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


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.



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

Closer still...

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


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.


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


My love affair with American beech continues.


North Carolina’s own Easter lily, Atamasco lily.


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


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


Spring beauty tucked into a tree hollow.


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


Foamflower along Sycamore Creek.


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


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

Closer still...

This is still my favorite…this week.

4 thoughts on “Seeking beauty in familiar places

  1. Beautiful piece of writing, and beautiful pictures. I love watching the seasons wheel by on my regular weekday running route. The best is seeing the baby wild turkeys grow up over the summer!

  2. Such beauty abounds! I was struck by all the new flowers on my local trails this past weekend but didn’t have a camera with me. You have inspired me to head out there again to document the trillium and wild currents that are coming out. Thanks!

    • That is great; thank you! Where do you live? There are many many species of Trillium in the Southeast, some unique to their own river basins. I write the place and date in my field guide to note when/where I see wildflowers blooming–it gives me a better idea of when to go look, and the variation year-to-year is interesting. This winter was a cold one and several species are a couple of weeks behind.

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