Catawba Falls Hike

For the past few Sunday’s, we’ve taken the kids hiking. Sometimes it’s been on public trails, a few times it was a farm owned by a friend. However, the trips have always been local; until today.

Today we loaded up our daypacks and headed to Old Fort, NC for a short day hike on the Catawba Falls Trail. I’ve known about this spot for years, but I had been hesitant to take the family. The trail had a history of being difficult, with multiple fords, rickety bridges, and rocky ledges. However, the trail has been improved and now it is an easy hike for families and beginners! For the thrill seekers though, there is an optional extension to the top of Upper Falls that still requires good shoes and use of rope; we didn’t go up there this time.

The falls are known as the headwaters of the Catawba River. It’s amazing to think that a mighty river that generates electricity and provides water for over 2 million people starts out as a small rocky stream tucked back in the forested mountains of Pisgah National Forest. But then, that is how all rivers start I guess.

There are actually two waterfalls; the upper and lower. The lower Falls were dammed in the early 1900s. However, the recent flooding from the 2018 hurricanes blew out the dam and now both falls are flowing freely again! I will have to return to get a picture from the bottom of Lower Falls, sometime soon. The real treasure though is the Upper Falls which are towering!

Both of the waterfalls have nice pools at their bases which make great swimming holes. Unfortunately, it was too cold to get in and swim in the middle of March. Its amazing to think just a few days before this hike there was snow up in the mountains. You could believe it though when you stepped into the water, Brrrr!

The trail itself is wide, flat, and gravel making it very easy for beginners and families to hike. Two large bridges making crossing the Catawba River easy. There is one wet crossing (with stepping stones) about two-thirds of the way up. The only “difficult” part is the last rock scramble up-to the falls.

It is important to remember, all of this wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina protecting the land around the falls and the trail! Also, thanks to the Pisgah National Forest for improving and maintaining the trail!

The kids surprised me

By now I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was. First, my son, who has a history of complaining that hiking is boring, actually said he was enjoying himself. Even more surprising, he said he wants to do more of it! I had to contain myself and not come unglued, but I was thrilled. Of course, he wants to come back to this trail and hike up to the top of Upper Falls! Luckily, so does dad ūüėÄ

The other thing that surprised me is my “Super Girl” hiked the entire way to the Upper Falls! As she scrambled up the last few rocks she announced she was “Super Girl, super hiker” and was talking about her powers of hiking. Yes, you ARE Super Girl!

Only once did she ask to get into the backpack carrier, on the way back down. By that point she was tired and needed her nap. Hiking was too exciting though and ten minutes later she was back down hiking again! The fun thing about hiking with a toddler is they want to examine EVERYTHING, every stick and flower. It makes it hard to get your heart pumping this way, but its also a treasure to see everything in the woods as “new” because much of it is for her.

Spring Wildflowers

Another reason to get out and hike right now is it’s a great time to see the diversity of spring wildflowers. This day we saw yellow, blue, and variegated violets, bloodroot, Giant chickweed, and meadow rue.

Trailhead Information

There is plenty of parking, but when we arrived a little after noon the parking lot was nearly full so be sure to get an early start. There are pit toilets available before or after the hike. However, there are no water sources to bring your water with you.

The trailhead is located at 3074 Catawba River Rd in Old Fort, NC. If you have any questions, call the Grandfather Mountain District office at (828) 652-2144

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My Favorite Family Friendly Trails around Charlotte

One question I often get from friends, visiting family, and new people I meet is “Where is your favorite place to hike?” or “What is the best trail?” Of course, its never a simple answers because there are so many different types of trails and hiking experiences. So I usually follow this question up with another question, “What type of hike are you looking for?”

See I have different “favorite” trails depending on whether I’m looking for something close to home, a day hike, a family friendly trail, a paddling trip, etc. Is it a cope-out to avoid picking ‘one trail that rules them all’? Probably, but deciding what type of hike you want (and are prepared for) is a question that should be taken seriously.

