Triad Park: The Sounds and Life of the Forest

The Triad Park woods on a warmish day. (Photo by Ben Clark)

Triad Park is a sensory overload. Once you enter the woods, you see the towering evergreens, oaks, and maples swaying in the wind. Through them, Thrushes (in the spring), Sparrows, and Carolina Wrens hop and flitter on their way, basking in the beauty of the trees around them. Once they know of my presence, they either cautiously observe me or move along. The squirrels are braver than the birds. They have their eyes set on some nuts. While the birds and the squirrels meander through the forest, something else is bustling.

Beyond the sights of the woods, the sounds that accompany it are just as satisfying to experience. For instance, there’s a creek that runs through a large chunk of the trail. It provides sounds far more soothing than any jazz track or top 50 hit could attempt to create. In the creek, there exists a small universe of life; tadpoles swim about, ready to grow some legs and walk into their next phase of existence. During my childhood, my mom often took my sister and I down to the creek where we put a few tadpoles in a “bug-box” (a plastic container with holes poked in the lid) and slowly nursed them into frogs, which we then released back at the spot where we found them.

The creek at Triad Park. (Photo by Ben Clark)

Apart from the gentle sounds of the creek, there is always the soothing humming of the wind rolling through the forest. On windy days, the trees bend (and sometimes snap) to the wind’s blustery will. However, what may seem chaotic to others is actually quite soothing to me…as long as a tree doesn’t fall on me. When I don’t hear the creek, the gentle breeze that walks the woods with me is always a welcome sound.

When there is not an excess of wind, I usually encounter a few interesting birds on my walk. One of these birds is the Red-bellied Woodpecker, or Melanerpes carolinus, as science likes to call it. These birds are native to the area around my home as well, so seeing them in another place is a wonderful sight. They usually breed in the eastern United States, which is probably why I see so much of them around here in the Guilford/Forsyth County area in North Carolina. Triad Park is on the border between Forsyth and Guilford County but is technically considered a part of Forsyth County. These details don’t matter to the Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Another type of woodpecker that is fond of Triad Park is the Pileated Woodpecker, whose scientific name is Dryocopus pileatus. Its distinct call lets its presence be known. However, I have only just come to memorize it. Before, I usually was confused until my mom pointed out that the sound belonged to the Pileated Woodpecker. One of the things that helped me memorize its identity is relating the call to the black-feathered body that I usually see swooping from tree to tree after hearing its call. Another point of memorization is the spot of red on its head. Its also a large bird, so being able to see it is rarely an issue. Triad Park’s wide array of wildlife is the main reason that I continue going back there. With each visit, I never know what I may encounter!

A Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus) that I spotted while hiking on the trail. (Photo by Ben Clark)

The Guilford Woods– Yet Again!

2/22/19

A gathering place for freshman bonfires (for where else would they go?), an earthy rival to a treadmill, a wooded canvas of self-reflection, a home of debated ghosts and ghouls and whatnot galore, (the subject of countless student projects). The sentiment rings tired, but true: the woods stand as a resolute and prided feature of our community, perhaps the last thing left untouched by the myriad critiques of Guilford College.

I aspire for my study of the Guilford wilderness to include, if not focus on, the careful observation of intimate places within the broader area, be them places of my own, those of others, or those who are surely intimate to some but whose designation I have no way of knowing.

Firstly, a felled tree bridging the the widest bit of a pitiful stream that crawls parallel to the main path. (Spare me, those few readers more cartographically inclined; this program has a glorious edit button, and I shall return.)

I know not what species my beloved is, but I’ll eventually find this out and edit it back in– for that would surely prove an enticing detail. (Again spare me, tree enthusiasts.)

My fondness for this wooden corpse arises from a two-week period of 2017 (class years are such a bore!), in which I devoted myself to, for some ungodly reason, the idea that I was to be a runner. Each day for these curséd two weeks, I’d huff and puff down and around the the common trail, find myself by the log, The Log, and, swayed by the respiratory benefits, decide I was in dire need of meditation.

