Growing up in a large city, there weren’t many large plots of land that hadn’t been curated as, well, large plots of land. The majority of the natural world that I was consistently exposed to during my youth was comprised of parks, city greenways, and short trips to the mountains or rural surrounding areas. Quite frankly, the places I spent the most time outside at were either the soccer field, or my Grandma’s small farm in Cabarrus County North Carolina. Aside from trips that lasted a week (at most, and not often), this was my main exposure to the natural world. I was, and still am, a city girl through and through.
I recall quite clearly the long, dry summer days spent at my Grandma’s house, acquiring astounding sunburns and innumerable freckles. Many of these days, I would sit on the old Crepe Myrtle tree with my little sister watching intently as my father tended to the small plot of dirt that was big enough for me to call a “farm” at the small and constantly-in-a-state-of-awe age of seven or eight. He tended the land gently and lovingly, plowing the field, deciphering one row from the next, making holes for the seeds. Often, he would catch us watching or inching closer while we played, and bring us to come help him do the hard work of tending to a living organism. We got our hands and feet dirty, likely uprooted more plants than we helped grow, and watered the ground generously enough for us to splash and play in the runoff. We were unhelpful, but the environment was intriguing and irresistible to children who usually spent time indoors or playing in the street of a packed city neighborhood. We could be messy here, and it was beautiful. I believe this is my first memory of the outdoors that is my own, and there are a plethora of them to follow.
Of course, many of these memories of messiness and outdoors and beautiful discovery are from day or weekend trips to a place beyond the shining buildings of downtown that clutter the horizon. My father often took me fishing from ages 3-14, but most of the memories I have retained are from later on in my adolescence rather than earlier in my childhood. Growing up in the 1970’s and spending his childhood until age 14 traversing the expanses of the United States’ most natural and rural areas, my father has a very deep and close connection with nature that he wanted desperately to pass on to myself and my sister. So, fishing was not just fishing, but it was buying waders, boots, and wool socks; it was buying a fishing pole that was my very own; it was learning how to hand-make flies in the dining room well past my bedtime; it was a ritual of pure and deep love between a father and his children. This is why I will never tell him that I hate catch and release fly fishing.
Amidst the long drives to the far reaches of North Carolina’s blue ridge, I remember my father telling me a story of some of the oldest and most mysterious mountains; dinosaurs likely roaming the foothills, paleo-indians making the first mark on the rich land, the heights at which they once stood, the volcanic activity that once occurred. Unexpectedly, these stories came out of not our travels to them, but through them, from city to city throughout the Piedmont area of North Carolina. The lesser known mountainous wonder of the state is no other than the Uwharrie mountain range. Ever since these long conversations about millions of years past, I have been endlessly curious about what the Uwharrie have to offer, both to me and those before me.