I have a couple friends who go hiking once or twice a week, they have probably hiking every trail in North and South Carolina! If I asked them for their best trail recommendation and they responded with…. Grandfather Mountain Trail; that would not be very useful recommendation if I had a day hike with my toddler in mind. She’s a great hiker, but that trail is outside of her skill level.

So, this is a long introduction to a list of favorite family-friendly trails.

Best Local Trail: South Fork Rail Trail

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I love this trail because it’s a short drive from Charlotte, but it has great views of the South Fork River, a mountainous feel, and waterfalls! The trail itself is easy with a gravel base that is wide and flat trail, making it perfect for every person regardless of age, skill, or ability. The trail base is gravel so its stable but still has a “natural” feel. The gravel base also means you can take a sturdy stroller down this trail!

The trail cuts through the 440-acre Historic Rhyne Conservation Area which is permanently protected by the Catawba Lands Conservancy. The conservation area includes mature hardwood forests, rare plants only found in the Carolinas, steep and rocky hillsides, and follows a rocky stretch of the South Fork River. The best time to hike this trail, in my opinion, is late April when the hillsides burst into bloom with thickets of Mountain Laurel. This means the trail keeps a wild and natural feel, while being 2-miles from downtown Lincolnton!

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The trail follows the route of an abandoned narrow-gauge railroad that ran from Lenior, North Carolina to Chester, South Carolina. This rail-trail passes two former mills, and the the dams that powered them. One of the prettiest spots of the trail is the overlook across from the Laboratory Mill and dam. At the second dam are the remains of the power station for a second mill. These two dams comprise two of the three waterfalls found along the trail. The third one is further down the trail, after you cross Southfork Road.

Side note: Once you’re done hiking I recommend heading into Downtown Lincolnton and getting a bite to eat at Goodwood Pizza!

Best Swimming Hole: Upper Creek Falls

With summer just around the corner I am already thinking of ways to escape the heat, which means swimming in mountain streams! The hike to the swimming hole is a short half-mile hike down into the Upper Creek valley. It a little steep in places, so young kids may need a little help is some places, but the short trip makes it’s doable. Once you reach Upper Creek walk up the creek a short distance you reach the swimming hole! For families I would recommend just doing the half-mile down and back hike. The longer loop includes two wet crossings and a series of switchbacks.

I first discovered this trail about 10-years ago when I went on a summer camping trip with some friends from college. We spent the weekend up in Linville, NC hiking, fishing, and enjoying some time without cellphone coverage (there is coverage now). The highlight for me, was the 1.4-mile loop called Upper Creek Falls. We spent most of the day at the swimming hole before finishing up the entire hike.

This swimming hole has a rope swing AND a sliding rock into a deep plunge pool. For younger kids there are plenty of large flat rocks to hang-out on and dip their toes in. The sliding rock is long and wide, so it’s a very fun trip. There a chute at the top so you can add a little water-slide fun into your plunge. The half-mile down means the swimming hole doesn’t receive as much traffic as other places, but be sure to arrive early and pack a lunch in (and then pack it all out).

Bonus, for those who enjoy rock climbing, there is large crag with a series of established climbing routes.

Best Paddle Trail: South Fork River Blueway

You get your choice of paddling experience with this blueway: “Rocky and fast” or “smooth and lazy”. This is another Carolina Thread Trail segment. The upper section is free flowing from Spencer Mountain to just above I-85 with a take-out in McAdenville. You can either take-out in McAdenville or you can portage around the dam and continue downstream. Below the McAdenville dam the river runs into Lake Wylie and is a flatwater paddle to Cramerton.