I perched, scooted out a bit so I was directly above the centerpoint of the creek, and closed my eyes for a time. A practice of natural connection, rooting, re-rooting, myself to my earth, I’d even go so far as to utterly disconnect from the modern world; I placed my phone on the log, a few feet to my left (speak nothing of the dry earth beneath it).

As I sat, meditated, breathed in the natural purity of the earth–a few hundred yards away lies a slope that students fondly refer to as “Shit Hill,” which is rumored to be particularly fragrant on days that the cafeteria remembers its deep-fryer– other woods-goers would pass, joggers with true destiny, and stare at the large, sweaty man sitting cross-legged on a gnarled log over a shit-frothing stream, in clear view of, and a rough meter away from, the popular trail.

Much of this is speculation, of course, for true meditation, true breaks to catch your breath, rely on utter dissociation: my eyes were closed and the water too loud to hear the footsteps.

During my first few trips, it was just this– the water was too loud, I was focused on regaining my ability to breathe. However after several days, or perhaps after a single, particularly loathsome day, I found myself actually listening, not to footsteps of judging passerbys, but to the water itself. Not to my body’s feeble desire for oxygen, but to my breath, my breathing.

Once this habit took hold, I’d find myself startled by the sound of footsteps, echoing in the ethereal. The randomness, the peculiarity, of the sound of fellow humans, let alone collegiate peers, affected me in that I had no concept of the event’s frequency; that I noticed these footsteps, just now, seemed like utter coincidence, who knew how many people had passed.

Can You Take Shelter?

Today I sat in my place from a distance, that distance being my car. I sat inside and watched the rain pour down from the sky. I started to think “God, I hate the rain. This shit is annoying.” Sometimes I can get so caught up on how things affect me, that I don’t think how they affect the things around me; those things included nature. The trees, grass, land, and pond. I’m sure if nature could speak to us and had a voice, they would praise about how much they love the rain. However, I’m not so sure about the animals around me. I tried to walk my dog today, and she got to cold so I brought her back inside. I’m sure the worms inside the soil aren’t phased at all however.

Why does my grass look greener after it rains? By: Tom Oder

I looked around me and as I glanced, I noticed puddles and the creeks around me overflowing with water. The earth around me couldn’t avoid the rain and take shelter, but I could. I guess the main difference between me and nature is I don’t like the rain. I’m sure nature has its limits and all with rain, they don’t want to be flooded.

A Beginner’s Guide to the Uwharrie

Welcome back, reader! Today, I will be giving you a brief introduction to the Uwharrie mountains, the things that everyone needs to know, the more widely known history of the area. Throughout the course of these blog posts, I will delve deeper into some of these aspects mentioned below, but today is simply an overview of some of the most important things you need to know about the Uwharrie Mountains, both as they were, and as they are today.

Panoramic view from the peak of Morrow Mountain State Park. Sky is a dusty pink color.

Basic History

Formed along the Gondwanan tectonic plate abour 500 million years ago, the Uwharrie Mountains are one of the oldest mountain ranges in North America. These mountains once rose to about 20,ooo feet, but because of the same erosive forces that have shrunk the Appalachian Mountains over time, the highest peak in the Uwharrie Mountain Range, Morrow Mountain, rises only to just over 1,000 feet.

The Uwharrie area is also home to a wide variety of plant species, thanks to their location that borders the piedmont and mountain regions of NC.

Additionally, this area is home to numerous archaeological sites, due to the age of the area and the centralized location. There have been many Native American artifacts found in the area, and is home to a notable amount of arrowhead findings.

Prior to it’s incorporation as a National Park, the area was used for hunting, timber, gold mining, and other fruitful, but potentially harmful activities.

Incorporation

The Uwharrie Mountain Area was officially incorporated into the national parks system on January 12, 1961 by president John F. Kennedy. Morrow Mountain, the highest peak in the park, was made into a state park in 1931. The National Park area stretches into four counties in central North Carolina, but is mostly located within Montgomery County. Out of the four National Forests in North Carolina, it is the smallest at just over 50,000 acres of land.

