The rustic cabin was built in 1909, and last refurbished in 2011. It was a true woodland cabin. The long narrow building had a hall going down one side. Off the hall, all on one side, were three bedrooms, each with a bath. In a nook of the hall was a dorm-size refrigerator with a minute sink, beside a long narrow table. At one end of the hall was a living room with a table to one side with a microwave on it. Beyond that was a screened porch, complete with a swing, two rocking chairs, and a few other assorted chairs. And beyond that was a narrow lawn with trees and benches, reaching down to the lake!

We were at Kanuga Conference Center and Camp, an Episcopal facility. When there is no conference going on, individuals can rent the cabins, and we were there with our son John, DIL Colleen, granddaughter Kara, and Kara’s friend Debbie. It was a vacation for us, no meetings, miles of hiking trails, hours of sitting on the porch.

Some years food is provided with a cabin rental; this year only breakfast. The dining room presented a buffet breakfast: eggs, grits, bacon, fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, biscuits, and the best bread pudding I’ve ever had. Clarification: I’ve never eaten bread pudding before; my mother never made it, and I always thought it would be just soggy bread. I was wrong!!

The first morning the men went to Ingles in Henderson and brought some fruit, snacks, and sandwich makings for lunches. So there was always food in the fridge and on the table for stuffing ourselves on at any time. Add to that the homemade cookies I had taken along, and the homemade pineapple upside cake that Kara had made.

For dinner each night we made the 10-minute drive into Hendersonville, where downtown is a “happening place.” People filled the sidewalks, which were lined with restaurants and small shops. We ate barbeque one evening, Italian one evening, classic American food one evening, all but one eaten outside at sidewalk seating. Just walking around was fun; of course we noticed right away Kilwin’s Ice Cream Shop; our last meal there ended with ice cream! My bathroom scale was not happy when I returned. Really, though, it was I who wasn’t happy; the scale didn’t care!

Oh, there were the bears! Every intersection had 2 or 3 fiberglass bears, painted. There were 3 stances: on all fours, looking down, a mama sitting up and holding a cub, and upright. They added, not growls, but smiles and exclamations to the experience.

One of my favorite things about Kanuga is how the opportunity for spiritual things is blended seamlessly into the nature and buildings. One of three chapels was the Transfiguration Chapel. There were no services while we were there, but the doors were unlocked. The only stained glass window was over the altar, and depicted the Transfiguration of Christ in brillant colors. The other windows were clear glass, letting in the light and beauty of the outside. The interior walls and ceiling were pine, all having been harvested on the property. The woodland chapel was the St. Francis Chapel. A little path forked off to the side of one of the hiking trails, and we were greeted by a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, and then a bronze plaque with a verse from his “Canticle of the Sun.” The gathering place contained wooden planks attached to short logs, an altar with the prayer “Lord Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace” engraved on it, and a cross. All surrounded by woods.

Up the hill from there were 14 Stations of the Cross one could use as a meditation time. As we continued on up the hill on the trail I noticed a small sign on a post: “Be still and know that I am God.” When I saw another post up ahead I thought there would be verses all along the way. That one said “Be still and know that I am.” Next were “Be still and know,” “Be still,” and “Be.”

The Lakeside Chapel also had rustic seating, facing Kanuga Lake. Across the lake was a large white cross, which was also visible from many places along the shore.

The labyrinth was near our row of cabins, encircled by trees and flowering shrubs. In case someone mistook it for a maze to solve, there were signs at the entrance explaining the history of labyrinths, and how they are intended to be used.

There weren’t many people there when we were there, but I’m sure it is a bustling place when there are events going on. But even then there are places where one can go aside to find quiet and just “be.”

Wishing you some woodland renewal!

Acrostic Poem

I recently learned that one of the Psalms (or maybe 2) were written in Hebrew, with each line starting with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in order. That made me curious: could I do that with the English alphabet? Not just random lines, but it would have to make sense. So, I started with A and kept adding. I had no idea what I wanted the poem to be about. I did all this in my mind while I was doing something else – all but the last two lines. Zebra and zoo were just too random.

The next morning I sat down to type what I remembered, which was most of it. I thought of Zi0n for z, and from then on the poem seemed to write itself. When I found out where it was going, I changed a few lines so they would point to the end.