Starting at the Spencer Mountain River Access, the blueway has a series of short rocky sections that make for a fun and bumpy ride. You might call them a Class I rapid, but its nothing to worry about. This section of river would be a great place to learn how to surf and test out a new whitewater kayak, but any boat would do just fine! This section of river flows through Catawba Land Conservancy’s Spencer Mountain Conservation Area, 1,500-acres of protected forest along the banks of the river. For most of this section both sides of the river are permanently protected hardwood forests. This section ends as you pass under I-85 with a take-out found on bank right.

The lower section of the South Fork River Blueway is centered around Cramerton. I really enjoy taking my family on this portion because its a flatwater river. We take a 16-foot touring kayak and launch from Riverside Park, then paddle up the river to Goat Island Park where the kids can go play on the natural playground. After playing at the park, we then paddle over to downtown Cramerton to get lunch. All of this within an easy 20-min paddle!

North Carolina Zoo – Asheboro, NC

On Saturday, after watching Planet Earth, we decided to go see some wildlife in person and took a trip to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. The kids were eager to see the giraffes, rhinos, polar bears, and flamingos. However, their silly dad was looking forward to the zoo’s plant collection (and river otters). It was a gorgeous day to visit; blue skies and 70s… so we headed off.

We planned to start in Africa to see the giraffes and rhinos. Next we would take the tram to North America to see the polar bears and river otters. Then we’d walk our way through the zoo stopping to see all the other animals and exhibits along the way. That was the plan, but the animals did not get the memo.

See on Friday, we got over an inch of rain, so the Giraffe exhibit was too wet to open; even though it was the opening day of the feeding platform. Also, the rhinos were on the other end of their 40-acre habitat. It was looking like the day was going to be a fauna flop. But the sea lions and polar bears were active and put on a great show for kids and the flamingos were all standing in one leg as they should! However, like I said, I was there for the plants (and river otters).

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My son sitting on a rock in the forest (Photo by Sean Bloom)

You see, the NC Zoo is much more than just a zoo. It is the largest natural habitat zoo in the world, with 2,600-acres of protected forest nestled in the ancient Uwharrie Mountain range in the heart of the piedmont. The Zoo takes up about 500 acres which means they have plenty of room to design animal habitats; not just cages. All this space also allows the Zoo plenty of room to showcase our region’s native and rare flora alongside the global fuana.

With spring upon us, our region’s wildflowers were the real show during Saturday’s visit. Plenty of beds were filled with our native red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). Robust plants can be 3-4 feet tall and covered in these showy red flowers. I have a few planted around the yard and they are very attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies.

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Red Columbine (Photo by Sean Bloom)

Throughout the forests were blueberry bushes. On the dry, rocky ridges were colonies of deer berry which grow only about knee high. Along some of the creeks and springs though you could find highbush blueberry. With our acidic soils, North Carolina has some of the highest diversity of blueberries in the country. No wonder our state is so well known for our blueberries. Specifically Vaccinium corymbosum, the highbush blueberry.

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Highbush Blueberry (Photo by Sean Bloom)

Blueberries are not the only fruiting shrub found at the zoo, or in people’s yards. Over in the pollinator gardens were red chokeberry shrubs (Aronia arbutifolia). I actually just planted one of these in my yard last weekend and I talked to two neighbors who have done the same. This shrub is also showing up in plant nurseries and big box stores. They are often sold along side blueberry shrubs, so people think they are a red blueberry. Even though the fruits are small and edible, like a blueberry, they are more closely related to apples and crabapples. Even better, they are tasty too!

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Red Chokeberry (Photo by Sean Bloom)

Another favorite springtime plant is the dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata). This is a rhizomatous plant that can create large colonies over time. It is something special when you come across a hillside covered in these little flowers in the early spring.

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Dwarf crested iris (Photo by Sean Bloom)

The last plant I came across, and was very excited to see, was mountain witch alder (Fothergilla major). I have never seen this shrub in the wild and the state of North Carolina lists it as Significantly Rare. If you do find this shrub, its usually up in the mountains on the Blue Ridge escarpment. However, they can be found in the Piedmont, but they prefer moist, north-facing slopes around our monadnocks. These are places I don’t often get too, so this plant has alluded me for years.

