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Tips for Adventuring Through the Woods

Bring a friend. Wandering the woods alone is always an adventure, but when you bring a friend you’re more likely to notice different things and you’re less likely to find yourself lost. Different people have different perspectives and realms of knowledge, so having an extra pair of eyes with you allows you to broaden what you are taking in. whether it be noticing a special plant that you might have missed yourself, or learning a fact about the area you are in, having someone there with you can be greatly beneficial. 

Wear proper shoes. What you wear on your feet can make all the difference in your experience with nature. Our woods are hilly in certain parts, and are susceptible to getting washed over with rain. So wearing shoes with good support and good traction is important. Contrary to what I thought on my last walk in the woods, crocs are not good shoes for the day after a rain storm. Being able to climb over branches, trek down steep hills, and through the occasional stream is beneficial when walking through the Guilford woods, as not every path is always clean and dry. 

Take different paths. It’s easy to find one route you like and stick to that whenever you want to have some time with nature, but our woods are expansive and offer so many different opportunities. Each path leads you to different areas of the woods and past different species of trees, different slabs of rock, and different things built by the people who have spent time in the woods previously. It’s not uncommon to find art in the woods, whether it be graffiti on the concrete sewer drains, or sculptures made of found items. No matter how much time you spend wandering, you will always find new paths, so you might as well see where they lead. 

Don’t swing on or touch the vines that hang from the trees. Everyone has wanted to feel like Tarzan at some point in their life, and finding the perfect vine is always tempting. But the vines that twist and climb their way up the trees in the woods are usually not capable of supporting the weight of a full sized human. Not to mention the fact that there is always the possibility of the vines being poison ivy vines. Even when poison ivy vines don’t have their leaves they are still capable of causing a reaction, so if you’re not sure what something is its always better to stay on the safe side. 

Don’t take anything with you or leave anything behind. When walking through the woods you may find something that catches your eye, like a particularly nice rock or a beautiful flower. In these instances, it’s understandable to want to pocket whatever you fin and save it for your personal collection, but as a rule of thumb I say it’s always better to leave things where they are. On the other hand, if you bring anything in to the woods with you it’s extremely important to make sure you leave with whatever you came with. Our woods are already filled with different traces of the students who have spent time in there before, and it’s never fun to find beer bottles or trash on your walks. In keeping this rule in mind, we will be able to better preserve the environment of our landscape. 

Lackin’ Quackin’: Observing the Muscovy Duck in the Guilford College Woods

When I began chronicling my stories alongside the Canada Geese of Guilford College, I was astonished by how much I could remember of my experiences with them. What was supposed to be a single post detailing minutiae of waterfowl became a meander into memory lane, with experiential data of what it’s like to actually interact with Canada Geese, intimidating, but gorgeous birds. This post, in saving my favorite for last, will detail my experiences with the exuberantly curious and mostly friendly Muscovy Ducks! The Muscovy Duck, known as Cairina Moschata. The genus name, Cairina, originated from the mistaken belief that the birds were from Egypt (these birds are actually native to Mexico, Central and South America) and it means “the musky one from Cairo.” While “Muscovy” is also the old name for the area surrounding Moscow, it is really referring to the musky smell these birds possess, which Carl Linnaeus noted in 1746. They can be easily identified by their pimply, or as Linnaeus noted, “carunculated” faces, and by their speedy movements (their ducklings are mobile from birth). At Guilford, they often approach humans in pairs, and there seems to be a general consensus that there is a recognized duck couple (most likely, multiple) on campus. While their primary diet is grass, and judging by the tails in the air, small fishes and insects under water, my experiences have shown that they find college students the most delightful resource for nourishment of all!

