My exploration of the Guilford Woods started with a mild sense of disorientation and a much stronger sense of anticipation. Learning about the species within the Guilford Woods taught me the importance of respecting the land and its unique features. Spending time around the Eastern red cedar inspired me to keep coming back, even for short periods of time, to visit and see what was happening in this part of campus.

I believe that the most meaningful way that we can respect the trees and the natural world is by taking the time to understand the tales they have to tell. Even simply looking downwards, the patchwork of littered leaves, twigs, and moss that serve as the forest floor tell a story of their own. Through the identities of the leaves, we learn their names. The lobed oak leaves and elliptical beech leaves introduce themselves as long-term residents, the rocks along the ground hold stories of erosion and movement, and the scattered pine needles speak of the times when they used touched the sky. Not all is peaceful in the world, however. The plants also hold stories of invasion and loss. English ivy, Hedera helix L., tells a story of conquest and threat in which this nonnative intruder compromised native plants and species. Peace, love, war, longing—I may simply be ascribing human emotions to the plants, or we might be failing to recognize the universality of these experiences outside of the human bubble.  These entities may not speak our language but we must to make sure their voices are heard and their homes protected.

As I stand here in the woods, a small piece in the larger puzzle of the universe, I hear the signature trisyllabic whistle of the Carolina wren and the sounds of an Eastern gray squirrel scurrying back to warmth. I cannot even imagine how many more birds, insects, and other creatures must come out from hiding in the warmer seasons. It felt as if every being in the woods was seeking shelter from the cold, going into their places of warmth and refuge. Ironically enough, the same place that sustained them kept me shivering at intervals when the cold bursts of wind briefly blew through, and the Sun hid behind his blanket of clouds. While the animals might have been retreating into their homes and places of comfort, being outside in the woods was where I found my own. For a period of time, I failed to connect with my surroundings in a meaningful way. Moving from Michigan to North Carolina meant a drastic shift not only in terms of distance but also in terms of climate and other natural features. I lost my sense of place and my connection to the history and stories of the land, part of the reason why the Guilford Woods resonates with me. It bears the stories of several groups of people that were displaced from their homes and traveled through to their freedom and a place of safety.

I didn’t walk into this experience expecting the different plants and animals to teach me about myself. Somewhere in all the technical terms and sensory experiences, I found my own sense of peace and sense of place. I bonded with the native species that surrounded me, found myself sympathizing with the “invaders” that simply multiplied for the sake of survival. I learned that it’s okay to not know all the answers and trust that eventually you’ll find your way. Guilford College has been nothing more than a campus to me over these past few years but closely observing its distinctive characteristics allowed me to associate with the place as a whole and think of it as home.

The past semester has encouraged me to explore and learn about my home away from home. I hope my journey helped you all learn more about this beautiful place as well!

Turtles, Trees, and Imposter Berries

I winced as my beloved sneakers sank into the mud, instantly recalling the torrential downpour less than 12 hours ago. In an attempt to escape the sound of rain aggressively beating down on my bedroom window, I had turned the music playing through my headphones up as much as my eardrums could handle, but here I was, temporarily falling back into that very night. While the intensity of the rain had terrified me at first, I was now thankful for the freshness it created in the air. The thick coat of pollen had been rinsed off every still object outside, and the Sun came back, outshining the clouds and sending them away. It was, quite simply put, a beautiful day outside.

My biology class let out a few minutes early and I encountered two of my friends of the way out, friends that happened to be my partners for a Spanish project. Naturally, they wanted a quiet place for us to practice our script, so I directed them towards the Guilford Lake. The stress of memorizing several pages of dialogue was, at least in part, mitigated by the fabulously warm and inviting weather outside. The grass was somehow greener and various colorful flowers were in bloom, making this decision to be outside feel like the only valid option!

As we crossed the bridge (which thankfully is much easier to cross than the old one in place a year or two ago), my eyes were drawn to the magic of the scene before me. The murky lake had transformed into a mirror for the trees above it, capturing their reflection and intensifying the tranquility of the setting. Even the trees themselves had been transformed: spring had arrived and it came bearing countless hues of green, some as dark as the night and others as fresh as a lime.


