Monday, November 20, 2017

Fall, Glorious Fall!

I spent a morning on the nature trail to take in the
splendor of late fall.  Though the colors are somewhat
muted, there were some striking exceptions.  But most
of all, the trail was in fine shape, and I invite you to 
take a fall stroll through the leaves yourself.  
Perhaps even during Thanksgiving week, to get
reacquainted with your dear old trail or to introduce
it to your children.  Here's a walk-through.

This view from the ballfield shows the grandeur of some of
the largest trees of the trail.

These two, giant White Oak and Blackgum, may be
two of the oldest trees in this section of the woods.

I always have to do an update on Old Man Poplar.  I would say
he's still "standing" but it's more like "reclining" these days.
Fascinating to monitor his slow descent to ground level.

This is a zoom shot of the tree in the background
on the previous picture.

Andy Paris's Eagle Scout project is doing exactly what he proposed.
The bridge and channel allow storm water to be diverted harmlessly
down a slope below the nature trail.  Before, wild waters ravaged
the trail itself, necessitating frequent maintenance.

This Sugar Maple is the Queen of the Trail at this point.

The hickories add to the variety of nature's palette.

Sugar Maple

Sugar Maple, with a Hickory at bottom

On the ground there is evidence of nearby Sweetgum (star-shaped),
Poplar, and Maple specimens.

Here are several Netted-Chain Ferns.  What is NOT apparent is
that the abundant Lady Ferns that were here several weeks ago
have totally disintegrated.  Not a shred of evidence remains from
their delicate fronds.  This always surprises me.

I have removed several logs from the stream that were carelessly
dumped into it by Duke Progress Energy a couple of years ago.
This one is not so close to the trail and had escaped my notice,
hidden by heavy foliage.  I'll remove it before long, lest it
dam up the creek.

This is the largest Sweetgum tree I've seen on the trail, amply
watered by the stream over the years.

I love the way the fallen leaves decorate the stream.

Big Rock doesn't seem to mind the leaning tree overhead. It's still
living, but its future is in question. Something else to keep an eye on.

Notice the blue sky reflected in the stream around Big Rock.
Big Rock is inviting, but I warn you: it's a SLIPPERY rascal!

This White Oak is rather colorful.

Same White Oak

Closeup of White Oak leaves for identification.

The Red Maple is living up to its name.

A panorama from mid-trail.

I'm standing under Old Man Poplar.  See how it has grown to fit
the contour of its neighbor, an oak.

Evidence that Old Man Poplar is fighting to survive. 
There are several tiny sprouts of leaves.  They have been fooled into
thinking it's Spring!

A different White Oak.

Same tree, different view.

Notice all the greenery in this otherwise colorful Maple.

The greenery is none other than Smilax or Catbrier, which grows
throughout the trail, including the treetops.

Smilax is a thorny, aggressive sort of vine. But it has a
special place in the ecology of the trail.

See the cluster of dark berries a few feet above the ground?
Unlike most berries, these are present year-round as a source
of food for birds and other living things.  Pretty amazing!
 From the parking lot above the trail I took three
final pictures, each with significance.
In this final panorama we see many healthy trees.
AND the perilous incline of Old Man Poplar to the left.

Here we see the expansion of the dreaded kudzu, which will not
likely be eradicated from the perimeter of the trail.  And it may
inevitably encroach more each year, especially from the treetops.
I'll battle it in a limited way, but it's too well established to be
eradicated now.  I always told classes "It's the plant that wants
to take over the world . . . starting with the principal's office!"

One more somber note, and again, Duke Progress Energy is the
villain.  They have resorted to poisoning the power line area rather
than cutting.  I understand the cost-effectiveness, but it's obvious
this poison will flow directly into the stream and potentially
contaminate a more widespread watershed.
I hope you love the nature trail as much as I do.
It's here for you, and I hope that will be true for
many decades to come.  It's a quiet refuge and
an inviting place to stroll and take solace in nature.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Labor Day "Open House" on Nature Trail

Meet Andy Paris, a fine young Eagle Scout who just
completed a project to resolve a long-standing erosion
problem on the nature trail.  He held a Labor Day weekend
Open House to introduce the new boardwalk and invite
guests to tour the trail.

The boardwalk allows torrential rains to be redirected
underneath and flow harmlessly beyond the trail
rather than perpetually eroding the trail itself.

