moderate drought in the woods

11.17.23 ~ Carolina North Forest

We are now in a moderate drought and the weather people say that this has been the driest November here on record. I have nothing to compare it to, but am hoping the squirrels are finding enough to drink. On this lovely autumn day we took another trail in this forest, named Wormhole Spur.

It was one of those magical fall days when the leaves were drifting down in great numbers, floating through the air like snowflakes in a snow globe, almost sounding like raindrops when they landed. We’re thoroughly enjoying our autumn days, now that they’ve arrived.

this small branch was catching falling leaves and pine needles
I’m very fond of rust colored leaves
burnished gold
crimson red
butterscotch
autumn sunlight
sunglasses on a tree???
fallen leaves resting on a mossy fallen tree
a passerby’s sense of humor?
2024 Toyota Corolla Hybrid

When we got back to our car we found it surrounded by wonderful burnt orange leaves. Almost 10 years ago we bought what we thought would be our last new car. ~ 2014 Subaru Impreza ~ Since I wrote a post about that one and since we wound up getting this new car in October, I decided to post a picture of this one, too. It’s color name is celestite (a mineral), chosen because my sister is a geologist. 🙂

a splendid autumn hike

11.8.23 ~ Piedmont Nature Trails

For this wonderful long walk we went back to the Piedmont Nature Trails and took two different trails this time, part of Oak Hickory Trail which led us to part of Elephant Rock Trail. Of course, we were very curious about Elephant Rock. Much to our delight, we found ourselves in a mixed hardwood forest, which had an abundance of fall color, even if much of it was still green.

Oak Hickory Trail started with a very long stairway
“The [mixed hardwood] forest in this area contains no pines but is made up primarily of oaks, hickories, and maples with understory trees such as dogwood and sourwood. This sloping area has not been cut over in 100 years or more, and it apparently has never been cultivated as the low, flatter areas were.”
“This leaning white oak was split in 1954 during Hurricane Hazel but continued growing.”
close up of the split oak
the oak from another angle
first squirrel encounter
sometimes when they’re holding a nut they’ll stay still
so many trapped leaves
pretty hardwood forest
another squirrel
we’re learning to look up to see the brightest fall colors
Elephant Rock Trail had a few stairways, too
while I stopped to examine this little brown jug…
…Tim made it to the top of the stairs
rusty leaves
I found some red!!!
another squirrel
suspended
Elephant Rock on the banks of Morgan Creek — the color of the right edge of the rock kind of blends in with the color of the water
Tim stepped down in front of Elephant Rock to give some size perspective
some reindeer lichen and oak leaves hanging over Morgan Creek
Morgan Creek
little brown jug is also called heart-leaf ginger, Virginia ginger or wild ginger
we met elderly sisters Mabel & Molly
and had a nice chat with their guardian, Tom

Back in May 2009 one of the first wildlife shots I got was with my first little digital pocket camera — a red squirrel on Beech Forest Trail at Cape Cod National Seashore in Provincetown, Massachusetts. It was the picture that got me started loving nature photography. I keep it at the top of my sidebar as a reminder of that wonderful feeling.

Over the years, while living by the sea, I grew fond of gulls and see that I have 90 blog posts featuring pictures of them! At the moment there are only 25 posts with squirrels but I have a feeling that number will be increasing quickly. One of these days “gull” will likely disappear from the tag cloud in my sidebar and “squirrel” might appear in place of it. We’ll see.

Gulls or squirrels, they’re both fun to photograph!

autumn amble

10.30.23 ~ Piedmont Nature Trails
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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.

Meeting-of-the-Waters Creek
sunlit fallen leaves found everywhere
one of the bridges over the creek
looking back at the steps leading to the bridge
stump puffballs
little brown jug

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)

a lot of the forest is still green
looking straight up

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.

sunlight in the forest

If you had told me a year ago when I was writing my last Walktober 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.

10.25.23 ~ Carolina North Forest
Chapel Hill & Carrboro, North Carolina

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.

shagbark hickory
can grow over 100 ft tall and live for 350 years
sometimes we could see the sky
leaf trap
hickory leaves?
suspended pine needles and leaves
leaves on a sassafras sapling

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)

burl on a loblolly pine
squirrel making a quick exit
another squirrel checking me out
same squirrel taking his nut up, up, up
new growth
sunlight penetrating the deep green forest
another squirrel giving me the tail

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.

marbled orb-weaver

10.18.23 ~ Johnston Mill Nature Preserve
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

We enjoyed this woodsy walk along New Hope Creek very much! It reminded us of the land conservancy properties we were so fond of in Connecticut. This trail felt a little wilder and more remote than the other hikes we’ve been taking down here so far.

New Hope Creek

Still not encountering much wildlife, however, or birds. Sometimes I really miss my shore birds. I know there are birders down here who post many pictures online so I’m going to have to figure out where they go to take them.

squirrel having his breakfast

What is the universe trying to tell me? How is it that this arachnophobe winds up moving to a place with an endless supply of spiders? This marbled orb-weaver seemed to be very busy repairing some damage this leaf did to her web. We watched, spellbound, for a very long time.