So here it is.

“Thy Kingdom Come”

All around God’s universe there is movement.

Bees and butterflies, even bears, sense there’s something afoot.

Chickadees and catbirds begin to sing.

Deer leave their browsing and stand alert.

Everywhere there is excitement.

Families gather outside to pray.

Giraffes reach high for the freshest leaves.

Halleluiahs start to ring out, softly at first.

I want to sing!

Joy follows justice.

Kangaroos are jumping higher than ever.

Laughter comes from poor children.

Mothers are teaching toddlers about God.

Noise rises in glorious volume.

Otters stop playing to listen.

People, red and yellow, black and white, are smiling.

Quarrelling ceases.

Rain falls gently on God’s earth.

Sunshine brightly follows.

Trees sway gently, rejoicing in sunshine and rain.

Under the grass, all creeping things emerge,

Voles and moles, worms and grubs.



Yahweh speaks!

Zion is coming!

One Day in October

“We’re coming here again in October!,” I said. The woods were lovely on September 2, and when I noticed that all the trees were deciduous I knew it would be a pretty sight in October. So we returned.

First, we had to get there. This was a one-day trip so we left before light. The moon was a slight sliver and Venus was bright, both in the East. Mars was looking glorious in the West. I don’t know when I had last looked at the pre-dawn sky; it was nice, but I haven’t done it since. Whew!

Soon we pulled into the parking lot for Roaring Fork Falls, and with cameras, binoculars, and granola bars in hand, we set out on the half-mile hike to the Falls. Immediately we noticed that the trail itself was covered with leaves. It was amazing how the first little sign of Fall in the mountains made us so excited to be there! Not so many leaves had fallen that they crunched underfoot; many were still on the trees, and the ones that weren’t yellow were a faded pale green. We walked slowly, absorbing the beauty.

The aptly-named creek was roaring mightily. I’m sure there must be something in the Book of Psalms about rushing water praising God. There was more water coming down the mountain than there had been in September. Not many people were there so we lingered and enjoyed. There’s just something about a waterfall!

Roaring Fork Creek, just downstream from the waterfall

In the afternoon we drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway, stoppping at overlooks. At some places there were mainly green leaves, and this made the one or two bright yellow or red trees shout at us: “Look at me! Look at me!!” Aren’t my leaves bright and beautiful?” “Yes. Yes they are!” At other places the whole hillsides were covered with warm colors. And we could see tier after tier of ridges in the distance, each one a lighter gray than the one just lower.

A potential problem with a day trip during a pandemic is food. We don’t go in restaurants now, and I’m not a fan of packing a couple of meals beforehand. But we did eat. Just as it was beginning to get light we stopped at a Biscuitville and had sausage biscuits and coffee in the car.

After we finished refilling our spirits at the waterfall, we drove North on the Parkway to the Orchard at Altapass to buy some apples. There is a store there, selling souvenir items and food such as jams and jellies. But on this day, they had no apples! The Apple Core is a little walk-up-to-the-window grill on site, but it was closed. The parking lot was full and the store was crowded. This is an apple orchard, and there were plenty of customers; but they didn’t have apples and the grill was closed at lunchtime. Ironic. But it’s still one of my favorite sites along the Parkway.

We didn’t get lunch there, although we could have had ice cream for lunch, and the Parkway doesn’t have restaurants, so we detoured into Spruce Pines. Luckily we came to a Burger King soon and found a parking spot next to the edge of the lot, where trees shaded the curb. We had a pleasant picnic sitting on the curb beside the car.

It was time to be heading home by dinner time. Where can we eat? We’d had biscuits in the car, burgers on a parking lot curb, and we wanted something different. I remembered that Ole Guacamole! in Black Mountain had lots of outside seating. We ate our Mexican dinners at a table beside a burbling little creek that runs behind the restaurant. A good setting for fall dining: sun setting, coolish, beside a stream. And the service and the food were good.

We slept well that night!

View from an overlook on Blue Ridge Parkway, Funnel Top Mountain

Wishing you crunchy, rustly leaves underfoot!

Three Waterfalls and a Gravel Road

Forest on both sides of a fairly narrow path. On one side, occasional and sometimes frequent views of a creek or river burbling by. My favorite situation for hiking, and I was there three days the first week in September.