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Mountain witch alder (Photo by Sean Bloom)

This is another amazing thing that the NC Zoo does; it conserves animals AND plants. Within the zoo’s plant collection are populations of rare and endangered plants like Schweinitz’s Sunflower, Michaux Sumac, Smooth Coneflower, pitcher plans, and Oconee Bells. The larger zoo holdings are also managed to support or local flora and fauna.

So next time you visit the North Carolina Zoo, be sure to take a moment to look at all the plants around the exhibits! I hope you enjoy them as much as I did…. and I hope you get to see the giraffes and rhinos!

OH! And the river otters I wanted to see? Yeah, there was only one and it was sleeping. I didn’t even know they slept, I just thought they played in the water all day and ate clams! I guess we’ll have to return for the plants AND the animals now!

Bakers Mountain: We Almost Made it

It’s Sunday so the family piled into the Subaru again and headed off for a hike. After picking our son up from his first-ever Boy Scout camping trip (he crossed over lastnight) we drove up towards Hickory to go hike Bakers Mountain. This is one of those hikes where you need to pay attention (or looked up) the difficulty rating.

See the hike to the overlook at Bakers Mountain is marked “Intermediate/Difficult” by Hiking Project and “moderate” by the Carolina Thread Trail. I can do moderate or Intermediate-Difficult, but I had the family with me; and both kids, three and ten years old, were trying to break in their brand-new boots. This was not the hike for them with that type of footwear, but more on that later.

The parking lot is small, so I suspect it can fill up quickly some weekends. Overall though the trailhead is very nice; Great bathrooms, a nice little naturalist office, and a fun paved literally trail around the parking area for families. From the trailhead we headed up the red trail with plans to connect with the orange trail to make our ascent to the overlook. (OH! There is also a make-shift stash of hiking sticks one of the care-takers keeps stocked).

Along the way I am pretty sure I spotted more Hexastylis naniflora along the trail, though I didn’t stop long enough to confirm the identification. Since Bakers Mountain is a monadnock (see bottom) the terrain is very rocky and dry. This was apparent on the Red Trail as most of it was rocky and we were surrounded by mountain laurel, chestnut oak, and shortleaf pines. But the topogrpahy and mountain laurel certainly felt “mountainous” which is something I really enjoy. The trail was in good shape, though there was an up-and-down portion I just didn’t understand and worry may rut in the future.

The Red Trail leads to a junction with the Orange Trail. At this junction is a little bench to rest and an old chimney. The kids had a great time climbing in the chimney and looking through a crack in the mantle. My back enjoyed the break from carrying our daughter in the backpack carrier. She only made it about ten minutes with her new boots before asking to be carried. So after about five minutes of playing with the chimney we headed up…. or tried too.

I’m not sure what the rest of the Orange Trail looks like, but we only made it a few hundred feet before the family cried uncle. From the chimney the climb is extremely steep and rocky and the kids were not having it. I tried to coax them along, but even my wife said no more. So we turned back to the junction and checked out the trailmap to decide where to head next.

We opted to continue down the Orange Trail to its connection with the Blue Trail which would lead us back to the parking lot. There was a nice little stream with a bridge crossing along the trail which is where my daughter decided she wanted to get back down. After crossing the bridge there was a short scramble up a steep and rocky trail which she managed all by herself! At this point too her boots started to bend and she was a little more excited about hiking again.

Our daughter finished the rest of the hike and we made it back to the car in about twenty minutes. All told, the hike lasted a little over an hour and we hiked about 1.5-miles over rugged terrain. It wasn’t the hike I had hoped for, but it certainly got the heart pumping!

I imagine someone could easily spend a half-day hiking the various trails that cross-cross the slopes of Bakers Mountain and I also could see it being an enjoyable trail-running place. I hope to make another trip to Bakers Mountain sometime this year, either with the family or with some friends. The trails are short, but intense!