After this we got a glimpse of an owl flying across our path and then up high, out of sight, into the trees… It always amazes me how soundless their flights are.

stairway down a steep decline
underneath the fall colors
lichen on a fallen and cut tree trunk

All in all, it was a very pleasant autumn morning ramble along the creek and in the woods. 🍂

through a spruce-fir forest

10.10.23 ~ start of Balsam Nature Trail
Mount Mitchell State Park

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.

huge outcrop
ferns everywhere
a hemlock sapling – good luck precious little being

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

uneven uphill terrain
halfway point

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

red spruce roots

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.

to the observation deck

10.10.23 ~ start of Summit Tower Trail
Mount Mitchell State Park, Burnsville, North Carolina

It was a steep quarter-mile trek from the parking lot to the summit and observation deck, but the view at the top of Mount Mitchell was well worth it!

Elisha Mitchell (August 19, 1793 – June 27, 1857) was an American educator, geologist and Presbyterian minister. His geological studies led to the identification of North Carolina’s Mount Mitchell as the highest peak in the United States east of the Mississippi River. … Elisha Mitchell fell to his death at nearby Mitchell Falls in 1857, having returned to verify his earlier measurements…
~ Wikipedia

looking up from along the trail
one of the rest stops Tim made good use of
a view from along the trail
I believe these are other mountains in the Black Mountains range

After reaching the summit we went up a ramp to the observation deck. From there we had an impressive 360-degree view of forests, mountains and clouds, as far as the eyes could see.

On the way back down I started noticing the many kinds of lichens growing on the trees and the wooden fences.

Sometime back in the 1980s we took our kids on the Cog Railway up Mount Washington in New Hampshire. All this time I thought it was the highest mountain on the east coast, until moving to North Carolina and reading about Mount Mitchell, which is 396 feet higher!

Mount Washington, in New Hampshire, is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288.2 ft (1,916.6 m) and the most topographically prominent mountain east of the Mississippi River.
~ Wikipedia

I can see what is meant by Mount Washington being the most topographically prominent mountain, though. Mount Mitchell is surrounded by other peaks in the Black Mountains range, which has 12 summits higher than Mount Washington’s.

I had another treat waiting for me as we headed back down the trail.

little surprises

10.4.23 ~ Cabe Lands Trail, Eno River State Park
Durham, North Carolina

This trail was pretty much a seemingly endless straight line through the forest. But imagine my delight when I noticed a small patch of princess pines growing alongside the path. It’s good to know they live down here in these woods, too! It was like running into an old friend.

These tiny plants are usually less than 6 inches tall but they look like miniature pine trees. They were fairy forests in my mind when I was a child.

Wonder — is not precisely knowing
And not precisely knowing not —
A beautiful but bleak condition
He has not lived who has not felt —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1347)

sun ray lighting up a fallen leaf in the princess pine forest
downy rattlesnake plantain

At first I thought I also had the good luck to stumble across a wintergreen but the above plant turned out to be a downy rattlesnake plantain. Apparently this orchid grows in New England, too, but this is the first one I’ve ever noticed.

There are 18 trails in Eno River State park, over 30 miles of them, so we have plenty of places to explore in the coming months.

fun at the dinosaur place

4.4.23 ~ The Dinosaur Place ~ inside Carnivore Cavern

Last week the little ones popped in with their parents for a quick spring vacation visit to Connecticut. Last year Tim & I came to The Dinosaur Place with Kat, just the three of us, but this year we had a chance to take the whole family! It was Finn’s first visit. Monty’s Playground alone kept him completely entertained.

Finn watches Papa (Dima) climb!
Finn found his own ropes to climb
he might have stayed here all day…
…but look who was waiting for us inside the the A-MAZE-asaurus maze

I took the stairs up to the observation deck to photograph the kids and their Papa finding their way through the maze.

Finn making his way through the maze
Kat followed by Papa
still wandering
when they entered the mouth of the dinosaur
a slide deposited them here outside the maze

After a snack break the kids climbed a rock to wait and watch for a volcano to erupt in the pond.

the best seats
volcanic eruption

Then we continued along the trail around the pond and through the woods, spotting dinosaurs and other things here and there as we went along.

Kat & I were enchanted with the turtles we spotted,
sunning themselves on this beautiful early spring day
utahraptor
we didn’t quite know what to make of this giant frog
was it supposed to be some kind of giant pre-historic frog?
it seemed so out of place in the midst of life-sized dinosaurs
protoceratops
Mr. Finn & and his new dino-friend
Finn lending Grandpa a helping hand ♡

With his new pacemaker Tim lasted a lot longer this time. He was walking for much of the three hours we were there. Larisa said the kids must have had a great time because they asked her if they could come back tomorrow. 🙂