Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Winter Storm Highlights on the Trail

It was three full days after the January snowstorm
before I visited the trail to check things out, so only
a little snow remained.  But there was plenty to see.

Welcome to the Sandhills Farm Life Nature Trail, newcomers
and old friends alike.

Enter the trail along the ball field fence.

Our iconic Old Man Poplar seems to be leaning more each year.

Exhibit 1: That sign was LEVEl when I attached it four years ago.

I had to tilt the camera to make it appear level now.

Not a good day to try to walk up this leaning trunk.  And I didn't!

You can measure the slippage by noting how the poplar had rubbed
away the bark of the tree it leans on.

No matter how strong the supporting tree is, gravity and the sheer
massiveness of Old Man Poplar are working against us.

The trails were fairly cleared of snow, but still pretty.

Jack, Will, and Tom, a popular "selfie" site.
Try it yourself and please share.

Moving on toward the stream.

What a nice surprise!  Some unknown benefactor has replaced
the old bridge, which I finally removed due to safety concerns.
I have a couple of suspects, but need to do some investigating.
I'd appreciate any leads.

Some small animals appreciate this convenient crossing, too.

Watch your step if you cross the stream, and be warned--
that's private property on the other side.  With adult supervision
and reasonable caution, you can explore "the FAR SIDE," where
I took classes for three decades.

On the "far side," the land rises gradually to a farmer's fields.
This is where the famed Graveyard of the Pines once stood.

Of the seven kinds of ferns found on our trail, Christmas fern
is the only one that thrives even in winter.

Still on the "far side," observe Horseshoe Bend.

In this shaded spot, ice floats on a still pool.

A view of the hardwood forest that stretches on and on.

A streamside view.

Now we're back on the "legal" side of the stream.

As we approach the teaching station/ rest area at Big Rock,
observe a new leaning icon.  This one may be less likely to fall,
because it is firmly wedged in the fork of a supporting tree.  If
it lives (and it should-- its roots are still in the ground), it may
remain like this for many years.  We'll see.

Teaching station and Big Rock.  It's always slippery, and even
more so now.

No icebergs, but I'm sure the water's plenty icy.

Dear old Big Rock may outlast everything else on the trail.

A snow-covered log near Big Rock.

One last look before the journey back.

Along the return loop, note "The Wishing Well."

I don't encourage you to toss coins in this wishing well, but
feel free to make a wish,  What harm can it do?  And everyone
knows our trail is full of magic.

On our return trip, the snow highlights the lower loop trail we
followed earlier.  You can't get lost on our user-friendly trail.

View of Jack, Will, and Tom and another rest/teaching area
from the upper loop trail.

Farewell till next time, Jack, Will, and Tom.

Some woodland animal enjoyed walking along this fallen tree
trunk.  Like any kid, they did it just "because it was there."

If you're a long-time observer of Old Man Poplar, I'm sure his
increased leaning is evident to you.  When will he finally fall?
No one knows, but if you visit and find him prostrate, please
let me know.  Like everything else on the trail, he'll get to
remain and "recycle" himself.  But I would remove enough of
his trunk to keep the trails from being totally blocked.

In this view you can see Old Man Poplar to the left and snow-
covered fields far beyond the trail.  In between, in our little
"hidden valley," lies a world of adventure and eye treasure.

As I drove away from the school, I pulled over on McCaskill Road
for one more photo, a blast from the past.  This is our old
Black Lagoon.  You're very fortunate if you got to visit it as a
student.  The last students or adults that visited it with me were
at my retirement party, almost nine years ago.  I don't take classes
on that private property now, but it's still easily visible and
connected to the past, present, and future of our nature trail.

I often remind folks that winter is a great time to 
enjoy our trail.  It may seem bare, but that's an
opportunity to see the topography without less
undergrowth.  With the nice weather of the current
forecast, why not take a stroll yourself?  Then come
back in the spring. And summer. And fall.

Monday, June 8, 2015

First Graders: Welcome to YOUR Nature Trail!

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:
Sugar Maple

and Red Maple.

In a space of less than 50 yards I pointed
out four varieties of ferns.
Netted Chain Fern

Lady Fern

Cinnamon Fern

My favorite, and the least common on our trail:
Royal Fern.

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
recessive gene.

 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.