Nine miles along the Eno River

On Friday I hiked the portion of North Carolina’s Mountains to Sea Trail that runs along the Eno River, about nine miles from Roxboro Road in Durham through West Point on the Eno Park, across Guess Road into the Eno River State Park, and then to Pleasant Green in Orange County. One day, when the trail is complete, I hope to hike the whole state. For the moment, this will have to do.

These are my snapsnots from the walk.

The rains part like a curtain; the underbrush
Stirs with sultry buzz and hum. Summer?

Goose on the river watches my confusion:
Which way the trail? Which hue the blaze?
He’s not telling.

I sit and rest by spring’s last bluets,
Pale and drooping in the summer heat.

The sycamore leans out over the river,
Stretched root to branch like a diver ready to leap,
Stripping his bark as he goes.

Swallowtails loop around the weeds
In search of some forgotten nectar,
While laurel clings to rocks above.

Ordinary miracles

Saturday afternoon my daughter and I volunteered on a local farm tour, at a farm where the two main attractions are goats and pickles. I’ve got a cabinetful of pickles at home, but no goats, and I figured even if a nine year-old girl got bored checking people in and welcoming them to a farm then surely baby goats would keep her entertained for hours. I was more right than I’d bargained for, as it turned out.

We arrived too early. We were supposed to arrive half an hour before the tour started, to set up and get the lay of the land, but I got us there half an hour before that. The farm was, I thought (and Google Maps confirmed) over half an hour away, and I had to stop off to buy chicken feed. But the map was conservative, the trip easy and the errand quick, and so I allowed far too much time. As I climbed out of the car and saw Mike, the farmer, walking towards me, I apologized and promised to stay out of the way.

“No problem,” he said, friendly but a little hurried. “In fact we’ve got a goat giving birth right at the moment, if your daughter wants to watch.”

I leaned back into the car. “Ivy, you want to watch a goat give birth?”
A second passed while my words sunk in — it is not the sort of question she is used to being asked — and then she bounded out of the car.


Walking in the hospitality of the earth

My wife bought me these shoes for my birthday:


They are minimalist running shoes from SoftStar,1 made for running trails and cross country, with simple leather uppers and flat two-millimeter soles. You can get them in colors that make them look like running shoes — black with lime green, say, or or orange suede with turquoise, or solid metallic gold if you’re planning to challenge Usain Bolt in 2016 — but this pair looks, I think, like what if wingtips hooked up with ballet slippers in a bar and had a love child, which means that even though they are essentially laced-up moccasins, I can wear them to work and nobody notices that I am not wearing real shoes. And so I frequently do, because after a couple of weeks of wearing these around my beloved boots are apt to feel like little tarsal iron maidens. In these, by contrast, ankles rotate freely, arches flex, toes can stretch and wiggle, just as with no shoes at all.

  1. SoftStar claims that they are made by elves. I can’t confirm this, but I suppose anything is possible.

Distracted by the leavings of winter

A glorious day, warm and bright. Having time to spend, and wanting to feel hopeful for the changing of a season, I sat where I could see the first full blooms of spring — but found myself distracted by the leavings of winter. Unloved and unnoticed, these masses of grays and browns, bare rock and tree and mud and crumbling leaf. But examine them closely in the dusky light of a fading afternoon, and the tattered monochrome resolves itself into a deep-textured symphony of shape and line shaded from the palette of a master.


Tomorrow is Candlemas: the midpoint of winter, halfway between the solstice and the equinox, in cultures unspoiled by scientifically rational astronomy the first day of spring, and in much of Western Europe traditionally the day to break ground for the first of the year’s crops. Pagans had astronomy plenty to mark the day, often (plausibly, to celebrate the returning of the light) with fire. The Catholic Church, as it so often did, co-opted the festival for its own purposes, using the day to celebrate the purification of Mary forty days after giving birth to Jesus, the light of the world. And so Catholics brought their candles to the church to have them blessed, whereupon the candles became talismans that could be lit during storms or times of trouble, as an old English poem observed:

Cicadas and similes

The thirteen-year cicadas emerged yesterday, in our woods at least; a few miles away they’ve been active for weeks. We heard their song in the afternoon, and in the evening I found a half-dozen husks hung out to dry on the clothesline like withered garments from an attic trunk. Along the Eno today the woods vibrated with them, a low local chattering backed by the familiar high-pitched drone that I guessed to be the chattering’s more distant echo. I tried, and failed, to describe the sound. A friend said “loud as a police siren,” but that seemed unfair to the cicadas. I thought of the hollow rattling of dice in cups, but more rapid and higher-pitched, as if the Chipmunks were playing Yahtzee. And that being possibly the single worst simile in the entire catalog of Western literature, I thought I’d turn for inspiration to days before police sirens and Yahtzee and 33 rpm records played at 78, when, one would hope, the well-read and literary-minded could invent better comparisons.

Two gardens

Behind my house is a patch of ground that used to be a garden, a raised bed. Our old dogs left it alone; the new ones persisted in digging it up. So I took down the boards, shoveled out the dirt, flattened it. I meant to plant grass there last fall, before the frost set in, but I didn’t. I never got around to it.

Then, in April, this happened:

You can’t tell the birds anything

Spring is entering its second act. The bluets are fading, the last of the dogwood flowers fluttered off today in the downpour, but the trees all have their leaves, the birds have paired off and spread out to claim their nesting spots, the robins to a poplar, the jays to the brush in the woods, the wrens to the sheltered cap of the propane tank. This is what the wrens do, year after year. You leave three-quarters of an acre of open woods and they nest in your propane tank, when they don’t claim the shelves in the shed.

The cardinals have been courting for weeks, a big scarlet male bringing food to a female — the one who broke her leg last summer as a fledgling and has survived the winter darting back and forth to the feeders and now, it seems just possible, is going to beat evolution and reproduce. The Little Lame Cardinal, balancing one-legged on the edge of the birdbath, nesting in the bay laurel, passing on her clumsy genes, and also her plucky ones. Winning! That’s the thing about nature; you can’t predict it. You can identify grand strategies and see broad sweeps and make educated guesses about generalities, but you can’t predict the details. The details are the good stuff. The stories are in the details. You think you know how they end, but sometimes nature likes to play little jokes on itself, and all you can do is wait for the punchline.

Pimping for hawks

This morning a Cooper’s hawk picked off a mourning dove from underneath the bird feeder in the front yard, then perched on a pile of leaves in the woods to eat it methodically over the course of an hour, tearing off bits of flesh, tossing them back, discarding the feathers, ignoring the freezing rain that dripped on her shoulders. I’d filled the feeder last night in anticipation of the snow, and the squirrels being squirrels dumped a third of its contents onto the ground, which bounty lured the dove to the raptor’s waiting embrace. I’m reduced to pimping for hawks. Not to mention the leaves I’d raked into a pile last month for Ivy to jump in now gave the hawk vantage for glancing round, after every mouthful, to check that no one was scoping her lunch. No one was. The feeder had cleared, the finches scattered. The neighbor’s miniature dachshund was safely inside. And all this went on twenty feet from the window where I watched, looking up at intervals from my work, writing documentation for a web application, which seemed, in context, thoroughly pointless.