Plant wise, we didn’t see much which isn’t surprising considering this is a monadnock. I’m sure this place really comes alive when the Rhododendron and mountain laurels start to bloom though! We did see a nice patch of Halberd-leaved violet (Viola hasata) in bloom next to an old mind shaft and some planted trillium (Trillium cuneatum) up near the trailhead.

Lowes Foods City Park

After our hike we headed into Hickory for a quick snack and found this great little pocket park called Lows Foods City Park! The kids had a great time running around, climbing, and sliding. The best part was the two large trees that were left which provided shade for the park! Also, all the flooring was spongy rubber matting. The kids seemed to take quickly to the chimes and other musical instruments. In fact, my son has a good sense of rhythm and tone because he was banging out a nice little melody on those pipes.

I certainly hope our little town takes a look at what Hickory has created, because this was a city park done right!

What is a Monadnock?

The word monadnock comes from the Abenaki word menonadenak which means smooth mountain. These are isolated mountains that rise from relatively flat terrain. Here in the Piedmont of North Carolina, some commonly known monadnocks are Pilot Mountain, Hanging Rock, and Crowders Mountain.

There were formed when the Piedmont plateau began eroding down into the rolling hills we know today. In some areas, the underlying bedrock was composed of very hard rock like quartzite or rock with kyanite. These rocks are weather resistant and therefore remained after the surrounding terrain eroded away.

Since monadnocks are very rocky and dry, the soils are thin or there is exposed bedrock. These steep, rocky areas with thin and dry soils which give way to unique habitats composed mostly of Chestnut Oak, Shortleaf or Tablemountain Pine, and Blackgum. The understory is very “heathy” with lots of rhododendrons and mountain laurel.

I may have to so a right-up on monadnocks at some point, because despite their lack of diversity they are a very interesting habitat… one that is fire dependent.

Hiking with NC-IPC: South Fork Rail Trail

Earlier this week, I led a hike for members of the North Carolina Invasive Plant Council along the South Fork Rail Trail in Lincolnton, NC. Something happens when you spend two days learning about invasive plants; you can see them everywhere. I know how to identify our region’s invasive plants, but I think it’s possible to become blind to them at times. The problem of invasive species is so daunting that sometimes it’s easier to just¬†block them out and let the fade into the background of green.

However, this day I couldn’t see the forest for the callery pears trees (Pyrus calleryana). That’s the thing about invasive plant species though, they take over a forest and ruin any views that may have existed. Invasive plants are exotic plants which invade habitats and take over, pushing out almost all of the native species. For example, in floodplains, Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) comes in and takes over the entire shrub layer pushing out our native shrubs like spicebush (Lindera benzoin), possomhaw (Ilex decidua), blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium), or maybe painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica). In some cases, these native shrubs are the host species for our pollinators; like spicebush swallowtail who only lay their eggs on spicebush.

At the start of the hike, we were assaulted with many of the southeast’s worst actors: Chinese privet, callery pear, english ivy (Hedera helix), and japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). To the average person, this would just seem like a lush forest, but for those who know invasive plants it’s heart breaking. For us this wall of green is lost biodiversity, its a dozen species where there should be 30 or 40 different plants. This reduction in plant species means less flowers for pollinators or no food source at all for some more obligate caterpillars.

The other problem with invasive species is their density. When I saw a “wall of green” I mean it. A thicket of privet is often called a “privet hell” for a reason. The multi-stem shrubs grow together forming impenetrable thickets that you have to crawl through if you have to get through one. These can get so thick that it becomes difficult for some wildlife, like deer and turkey, to even move through.