There are forests, and there are Forests. I’m convinced that Pisgah National Forest is one of the best. The first day we hiked, about 50 feet down the trail, I stopped, looked around, breathed deeply, and sighed. The perfect “feel good” place. We were in Old Fort, NC, hiking the 1.2 mile trail to Catawba Falls, which we had heard of only recently. Soon we were walking beside the Catawba River, and all along the way there were “appetizers” : mini-falls over rocks. One could pause on a couple of bridges and look up and down the river. Once the river crossed the trail without a bridge! It was only ankle-deep and we were wearing water shoes. If one were wearing street shoes and really wanted to see the Falls,… well, either get the shoes wet or carry them and cross barefoot.

The best waterfalls are the ones that require some effort, and this one did, but not really strenuous effort. The reward was great! This is not a waterfall that starts at a ledge and falls straight down for 50 feet or more, but it cascades over tiers and tiers of rocks. We couldn’d see the top – it is possible to get to the top but it involves climbing over boulders, and, well…. I wasn’t feeling the mountain goat spirit that day. I was perfectly satisfied with the beauty I could see.

The next day’s adventure was similar, except that it was closer to where we were camping, and the trail was only .5 mile. Roaring Fork Falls is down a little side road off the road that goes to the campground. There is a sign at the intersection indicating this, but in all the many years we’ve camped there we’ve never noticed it. Also in the Pisgah National Forest, the walk was euphoria-producing. I noticed that all the trees were hardwoods; what a sight it must be in October! There were mini-falls along the way and a tall cascading fall of water roaring gloriously down the rocks. It was aptly named.

One nice thing about these Falls is that by carefully making your way down the rocky bank you can get on a flat, or flatish, rock in the middle and have a clear view. You may or may not get your feet wet. There is a camaradie among waterfall viewers, who chat with each other, even with masks on. And people will take a turn standing on the best rock, shoot a few photos, and move aside for the next person.

The third waterfall is “our” waterfall. It’s on the campground property, about one-half mile from the main camping sites. Setrock Creek Falls has to be my favorite, not because it is unusually awesome, but it is “home.” Usually we set up camp and then head to the waterfall. Every camping trip includes at least two hikes there. Part of the walk there is along a gravel road or a parallel path by the river. Then you turn into the forest, and the walk becomes a hike – over and around roots and rocks and uphill. This year the flow was moderately high. We’ve seen it as just a trickle, and we’ve seen the water gushing down the rocks; it’s fun to follow the changes from year to year.

One year we were there with children – I can’t remember who besides our granddaughters, and they begged to walk in the creek back to the road. Some of the adults agreed, and it was not an easy walk! The creek was ankle to mid-calf deep, and very rocky, so we had to pay close attention to foot placement and staying balanced. It was fun, though, especially doing it with young girls who were thrilled.

Leaving Old Fort the first day, we came upon a road called Curtis Creek Road. “Let’s take this road to the Parkway instead of going the way we came,” John said. We consulted the GPS map and it seemed reasonable; we’re always up for a new drive. The road was fine, like many county roads, and then the center line and edge-of-road lines disappeared. Soon it became gravel. Then we came to the ominous sign: State Maintenance Ends. It took only about a half mile for us to realize that we were on a Forest Service Road, which people do not normally take to get from Point A to Point B. But it was an interesting drive. The forest was astonishingly beautiful, “unimproved” by humans. The trees were lush, sometimes meeting overhead, and there was a thick understory. At times we rode by Curtis Creek, which is very rocky with white water rushing over the rocks. It was a mountain road, so we were not surprised at the curves, the sharpest hairpin curves I’ve ever seen. In some places the mountain went straight down on one side, and straight up on the other side. But who is in a hurry on vacation? Not us! We turned onto Mackey Creek Road and it was more of the same, just as winding, rough, and beautiful.

That lovely day that started with an astonishing waterfall and included a drive through the Pisgah National Forest ended with cooking hot dogs over our campfire, and sitting by the fire until after dark.

Sky over Black Mountain Campground

Wishing you a joyful time in nature!

Perhaps It’s the Ions

Have you ever bathed in the forest? Hold that thought a bit.