Some of the notable areas in the Uwharrie National Forest are Badin Lake Recreational Area, Uwharrie Mountain Recreational Trail, Morrow Mountain State Park, and the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness area.

Now, as it stands as a National Park, many use the area for recreational hiking, camping, fishing, swimming, and other general outdoors activities. The Uwharrie Mountains are a great place for beginner hikers, and families looking for an outdoor weekend trip that isn’t too far from home.

Future Endeavors

Moving forward we will be taking a deep dive together into the history (known and not so well known) of this rich area of North Carolina. Being such an old and beautiful area of land, the Uwharrie Mountains have so much to offer us as explorers, adventurers, writers, amateur historians. I will be taking my own photos and experiences to the forefront at times as well, and am hoping that this will not only improve and deepen my connection with this area, but the aim and significance of this project as well. Until next time!

A Guide to Being Barefoot in the Meadows

02/22/2019

So…it’s been about a week of continuous rain, it’s a friday afternoon, I’ve slept far less than I would care to, and what I want most in this world is to sink into the comfort of my warm home. Sadly the bitterness of this post being an actual homework assignment started to overpower the sweetness of a solo trip to the Meadows. Despite all that, I brushed off my shoulders, bundled up, grabbed my umbrella, and took off. The slipping and sliding around in the mud was kind of annoying to me at first. I wore my Crocs without any holes (I call them Winter Crocs) to stay waterproof, but sacrificed any hope for traction in doing so. Quickly and impulsively I decided I would be better off with no shoes at all. I stashed my shoes and socks in a frisbee golf…net? Is it a net? Basket maybe? I’m going to come back to frisbee golf in a future post, so I’ll figure it out by then.

Anyway, what came of that is this! A somewhat comprehensive guide to being barefoot in the Meadows. In this extra special edition, we’ll be talking about the ins and outs of being barefoot in the cold, rainy, oversaturated, squishiest-ever Meadows. How to find a moment of warmth and regain the feeling in your toes. I am also a very tactile person, so part of this is me just wanting to feel all the textures between my toes, but I think it will serve as informative for those in a very specific jam.

Content warning: Turn back if you hate feet!

  1. Plain old mud

I do not recommend that you walk in this mud. As you can tell from my very visceral foot reaction, this is not the place to be. It is the wrong type of squish, the little puddles are extremely cold, and I slid all sorts of ways in this mud.

2. Grass

Should you find yourself in a pinch, this grass will do the trick. Stay still in your footing for a few minutes and your body heat will warm it right up. The overall sensation is not the greatest, but when you stop being able to bend your toes, you can’t be too picky about that sort of thing.

3. Moss


Now you might think that since moss looks like an actual rug, this would be amazing, as I did. I was very wrong. The carpet-like quality of moss soaks up water so much so that it feels like you’re walking on a cold, dirty sponge.

4. Pine needles

I have some mixed emotions about pine needles here. If you are looking for heat on your feet, this definitely works. The sort of insulation that the layers of pine needles gives is quite nice, but you have to get past the rigidity of the needles to begin with. Personally, the feeling of walking on uncooked pasta outweighed any comfort or warmth the pine needles had to offer.

5. Puddles

Yeah, don’t stand in puddles. They are fun for splashing around and cleaning mud off your feet, but that’s about all you’re gonna get from this.

6. Funky wooden bridge

Maybe I was just extremely cold and slightly delusional but this felt absolutely fantastic. The wood totally warmed up my feet and got my toes wiggling and feeling good. 10/10 would recommend in an ideal world with these sorts of accommodations.

7. Plastic traction mats

No. Just don’t do it. These little holes suction to the bottom of your feet and it feels like you’re walking on an octopus tentacle. Plus, the open spaces between your foot and the ground is like a tiny, freezing wind tunnel.

8. Bathmat

This is a one way ticket to a fungal infection. I did it so you never ever have to.

