Friday, June 5, was FUN DAY for first graders
at Sandhills Farm Life. And I was thrilled to be
a part of the day, thanks to an invite from teacher
extraordinaire and former student of mine, Rachel
(Black) Arrington. Rachel and I are posing near
Big Rock, well known to all trail walkers.
Rachel introduced me to six successive groups
of children, telling all that I had been her third
grade teacher many years ago (1983) and that
she and her classmates had helped to institute
this very trail.
I talked to the students about this being their
nature trail, and invited them to bring their
families there during the year. I reminded them
to utilize their eyes and ears to observe like a
scientist. And I cautioned not to taste or touch
everything they saw. Many plants are toxic,
though most are safe. And we do have a few
patches of poison ivy, which I avoided.
Here are a few highlights of what I showed the
children. I told them that on a 20 to 30 minute
hike I couldn't tell them everything, and that
they should have their second grade teachers
invite me to do a longer nature walk next year.
For pure motivation, I emphasized some of
our unusual and iconic trees and distinctive
plants. First stop was "The Slingshot Tree."
I asked kids to imagine a giant putting a
rubber band on this tree and launching a
boulder across the ball field.
Almost all my readers are acquainted with
Jack, Will, and Tom, the poplar tree with
tree massive trunks.
We did "limbo" under the hanging branches
of Sourwood Sally. We did not, however,
have a sourwood snack. I'll save that for
their second grade nature walks.
Mrs. Arrington asked me to discuss the
importance of standing dead trees in the
ecosystem, as it interconnected with part
of their science curriculum.
Here's another nice snag on the trail, which
appears to be a favorite home and feeding
station for birds.
Of course, big rock was a favorite. We did
not attempt to cross the stream to climb.
That's something to look forward to.
We paused on these benches at Big Rock,
but didn't stay seated for long. In connection
with our camping theme, I introduced them
to the all-new Farm Life Camping Song. It
isn't really all new. I adapted the words from
a cherished song from Camp Cherokee, where
I got my start working with young children.
The original song was called "We've Just Been
Overnighting." Here are my slightly altered lyrics.
We've just been on a campout,
We've hiked o'er hill and dale;
We climbed the Blue Ridge Mountains
And scampered down again
(We thought we saw a snake!!)
The hike was so refreshing,
Though it thundered now and then.
So here's to dear old Farm Life School,
We're home again!
I pointed out the difference between two
adjacent varieties of maple tree:
and Red Maple.
In a space of less than 50 yards I pointed
out four varieties of ferns.
Netted Chain Fern
My favorite, and the least common on our trail:
Another of my favorite plants is
It pays to learn the difference between this
three-leaved wonder and less desirable three-
leaved plants, such as poison ivy and kudzu.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit flowers form clusters of
berries. By fall, the stems and leaves will have
disintegrated, but you will find clusters of red
berries throughout the area. They are easily
distinguished from dogwood berries, which
may be single, or in groups of two or three.
Here's a lovely late bloomer to give you
an idea of this unusual flower.
Less common is the deep burgundy flower
of some pulpit plants. Evidently it is a
Here is a flourishing tangle of Kudzu,
my three-leaved nemesis.
I wage constant war against kudzu, but it
cannot be eradicated. Here you can see it
trying to overtake trees that border our trail,
but I will make it regret that, shortly.
With NO herbicide, just a sharp blade.
Not surprisingly, precariously leaning
Old Man Poplar became an instant favorite
with the first grade.
Of course, they loved every living thing they saw!
Every child had a chance to offer Old Man
Poplar a boost as we returned from our hike.
Perhaps he's just a tiny bit straighter.
From the upper trail you can see the
Slingshot Tree in the background.
Homeward bound! Let's sing it again:
"We've Just Been on a Campout . . .!"
That's right, Mrs. Arrington!
That extra push is all we needed!
By 3 p.m. Friday, calm had returned to the
nature trail. I can only imagine the tales
those 120 children had to tell when they got
home. And the trail was left to its "permanent
residents." Like this well-camouflaged spider.
And this beautiful, iridescent damselfly.
It's first cousin to a dragonfly and the both
eat their weight in mosquitoes!
48 hours later, on a nice Sunday afternoon,
I was drawn back to the nature trail. I was
determined to spruce up a few maintenance
items that had caught my eye.
For instance, a virtual deluge of rain back
in March had lodged this huge log under
the old bridge, lifting it from its anchors.
It looks like it's beyond hope.
Hmm. How does one proceed?
First, use a rope and brute strength to
manhandle that tree trunk up onto the bank.
Then, drag the bridge back into place, wedge
a sturdy 2x6 board under the cracked beam,
and maneuver the tree trunk into position to
reinforce the bridge's position.
(Some former students may recall that the
pilgrims had to resort to similar ingenuity
to reinforce a cracked main beam when they
were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.)
Next item. I had brought some old shoes
for stream hiking so I could clear debris and
limbs from the stream bed. Here are samples of
what I dragged out. Tsk, tsk. Is nothing sacred?
But the source of the main offense was within
a stone's throw of Farm Life School Road, which
crosses over our little stream. Last year, Duke
Power had some stately and ancient trees cut at
streamside. As if that weren't bad enough, they
carelessly allowed limbs and huge sections of
trunk to tumble into the creek bed. The heavy
spring storms had flooded the whole area and
floated massive logs downstream.
Before I dragged limbs out of the stream,
it looked like some dysfunctional beavers
were building a dam.
Waters will flow more freely past Big
Rock when it rains again.
This log, when still in the creek, was catching
and tangling every smaller branch or vine
that washed down the stream.
Relatively clear now, the stream should
be washed clean by the next good rain.
The stream will be running free to devise
its next change of course, possibly relocating
this gravelly sandbar.
I didn't make a brush pile, but simply tossed
branches of all sizes onto the bank. They will
eventually decay there and enrich the soil.
Of course I know that they would've decayed
in the stream without my interference, but I
felt that cleaning up Duke Power's debris
at least gives the stream a chance to start fresh.
So to speak.
When I was both filthy and soggy, and had
accomplished a good afternoon's work, I
was delighted to see my nieces Emma and
Jessie arrive for a nature walk. Both girls
are alumni of dear old Farm Life and had
been on the trail before. But they were
pleased with improvements that had been
made even since they moved on to high school.
Emma with Jack, Will, and Tom
Jessie with Jack, Will, and Tom
Emma on Big Rock
Jessie on Big Rock
(Do not try this at home! Unless you have
a big rock, that is.)
Emma lifting weights
Jessie doing chin-ups on the world's
biggest chin-up bar.
And me, Mr. Loyd, also known as Uncle Ken.
Okay, when is the last time YOU were on
the Farm Life Nature Trail? Last year?
10 years ago? 20 years ago? NEVER?!
It's time!!! It's YOUR trail. The temperature
drops 5 degrees the minute you step under
its sheltering deciduous branches. And, oh,
the wonders you'll experience!
It's a comfortable and informative stroll,
and the trail is short enough and with loops
that you can cater your walk to the time
you have available.
So make your plans now.