While hiking in Elk Knob State Park last December, less than 100 yards down the trail I had a calm, euphoric feeling. I couldn’t attribute it to the temperature, humidity, scent, sunshine, or anything else my physical senses could detect. Later, in recollecting, I thought maybe that’s what the Japanese call “forest bathing.” It’s an old practice in Japan, and it’s name shinrin-yoku, translated literally into English, is “forest bathing.” I’ve experienced this a few other times in addition to the hike at Elk Knob.

Most recently, I’d had a somewhat stressful week, and Saturday afternoon we went for a hike. Once we started, I thought, “This is NICE! I’ll not ‘work’ while I’m hiking. I’ll enjoy the birdsong without trying to find or identify the bird. If I see flowers blooming, I’ll stop to look at them, but I won’t look for them.” Once I decided this was not an effort-based or goal-oriented walk, it was easier to immerse myself into the forest and feel my surroundings. (The only effort was putting one foot in front of the other, and the only goal was to finish the trail.)

I have a book, Forest Bathing, by a Japanese doctor. This practice is so important to mental and physical health that this doctor takes his med-school students on a forest bathing walk weekly. As they connect with the forest and the outside world with all their senses, their nervous systems reset and “bodies and minds can go back to how they ought to be.” (p. 15) As a summary to this section of the book, he writes “The art of forest-bathing is the art of connecting with nature through our senses.” (p. 117)

I have trouble using all my senses – trees supposedly have scents, but I don’t smell them, and I don’t taste anything in the forest. I usually am aware of things I feel (the breeze, humidity, sunshine), and things I hear (wind, leaf noises, birds). But… there are helpful particles in the air that one cannot feel with physical senses: ions.

I lack the scientific knowledge and vocabulary to explain this, even if I understood it, so I’ll have to quote. “Ions are charged particles in the air… Negative ions are the good ones [and] are said to have energizing and refreshing effects, and to help increase mental clarity and our sense of well-being. There are many more negative ions outdoors than there are indoors,… particularly abundant in forests and near waterfall, rivers and streams.” (p. 199)

Now I know why my favorite places to walk are beside water. And I know why I go outside on my deck first thing in the mornings.

One can’t see ions, and I have no background to argue that they really do exist or that negative ones are better than positive ones. But I do have experience as evidence that outside feels better. Unless, of course, I allow my mind to continue thinking negative thoughts or to worry about what might happen if…. I suppose disciplining one’s mind is part of the practice.

Back to Japan: Japan is a densely populated country. But there are forests, and there is an abundance of urban parks. We of course have urban parks also. Take your ions wherever you can get them!

Jane Austen has Marianne in Sense and Sensibility say, “Is there felicity in the world superior to this?” She was walking in a beautiful hill-country setting.

Wishing you much felicity!

Quotes about forest bathing are from Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness by Dr. Qing Li, Viking Press 2018

Ourselves in Fur

“All fiction is about people, unless it’s about rabbits pretending to be people,” writer Margaret Atwood said. Think about your favorite books for children and you will probably think of at least one in which all the characters are animals. But they live in houses with furniture, wear clothes, go to work and to school, etc. If someone read aloud to you Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse and didn’t show you the pictures, you would never know the characters are mice (pretending to be people).

A few months ago a friend quoted someone else as saying it is better to read a book of high quality multible times than to read multiple books of lower quality one time each. Deciding to do that, I immediately thought of children’s literature, and one of the books that made it to my list was The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

In this book Mole, Water Rat, Badger, and Toad are friends. They have distinct personalities; all live in houses but each furnished house is different. They have fun together, help each other, support each other, argue with each other. In other words they pretend to be people.

I was amazed in this reading at how Grahame captured human feelings and emotional needs in his animals. Mole had left his underground house in favor of sunshine, flowers, birdsong, and the river. In one chapter he gets an extreme longing for his little home. “Something” in the air made him feel it was nearby, and he wanted to stop and find it. He was with Rat, who kept urging him to “come on, it’s getting dark,” without noticing Mole’s condition. Mole could go no further and sat down broken-hearted on a log and sobbed. Once Rat realized the situation, he, in his take-charge way, helped Mole find the door to his house, dusted the furniture, found food, and invited neighbors for a feast. What a friendship they had!

