What Not to Do Before 26.2

A running buddy of mine loves to remind me of something another friend once said. “That was not one of your brighter moves, Steph, and let’s face it, you’ve done some stupid things.” It’s true, I know. Running with Scissors was not an idle choice.

So when I volunteered to help on a prescribed burn at Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve two days before the Blue Ridge Marathon, I did hesitate for a second. Nowhere in the running literature does it say “Two days before your race, strap 5 gallons of water on your back, grab a fire rake and a drip torch, and spend the day setting the woods on fire.”

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Mike lighting off the first burn unit.

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Although prescribed burning is not the same as fighting wildfires, there is a lot of prep work involved. Here’s some of our equipment.

The NC Botanical Garden is using fire at Penny's Bend Nature Preserve to manage a more open forest.

The NC Botanical Garden is using fire at Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve to restore the more open forest that they think was here historically.

Yeah, BUT. I only get the chance to help with fires once or twice a year, and I was not about to miss out. And, for anyone who has visions of extreme smoke-jumpers, this was not that. Prescribed burning takes a lot of meticulous planning and safety training for the burn boss, but it’s really child’s play for a bunch of volunteers who were pyros as kids. Fortunately someone took the water backpack from me (it’s only ~25 lbs full, but sloshes around awkwardly and the straps are too wide for my shoulders), and I spent most of my time on drip torch duty, lighting fires one small unit at a time, which is my favorite job. It was a beautiful day, and we burned one unit at a time, mostly as planned. My shoulders are a little sore and I probably need to spend today re-hydrating.

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Yes, setting fires is really fun!

Lighting fires is fun!

NO REGRETS!

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Seeking beauty in familiar places

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” -Georgia O’Keefe

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I doubt my friends would list “observant” as one of my top 5 personality traits. For example, I don’t know someone’s car unless it has something distinctive or I’ve known them awhile. On a recent run, someone asked if we’d already run through the third tunnel on the House Creek Greenway. Beside her, I thought to myself, “there are three?”

On the other hand, I see things that others miss. When I was little, I could spot navigational aids, birds, seashells, and constellations. My older son can similarly find sharks’ teeth and arrowheads. But what brings me joy is being able to see beauty in everyday places, which may be why I love running the same trails over and over.

My last long run before the Blue Ridge Marathon was late afternoon on Easter Sunday. I parked at Ebenezer Church Rd by the bridge and ran up North Turkey Creek to hop on the Sycamore loop. Third weekend in April is peak wildflower season, so I held my camera in one hand and my water bottle in the other. [It’s risky–I like my camera a lot, I’d hate to smash it, and I’m a little klutzy. But as I tell Andrew, there’s little point in having a camera if you’re afraid to take it anywhere. The scratches on the lens are unfortunate, but part of the price of admission.]

I saw things that afternoon that I’ve never noticed at Umstead–where I run nearly every week. My favorite was a grove of pawpaw between the two bridges next to Ebenezer Church Rd. Slow down when you run by next time and see if you can spot their delicate burgundy blooms dangling over the creek. They’ll only be there another week or two.

Have you noticed these before?

Have you noticed these before? The flowers are only an inch or so across.

 

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Look closer…petals and sepals are in multiples of three.

Closer still...

Closer still…enough to see the fuzziness of the sepals and stems.

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And O’Keefe-esque…close enough to see the heart and know the essence of the flower.

There are whole websites devoted to spectacular trail scenery (Google “trail porn” – I kid you not) and I too long to visit beautiful new places to run and explore. But there is also something to be said for seeing your favorite places in new ways, and how they change over the seasons. That kind of intimacy takes time, as O’Keefe says…but it is a gift that we all can give ourselves.

Take a run or hike on your favorite trail this weekend to know it better–its rocks, flowers, and trees, and what makes it special. Watch how spring is unfolding there. You’re sure to see something you haven’t noticed before. Below are just a few things I saw on my 7 mile Easter Sunday run.

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Buckeye flowers, which you can see all through the understory along Turkey Creek.

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My love affair with American beech continues.

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North Carolina’s own Easter lily, Atamasco lily.

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Have you seen this slope above Sycamore Creek lately? It’s covered in bluets.

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Christmas fern–I love the geometry of the unfurling fiddleheads.

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Spring beauty tucked into a tree hollow.

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Giant chickweed, which has five split petals, not 10. Look closely!

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Foamflower along Sycamore Creek.

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Bluets, or Quaker ladies, all over Umstead right now.

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Spring beauty all along Sycamore Creek. The flowers are closed on cool mornings.

Closer still...

This is still my favorite…this week.

Galapagos Daily: Blue-footed boobies

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I have to wrap up our Galapagos adventure with a picture of the iconic blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii), the bird that first intrigued me about the Galapagos (back to the original issue of Nat Geo World magazine that made me dream of the Galapagos). There are 3 species of boobies there, but the blue-footed is the most famous. On North Seymour Island, they live in colonies, and we watched some of their elaborate mating displays, though we were a bit out of season. The male (left, with the whiter eye) makes a great show of displaying his feet for the female, and offers her a gift of a twig or small rock.

I have to wrap up our Galapagos adventure with a picture of these iconic blue-footed boobies (Sula nebouxii), the bird that first intrigued me about the Galapagos (back to the original issue of Nat Geo World magazine that made me dream of the Galapagos). There are 3 species of boobies there, but the blue-footed is the most well-known. On North Seymour Island, they live in colonies, and we watched some of their elaborate mating displays, though we were a bit out of the breeding season. The male (left, with the whiter eye) makes a great show of displaying his feet for the female, and offers her a gift of a twig or small rock.