (Wisdom, Wit, and Pathos of Ouida Selected from the Works of Ouida)
In 2016 this tower (below) was designed by an Eagle Scout, specifically for chimney swifts. It provides a suitable nesting habitat to help increase the chimney swift population: Connecticut Project Chimney Watch
Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure. ~ Jane Austen (Mansfield Park)
I’m seeing and hearing so many catbirds this year! They have a way of cheering me up. 💙
Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility. ~ Gary Snyder (The Practice of the Wild: Essays)
Connecticut’s positivity rate is up to 13%. Not good. It’s been going up since its lowest point in March.
This was my first visit to this 140-acre park in our town, but Tim hiked here many years ago with one of his friends. The Pequots were the first people living here before the English colonized what is now the town of Groton and the village of Mystic.
The infamous Pequot Massacre occurred near here on May 26, 1637.
Capt. John Mason led English, Mohegan, and Narragansett warriors in an attack on the main fortified Pequot village on the site of modern-day Mystic, Connecticut. The Pequot were surprised but quickly mounted a spirited defense that almost led to an English defeat. Realizing that he could not defeat the Pequot in the close quarters of the palisade, Mason ordered their wigwams set afire; some 400 Pequot men, women, and children were burned alive or slaughtered when they tried to escape. ~ Encyclopædia Britannica
There have been archaeological digs conducted in this park, unearthing musket balls and arrowheads. But there are no memorials here to tell the terrible story.
After the English took over, this land was cleared for farming, and today there are plenty of stone walls remaining from those days, before farms were abandoned and many people went out west. The woods came back. Now we have hiking trails, wildlife viewing and an abandoned farm pond.
We gauge what we think is possible by what we know from experience, and our acceptance of scientific insights, in particular, is incremental, gained one experience at a time. ~ Bernd Heinrich (Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival)
It was a partly cloudy day, very cold, 41°F/5°C, with a feels-like temperature of 33°F/1°C, due to a moderate wind from the northwest. We had a nice conversation about cameras with the man in the next picture. He was trying to get a picture of the mallards, too, and wondered about my telescopic lens. His mother has a camera like mine and he’s considering getting one, too.
As far as coronavirus pandemic statistics go, I’ve decided to chronicle Connecticut’s positivity rate to make my tracking simpler. Looks like we’re headed into yet another surge. On the day of this walk our positivity rate jumped to 6.32%, the highest it’s been since last January.
Last week, Janet, Tim and I visited the annual Wee Faerie outdoor art exhibit at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut. They have a different theme every year and the trail is open for the whole month of October. This year’s theme was Folly Woods, Awesome Wee Faerie Architecture.
Historic real-world follies are ornamental buildings designed to enhance the view at grand estates, public parks, and gardens. The fanciful forms of a folly is its function. Often inspired by the classical architecture of the ancient Greeks and Romans, folly architects also borrow decorative elements from Egypt, India, and Japan. This year, the wee faeries present FOLLY WOODS, a collection of miniature architectural masterworks for you to enjoy. ~ Folly Finder program
Janet and I first started coming to these in 2011! I’ve missed a year or two for various reasons but it’s always exciting to come back and see the newest creations. Spending time with Janet is always a gift. It’s such a lovely setting on the banks of the Lieutenant River that we found ourselves captivated by the trees and flowers as much as by the little fairy buildings.
Listen … With faint dry sound, Like steps of passing ghosts, The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break free from the trees And fall. ~ Adelaide Crapsey (November Night)
If you want to see some highlights from past years just click on the Florence Griswold Museum category below and you will find all my past wee faerie posts. 🧚 Some of the artists have contributed before so if you click on their names in the categories below you might find things they’ve created in past years.
As nature descends into the sacred darkness it’s the season for me to honor my departed ancestors. This is the time of year when I feel their presence the strongest. The blessings of All Hallows Eve.
May you know that absence is alive with hidden presence, that nothing is ever lost or forgotten. May the absences in your life grow full of eternal echo. May you sense around you the secret Elsewhere where the presences that have left you dwell. ~ John O’Donohue (To Bless the Space Between Us)
We had a lovely winding stroll through what’s becoming my favorite woods on Tuesday. It felt like a visit to an early spring outdoor art gallery. The weather was perfect and we encountered quite a few people along the way enjoying the sunshine.
Even though there were many birds chirping and flitting about I was only able to capture one of them with my camera!
And solitary places; where we taste The pleasure of believing what we see Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be. ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley (The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley: In Three Volumes)
Wednesday we went to have our income taxes done. It was the last thing we did last year before we went into self-quarantine. We double-masked up, not knowing what to expect, and our masked preparer waved us a greeting and unlocked the door. It was good to know they weren’t letting people wander in without appointments. Someone in the office had tested positive recently so most of the preparers were at home in quarantine but ours had been fully vaccinated so she was working in the office. Glad to see there was plexiglass and hand sanitizer everywhere…
So it’s been a year. We have both had our first vaccination shots. Tim gets his second Moderna on the 17th and I will get my second Pfizer on the 26th. Looks like our self-quarantine will officially end on April 9. Plans for the little ones (and their parents!) to come for a visit are in the works, most likely in May. It’s all I can think about!
Unlike animals, trees cannot heal a wound by repairing or replacing injured tissues. Instead they wall them off, compartmentalizing them by means of chemical and physical barriers, and subsequently form healthy new growth around them. A succession of organisms, from bacteria and fungi to slugs, insects, and other small animals, moves in to utilize the nutrients and spaces opened up by a tree wound. These organisms in turn provide an important food source for many birds and other animals who live in surrounding uplands as well as in the swamp. ~ David M. Carroll (Swampwalker’s Journal: A Wetlands Year)
We will still wear our masks and practice social distancing in public, but I think we will go more places and are even looking forward to eating at our favorite restaurant again, starting outdoors until we feel comfortable going inside…
But, fair warning, these are the latest statistics: New London County now has 19,624 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 10 people are currently in the hospital and 417 have lost their lives. That’s 2,871 new cases since January 30 when I last reported. Will a day ever come when there are no new cases reported?
Connecticut’s positive test rate is now 3.07%. 25% of Connecticut residents have had their first dose of vaccine. Connecticut has had 7,752 deaths since the pandemic began. We are still averaging 7 deaths a day in the state. These are people and families are still being devastated by the loss of the their loved ones. Each and every one of these people represented by the numbers was the most important person in the world so someone. We still have to be very careful and not let our guard down.
My hope is, when we come out of self-quarantine, that we will continue with our nature walks and not get too swept up in the demands of a return to “normal” life.
It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of all the intoxicating existence we’ve been endowed with. But what’s life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours — arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don’t. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship, endure any insult, for a moment’s additional existence. Life, in short, just wants to be. But — and here’s an interesting point — for the most part it doesn’t want to be much. ~ Bill Bryson (A Short History of Nearly Everything)