I even saw green in the feathers of one of the residential Muscovy ducks. The intense emerald colors were shining in the light: the world really isn’t set in black and white. Nearby the ducks were a small family of turtles. Well, they may not have been a family, but three or four turtles were all relaxing outside the water, basking in the Sun. While two of them spooked easily, I had the opportunity to see the third one up close (an opportunity I did not have the last time I saw the turtles at the lake.

Muscovy duck in the sunlight

I believe this turtle was a yellow-bellied slider, maybe even the one I had seen the first time around! Inching closer toward its convenient sunbathing spot, I could point out the short grooves spanning its shell. On the top, however, the turtle seemed to be peeling. This concerned me until I did my research and learned that this is an important part of their lives. Peeling removes the dirty layer of plating on the turtle, exposing a fresh layer allows them to absorb heat when they are basking and raise their bodily temperature. I was just glad the turtle was doing okay.

Our “sunburnt” peeling yellow-bellied slider

On our outing, I decided to stop by the Eastern red cedar I had pointed out in my earlier posts. Walking past the wisteria covered trees, I once again encountered the magnificent tree, and spotted one of its signature small, blue, imposter berries, as these are actually seed cones. I find myself coming back here every time… I might even call it my “spot”. Its bark seems ready to shred apart, as characteristic of Eastern red cedars, and its dense branching structure provides the perfect amount of shade for a weary student just looking for a quiet place to be. It speaks to me like a guardian of the woods, inviting passersby to stroll along the yellow brick road of these woods. Sadly, I had to retreat back into the main portion of the campus, so I said goodbye to the tree and walked away, the memory of my interaction with it still fresh in my mind.

Specific Species

“I see a lot of greenery and many trees, and vines… not sure about specifics”

This excerpt from my personal notebook of observations was jotted down during my earlier ventures into the woods. Looking back, I can sense the disconnect between me and the woods. However, my observations compelled me to look beyond scientific labels and bond with the entities themselves. Now, my notebook has species names scribbled down, so this post is going to be me ascribing some value to all these titles and learning more about what species reside in the woods!

Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata)

These woody vines produce chocolate-purple flowers, hence their colloquial name: “chocolate vine”. This is an invasive species that is native to eastern Asia, and was first introduced to the United States in 1845. It doesn’t create any problems in terms of insects or diseases, but its rapid growth is not necessarily desirable.

The chocolate vine

Red bud tree (Cercis canadensis)

This was one of the first trees to flower in North Carolina and is native to the region. It has heart-shaped foliage that appears after it flowers and tends to be a smaller tree. I didn’t have a chance to see the foliage firsthand on this trip, but I plan on paying this area of the woods another visit soon! This is a very adaptable species that can flourish in a variety of soils once established. It can provide nesting spaces/supplies to birds as well as nectar to bees and other nectar-seeking species.

The red bud tree

English Ivy (Hedera helix)

Another woody vine, English ivy is evergreen and invasive. This is yet another very adaptable species residing in the Guilford Woods. Younger plants have heart-shaped leaves with pointed lobes, while more mature plants have more narrow, lance-shaped leaves. These vines have the potential to overtake native species and block out sunlight, which endangers the wellbeing of the plants around them.

The forest floor feat. English Ivy

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

Ah… the cedar tree that isn’t actually a cedar tree, but rather a juniper (as indicated by its scientific name). It produces the small seed cones that are characteristics of all junipers, and they happen to resemble small berries. The tree here, in particular, has a relatively tall, pyramidal shape. This evergreen has bark that shreds off in thin, fibrous strips and its wood can be used to make chests, fence posts, and rails thanks to its rot-resistant properties. Additionally, it also has a relatively high drought resistance.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

This deciduous tree ranges in height, but the particular one I saw was on the shorter side. I took note of the tree in the early spring when it was already flowering with small clusters of red flowers. Their wood is commercially known as soft maple and commonly used in furniture and other similar items, where it occasionally replaces hard maple (it is a cheaper alternative). These trees are native to North Carolina and their brilliant colors help indicate changing seasons as well. Younger trees have grey, smooth bark.

The red maple tree

While several other species reside in the woods, these were a few that stuck out to me. Now that some background has been established, the next couple posts will be focusing more on my personal perspective and experiences.