9. Surrendering to the mud

You run around barefoot long enough in the muddy Meadows and eventually you get tired of fighting the slips and slides. When the moment’s right, let go of your inhibitions, and slide on!

Beneath me

Me going to my place and sitting down felt odd. I looked around for a few minutes and observed my surroundings. I see trees five times my size, leaves that have fallen and you can tell they’ve been there for a while, and branches fallen everywhere from so many rainstorms over the past few days. I practice mindfulness a lot, I like to try to be present in my everyday life. As I sat here, focusing on the things around me, it occurred to me nature is still even when I am not. When my brain feels like it’s freezing up, things are falling, and like it’s raining; nature can take all these things and still remain impact. My self-realization from this was, even when my brain tricks me into thinking I’m not in the present moment, I still am. Although I’ve always felt this sort of disconnection with nature, this was some common ground we shared. Maybe we aren’t all so different after all.

I didn’t spend much time outside growing up because I was allergic to everything that is outside including pollen, grass, and hay. I’m able to not have such severe allergic reactions at my age now, so when I go outside now, it’s like something foreign and new to me at times. I was a sick child, so most of the time I was indoors. My parents were afraid for me to go outside because they worried I would get hurt. For example, I never learned how to ride a bike. Although all this nature has always been around me, because of my health history, it’s still something that seems so different.

Woods forest, trees background, green nature landscape, august, pan,sound. By: Morebeans. URL: https://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-11553812-woods-forest-trees-background-green-nature-landscape




In my last post, I talked about how I viewed my place outside my window. This is because my place is the fields outside my home, I live on over forty acres of land. Much of it is preserved woods, we didn’t wanna disrupt nature too much. We thought about the animals outside, those woods are there home. What are us humans to take away their home? I use the term ‘us humans’ specifically because some are a**holes that rip animals from their home all the time. They like to shelf them and put them on display; but animals are not beneath me.

Art and Place

Through all my walkabouts in the Guilford woods, something has stuck with me. Something that follows me to every classroom and something that has permanently changed who I am. As a child, I always loved being outside, playing for hours by myself on expansive National Forest that surrounded my childhood home. I loved-and still love-the notion of getting “lost”. I found most of my enjoyment stemmed from being alone, deep in the woods, where I would feel complete freedom to be “myself”. However, I had not fully come to understand what wilderness meant to me until I came to college.

My first few weeks of college, I had a broken cellphone, which drove me to seek out new friends by wandering the woods. I was shown secret places, meaningful sites, and was told mysteriously magical stories about this forest, molding a new view in my mind- one that incorporated not just the physical, but the historical and spiritual aspects of a location. Suddenly, I saw this place as something entirely different than my home-forest; this was somewhere that had guided and protected slaves, somewhere that held enchanting white fawns and possible portals, somewhere that had its own will, and somewhere that could influence my artwork and perceptions.

“Do Something New” piece I made that represents a map of campus, including all the places I’ve walked barefoot. Made from mixed media including naturally found objects such as moss, bird egg, dragonfly carcass, and lichen.

In the Fall of 2017, I took 3D Design. One project in particular called for us to do “something new” and make a piece about it. That semester I had grown more accustomed to not wearing shoes. In some ways, it was freeing yet grounding, almost becoming an extra sense, since we rarely use the sense of touch and feeling in the natural world. I documented everywhere on campus, including a majority of the woods, where I had walked barefoot, and had created my first rough map, including several objects discovered in the woods. It was this that eventually influenced my decision to become an Environmental Studies minor. I wanted to be able to reflect, improve, and sustain the natural world through my artwork. I viewed my undertaking as a way to “preserve” and “display” this space, by bringing them into the view of people who had never stepped foot in the woods before.

More detailed map I made for the mushroom log book. I split up sections of the woods to better record locations for each mushroom (Meadows, Back Entrance, Highlands, Lake & Lake Fields, Glassland, Rope Treeland, Firepits, Pines, Thick Woods, Foothills, Swampland, Mudlands, and Momma Treeland). I’ve collected data on mushroom species from each section and plan to revise in the future to make it more legible and accurate.