Andy welcomes guests and explains briefly what his
 project achieves and details the labor that went into it.

A photographer from THE PILOT gets names of some of the
early young visitors to accompany a newspaper feature.

From this view you can see both the Slingshot Tree and
Old Man Poplar, leaning ominously.

Our youngest visitor gets the famous view of Jack, Will, and Tom
with his mother.

Several brave souls sample thirst-quenching sourwood.
Some even opt for "seconds."

It's a taste you either love or hate.  But it's free.

"Try it, you'll like it!"

On our walks we found not one, but TWO Luna Moth caterpillars.

A view of Big Rock after overnight rain added water to a
dry creek bed.

Kids and parents delighted in many nature "finds."  There's always
something unexpected on our trail.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit has now formed its brilliant red berry clusters.
The leaves and flowers are dying down rapidly.

Everyone, young and old, is happy with their discoveries.

Looking up the tallest, straightest poplar trees in the forest.

It's the view that never ceases to amaze.

And of course, you can never leave the trail without one attempt
to help straighten up Old Man Poplar.

 The current cool weather make for a perfect time to visit the trail.  I'll be monitoring closely to see if the coming Hurricane Irma brings any major changes to the landscape.  Particularly Old Man Poplar, who is "hanging on" for all he's worth!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

2017 Back-to-School Nature Trail Spruce-up

Because of the recent Eagle Scout project (see previous
post), this summer has witnessed more activity on the
nature trail than most summers.  As I've noted before,
visiting the trail at various seasons yields notable
benefits, and sights that you otherwise might miss.
As I went about my preparations for the start of school
and new classes making fall visits to the trail, here are
some tidbits I happened upon.

This is not a violet nor a periwinkle.  I haven't yet pinned down its
identity, but if I had not visited the trail in July, I would have missed
this summer lovely.

Our notable "burgundy" Jack-in-the-Pulpit in its flowering phase
in early July.  It is fascinating at any time of year, but goes through
a spectrum of changes.

Streamside horse-sugar has always been of interest to me, but I've
never seen it with this leaf pattern.  A prelude to fall changes.

If poison ivy is away from the main trail, I leave it alone, since it's
a native species.  But this one was adjacent to the scout project,
and with a view to those with dangerous allergies, it had to go.

If you've walked the trail, you've seen this former "snag" when it
was standing.  In the past few months the dead snag fell, but leaned
against a sturdy magnolia across the trail.  As with the poison ivy,
if it had posed no danger, I would have left it alone.  But there was
a chance it could snap in two and fall at almost any time.  So I
pulled out my chainsaw, cut off a couple of lengths, and when the
main trunk fell, I arranged it as a border for the trail, near the stream.
It will still provide food and home for insects, their larvae, and
other small creatures, just as it did as a standing snag.
Can you spot the sections of the snag?

Not surprisingly, our stream is currently dry, which
allowed for some unique photos upstream and downstream.
This view is upstream from the bridge.

Downstream from Big Rock

Upstream from Big Rock

Big Rock is easy to reach when the stream bed is dry.  But if you
try to climb on it, use extreme caution.  It is deceptively steep and
slippery.  Use both hands and non-slip shoes.  and watch out for
the moss and lichens.

View of Big Rock from the upstream stream bed.

The view of Old Man Poplar as you approach the new boardwalk.

Some majestic cinnamon ferns thrive at streamside.

Here's Jack-in-the-Pulpit again, flowers gone and berry clusters
formed.  Shortly, the leaves will all wither and the red berries will
be found all along sections of the trail.
 One of my spruce-up tasks is to clean dirt and mildew
from the identifying signs along the trail.  Here are a
few samples of how a little tender loving care bring
new life to these instructional aides.
Before . . .

. . . after.

Halfway done.


In extreme need of a bath.

That's better.

Wow!  Why didn't I think of this sooner?
 Let's close with another look -- or three looks --
at Old Man Poplar.  If you don't think it's leaning more
each year, here's some photo proof.

Note that the wooden plaque is already
leaning more than when it was level
three years ago.

In 2013, a year before I placed a 
sign on it, the tree was leaning less.

This was in 2010.  Can you imagine
a troop of Boy Scouts kneeling on it?

And for comparison's sake, back to 2017.
Please, Old Man Poplar, don't be
in a hurry to leave us!