See you then!


Class Nature Walk

The majority of my experiences in the woods thus far have consisted of me wandering around, relatively clueless about the details that lay in the midst of the landscape. This sense of unfamiliarity allowed me to simply be within the location, to understand the larger forces at play and find a feel for the world around me.

However, when presented with an opportunity to venture outdoors as a class and begin identifying some of the species in the woods, I was ecstatic! Coming into the world of nature writing daunted me because I never felt knowledgeable enough to write about a location and do its natural features true justice, and I had hopes of starting to reverse that mentality during this walk. Strolling into the chilly day jolted me awake from my half-asleep state. This is one of my favorite transitions, the blossoming of spring. This is the time when the temperatures become more bearable, but pollen has yet to blanket every still object in sight. People always pick favorite seasons and kinds of weather as they attempt to funnel every intricate natural phenomenon into massively generalized categories. I never understood this… why do we always ignore what happens in these natural transitions? Being present outside during this time was invigorating (especially since it was my only refuge from a day otherwise filled with exams).

Our rather large group encountered fresh cedar wood, the slightly damp grass, and headed towards the Guilford Woods. We passed around a small block of the cedar wood, taking in its sharp, earthy scent. The first leg of our walk consisted of stops along the way to identify some of the white and Live Oaks in and around the Quad, eventually coming to a stop near the Guilford Lake. I captured the image of the reflective surface of the water in my mind, making a mental note to revisit the location on my own time.

The Sweetgum tree by the lake

Near the entrance, we identified a few different types of trees, including the maple trees along the path. Maple trees provide wood that is often used to produce various musical instruments as well as furniture items. We also passed by a gorgeous Sweetgum tree. While this type of tree can also be used for lumber, seeing it made me go back in time to memories of crisp fall weather and intense colors bursting through the fallen foliage. The tree today was relatively bare, preparing to host its leaves and carry their green hue, symbolizing a season of rebirth and renewal. Walking past these trees, we funneled into a more obscure trail leading into the woods in order to further immerse ourselves in the setting and encounter new species that I’ll discuss more in my next post!

Maple trees!

The Cedar Tree: First Encounters

One day, I took a short walk along the Underground Railroad Educational Trail, but that won’t be what I discuss in this post. In this case, the journey didn’t truly start until it was technically at an end. As I exited the trail using the main asphalt road that cut through the woods, I was met with a massive Eastern red cedar tree. Although this tree was not nearly as tall as some of the plants inside the woods, its presence was still commanding, and its size indicated that it had been around for a while. This tree sat at the junction of the woods with the manmade lake, a protector for both areas. This time, the cedar tree (that actually happens to be a member of the juniper family) invited me to join it for a picnic at the lake, and meet more species to hear their stories.

The Eastern Red Cedar Tree

As I settled down in the artificial “beach” area complete with swings, a bonfire pit, and seating, I spotted the same yellow-bellied slider not too far away. This turtle (who I named Tortuga) was sprinting back across the grass into the home it made for itself in the College Lake. Its brown shell had yellow stripes, a work of art I only had brief moments to marvel at. This wary species slips away into the water at any sign of disturbance, a superpower many long to have. Seeing this turtle exit its habitat to simply disappear from plain sight made me wonder how many other animals were present and concealed by their homes. I met a few other lake-dwellers in my short stay, such as two friendly Muscovy ducks (I named my new feathered friends George and Martha). I had previous encounters with them during lake bonfires past, when I labeled them as “turkey ducks” in my mind. The patch of red on their faces was accompanied by black and white feathers that were not characteristically duck-like features. While a lot of animals tend to flee when humans come too close, these Muscovy ducks did not even seem fazed. In fact, they continued approaching me, even following me for a brief period of time. The confidence of these ducks mirrors the reassuring qualities harbored by the place as a whole. I audibly sighed, looking out over the modestly sized lake, which shimmered back as a response. This felt like a sign from the spirits of the land urging me to stay a while, breathe, and take in the view.

Just because nature isn’t directly conversing with us constantly doesn’t mean that it has nothing to say. We often dismiss the sheer serenity derived from pausing the chaos in our lives to take what really matters into perspective, and having the chance to simply be at the lake and be one with my surroundings was refreshing.