I love the way Grahame doesn’t explain the way friends should act, but shows that a friend is sensitive to the other’s needs. The reader forgets that they are a mole and a rat; it’s so human.

And then there’s Toad, who provides comic relief and a conflict, and fiction’s need for a villain. Toad is hyper-active, impulsive, rich, always looking for a good time. The other characters could distance themselves and let him come to ruin. But he is their friend, and they stick with him in their attempt to teach him to be a “sensible animal.” Expensive short-lived hobbies, theft, jail, an escape, more theft seem to have control of Toad.

Enter Badger, a loner who is sometimes grouchy, but with a role of a village elder. He takes charge of a plan to rescue Toad from himself. In Toad’s absence, Stoats and Weasels have taken over Toad’s residence, Toad Hall. They make a cameo appearance, as an evil element, but are not developed as characters. Badger quietly plans a way to take it back and his plan is in place when Toad finally returns, repentant of having been a foolish animal. Badger, Mole, Rat, and Toad do defeat the Weasels and Stoats. Toad is still himself, proud and loudly impulsive, but he has seen friendship close at hand and appreciates the wisdom and help of his friends.

Photos of Rat’s river and of the Wildwood, where Badger lives and where the weasels and stoats lurk and creep about, are not available, so I’m letting the Tar River in Rocky Mount NC stand in for Rat’s river and a scene from Boone’s Cave Park in central NC stand in for the Wildwood.

Wind in the Willows is about a mole, rat, badger, and toad, but it is really about how friendship and life work. Grahame used wonderful language to tell the story. When Mole first came aboveground, “the sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow,” and he “jumped off all his four legs at once in… joy.” Rat’s passion is boating: “Believe me, there is nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats.” Rat describes Toad to Mole (who hasn’t met him yet) : “Perhaps he’s not very clever — and he is both boastful and conceited. But he has some great qualities, has Toady.”

Now, when you may have time on your hands, is the time to read it for yourself. Incidentally, the other books on my to-reread list are Charlotte’s Web, the Narnia series, all of Patricia Polacco, and much of Tomie d’Paola (who was added to my list when I learned of his recent death).

Wishing you words, sentences, paragraphs, and books to keep you content during this uncertain time!

Down to the River

Two rivers flowing together at almost a right angle: the Rocky River joining the Deep River. Lovely hillsides, with trees still bare enough to see into the woods. White pines standing tall and sturdy. A mile-long trail beckoning. Sunshine on our shoulders. This was a good place to be on a Saturday afternoon with a “stay at home” order in force, but “go outside” advice being given.

White Pines Nature Preserve is owned and managed by the Triangle Land Conservancy. It’s not technically a park, but a place to go that’s natural, unimproved except for a few trails and a gravel parking lot.

White Pines Nature Preserve, April 4, 2020

On the last Saturday in March the trees were still bare, but they had the fuzzy look of tiny leaves opening. On the first Saturday in April the leaves had unfurled and all was spring green. On a trail through hardwoods, a little ways in, we just stopped and stood still and said “Wow!” The trees seemed to be singing for joy!

The Deep River has a steep wooded bluff. Fortunately the trail down to the river had switch-backs. The wildflowers along the way were easy to miss because they were just above the leaf litter on the ground. Then I was stunned by a bright white bloom on a taller stem. And another. And some more, in clusters, all the way to the river. Comparing the photos I took with those in wildflower books and Google images, I decided it must be Star of Bethlehem.The leaves in the photo do not go with the flower. If I’m wrong, no matter since this is not a scientific paper. A true fact: it was beautiful.

We walked along the Deep River to where the Rocky flows into it. The water was not rapid that day, and the two rivers seemed to softly mingle their waters over and around rocks and tiny islands as they flowed toward the big Atlantic.

After that confluence the trail follows the Rocky River for a while, and it is there that the white pines appear.

White pines have shorter needles than loblollies, and they are in clusters of five instead of three. They are trees that normally grow in the mountains, but they’ve grown here for eons. They are on north-facing slopes, so they don’t get direct light or warmth from the sun. It’s frequently foggy and misty from the rivers, which keeps the ground cool. Over many years the trees have adapted to the Piedmont climate. I read in an article about the place that when someone wants to reforest a place where there were once loblollies, they get seedlings from White Pines Nature Preserve because they will thrive in the area.