During my first year, we had the Guilford games on the lawn near the lake, where residents of Milner and Binford – the two first-year dorms – competed in a series of agility and endurance based events. My new friend, Shania, a resident of Binford, and I went together, and after tiring of our lack of athletic prowess, we decided to sit by the Guilford College lake on the bench, eat the chocolate we had collected throughout the day, and just talk. The crinkle of unwrapping the chocolates was enough to summon two Muscovy Ducks, who seemed to have a twinkle in their eyes. We could hear the characteristic low breathy call of the drake, the male duck, as it came toward us with its companion (interestingly, Muscovy Ducks don’t really quack, hence the title of this post). We looked at each other; she was the girl who had been surrounded by mountains all her life, and I never ventured into the yard in fear of mosquitoes. Whatever our prior experiences with nature had been, we could not deny that it was now excitedly running to us demanding we surrender not only the chocolate, but also our preconceptions of the supposed divisions between humans and the natural world, which had no doubt been navigated by slaves, Quakers, and especially the Saura and Keyawee tribes before us. We bunched ourselves on the bench as we frantically tried to come up with an escape plan.

“We can’t give them the chocolate, can we?”
“No, of course not! Run!”

We veered off to the left, preemptively trying to escape their waddling legs, but when we turned around, the two Muscovy ducks were already waddling off into the sunset together. We watched them for a moment, and breathed a sigh of relief before bursting into peals of laughter. We had gotten through our first duck ambush together.

In my second year at Guilford, snow had blanketed the State of North Carolina in a major weather event referred to as “Snowpocalypse” (an exploration of snow in the woods will be written in a later post). My friends, Natalie, Momo, and I, decided to trek into the woods and observe the seasonal changes. Natalie had been eating a bag of thin Cheetos, while I was eating a puckeringly delicious clementine. As they were wont to do, our feathered friends eagerly approached us for snacks. Before we go any further, I think it is important to state, given that this is a nature blog that could inspire future denizens of the planet, that one should refrain from feeding wild animals. Our food gets processed so much that it’s really not safe for them to consume in high quantities. With that being said, both of us each threw down a single orange slice, and a Cheeto; the results are below. Please keep the video volume at a low level so as to not be deafened by my laugh, enjoy the show.

Muscovy Ducks clearly have discerning tastes = Cheetos : 1 millisecond, Clementines: Never

So basically, to summarize the video, the Muscovy Ducks loved the Cheetos, and even caught it midair. As for the clementine, I’m sure they desperately wanted to give it a chance, because they tried it repeatedly. But every single time they tasted it, they shook their head, as if they were saying, “NOPE. That’s not what we like. But maybe we’ve been too harsh?” And repeat.

I guess the acidity was a big reason they didn’t like it, most of the organisms they eat are probably either mostly neutral or slightly basic, given the algal content in the lake. We were pretty flabbergasted and in awe at the discerning tastes and very human-like actions of the Muscovy Ducks, more on our wintry adventures in a future post.

Wildlife in the Woods

Living right on the edge of the woods I often wake up to the sounds of wild life. It is not uncommon to wake up to the drumming sounds of a Pileated woodpecker (Dryocous pileatus) or to look out my window to see the Whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) roaming around my apartment complex bordering their home space. In fact, there used to be an albino deer that lived in the woods. She was easy to spot in the pack, as her gleaming white fur was so distinct amongst the sea of her brown family members. Being from Pennsylvania, I am no stranger to seeing deer roaming around, but I had never seen an albino deer before coming to Guilford. It feels as though the Guilford woods offered a safe haven to this animal. If she had been living out in the open wild, she would be easy to spot for hunters. I often wondered how she came to be present at Guilford, or if it was simply just chance that she was born in to the community of deer that call these woods home. 

The Eastern Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) that call the woods home also venture out in to the further realms of campus. They say that these squirrels are crazier than normal squirrels, maybe this is due to the fact that they have so much human interaction. These woods are an interesting area for many of the animals that live there because of the rather high level of human activity in the area. The squirrels living in the woods are most likely not living off of a normal diet for squirrels, their diets are enriched with the food scraps left behind from the college community. It is not uncommon to see a squirrel dashing up a tree with a piece of pizza or a chicken finger tightly clutched in its mouth, or to find one rummaging in a dumpster or trashcan, waiting to jump out and scare whoever is coming to drop off their garbage. 

