As I exit the woods I see the two Muscovy ducks sitting by the lake. They are quite large. I never knew ducks could be this large. Before I knew what it was I thought it might have been a turkey. Ever since I have been here, I have heard the story of the two male ducks that came here and got too fat to fly away. So, now they live here together, this is their place.
Mia did not like them at all. Once she locked eyes on them she couldn’t control herself. Her bark became low and sounded mean. The fur in her back stood up making a line down her spine. Her ears stood straight up. Even when we kept walking she kept looking back making sure that they weren’t following us.
When I get home I look up the Muscovy duck. It says that they are actually more similar to geese than ducks. In the photos on the internet, they seem much smaller than the ones that live here on campus. Guilford also has an abundance of canadian geese. When I look up pictures of the two, they don’t really look like thay are distant cousins but I’ll take their word on it.
Whenever I take Mia up to the golf field she chases the geese all the way into the pond. The minute she sees them she lays down in the grass and stares at them. When she feels like the time is right she bursts into a sprint to catch them. They all flee at once.
I know many other people that have said the woods here has helped them cope with their mental illness. Why don’t more schools give their students access to nature. I wonder if when I go back home, if I will ever find a place like this one. After all the hours that I have taken exploring it, I still feel that I haven’t experienced it all. I am thankful that I have found a place where I can be with nature and experience its beauty. Mia and I have both had great joy throughout the semester exploring all 153 acres that it has to offer.
In one of my first encounters with the Guilford Woods, I cam across an old dead tree that stood out from the rest. Every time I come back into the woods I visit this tree. Standing here I see how it stands out because it’s surrounded by a bunch of American beech trees. The trunk of the cedar tree is twice the size of the beech trees. The bark is slick and multicolored. It almost looked as if it had been sculpted with clay. The branches stretch in awkward angles. I wonder how something so beautiful, could be dead inside.
Without any words, I feel a sense of recognition from the tree. Its branches almost extend down and envelop me with a loving embrace. My problems of not fitting in here seem insignificant. The tree feels me and I feel it. I sit down beside its trunk and think. Being Asian American at this campus is just like being a cedar tree in an area full of American beech trees. I begin to wonder if the tree feels lonely. Can trees feel lonely? My Native American Religion class would say yes. I sit and listen. I wonder what the tree looks like on the inside. How could it be dead and stand so tall and beautifully? I stand up and take a step back to see the whole tree. As I stare it is like I am looking in a mirror, seeing my own reflection looking back at me. I think maybe it died of loneliness here. Grappling with the idea of leaving the college, I wonder if the tree would have left if it could.
I never thought that I could or would ever have such an emotional connection to a tree. Then I found this tree. It spoke right to me. The longer I was in its presence the more I felt like we were connected. Somehow I think it understands me in a way that others can’t. I wonder if my other Asian American friends back home ever found something so grounding in their life. I know that other people feel the way that I do but just suffer in silence. Everyone faces loneliness. Even this tree.
Walking I remember how my therapist always suggested to walk in the woods to clear my mind. Apparently nature can help mitigate my feelings of depression. I go back and forth about believing him. Sometimes it is nice to be in a space where I am free of my obligations, free of the voices in my head. Here I can just listen. While sitting down on a fallen sycamore tree, I listen to the rhythm of my heart beating in my chest as it slows to the pace of my breath. I can hear the wind whistle as it passes through the trees and its leaves. I can hear the birds calls to each other as they bounce off the trees and echo in the air. I hear the grey squirrels scurrying along the ground, hopping over the roots of the trees looking for acorns. The most distinct noise as I sit here is the hairy woodpecker. It attempts to hollow out a part of an oak tree. The banging of its beak reverberates around me. I try to find its red cap, white belly and black and white stripped wings. I have no such luck. Through the reverberations of the woodpecker, I can hear the song of the hooded warbler. I look up trying to located its distinct vibrant yellow colored belly and head with black everywhere else. I thought the yellow might stand out in all the brown of the trees. I have no such luck.