The Road Most Taken Pt. 3: A Piece of His-tree!

Now, it’s time to get into the main reason why I had gone on that walk all those days ago in the first place: visiting the Underground Railroad tree. Leaving this side of the woods to enter the Underground Railroad Educational Trail was a sharp awakening from my peaceful, trance-like state.

The sign signalling the beginning of the trail

The natural world had blended seamlessly together, with the air, water, and greenery living in perfect harmony, yet this road cut through it all. The clearing on the other side leading to the trail is not particularly striking on its own: it houses the same pines, oak trees, and beech trees as the other stretch of land. Continuing down the trail, passing several fallen trees, tangled roots, and crunching the dry leaves scattering the ground, I could not hope to possibly know the story of each tree I found laid to rest in its home. I felt entirely surrounded as all of my senses were presented with the serenity of my surroundings: the bird calls in the air and the rustling of leaves underneath.

This tree, a tulip poplar dating back before the 1800s, bore witness to the operation of the Underground Railroad from 1819 to 1852. The tree is the epitome of freedom and the perfect symbol of resilience, and it stands tall at the end of the 0.3-mile trail, with a relatively new viewing platform built in front of it. Given the inherently secretive nature of the Underground Railroad, the blueprints are not available, but the earliest documented case was that of John Dimery in 1819. Levi Coffin (later popularly designated as “President of the Underground Railroad”) and his cousin Vestal Coffin collaborated in this effort, and the Quakers within the New Garden community did their part by establishing a base for support for the escaping fugitives.

The famous “silent witness” and massive tulip poplar (the entirety of which would not fit in the frame)

This racially integrated civil rights movement was among the first of its kind and spoke to the compassion of the Quaker community and the importance of these woods in offering refuge to all. Confronting this bearer of history is a powerful moment. The modern world rarely affords us the opportunity to stand still and reflect on the sacrifices that allow us to live fulfilling lives today, yet the woods gave me an opportunity to look inwards and understand the gravity of the moment. Glancing upwards to the sky, I was temporarily blinded by the Sun that decided to come back out, but soon I had the chance to view the massive tulip poplar in all its glory. It stood strong among the thinner trees surrounding it, the wise aged leader of the group. The viewing platform and its considerable size seemed to be the only thing that set the tree apart— the trees around it had not been cleared in an effort to make it a more appealing landmark. It is still in its natural, relatively undisturbed habitat. The platform itself blended into the woods relatively well.

The QR code and words present in front of the viewing platform

It was raised a few meters above and in front of the tulip poplar and fitted with a minimalistic sign introducing the tree and providing a convenient QR code linked to useful information. Although it was likely unintentional, it was fascinating to see the presence of the technological world in the midst of this old growth forest, like a fusion of present day with history. This walk taught me a lot about the story of this place, and I can’t wait to come back!

The Road Most Taken Pt. 2: Roots

Hello! If you’ve made it this far, congratulations on overlooking my questionable pun (just wait for the next title). While the walk and the journey were refreshing and inspiring by themselves, my main objective for the walk was to visit the historical Underground Railroad tree in the Guilford Woods. This tree was my primary reason for selecting the Guilford Woods in the first place. My sophomore year, we went on a walk with my APUSH class. Before I delve into the explicit history of the tree itself, I want to discuss some of the history of the Quaker Movement and the people that helped manage the Underground Railroad “stop” in this area.

Guilford College was founded by the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, in 1837. Quakers have left their marks on several walks of US history, starting with the city of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania, and going on to become some of the most active proponents of abolition and reform. Several notable Quaker figures have advocated for reform.

One of these figures was George Fox. George Fox was the 17th century English founders of the Quakers, called so since they “quaked” in front of God. He rejected the traditional oaths of the churches, regarding them as empty and meaningless. He began his ministry very publicly, preaching in large, communal spaces for all to hear. The Quaker movement appeared eccentric to many, as it rejected things such as flattering speech, which angered many in power. Their unusual ways led to immense persecution, and Fox was jailed for numerous years. When he came to America, he helped lay the foundations for movements of social reform and abolition that were reignited around the time of the Second Great Awakening, and shaped modern American society.