However, as these squirrels may be seen as pests to those who live on campus, they are actually a vital part of the ecological community of the woods, as they serve as natural forest regenerators. These squirrels bury large amount of seeds in an effort to find and store food, and most of the seeds that they bury do not end up being recovered. They also tend to eat the damaged or bad seeds first and only bury the good seeds that will last for later. When these seeds are not recovered by the squirrels who buried them, they are left to grow and regenerate the forest environment. This selective burying is key in the role that squirrels play as one of the most effective forest regenerators. 

The squirrels and deer that call our woods home serve as an important reminder that we are still living on land that does not belong solely to us. The wildlife that live in the woods all play important roles in the way the ecosystem exists, and while this is easy to forget, it is important to acknowledge that this landscape is shaped and regenerated by the specific animals that live on it. 

Springtime Bloom-Pollen Storm

With the dawning of spring comes a burst of life in to the Guilford woods. As plants flower and trees begin to regain their leafiness there is a sense of rebirth to the land. Through the purple haze of the Wisteria and the green hue of the freshly budding leaves there is an atmosphere of color being returned after long and bare winter. In the glimpse of an eye, trees that were naked for months begin to grow leaves. This happens fast almost as if one day the trees are completely nude and the next they are bursting with foliage. 

The Wisteria plant is a member of the legume family that is not native to the US. It originated in areas of Asia such as China, Korea, and Japan before being introduced to the Eastern United States. They are a flowering plant that consist of woody vines, able to climb as high as 20 meters above the ground. This capacity for being able to climb so high is vital due to the fact that they thrive in the sun. The vines twist their way up through the leaves of the trees they occupy, to reach the top of the canopy and soak up the sunlight before being able to bloom. 

Wisteria on the trees that line the woods.

When they bloom the Wisteria creates a beautiful purple cone shaped bushel of flowers that hang off the ends of the trees, making it look as if the trees are coated in purple cotton candy. These flowers are fragrant and can provide a food source for the larvae of the brown-tail moth, but the seeds can be poisonous if ingested. The arrival of the Wisteria hanging from the trees marks the beginning of spring and the bloom that is to follow. 

With all of the flowering plants and trees comes a blanket of pollen dense in the air and thick on the ground as it settles. Cars parked in the parking lot behind the North Apartments become coated with green powder and the air smells of fresh life returning after a period of hibernation. Much to the dismay of those who suffer from seasonal allergies, there is no escaping the result of this burst of pollen. 

The woods are filled with different species of plants native to North Carolina as well as plants that are commonly found along the east coast and surrounding areas. The underbrush of the wood is mostly comprised of what look like weeds, but if you take a closer look you can notice different leafy plants. There is a large number of ferns that cover the ground, as well as what are called may apples that make beautiful white flowers when they go in to bloom. Each of these plants plays a key role in the makeup of our woods, and each add to the beauty that we observe when walking through the trails. 

Ferns and purple flowers lining the stream.

Small Scale Geology of the Guilford Woods

An extremely important geologic feature of the Guilford woods is the groundwater aquifer that exists throughout the area. This aquifer has been tapped in to with a set of well nests on the Guilford property. The first of the two well nests exists close to the lake entrance of the woods, and is directly next to the path, while the second of the two well nests is deeper in to the woods and can be seen in the map image below marked MW-1. Both of these nests consist of three wells each and their drilling allowed for an interesting look in to the different rock and soil types that exist under the surface. 

While it is easily visible that our environment is made up of a clay rich soil, it is not commonly known what makes up the soil content. The surface soil is comprised of a silica rich sand and silt, which explains the high clay content due to the way that different silica rich minerals break down. This high clay content in the soil offers a lot of benefits for plants, such as the fact that clay soil has an extreme capacity to hold water due to the small pore spaces. However, these tight pore spaces also make it harder for the soil to hold oxygen which can create problems for newer plants trying to establish their root systems. In general, a large portion of the plants in the woods are woody plants, whose roots are more easily established in a clay rich soil. Plants that require a high moisture content in their soil also thrive in this environment, such as Beech trees. With a combination of a high moisture content and a lower capacity to hold oxygen, plants that have longer and thinner roots are more easily able to establish themselves. 