Sometimes being in the woods can be overwhelming like a wave is crashing down on me, and pushing me to the sandy bottom of the ocean. My mind races and thinks of all the sadness in the world. Am I doing enough? As I keep walking, I again come across the huge Tulip tree. I remember this tree. It is large and rich in history. It is here that I feel a wave about to crash. It is here that marks a part of what was the underground railroad. When I learned about the underground railroad it always felt so far away from where I was in elementary school. The 1800s felt like eons ago, but now I see how it only just occurred. I used to think that everyone was equal. Growing up I was hit with the realities of the world. The fight for equality is not over. Systemic racism is embedded into our society and we keep growing around it instead of flushing it out. It is like a tree when it grows around the pollution that we leave. I once saw an image of a bike way up high in the trunk of a tree. The tree consumed the middle of the bike leaving the ends hanging out. The tree thought that it could prosper but the bike only hindered it. Racism is hindering our society from succeeding and we are complacent. As I keep walking I see an eastern box turtle roaming. It moves slowly past me flashing its beautifully electric orangish yellow and brown shell. I watch as it begins to eat some grass. I smile at how calm it is as it lollygags through the woods at its own pace. It has no worry about pollution or racism. It is only present here in the Guilford woods as it eats. I take a breath and let my mind settle before I continue on my way.
As I am walking to enter the woods a slight breeze ruffles the few leaves left on the trees. I look up and make eye contact with piercing yellow eyes. They continue to stare into my dark brown ones. It’s a coopers hawk. The curve of its beak comes to a sharp point at the tip. I look down hoping that it doesn’t do anything or come any closer. When I glance back up there it is, still looking straight at me. All of a sudden it opens its large wings and shows the pretty brown and white speckled feathers on its back. I jump back. Once I realize it was just stretching and wasn’t going to hurt me, I take a deep breath and slowly let it out. Focusing on the rise and fall of my breath, I take a step back and keep backing up. I wish I had the confidence of being able to stand so secure to stare down a possible threat. I wipe the sweat from my brow and continue on.
I have never been so close to such a large hawk. I can see its beautiful feathers that cover its body. It sits perched on a soccer goal looking down at everyone that runs past it. At first, I didn’t know that it was a coopers hawk. I just thought that it was simply a hawk. I snapped a picture and kept walking to get to the woods. When I got home I looked it up. Looking at more images on the internet, I was able to see its beauty up close.
I wonder what life is like for the hawk. How does it feels to live so close to humans? I wonder if it has a family across the sidewalk in the woods? I wonder if it is scared of me as much as I am of it. I don’t think it is considering how strong it stands peering down at me.
I keep walking and I have to look at the ground to find leaves to identify. There are not that many. However, the ones that I do find are not completely intact. This makes it hard to see what the original shape really is.
The color seems to have left this leaf but it does give off a hint of yellow.
This was one of the better leaves that I found. It was pretty big and Mia thought that it was a toy. My first impression is that it maybe a Red Maple leaf. I will have to do some research when I get home.
As you can see, the leaves have lost their color. They no longer have their individualized color. Their shape has also lost some of its form. Trying to find information may be a little difficult. However, I am up for the challenge. It feels like spring in the Guilford woods however it does not look like it. Hopefully, some more greenery will begin to appear.
Walking into the Guilford woods with Mia at one of the many entrances I realize how bland everything looks. The colors around are mostly brown with hints of yellow. The leaves are finally beginning to disintegrate and I can finally see a path again.
Strolling down the path there are many bare trees. On such a nice day I wanted there to be more signs of life in the woods. I listen for noises and it a pretty quiet day. I wonder what all of the birds and other creatures are. Maybe Mia running through the area has scared most of them away. I am hoping to see a deer today while I walk. Some small trees are covered with vines. Most of the trees look the same very thin and not super tall. However, as I keep walking I come across a tree that sticks out from the others.
Its bark is smooth compared to the others rough and jagged bark. Its branches also grow in all different directions. Its branches are also fairly short and thin. This makes me wonder how such a different tree is out here. Where did it come from? What is it? After I leave the woods I will go onto search to find its orgin. I felt a weird sense of connection with this tree. Maybe it is because it sticks out from the others? I am not entirely sure, I do know that this will not be the last time I visit this tree.