3 years later, for an Independent Study, I decided on the mushroom log book, and included a hand drawn map on the inside-front cover. I already had perimeters set in my mind about how the woods are split up, so drawing them out made it easier to pinpoint mushroom locations. For future blog posts, I will aim to connect my map to the historical maps of the woods, comparing and contrasting, along with drawing deductions about how and why particular land-forms and species reside in these spaces today.

My MushROOM: The Guilford Woods

We’ve been learning a lot about “place” and “home” recently. I’d like to dive deeper by introducing the term “room”. There are perimeters to everyone’s “home”, and a “home” includes yourself, your family, and your environment. “Home” is essentially where one can reveal a more “truer” version of themselves that is different from their public persona. But with every public and personal persona, there is the hidden, private one that we all, for the majority, keep to ourselves. A “room” or room where you reside the most within your home becomes this place to display that third persona. Moving away from home, five states away, I have had great difficulty in finding “my room” in the world around me. However, upon realizing that homes and rooms do not have to be confined to 4 walls, I have found “my room” in the entirety of the Guilford Woods.

Upon visiting Guilford for the first time, I knew instantly that the woods were something very special. Over the course of 4 years, in some ways, I have grown more attached to these woods than the place that I call “home”. Undoubtedly, I have spent more time in the woods of Guilford than I have actually on campus. However, I did not start to recognize it’s beauty until my first Spring, when every-color-of-the-rainbow mushrooms began popping up from the damp soil. Since then, I have documented mushrooms of every size and shape from every corner of the woods. Not knowing exactly how I wanted to preserve these experiences with the magical world of fungi, I began by simply photographing them from various angles.

Four of the first few species I encountered in the Guilford woods, before I learned how to identify them. All were found in very different locations in the woods. Photographed by me in January, 2017.

As my obsession with these woods grew, I began incorporating natural elements and items into my major- Art. It seemed that every project I created had at least some aspect of the natural world. For my Life Drawing class, we were given the assignment of drawing a scene from the natural world, focusing on the area around the lake. At this time, there were still small portions of snow clinging to branches and fractions of the lake were still partially frozen. Armed with my pencil and paper, I situated myself on the bridge formerly known as the “anti-public safety bridge”, due to its irregularly steep sides that made it impossible to drive a golf cart over. From spending hours at this one spot, I began forming a sense of awareness of the natural world around me.

Finished drawing of the lake from the “anti-P-safe” bridge (18″x 24″). Done with graphite, charcoal, and gouache in January, 2017.

Since my fascination started, I have expanded my photo catalog of mushrooms by beginning a log book that contains representational drawings, dates & times, species’ names, locations & relativity, edibility, size, and descriptions. Though I have witnessed hundreds, I only have a little over 80 distinct species in the log book, since it’s relatively difficult to accurately distinguish between thousands of species. However, with practice, I have gotten much better at identification, and also have become more familiar with this space by seeking out the small and unusual.

The things we don’t see

Image result for carvins cove roanoke va

we called fires in the cove” stretch Fires” becuase although they were wild fires, they were contained by the water of the cove and the wind,and were limited for a “stretch,” which is closer than “over yonder.” I never thought of the cove itself on land being that big. You know how when you’re little and everything seems to be so large and you only can capture what you see no one could’ve ever told me that Carven’s Cove was more than just that dock. I vividly remember that it was space for the men only and I was getting a secret pass. Whenever I went it was with my grandfather and it was fun, but other times it was my uncle and my grandfather. The one thing I noticed though when the two of them went together it was that they could make that huge corner of the cove feel so small. I’m not even because they are use me or may me upset they were the sweetest to me but they would argue and like when I was younger I just thought they didn’t like each other something but since I’ve gotten older I realize it was almost like i’ll fight over ownership of the space I think they both felt the need to cement themselves and I felt like they didn’t know how to share the space without directly bothering each other.