Many of the rocks that are present in the area, specifically in the stream are comprised of quartz and feldspars. The quartz rich rocks can be easily identified by their pale white or clear coloration. The rocks with feldspars can be more pink in color and are often distinguished by striations on their surfaces or color lines running throughout. However, the rocks that can be found throughout the stream bed are not comprised completely of one mineral and usually consist of a combination. Most of the rocks in the area of the woods that I picked up and examined could be considered different types of granites, as well as conglomerates. 

The geologic details of areas are often overlooked when considering the wild life that is present, but they drastically affect what can and can’t live in an area. The different minerals that are present and hydrologic features of a landscape directly affect the types of plants and trees that will grow, and in turn this affects the type of animals that will call the land home. In examining what is going on with the geology of a landscape we are able to get an interesting glimpse in to the history of the land far beyond the human history that we are able to account for. 

Living on Native Land

Before the land of the Guilford Woods belonged to the college, it was home to the Saura and Keyauwee Native American groups. Early on the Keyauwee group was independently established in the surrounding areas, but their village was vulnerable to attack and around 1715 they joined the Saura nation. In the 1750s the white European settlers came to North Carolina and took over. This land served as a home place for these indigenous people, where they were able to cultivate deep connection to the natural world and a sense of belonging. These tribes remain the rightful heirs of this land, and this should be acknowledged as the landscape that could be sacred land to some, now serves as leisure space for members of the Guilford College community, which took over in 1837. This important distinction allows for the history of the land to be viewed in a more critical, or closer sense.  

The shift from the land being home to the indigenous people, to it being a temporary space for the students of the college—who only call it home for the duration of their studies—creates an interesting dynamic in terms of land use. When land is considered to be your home you treat it with care, and you cultivate a deep connection with it. This land that is a temporary place for students, who only live there for a few years, creates a different type of connection. This is a connection that is not as deep as the indigenous connection to the land, where the land is their home for generations and it becomes deeply ingrained in their culture. It is a connection that is based around lived experience with the land, rather than cultural heritage. 

In this sense the key difference is that the woods have become more of a temporary space with the shift from being native land to being owned and operated by the college. I say temporary because those who are creating experiences on this land are only doing so for the duration of the time that they are studying at Guilford College. In this way the purpose of the land has changed from being a space that was called home for generations, to a space that is called home for a few years at a time. This land that’s purpose has changed so much since being taken from the indigenous people who once lived on it, should be acknowledged as land that does not rightfully belong to those who now have the luxury of complete access to it. It is important to recognize that most of the people who now use the land that makes up the woods, would not be here at all if it weren’t for colonization. 

This recognition of the change in who has had claim to the land is very important when considering the history of the landscape itself, and the impact that the human activity has had on the land. When acknowledging that we are living on native land, we are able to have a better understanding of the way our actions have affected land use. 

A Tree That Stands Alone

One of the standout trees in the woods is a massive American Beech tree (Fagus grandifolia Ehrh.) that stands relatively alone in a clearing off the side of the road that passes by the lake. With its vast yet short trunk and many strong sprawling branches it creates the perfect atmosphere for one who is excited to climb. The wide area that is covered by the shade of the leaves also allows for optimal comfort when lying out on a warm spring day, on the flat, mossy earth that covers the clearing. Its massive branches stretch out in every direction as the tree claimed its territory amongst its competitors. This tree was greatly successful in establishing its own space as it is one of the only trees in the woods that has declared its solitude amongst a sea of other closely situated neighbors. 

The American Beech tree is a tree that favors shade over a sunny environment. Which explains its position amongst trees that are much taller than it. It also requires soil with a high moisture content in order to grow, meaning the clay rich soil of the Guilford woods creates a perfect environment for the tree to stretch its long roots beneath the surface. These roots are often shallow and fibrous roots that stretch out wide around the base of the tree, creating the potential for isolation. With such a wide and shallow root system, it is difficult for other plants and trees to establish their own root system, which explains the way it has claimed its own territory. 