Privet isn’t the only culprit though! Today there was also callery pear, the unholy twin of the infamous Bradford Pear. The quintessential 1990’s subdivision tree with its showy spring blooms that smell like rotting fish. Besides its unpleasant smell, the tree has very weak branches. So during heavy snows or windy days, the trees have a tendency to split releasing the callery pear rootstock. These trees would then stump-sprout, flower, and fruit. Those little fruits were quickly eaten by birds who would fly off and deposit the seeds elsewhere. Thus, the “infertile” Bradford pear became fertile. In the immortal words of Doctor Ian Malcolm….


Anyways, I am digressing. So the start of the hike was marred by this wall of invasive plants. Thus making it difficult to see the South Fork River or enjoy the diversity of plants found along this trail. However, the whole trail or hike wasn’t ruined!

At the start of the hike is a unique, albeit planted, cypress swamp! Its not everyday you come across towering cypress trees and their knees growing here in the Piedmont! Cypress trees are a coastal tree that enjoys regular flooding. The old narrow-gauge railroad certainly holds back enough water to ensure these trees stay flooded.

Just a few hundred feet further down we came to an overlook which features the Laboratory Mill and dam. This mill, which is a registered historical site, was primarily a cotton mill. However, during the civil war it served a short stint as a manufacturing plant for gunpowder, linseed oil, and opiates hence the name Laboratory Mill.

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Laboratory Mill Dam – Sean Bloom

The rest of the hike was spent enjoying the river and spotting a number of early spring wildflowers. The trail runs along the base of some very try and rocky slopes which are pine and health dominated. Despite these harsh conditions, there was still plenty to see! Along the side of the trail, where materials was dug up to build the old rail-line, are ephemeral pools where we saw egg-masses for spotted salamanders!

Spotted salamander egg mass – Owen Carson

Some of our bird experts heard black-and-white warblers calling to each other up in the trees. We even spooked up a band water-snake that quickly slithered away before I could get a picture.

However, it was the plants I was interested in seeing this day and the trail did not disappoint! There was a great display of Fire Pink (Silene virginia), Meadow Rue (Thalictrum thalictroides), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), and even a stray bird-foot violet (Viola pedata) which I had never seen before!

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Bird-foot Violet – Sean Bloom

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Fire Pink – Sean Bloom

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Meadow-rue – Sean Bloom

The real treat, and reason for this particular hike, was the chance to see the dwarf-flowered heartleaf ginger (Hexastylis naniflora) in bloom. The trail is located in the Historic Rhyne Conservation Area which encompasses 450-acres of hardwood forest along the banks of the South Fork River. The gem of this conservation area is one of our state’s largest populations of this imperiled listed species. Originally, it was known to a one-acre spot of the conservation area. However, after some additional survey work by Catawba Lands Conservancy and the NC Natural Heritage Program, it was discovered the population covered over 9 acres!

NOTE: THIS IS A PROTECTED PLANT SPECIES. PLEASE DO NOT GO LOOKING FOR THEM OR TRY PICKING THEM. WITHOUT PROTECTION IT IS LIKELY THIS PLANT COULD BE ENDANGER OF GOING EXTINCT.

Hexastylis naniflora – Sean Bloom

After a little effort, our group was after to small a small cluster of this very rare and threatened plant. An interesting tidbit about this, and other wild gingers. Unlike most other flowering plants, wild gingers keep their blossoms under the leaves because they are pollinated by beetles. So the flowers are dark in color, put out a strong, rotting-fruit odor. All of this combines to give the appearance of rotting fruit, or flesh, which attracts the beetles. Later, once the fruits mature, the seeds are carried off by ants where they are buried and eventually sprout.

Here is the thing though, these plants (and all the others we saw), will be lost to invasive species if something isn’t done. The hikers I led that day have dedicated their careers to combating invasive species and ensuring our wild places can stay wild. But their efforts are made harder every time homeowners plants a privet shrub, Japanese honeysuckle vine, or clump of silvergrass in their yard. Because, while these plants may stay-put in a yard, the seeds or fruits are getting carried away by the wind or a bird and deposited in our forests.

