This morning we took our groundhogs, Basil & Oregano, to the botanical garden to introduce them to their new home. Sometimes they saw their shadows and sometimes they didn’t. Maybe there will be only three more weeks of winter?
I’ve decided to use the scene in the first picture for Karma’s “same location for all 4 seasons” photo hunt. Because Groundhog Day falls between the winter solstice and the spring equinox I think I will make this into an 8 season effort, including May Day, First Harvest and Halloween, which fall between the other solstices and equinoxes. If you want to join in please see Karma’s instructions at the end of this post HERE at Karma’s When I Feel Like It Blog.
It’s been a couple of months since I introduced you to Fred, our affable neighborhood squirrel. Recently he decided to come to our back door for walnuts instead of inquiring at the front door. And sometimes he stays to eat them on the railing of our deck. One such morning, when I wasn’t feeling so well, Tim grabbed the camera and got these wonderful shots!
Fred comes around several times a day for his nuts. We’ve seen him chase away other squirrels who dare to come near the front porch or the back deck. One day he took a few steps into the house so now Tim is more careful about how far he opens the door. It brightens our day when we hear him “knocking” and see his little face peering into the sliding glass doors. It’s endearingly comical when leans over the edge of the front porch railing, stretching out so he can scan the bay window for evidence of human activity in the kitchen. His visits are delightful!
Yesterday I overheard Tim talking matter-of-factly to himself as he stepped outside onto the deck, “It would be nice if Fred cleaned up after himself.”
If you had told me a year ago when I was writing my lastWalktober post in Connecticut that a year later I would be writing my next one from a new home far away in North Carolina….. I would not have thought it even remotely possible. But here I am!
This is my contribution to Walktober, this year being hosted by Dawn over at her Change Is Hard blog. See Dawn’s warm invitation to participate here: Walktober 2023.
It turns out that 750 acres of woodlands, with numerous trails, belonging to the University of North Carolina, is only about a mile away from our home, as the crow flies. For this, our first visit, we wound up on the deeply shaded Occoneechee Loop. It had plenty of uneven terrain for Tim so it wound up being our longest walk so far this fall.
My camera kept telling me that I needed a flash so I decided to focus on finding pockets of sunlight for my pictures. It wasn’t long before I was feeling more relaxed and mindful, noticing the individual trees and the little things. This forest bath was having a delightfully positive effect on me.
On such October days as this, we look about us as though in some new and magic land. The mystical draws close behind the luminous veil. We see the things about us and sense larger meanings just beyond our grasp. ~ Edwin Way Teale (Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year)
We’re looking forward to our next walk in this wonderful forest. It will be nice to see how it changes with at least three of the seasons, as I know hot and humid summertime walks here will be few and far between.
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.
While his grandparents were distracted by a katydid posing on a nearby post, Finn was eagerly inviting them to climb up into the treehouses with him at Hideaway Woods. Grandpa politely declined but Grammy decided to take a different way up, using a wooden ramp.
There was no way around it, I was eventually going to have to use those rope bridges if I was going to get anywhere. The first one had a wooden bottom so I navigated that wobbly experience fairly well.
But the next bridge, no pictures. The four year-old was very encouraging and I was determined not to disappoint him… “Just” a rope bridge way high up in the trees! After I was half way across it I suddenly realized that the last part of it was more like a ladder. I’m not sure how I did it but I reached for the grab bar near the top and hauled myself up, scared out of my wits. Finn said nonchalantly that he knew it could be done and moved on to the top treehouse.
Somehow, I made it back down that perilous rope ladder/bridge. If I had noticed the above sign on my way up I probably would not have followed Finn up there! Still feeling unsteady on my feet, I declined the invitation to follow him down a slide. Grandpa was waiting for him at the bottom.
Connected by rope bridges, each of our eight handcrafted treehouses offers a unique vantage point that changes with the seasons. Find your favorite way up using ladders, cargo nets, staircases, and an accessible gangway. Two slides offer a unique way back down! ~ Museum of Life & Science website
By the time I found my way out of the Treehouse Village Finn was taking off his shoes, getting ready to play in the Woodland Stream.
Wade in an accessible, recirculating freshwater stream for a cooling exploration of how water interacts and behaves with other elements in nature. ~ Museum of Life & Science website
After he was done wading Finn led us to the Dinosaur Trail, where we spent a great deal of time watching him climb up on the parasaurolophus and then slide down his tail. Over and over again. When he mastered the process, he asked Grandpa to take some videos of this accomplishment. After each take he would run over to Grandpa, climb up onto the stone wall behind him, and watch the video. And repeat.
While these two enjoyed this activity immensely I soon got bored and started looking around for nature things to photograph. I was still excited by the earlier katydid discovery.
And then I spotted a very tiny frog sitting quietly on a leaf! After taking lots of pictures I interrupted the guys to share my discovery with them. I haven’t been able to identify it.
And so we were off again, Finn introducing us to all the dinosaurs on the trail. Spending some time in the Fossil Dig. Stopping for a mango popsicle… We finally made our way into the indoor part of the museum and explored amazing hands-on science exhibits for children of all ages. We came home happy and thoroughly exhausted!
Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same thing last year about this time. ~ Mark Twain (Mark Twain Speaks for Himself)
Whenever we take a walk at Avery Point we start out on the path that follows the sea wall to the lighthouse and then we go up a little hill and return to the parking lot by cutting across the UConn campus. But, with the thought of keeping the sun out of our eyes on the return, we decided to do the opposite this time, going clockwise instead of counterclockwise around our usual loop. Things looked so different!
There wasn’t much to see in the Cognitive Garden…
After crossing the campus we came to the top of the little hill and were surprised to see a view of the lighthouse from higher up. A whole new perspective…
As we rounded the point for the final stretch to the parking lot we encountered a biting northwest wind and dramatically increased our pace. I was glad to have on my layers and my Norwegian wool hat — the best souvenir from our trip to Norway — but I had forgotten my thermal gloves. Maybe by our next walk I will remember to bring everything needed.
On Indigenous Peoples’ Day my good friend Janet and I took a long afternoon walk from Eastern Point to Avery Point and back again, passing by Beach Pond both ways. The weather was picture perfect, if a bit on the breezy side.
After admiring the views of Long Island Sound and identifying the various islands and lighthouses we could see on a clear day, we found the “Cognitive Garden” on the Avery Point campus. There was still a lot of interest to see there in the middle of autumn. Textures and colors.
Cognition means to acquire knowledge through the senses, experience, and thought. A cognitive garden encourages learning through these three processes while exposing people to nature. While the beneﬁts of nature extend to all ages, young children learn primarily through their senses and a multitude of studies have demonstrated a correlation between sensory stimulation and brain development. ~ University of Connecticut, Avery Point Campus website
The naturalist is a civilized hunter. He goes goes alone into a field or woodland and closes his mind to everything but that time and place, so that life around him presses in on all the senses and small details grow in significance. He begins the scanning search for which cognition was engineered. His mind becomes unfocused, it focuses on everything, no longer directed toward any ordinary task or social pleasantry. ~ E. O. Wilson (Biophilia)
I wish I could include the smell of a patch of thyme for you, dear readers. What an amazing scent filled the air!
On the way back I was happy to see that Beach Pond was full of water again, although we were still in a moderate drought that day. I suspect Thursday’s torrential rains may have moved us up into the abnormally dry category. No waterbirds around but still some flowers blooming, and others spent.
So come to the pond, or the river of your imagination, or the harbor of your longing, and put your lips to the world. And live your life. ~ Mary Oliver (Red Bird: Poems)
It felt so good sauntering along and catching up with a friend!!!