Beech tree stands alone in its own clearing.

 The tree is also known for its relatively slow rate of growth, sometimes only growing 12 or 13 ft. in 20 years, but when living in soil that has a high moisture content, such as the soil of our woods, this rate can increase. Due to the size of the tree that is located in the woods, it is clear that it has been around for quite some time. 

These trees are commonly found in forests that are in the final stage of succession, meaning the last stage of how the species structure of an environment may change over long periods of time. This is a process that often occurs in forests that are situated in disturbed places, which could make sense when referring to the Guilford woods, as it is situated in the middle of a city. As the area around the woods changed, and as the land use shifted over time from a site of natural wilderness to a relatively densely populated area, the composition of plants and trees that grow in the woods changed as well. 

The nuts that fall from this tree are a source of food for various different species that live in the woods, such as the deer, foxes, geese, squirrels and opossums. They were also a prime food source of the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius); who’s extinction can be attributed to the clearing of large amounts of beech tree forests. This particular tree almost seems to serve as one of the center points of the woods themselves, as it plays such a particular role in offering food to the wildlife that call the woods home, and as it stands so prominent in its own clearing. 

Underground Railroad

Deep in the Guilford woods stands a dominant Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera L.). With its trunk that stands as wide as four people across and its staggering height the tree is hard to miss. It is this prominence that is responsible for the role that the tree played in a very crucial time. This particular tree holds an important spot in the history of these woods as the tree that stood as a marker for escaped slaves heading up north to a life of freedom. This tree served as a sign of hope, reassurance, and safety for those who were risking everything to live a life that they shouldn’t have had to fight for in the first place. 

For these individuals seeking a new life the land served a vastly different purpose than those who were indigenous to it, or those who have studied at the college. It is important to make these distinctions between the different purposes the land served to different people, and the different roles that it has played over time. Without these distinctions you can’t have a full picture of the history of the area. As the human activity in the land changed, the factors affecting the environment also changed drastically. Moving from a space where people lived as part of the land, to a space where people live on the land but are relatively removed from the landscape. 

This tree is the largest tree in the entirety of the Guilford woods, and its species is one of the largest trees native trees in the eastern United States. On average they reach a height of around 100 ft., but have been known to surpass this up to 190 ft., and they are typically 4-6 ft. in diameter. Poplar trees thrive most in soil that is able to hold moisture, so the clay soil of the woods explains why our poplar tree was able to grow so successfully. These trees tend to grow quicker than a lot of the trees in the surrounding area, and are known to live for hundreds of years. The incredibly vast size of this tree indicates that it is one of the older trees in the woods, and it is known that it has been around since at least the mid 1800s due to the history of the tree. 

Caleb stands next to the poplar for size reference.

Now the tree doesn’t serve the same purpose as it used to, but tours of people are still taken through the area to see the beauty of the tree and learn about its role in history. There was even a platform built in the middle of the path for people to sit and admire the beauty of this tree. However, this platform sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the sea of trees and greenery. It’s clear that it has been constructed very recently, and it is interesting that it completely cuts off the path that leads to the tree. Finding this path blocked seems almost counterintuitive when knowing what the tree symbolizes. 

Through the Seasons

Winter in the Woods

The Guilford college woods are a large preserved space of natural land in the middle of the city of Greensboro, North Carolina. Located on the campus of Guilford College, they provide and interesting space where wildlife meets city life and the college environment. Whether living on the edge of the woods in the campus apartments, or coming on to the open campus for an adventure through this open area, the woods allow for an interesting look in to the history of the land, as well as a glimpse in to the natural space that has been taken over by urban development. 

The experience of a walk through the Guilford College Woods is drastically affected by the changing seasons. During the winter, one might be deterred from walking through the woods due to the colder temperatures. However, with snowfall comes a flood of visitors to the woods. Whether it be to view the beautiful snowy landscape or to sled down the steep hills, there always seems to be an increase of activity in an otherwise lulled period of the year.