So please, consider supporting your local parks, nature preserve, or land trust in their efforts to control invasive species and if you have something invasive in your landscape, take it out.

Let the little children come to me

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Today my daughter and I wandered through the woods. After three days of cold and dreary weather we weren’t going to miss 60 degrees and a sunny sky. So we put on our sneakers and headed off to Latta Plantation Nature Preserve to play in the woods and eat marshmallows!

We started at the nature playground walking on logs, slack rope, crawling through rope tunnels, and trying a climbing wall. All of this made difficult by our very wet and muddy shoes, thanks to the 4-inches of rain we’ve received. I spent an hour hovering around my daughter, ready to catch her at a moments notice. My goal: to protect her from a slip or fall, a skinned knee, or worst of all; the dreaded muddy hands!

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After a time we headed down the trail. Again I was a father-hen, constantly keeping my daughter away from muddy puddles, keeping her on the trail, making sure she didn’t pick up anything too icky. Hiking was fun enough, but soon she wanted up on daddy’s shoulders.

As I picked her up, a verse from Matthew 19 came to mind:

Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them.

I’ve only heard this in the context of antsy kids in a church. Let me rephrase that, I hear it when I shush my antsy kids in church.

I know the historical intention of this story is about putting the least among society first. Children were the bottom rung of society’s hierarchy in Jesus’ time, so commanding people to bring the little children to him was another role revseral. But today, in the 21st century, it took in a different meaning at the moment.

I’ve been listening to Fr. Richard Rohr and he talks about the Cosmic Christ; that Christ existed before he became incarnate in Jesus. In a podcast I can’t remember now, Fr. Rohr spoke of Colossians 1:16-17 where Paul writes:

For in him [Christ] were created all things in heaven and on earth…all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Was I preventing my daughter from ‘coming to Christ’, whom all things were created through? I know the more I hovered and protected her from nature, the less joy she was finding in it.

So I set her down next to a puddle and stepped back. She poked at the water a bit and after a couple minutes she slyly dipped a toe in the puddle. I asked if she wanted to puddle jump and she nearly came out of her skin with joy! Her shoes were muddy, her socks were wet, but her smile was a mile wide.

The hike back was pure delight and wonder. She ran down the trail to a bridge, slipped on a muddy patch, got up giggling. She found snails that she would have missed if I had hovered. She was loving our hike, the woods, God’s Creation… she was finding joy in God, though she didn’t know it.

So let us not prevent the children from ‘coming to Christ’. Let them run amuck in the Church and in the Woods! Let the little children get muddy, splash in puddles, sing in the rain, and climb to the tops of a tree in search of fun and meet God the Creator & Creation.

As a final thought, by letting my daughter play uninhibited I was flipping the power structure around. She got to make the calls, she decided what she was capable of. By the time we left she was “Super Strong” and climbing things I didn’t think she was ready for.

Why August?

I started this blog over a year ago (Aug 8 was the first post). Managed to eek in one more post, and then promptly forgot about it for a year. A lot changed in that time….

But, again in August that I got the tingle to blog again? I thought, Why? After pondering…. I realized a lot happens in the summer that I wish I could have shared. With the end of summer, and fall around the corner, I realize I don’t have much time left this year to write/share anything from the outdoors. But that’s not really true either.

Maybe it’s because August signals the beginning of my second favorite season: Fall! (My favorite season being spring). Sunflowers and golden-rods all hint at the bright yellow and orange hues our trees will be showing in just another few months. In August, even the Sourwoods start turning red, a precursor to other fall colors.

Whatever it is, I am back to blogging and may have more opportunities and reasons now to keep it up! Last year, when I started the blog, I was working for an Environmental Consulting firm (Not as exciting as it sounds). I did Computer Assisted Drawing, and soil/groundwater sampling. My outdoor office was gas stations, chemical plants, NC DOT asphalt plants, etc. Not very ‘natural’. I kept the blog then to remind myself to look outside and enjoy the area I live in….. which I did!

