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.
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. 🙂
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All in all, it was a very pleasant autumn morning ramble along the creek and in the woods. 🍂
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
I took the stairs up to the observation deck to photograph the kids and their Papa finding their way through the maze.
After a snack break the kids climbed a rock to wait and watch for a volcano to erupt in the pond.
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.
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. 🙂