“The Underground Railroad was an organized system of routes, houses and people who helped fugitive slaves find freedom in the north and in Canada after escaping from their slave owners. In North Carolina, the Religious Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers, fiercely opposed slavery. One of the members, Levi Coffin, assisted over 3,000 slaves escape to freedom starting at the age of 15. While the dense forest and wide-open trail are engaging to walk through, the true focal point of the tour is the 300-year-old tulip poplar tree known as the Underground Railroad Tree. While the dense forest and wide-open trail are engaging to walk through, the true focal point of the tour is the 300-year-old tulip poplar tree known as the Underground Railroad Tree.” Ethan Santana, Guilfordian
Ever since I came to Guilford I have heard about the Underground Railroad Tree. It has been a staple of the college. As a freshman I wanted to see it so, I set out to find the tree. When I walked the trail I felt something. I could not describe the feeling but I knew I felt something. It was unbelievable to see the tree that was a part of history.
Now as I return to see the tree I know more. It is a 300-year old tree. I am still amazed by it even after the second time seeing it. It is crazy to me how old trees are and all the things they have witnessed. I learned that the tree is specifically a Tulip Poplar tree. I have never been good at recognizing the differences between the many types of trees. They have always just looked like trees to me. After this experience, I realized the importance of acknowledging the differences.
Trees are like people, they hold history. Being in the woods and seeing this tree as any other tree was negating the role that it has played in history. As I sat there and admired the tree, I thanked it for all that it has done. I wondered how it has stood so tall for so long.
You can take a virtual tour with James Shields of Guilford’s Underground Railroad Tree and trail at this site https://www.guilford.edu/multimedia/videos/2017/11/underground-railroad-tree-tour The college also offers tours of the trail that stimulates how runaway slaves found their way through the woods to seek freedom.
With the cool air blowing my hair and the leaves crunching beneath my feet I walk into the woods. My dog Mia by my side as excited as I am to escape into another world. The whirl-wind of emotions from the day wash away with every breath of fresh air that I inhale. I have never had such constant and direct access to nature and the woods before I came to Guilford. Entering the woods there are numerous paths to pick from. As we choose we are surrounded by trees that vary in width, height, and age.
I find a fallen tree and take a minute to just admire my surroundings. Mia goes off on a trail of smells that takes her off onto another path. As I sit I take a deep breath and begin to write. I write about how to air smells fresh, well at least fresher than the air in my apartment. I can hear the sounds of birds and wonder what kind they are. I look around but I do not see anything. I close my eyes and keep listening, imagining what the birds look like. Mia returns to me looking excited to show me all of the fun she had in the dirt.
Walking in the woods we meet other people walking their own dogs. The shadows of the leaves and branches project images on the paths from the sunlight shining through the cracks. As we keep exploring we find a fire pit. There is a trash can with a bunch of beer cans piled up. At least they are in a trash can. It just reminds me of the imprint that humans have made on nature. The cans pollute the ground. This is just a little example of the waste that us humans create. Mia runs over and begins to play with one. She does not notice that these cans are not a natural part of the woods. As we leave our adventure for the day, I am left with many questions about the woods that I love so dearly.
The woods have played an important role in my mental health over my time here at Guilford. Being outside has encouraged me to be more in tune with myself internally and externally. I think more about how I am feeling emotionally as well as I appreciate my surroundings more. I want to know more about the animals and plants the inhabit the woods.
The following blog posts will be about the adventures that I have with my dog Mia have in the Guilford woods over the semester. I will be writing creatively as well as gathering information about the woods. I will show you the different kinds of trees and birds and other things that inhabit the woods. I am also going to look into the history of the woods. I hope to learn more about one of my favorite places at Guilford and be able to share this information with others.
When I went to Ithaca New York to visit Ithaca College over the summer of 2015, my family and I went to visit the famous Buttermilk Falls. It is a beautiful hiking spot. Along the trails are various waterfalls that you can swim and play in. When you enter the trails it feels less manufactured and more natural. You are surrounded by trees and the sound of rushing water.
This is the large pool that is usually full all the way up to the stairs.
This is another view of the same spot above. There is a hiking trail on the right of the waterfall.