But NOW! I told you things had changed since my last post. Back in February, I started a job with the Catawba Lands Conservancy! Now, at least once or twice a week I get to explore some truly fascinating places in the Piedmont/Foothills of North Carolina. I’ve been busy, as a friend put it, “going on nature walks while taking notes”! It’s actually far more than that, but a good starter explanation.

In the meantime, I have taken plenty of photos and will continue to do so…. seen some truly spectacular tracts of land… met the best people in the region, and even discovered new populations of rare plants!

Now, have a far better reason to keep-up with this blog.

Backyard Birding

When we move to Gaston County, back in January of this year, one of the first things we did was place a bird feeder in our yard. I have a terrific view of the feeder from the spare bedroom, where I sit right now, and enjoy looking out over the yard and into the woods across the street. Now we kept this feeder full for a few weeks when we moved in, but then unpacking, visiting family, and wedding planning occupied our time.

Flashfoward to yesterday, when on a whim my son and I decided to fill the feeder again. Well this afternoon the birds have already rewarded us well. While siting here typing I’ve already seen:

American Goldfinch
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Northern Cardinal
American Robin
Hairy Woodpecker

Nothing surprising, your classic southeastern feeder birds. Nevertheless, its always enjoyable to sit from your window and watch flashes of reds, yellows, greys, and black-white zip around from tree to feeder to bush… to WINDOW! It’s especially enjoyable as my son sat in my lap, clapping and screaming with excitement with each new bird that visited the feeder.

I’ve already pulled down my old binoculars and bird-book, may have to resurrect my life-list. But first, I think more feeders are in order. I have a suet feeder laying around here somewhere that would be welcomed this fall!

Speaking of fall, that will be my next post.

Creeking Adventures

Date: 08-07-2010
Location: Blue Ridge Parkway (Galax, VA to NC-18)

I’ve started my first blog on the same day the family and I enjoyed a day in our larger ‘backyard’.¬† See, my backyard varies from the half-acre we have here in Stanley, out to the woods at the end of our block, further into Gaston County, across the state of North Carolina, and onwards to anywhere my feet may take me.¬† Today, we explored the further edges.

We drove up to Galax, VA to have a car inspected (still registered there, shh).¬†¬† On the way back, we enjoyed a trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway with a couple extra stops.¬† Of course, the trip started in Galax¬† at the Skyline Highway (SR-89) entrance.¬† We drove through Cumberland Knob Recreational Area, Stone Mountain State Park, Doughton Recreational Area…. then my son reminded everyone last time we drank was at lunch (about two hours ago).¬† So we got off at the SR-18 exit and drove into Wilkesboro.

Now first, I did not even realize we drove along the northern boundary of Stone Mountain State Park.  That is a wonderful place and I encourage everyone to go!

More importantly though, was the fun we had at Little Glade Millpond.  As soon as we got onto the Parkway, we planned stop at the first pull-off to go creeking and this was it.  Behind the pond, through a little brush is Little Glade Creek.  At the spot we found, it was no more than ankle deep and about 4 feet wide with plenty to see.

My son has quite the eye!¬† He spotted a couple crayfish (of which there are more than 30 species in NC), a salamander, and a frog.¬† I wasn’t quick enough to catch the frog though.¬† All-in-all, it was a good time.¬† I’ll post videos and photos soon of our finds.

Myself, I enjoyed seeing all the Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) in bloom covered with butterflies.¬† We’ve planted one individual in our home-backyard which has done well.¬† Hoping next spring it will really take off…. but that is another post.¬† Our creeking spot also had lots of Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima) which is another fantastic plant.¬† As the name indicates, scratching the bark reveals a bright-yellow stem.¬† This isn’t limited to the root though.

Well, this is all I have time for this evening.  But I hope to keep up with this blog and want to follow-up with plenty of photos, videos, and more.

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