Now that I am older, I realized that they were taking me to the cove as a way of parenting. Because by this Point in life my dad wasnt really keen on being a parent. And it’s not that I don’t think my dad loved me, but I I Realize now that he didn’t know how to be a good parent. This is my uncle and grandfather’s way of making up for that even though in a way neither of them really know how to be good dad’s either. They tried the best I give them kudos for that. But one thing I realized was that even though the cove is near where my grandmothers from, she never went with us she would always just clean whatever we caught and that was the end of it. I guess I was her way of letting me have time with them and I was the only thing that they were paying attention to. It’s kind of weird though because even though the cove holds happy memories for me now that I’m older I seen that it was a lot that I didn’t realize was going on because I was so young and I don’t blame myself for not recognizing it but at the same time I feel like the adults in my life could have made a greater effort and helping me understand what was going on. Because other than telling me like hey your parents are getting a divorce I kind of doubt with it on my own. And being six years old and trying to figure out like did I do something wrong and kind of having the battle within yourself it comes out in strange ways to other people and it doesn’t necessarily mean that there something wrong with you or that there’s something wrong with them sometimes it’s just reacting to something that you don’t really know how to react too.

Camp Lejeune

Without the sun’s rays to warm the night sky, whirling winter winds tumble into me from all sides—shooting directly through three layers of clothing, and meeting my flesh like a thousand pins and needles. Hair cuts across my face, blasting upwards and down, as I watch one. Then two. Then three, then four. Then five,six,and,seven orbs of red light materialize over Camp Lejeune. There is nothing to trace them back to the ground; no bright fizzy tail that accompanies fireworks to their ends, no visible trail of smoke left to fume in the eerie dark, no story of ascension to fill the gap between void and existence. They simply appear—like stars after a setting sun—stagnant and bright.

Image: Camp Lejeune by Day

Located on a forested beach spanning 14 miles long, the marine corps base is relatively unassuming by day. But by night, cloaked in shadow, collecting fog, silent beneath the balls of light suspended in mid-air, Camp Lejeune becomes a harbor of imagination. In an instant, the military grade flares transform into interstellar UFOs, hovering over the island to… collect human specimens? No; steal technology? No; enact a deal? Yes. The government has sold us out to an advanced species of extraterrestrials. They’ll be stowed away on the opposite end of the galaxy while the remainder of humanity is enslaved, prodded, or exterminated without a second thought.

In reality, I need not fear waking up to a man in black wiping my memories and deleting this file, but history has proven that, while aliens may not be involved, Camp Lejeune is far from being a benign force. According to a survey conducted on December 11th, 1980: the radioactive corpses of two canines were found buried on site. When soil and water samples taken from the location were confirmed to be contaminated with traces of radiation, as well as much higher levels of industrial solvents, benzene, and similar chemicals, the scandal resulted in the unearthing of a number of unsafe disposal practices, dating back to 1950. 

Such news might have mattered only to the marines living on the base, if the ocean’s reach were not so far. But water is expansive. The water molecules that make up a hundred raindrops from the same rain cloud will all embark on separate journeys, miles away from their brief unity. As a result, the victims of Camp Lejeune’s water crisis were widespread, suffering from a surge in birth deformities, miscarriages, nephrotoxicity, and 8 different forms of cancer. It was not until 1987 that the waters were properly managed.

Since that incident several decades ago, civilians have forgotten what the marine corps has done to our waters. What they still do. They are known instead for the “fwump. fwump.” of shelling that rattles homes from across the bay; for the tank-like boats that drill through the sea, as casual as if they were a jet-ski; for the drone of helicopters that drowns out the waves; for the rigid, metal breed of osprey, that never ceases to disappoint when some infatuated tourist points up to the sky and calls, “look! An osprey!” The essence of combat has become commonplace, even here—among the salt, the sand, the gulls, the breeze.

I watch as the red lights fade to black. They, too, are but synapses of war.

Sources:

https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/camp-lejeune/
http://www.tftptf.com/CERCLA/00648.pdf