There are other plants growing here that are normally mountain plants also. Incidentally, there is another place like this in Cary. “Like this” in that another mountain tree, the hemlock, grows on north-facing bluffs along Swift Creek. (Hemlock Bluffs is a City of Cary park.)

On has to be intending to go to WPNP or researching places to go, or one would never know about it or find it. There are no signs on the highway; there is one after you’ve driven a couple of miles into the woods. It’s not a place to stumble upon. Therefore it’s not crowded, which is part of its charm.

White pine on tiny island in Rocky River

Wishing you the safety of home and nature.

“My Computer Hates Me” -Reconsidered

A few months ago I wrote about all the ways my computer hates me. The feeling was mutual, although I knew my computer could do things to help me, if only it would!

This week I am loving my computer for the way it keeps me up-to-date with friends’ news via Facebook. We all get frustrated with the negative, hateful posts on Facebook. But this week so many of my friends (who must get frustrated like I do) are posting pretty pictures daily – flowers, birds, scenes in nature – that remind me that the “NatureMama” is still present and on time. (Archie Brindleton, the gentleman puppy who has a Facebook page, calls Mother Nature the NatureMama. Thanks, Archie.)

Also, every day there is at least one musical performance to uplift the spirit. My favorite so far has been “I the Lord of Sea and Sky” sung by the National Youth Choir of Scotland. It must have touched many people because I’ve seen it shared every day.

There have been more jokes that are funny, but not at someone else’s expense. By some unspoken agreement, we have come togethert to lift one another up. Way to go, Humanity! I love my Facebook friends.

I was in a group that was called together to decide what our church should do in response to the coronavirus situation. We decided on March 13 to suspend all activities until March 28. Now that has been changed to “until further notice.” It was only then that I recognized how much of my life centered around church activities.

The staff hit the ground running in the effort to keep us connected, using Zoom and Facebook Live. It’s different. It’s not the same as face-to-face and handshakes and hugs, but it works. And aside from one little glitch yesterday, which was my fault, my computer has been with me all the way.

I look forward every morning to the 15-minute devotional on Facebook Live. And Zoom lets us discuss the women of the Bible in weekly Bible Study, and worship together on Sundays. Thanks to the staff for not missing a beat, and to technology for making it possible!

From ordering food and picking it up, to requesting a library book and picking it up curbside, we’re making it. My family members who are working or in school are able to continue with their business and learning, with the exception of my son who has to go to a hospital to do his work. Thanks to all medical providers!! It’s hard for social teens not to see their friends; I’m sure they’re keeping the texting keyboards hot.

What do I miss? Face-to-face interactions. Over the past year or so, when I’ve heard people say things like “They have kiosks now, so you don’t even have to speak to a person,” something inside me recoiled. So, what’s wrong with speaking to a person? We’ll get back there. And I hope I’ll be more aware of doing business with small, local establishments.

In the meantime, I love you, Laptop. I may even give you a name!

Wishing you many connections, virtual or otherwise.

Lost on Jockey’s Ridge, and Other Adventures

Well, I wasn’t exactly lost, but disoriented for a bit. When you are on an expanse of sand, there are no trails, but the park rangers at Jockey’s Ridge State Park have made a trail of sorts: there are posts with arrows on them, spaced so that as you pass one the next one is in view. Last October I followed the arrows across the dunes and ended up at the Roanoke Sound. Coming back across I decided to detour from the trail and walk up the highest dune so I could look across the highway and houses to the ocean. I started back at an angle to take me back to the parking lot. I thought. Soon it was obvious that I was walking parallel to the sound. I spent a little time correcting and recorrecting the direction I was going, seeing no footprints and no landmarks, until, to my relief, I saw people flying kites on one of the taller dunes. I’d seen them when I had started so I knew where the path to the parking lot was in relation to that. I had a good long walk in the sand. One could do worse!

Birders, unite! While walking on the Duck Boardwalk I saw up ahead two women with binoculars, looking up into a tree. Aha! “What are you seeing?” I asked after they’d lowered their binoculars. We had a brief conversation about which birds they were seeing, and between my print field guide and one of the other’s phone app field guide, we identified two birds which were lifers for me: a Wilson’s Warbler and a Palm Warbler. We went our separate ways, but encountered one another two more times, and shared information. They seemed to be more experienced birders than I am, so I gratefully learned a few things.

