Triad Park: Through the Seasons

Triad Park, as I have stated numerously before, is beautiful any time of the year. It is interesting to go into my archive of photos and compare images from the same part of the trail taken at different times of the year. Through analyzing these photos, the many transformations that a forest goes through during a one year cycle become apparent. From the browning of green in autumn to the brightening of the plants in the spring, there is never a boring moment on the trail.

Triad Park in early spring. (Photo by Ben Clark)

The photo above was taken today during my daily run on the trail. It happens in an instant; the trees go from bare to lush in what feels like no time at all. What’s fascinating about Triad Park in April is how the leaves on trees and the grass on the ground seem to be creeping out of hiding, starting in patches but fanning out into what we see during the summer months. Once everything is fully grown, the forest is like an entirely new entity when compared to photos of it during the winter.

Wildflowers outside of the trail. (Photo by Ben Clark)

Another thing I love about Triad Park is how there are wonderful natural sights to see outside of the main hiking trail. For example, directly outside of the trailhead are patches of “johnny jump up,” also known as Viola tricolor or wild pansies. These pleasant-looking wildflowers also tend to grow in the yard outside of my house, so seeing them around the trail at the park are all the more special. These flowers usually spring up from March to mid-April. Whenever I see them in the grass, I know that spring has arrived.

Ice on the trail during a cold winter morning. (Photo by Ben Clark)

While wildflowers and sprouting vegetation are always pleasant to see, winter is nevertheless an awesome time to go hiking in the Triad Park woods. Evergreen trees such as the loblolly pine still add pigment to the forest, and if you time it right, you can see some icy creations such as the one in the photo above. It is also important to note that the crunching sound that occurs from walking on the icy soil is very, very satisfying.

Icy soil. (Photo by Ben Clark)

These things serve as a reminder that winter is *not* a time to avoid frolicking in the natural world. While, yes, the temperatures can sometimes be quite frigid, I still prefer cool and crisp weather to the hot and humid climate that is so common during August here in North Carolina. Plus, without the freezing temperatures, I could not have captured cool icy photos. Winter also is a good time to appreciate the beautiful imagery that the warmer months provide.

The Triad Park woods in June. (photo by Ben Clark)

The photo above is a big contrast to the more bleak-looking photos of the Triad Park forest during winter. In June, the woods are like a luscious wall of green. If the color green makes you nauseous, you’d probably throw up. It is such a sensory overload that one lap on the trail is a great way to become mindful. When in the midst of such a sea of green, it is easy to forget one’s own worries and float away on the sights of the forest.

Triad Park: The Shades of the Forest.

Triad Park during the month of August. (Photo by Ben Clark)

As much as I would like for the leaves to be constantly green, the sun constantly shining, and the air constantly warm, that is simply an unrealistic request. The air cannot be constantly warm, or the sun constantly shinning, and the forest reflects this reliable evolution throughout the year. In spring, Triad Park is speckled with flashes of pink, light green, and blue. The air smells naturally sweet (not artificially designed to be sweet), and the sound of Cooper (Triad Park’s local Cooper’s Hawk) calling for someone to have adult-hawk interactions with rings in the air. While Cooper calls, Spring Peepers backup his sound up in a contradictory yet beautiful chorus. These peepers, or Pseudacris crucifer as Science likes to call them, are small frogs that are native to the eastern United States and Canada. Spring Peepers get their name, as one can guess, because of their iconic sound that usually occurs at the beginning of spring. When I am walking on the trail and hear Spring Peepers, I make a note that spring is coming–fast.

During the summer months, Triad Park is lush with green. It’s usually warm and a bit muggy, especially in August, but the sights of the forest are worth being drenched in sweat for. Nothing is better than a walk in the forest during the summer; the leaves are fully grown, green, and there for the enjoyment of all critters. A bird that seems to be particularly fond of summer is the Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus). During the warmer months, these little Wrens flitter and hop between branches and on the ground, whether it be to gather materials for a nest, grab a bite to eat, or just explore. There are a number of Carolina Wrens around my house, and one of them likes to nest in a coffee mug that my family decided to hang sideways from a hook under the eave of our house. We put a sock in the mug, too, so the little Wren is undoubtedly cozy in there. The fact that these small birds enjoy resting in little places such as a coffee mug is a big reason why the Carolina Wren is one of my favorite birds.

Triad Park during the month of November. (Photo by Ben Clark)

During the months of fall, Triad Park explodes with color in a way that is similar to spring. It differs, though, in that it is not representative of the beginning of new growth, but the end of the year’s cycle. However, new growth cannot begin until the current growth reaches its end, so it does not depress me when the leaves begin to fall. The fall colors are always so rich on the trail; I try to hike there every day, especially when the leaves are colored with autumn. The season also serves as a way to identify the different species of trees that make up the forest. For example, if I were to look at the ground during autumn, I would see maple leaves accompanied by oak and beech. Fall serves as a way to memorize leaf patterns in order to understand the forest on a deeper visual level. I hope to one day be able to see a specific leaf and instantly match it to a tree. I’m getting there. Maples and oaks are the easiest. A good rule for oak identifications; red oak (Quercus rubra) leaves have sharp edges, while the leaves of white oaks (Quercus alba) are rounded at the edges. My mom taught me this, and I thought that I should pass it on.