Nathan Hunt was a Quaker minister, leader, and principal founder of Guilford College. At the time he was advocating for abolition, there was great public resentment of abolitionists in Guilford County. He preached Quaker ideals across the continent, even traveling to speak to Indian tribes, and people in Great Britain and Canada. His leadership helped keep NC’s Quakers together, and he actively participated in regional politics. In Guilford College, which he helped found, he spread his ideas through frequent talks and exerted considerable influence in spreading ideas of abolition. His style of “missionary” preaching reflected that of the Second Great Awakening as a whole, and he sparked movements of reform.

Levi Coffin reflected the result of the spread of abolitionist ideas at the time. He and his wife set up their home as a “stop” in the Underground Railroad that helped free hundreds of slaves, similar to how Guilford College had a stop of its own. Called the “President of the Underground Railroad”, his Quaker faith avidly led him to support abolition and assist the fugitive slaves.

The efforts of all of these people reflected the sentiments of the Second Great Awakening and the Age of Reform, as people used God to take a better look at the society around them. These famous Quakers left their marks on society and advocated for freedom and egalitarianism, and hold an important role in American history.

The Road Most Taken Pt. 1: Walking

After my lab in the beloved 8:30 a.m. time slot came to an end, I was exhausted. The week has been full of preparation for various assessments and major assignments and I decided that I needed a break from all the stress. After dragging my friend on a much-needed coffee run, my caffeinated self saw the beautiful weather and decided that today was the day: I was finally going to go visit the famous Underground Railroad tree. While the trail itself was brief, I will be splitting my observations and research up into three posts.

The craze of midterms and exams have put me in a noticeably more anxious state focused on meeting deadlines and completing assignments, but somehow being outside in the sun helped me forget those worries for a bit. As we trekked along the murky lake and small artificial “beach” it felt like the world opened up just a bit and it became easier to breathe. I felt a cool breeze ripple through the air, creating the perfect break from the warmth of the Sun that served as a reminder that Spring is just around the corner. We even met a yellow-bellied slider, even though it swam away before I could get much of a picture.

Our turtle friend! We named him Tortuga before he swam away.

After passing the lake, we began walking alongside the asphalt road towards the clearing further down. It was interesting to see how the natural world blended seamlessly together, with the air, water, and greenery living in perfect harmony, yet this road cut through it all. We followed along until we came across the sign announcing the start of the Underground Railroad Educational trail. The clearing wasn’t particularly striking on its own: it housed the same pines, oak trees, and beech trees I’d noticed on my last walk. We proceeded to continue down the trail, passing several fallen trees, tangled roots, and crunching the dry leaves scattering the ground. I cannot hope to possibly know the story of each tree I found laid to rest in its home. My guess would be a storm of some sort, as some tree still presented charred remains. Even though I was only with one other person, I still felt fully surrounded as all of my senses were presented with the serenity of my surroundings: the bird calls in the air, rustling of leaves, and the sound of small animals occasionally scurrying around.

The trees overhead

While the trail was easy to follow, the uneven ground kept me on high alert throughout, but also made me pause and consider my location relative to the earth— I was up much higher than the ravine-like formation below but was dwarfed by the pines towering over me. I felt encompassed by the woods, just a small being next to the wonders of the natural world around me. My walk led me to the place I had been seeking: the viewing platform for the Underground Railroad tree. The inviting space provided seating and a helpful QR code that led me to discover a virtual tour as well as resources educating me on the history of this site and the massive Tulip Poplar towering over me (despite the fact that I was on this raised platform). After taking photos and observing, I began to head towards my Spanish class. The journey was a soothing one that gave me a much-needed pause in my chaotic day, and I can’t wait to share more about it!

The standing, murky water

All About Tree(s)!

Greensboro’s weather is likely one of the most indecisive forces I have encountered. My free time during the beautiful weather last week was wrapped up in labs and meetings, so I did not get a chance to go on my weekly walk. We then entered a prolonged period of dropping temperatures and constant, cold rain (despite the groundhog predictions for an early spring) Luckily, I was able to find a short period of time without the rain to step out and take a closer look at what I’d begun exploring last time.