With the blankets of snow freshly fallen on the landscape, the woods that are otherwise full of the sounds of the natural world seem to be quieted down. The sounds of birds, animals, and the trickling of the stream seem to be replaced with the white noise that accompanies snowfall. This sound is a curious one, that is hard to describe, sounding as if someone popped a bubble of fog. It is a lack of the normal sounds of the natural world, but brings with it the sound of a world weighed down by blankets of fluffy white snow. The sound always reminds me of waking up to a fresh snowfall, the news that school had been cancelled, and the excitement of the prospect of playing outside all day in the woods close to my childhood home. Hearing this sound in our woods is no different, as it still brings all those same feelings of excitement and wonderment, with a whole new space to explore in these woods. 

With the abundance of tall trees in the woods there is no shortage of snowy branches, elevated high above the point of view of those below. The falling snow is captured, creating a brilliant highlight on each of the branches of the trees. The trees at the Northern entrance to the woods, by the olds apartments, widely consist of hemlocks and oaks, with a few beech trees and the majority are established. These trees stand tall, rising high above the ground below that supports so many other plants, such as trout lilies, and Quaker ladies, as well as an underbrush that consists of weeds and may apples. Plants that burst in to life as spring takes hold in the woods and surrounding areas. 

With the rising spring comes fresh life to the woods and flocks of visitors. It is this time of year that the woods go in to full fledge college mode, as students venture out for long walks in the warm weather, or for bonfires on the cool nights. This is the time that students are able to appreciate the different wildlife and plant life that make up the woods while out adventuring.


Spirit(s) of Guilford Woods

4/13/19

A common rumor on our campus warns of spirits lurking about the woods. The Guilford woods, in the 1800s, was an active part of the Underground Railroad, offering a wooded refuge to escaping former slaves and, as our predominantly white institution is quick to add, “their white allies, including many Quakers from New Garden” who were escaping the confederate draft. To commemorate this, the college has designated a specific tree on which to so capitalize: a brisk .3 mile walk East of the Guilford lake leads to a brand-new “viewing platform” of bright plywood, constructed around the tree. The tulip poplar’s claim to fame is simply that it’s old, and that, according to Guilford’s webpage in its honor, it is a “silent witness” of the souls’ journey.

Many disagree with the platform, particularly those inclined to listen to the spirits of the woods. They claim that the college claims that an environmentalist of some sort claims that the tree needed the platform, and that the foot traffic around the tree played an integral role to its hill’s erosion. The more spiritually adept also claim that the tree claims that it’s bullshit, and that the once-human spirits despise the structure, its makers, and its users.

People are warned, by the aforementioned spiritually adept, not to enter the woods at night. The spirits are shy, they say, and so darkness is inherently denser with such entities. Spirits, not ghosts, for “ghost” holds a connotation that the would-be ghosts detest. The goal is to be in relationship with them, to talk to them. You don’t want to offend.

Other spirits originate from the revolutionary war. A common tale says Dana Auditorium, Guilford’s main venue, is built upon the cite of a Revolutionary War field hospital. A soldier who died there, dubbed Lucas, is said to wander the halls around two in the morning. A previous research project of mine led to the conclusion that Lucas is actually Lewis Ricks, who died in the scattered Battle of New Garden that ran along our campus and West Friendly Avenue on the morning of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. According to a book of the Ricks genealogy, Lewis “was a Quaker and did not believe in shedding human blood, and it was said by his brother William, who was in the battle with him, that he stuck his gun into the ground and went into the battle without his arms, and that was the last seen of him by his brother.” Lewis is friendly, here to help.

The surrounding few miles hold the death sites of countless. I find it difficult to wander in the Guilford woods without considering the spirits around me, tangible or only memory, recognition or knowledge. As recently as within the past twenty-five years, unmarked graves have been discovered in the fields surrounding New Garden Meeting House— how many must the woods hold?

A spooky-looking stagnant pond in the Guilford woods, adjacent to the main trail.