The big Atlantic was really kicking up a froth of foam that week, as far as I could see toward the horizon, and a cold wind was blowing. The beach was unusually narrow, so there was little space to walk, but I did walk in the not-too-cold, ankle-deep water at the edge of the surf.

It had been cloudy for two days, but on the third morning the clouds were thinner and didn’t cover the sky completely. From my balcony about 7:20 I saw the sun as the clouds moved away from in front of it. The sun was well above the horizon so there were no amazing colors, but the rays came all the way to the water and the cloud had a golden lining.

The Elizabethan Garden in Manteo, where I stopped on the way home, was a beautiful counterpoint to the wild ocean and shifting sands. It was so controlled and orderly, with a surprising number of things blooming. The only thing not so orderly was the pile of tree light wires that a woman was trying to untangle. “I know they weren’t put away like this last January,” she said. Must have been elves.

I enjoyed walking there, but as I left I had a been-there-done-that feeling; I didn’t need to go there again. But I will return to the ocean again and again. Maybe I prefer the wild, natural aspects of nature more than the well-groomed, human controlled aspects. But it’s nice to know that if I ever need a calming dose of control and order, the Elizabethan Gardens will still be there.

Wishing you some sand between your toes!

Land of the Longleaf Pine

I went to Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve on Friday with Mary Oliver’s Instructions for Living a Life in mind: “Pay attention. Be Astonished. Tell about it.” It took a few minutes for my mind to get on board with the idea that it could now stop its incessant chatter.

The first thing I really paid attention to was the sunlight on the pine trees. It seems like the needles on a longleaf pine sparkle more in sunlight than needles on loblollies; that’s probably merely because they’re longer. They were cause for staring!

I went there to go birding. Soon after I started on the Pine Barrens Trail I met a man who told me he had just heard a woodpecker drumming on a tree, but didn’t see him; two days before he’d seen a Red-cockaded Woodpecker 10 or 12 feet up the trunk of a tree. And a ways back he and a fox squirrel had had a staring contest for a few seconds. (I’m sure he shared that information with me because he’d noticed my binoculars.) Alas, there were no woodpeckers or squirrels for me. There were Pine Warblers in the trees though. Once I saw a movement on the path in the shade of a tree trunk. The shadow was at a slant across the path, and a sparrow hopped all the way across the path IN THE SHADE. I waited as he pecked along for him to hop into the sunlight so I could see his markings better. He stayed in a straight line, in the shadow all the way, as if he preferred shade, and then he flew.

It took me 75 minutes to walk that 1-mile trail; I kept stopping just to “be there.”

I walked the Lighter Stump Trail in the afternoon, which is .5 miles in and .5 miles out. It was then that I paid attention to the air with the thought “The air feels so good – on my skin and in my lungs.” I can think of no way to describe it better. There was no scent that I could detect, not of pines or of leaf litter.

That was the feeling I had hiking on Elk Knob a couple of months ago. I know it wasn’t the pines at Weymouth Woods; there are no pines at Elk Knob. It wasn’t the isolation from human activity; Weymouth Woods backs up to suburbia and is close to Southern Pines, Aberdeen, and Pinehurst. Maybe it was just fresh, clean air. Maybe the best thing I can say about it is that it was Good.

The Lighter Stump Trail was quiet. The only sounds were the wind whispering in the pines and the trickle of water in a little stream that had a plank bridge over it. No sign of animal life, not even an insect.

This trail is in an area where the habitat changes. At first it was all longleaf pine. Then hardwoods started to appear and there was green of holly and magnolia and others in the understory. By the end of the trail the scene had changed from mostly pine to mostly hardwood, with leaves on the ground and tangles of bare limbs in the understory.

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers make their nests in old longleaf pine trees (and are losing habitat). How can a person tell that a tree is old? The old longleaf trees have flat tops instead of the “normal” tree shape. I bet the birds have a different way of telling. The seedling looks like a tuft of long grass. But soon it looks like a tuft of grass on a long stem, without any branches. When it gets to be an adolescent (that’s my word, not a scientific term) it begins to look like a tree, with small branches.

It was good to be there!

Wishing you an opportunity to walk in pine woods.

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