This was a short adventure, but I had a chance to see three different kinds of trees all within a few yards of each other. Just a brief disclaimer: I am nowhere near an expert of identifying natural features by name, but I decided to do some research, step out of my comfort zone, and make some educated guesses (confirmed in part by an Eagle scout).

When you first enter the woods, immediately behind the lake there are several diverse species. In the winter,  all the brown leaves on the ground provide the same crunch and the trees seem to blend together without their colorful foliage. This meant that I had to look around me for clues and at the trees themselves more closely.

The first thing I took pictures of to research later were the barks. I looked at two different trees that I didn’t identify right away, and documented pictures of their bark to study later. After further questioning and looking around, I learned that they were Loblolly (or potentially longleaf?) pines and oak trees.

The crowns of the pines; these trees can grow to be over 100 ft. tall!

Since there weren’t leaves on the trees for me to look at, I took a photo of the forest floor, although the moss takes up the majority of the photograph. Within the jumble of fallen, dried up leaves you can spot the distinctive lobed oak leaves as well as the more entire, slightly toothed beech leaves, and even pine needles scattered around. I normally tend to, quite literally, overlook the leaves and vegetation scattered around in the woods, which leads to me missing out on some important features that could allow me to learn more about the woods as a whole.

The last kind of tree I had spotted was an American Beech. While I saw its characteristic leaves on the ground, it took me a second to look around and find one of their sources. All three of the tree species I spotted today have the capacity to grow to great heights, which explains the towering nature of this area of the woods. As I walked around with my hands in my pockets thanks to the near freezing temperature, I figured that most of the animals had likely scurried away to the warmth of their homes. I decided to start walking back inside to preserve my own warmth. While it was nice to step outside into a peaceful environment and spend some time alone, I’m looking forward to warmer days!

Into the Woods

Leaving the confines of the small, mildly suffocating Frasier building— which has come to be an Early College “safe haven” on campus— to get fresh air seemed like the perfect way to end a Friday afternoon. I convinced two of my best friends to go out with me on a walk despite the slight chill in the air for two reasons: (1) Chick-fil-A didn’t seem like the most attractive destination on a sunny day and (2) I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going or where I’d end up.

It’s crazy how you can spend so much time on a campus and still not be familiar with the natural features it possesses. I have fond memories of nights spent at bonfires by the lake and games of sand volleyball, but I never truly explored the environment surrounding these places that allowed for those memories to be created. Walking past the lake and stepping into the woods, I felt almost daunted. There was a strong sense of familiarity that captured me yet I didn’t feel truly immersed into the setting either. Is it even possible to be so simultaneously serene yet overwhelmed?

Picture of the entrance to the Guilford College woods, with logs at the bottom leading inwards and tall trees surrounding the path
The trees that towered over us during the walk

I was consumed by the presence of the natural juxtaposition of shadows and light, with the longleaf pines and oak trees casting patterns throughout the space. Even in the middle of winter, hints of green were to be found in the moss covering the tree trunks as well as in the evergreen leaves up above. As we walked along, avoiding the tree roots and lamenting our poor choices in footwear, I thought back to my previous experiences in the woods. Back in Michigan, we used to go to a park in Sterling Heights. In the park, I would run around, ride my bike, and most memorably create giant piles of leaves with my friends for us to jump in. We would run off and say to our parents, “We’ll come back to the tree!” Of course, there were several trees, but this one in particular was a beautiful red oak that assumed the most vibrant colors in the fall; this tree became our spot.

Flash forward to the present day, I managed to pinpoint why I didn’t feel the same degree of comfort in these woods: I had yet to find my spot. It’s going to take a lot more than a short stroll to discover my “place” in this location, but I did get a chance to explore with nothing but the sound of leaves crunching and the gentle breeze. Today was simply a chance to walk over to the lake and enter the woods briefly, but I’m excited to go back and keep walking down the trail I saw.

Before this day I wasn’t sure if the Guilford Woods were where I’d want to spend a decent amount of my time this semester. However, what I saw today has given me more questions to ask and more areas to explore. The rich history, both human and natural, that resides in these woods has caught my attention and hopefully becomes something that we all understand a little more over the course of this project.