2 for 1: Leigh Farm Park & Piedmont Wildlife Center

Tucked out of sight, just off Route 54 near the bustling I-40 interchange between Durham and Chapel Hill (NC) are Leigh Farm Park and the Piedmont Wildlife Center. It’s two for the price of one—except they’re both free!

Leigh Farm Park Leigh_Farm_House
Leigh Farm Park is a former Durham farmstead consisting of 80-plus acres, seven of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic structures include the Leigh House, built in 1837, a mid-19th century slave cabin, an early 19th century dairy, a corn crib and smokehouse (both raided in 1865 by Union soldiers), a well house, and a carriage house.


Carriage House (Leigh Farm Park; Durham, NC)


Slave cabin with stick chimney (Leigh Farm Park; Durham, NC)

The rest of the property contains a second mid-19th century slave cabin, an early 20th century tobacco barn and pack house, several mid-20th century residences, a speakeasy (moved to the property in the 1950’s), and wooded land that was historically agricultural. To add to the eclectic mix, the visitor’s center at Leigh Farm Park is an old Durham train depot.

Piedmont Wildlife Center (PWC)
Alongside the antebellum Leigh farmstead is the Piedmont Wildlife Center, which seeks to connect people with nature through their three-fold mission to educate the community, conserve nature, and care for injured and sick native wildlife.

During a recent visit, I saw some of the wildlife that have been rescued and nursed back to health. Animals that have been rescued but later determined unable to live successfully in the wild serve as representatives of their species for educational purposes. One such ambassador is Otus, a small Eastern Screech Owl found in 2009 in Wilkes County with an improperly healed wing that makes him unable to fly. Otus was adorable but difficult to photograph.


Otus and most of the wildlife at PWC reside in shelters like these. Otus likes to perch near the ground and at the corner of his shelter, so it was hard to angle my camera through the wire and downward to capture his tiny form. Disappointing, (because he was my favorite!), but I was able to do a little better with the other owls at the center.

Athena, a Barred Owl rescued in 2009 in Lincoln County, was found severely injured and required surgery. Despite undergoing months of rehabilitation, flight training, and physical therapy (yes, you read that right), Athena was deemed unable to hunt and survive in the wild.


Athena, a Barred Owl at the Piedmont Wildlife Center in Durham, NC.

I heard Bellatrix, a Great Horned Owl, before I saw her. She made a sort of hissing sound, followed by a clicking of her bill. I peered though the wire and came eyeball to eyeball with her.


Bellatrix, a Great Horned Owl (Piedmont Wildlife Center; Durham, NC)

As I studied Bellatrix, I noticed something fascinating—she had more than one eyelid per eye! She had three, to be exact.


Owls have one eyelid that blinks top to bottom when they are awake, a second one that closes from the bottom to the top when they are asleep, and a third eyelid (shown here at left)—called a nictitating membrane—that closes diagonally over the eye to clean and moisten it. — pictured here: Bellatrix; Piedmont Wildlife Center (Durham, NC)

PWC is home to several other animals, including hawks, turtles and snakes.

If two for the price of one isn’t enough to inspire a day out, consider this: on the grounds of Leigh Farm Park is an 18-hole disc golf course operated by Durham Orange Recreational Disc Association. …That’s quite a lot of variety in one place!

Big Taste: Small Batch Vanilla Cupcakes

I hope you had a wonderful Easter! (And if you follow a church calendar in which Easter Sunday marks just the beginning of the Easter season—a fifty-day period that spans the observance of Jesus’ resurrection, His ascension to Heaven, and the gift of the Holy Spirit upon Christians on the Day of Pentecost—then I hope this season has begun with great joy.)

I’ve been craving cupcakes lately, so I decided to make some in celebration of Easter Day. I searched the ‘Interwebs’ for a scaled-down recipe and found a promising Small Batch Vanilla Cupcakes recipe at a deliciously appealing website called celebratingsweets.com. The recipe yielded five (5) cupcakes.

Whipping up the batter was straightforward, and the cupcakes baked in about 17 minutes for me. The icing came together in less than five minutes, resulting in a smooth and creamy consistency. (Oh yes, I licked the beaters. And scraped the icing bowl clean, too.)


Small Batch Vanilla Cupcakes (recipe by celebratingsweets.com).

My photo doesn’t do them justice—food photography is not my forte, but I’m willing to work on it one delicious treat at a time.

Via Dolorosa

Tomorrow, (Sunday, March 29th), marks the beginning of Holy Week—a time of heightened reflection as Easter approaches. (My post from this time last year describes the events of Holy Week, in case you are interested.)

Some churches hang “Stations of the Cross” during this season as visual reminders of Jesus’ steps as He was led out of Jerusalem to be crucified. Each station portrays an event from the time Jesus was convicted to when He was laid in the tomb.

Stations of the Cross are often made of wood, metal, or stone and are placed one after the other on the walls of a church’s nave so that worshippers can “walk with the Savior” through the last moments of His ministry on earth. This “path” is traditionally referred to (in Latin) as Via Dolorosa, which translated means “Way of Sorrow,” “Way of Suffering,” or “Way of Grief.”

The stations can range in number from nine to fifteen. Why such a range? Some versions incorporate legendary, extra-biblical events, such as Jesus falling multiple times or a woman (Veronica) wiping His face. This is where being (or becoming!) familiar with the eyewitness accounts recorded in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) comes in handy.

Duke Chapel in Durham, North Carolina, hangs Stations of the Cross in its vaulted nave. Haitian artist John Sylvestri created these relief sculptures—fourteen in all—from recycled oil drums.


In the vaulted nave of Duke Chapel, Stations of the Cross hang beneath the stained glass windows. (Durham, NC)

For several years now, I’ve walked the Stations. Although Duke Chapel’s collection uses the aforementioned “creative” (a.k.a. extra-biblical) license, I don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater—when I come to one of those, I simply move on to the next station.


Station 12 depicts Jesus dying on the cross.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. — I Peter 2:24 (ESV)


Station 14, Jesus is laid in the tomb.

Walking the Stations of the Cross does not in and of itself confer special blessings, but the “journey” can be spiritually edifying. Reflecting on these last moments of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth might raise the question, “Why did He walk this way?”

The short answer—and the response upon which each of our lives personally hang—is this: Every one of us fails to keep God’s Law (i.e. the Ten Commandments) perfectly. I fail. (Translated: I sin.) Respectfully, so do you. We need a sinless Savior. Jesus was—and is, and always will be—that perfect solution. (He is fully God, but He is also fully man.) He suffered and died the death that each one of us deserves. He sacrificed His life so that we could live forever. Believe that, and we will. Believe that, and we will fall on our knees, repentant, begging God our Creator to forgive us of our sins. And He will.

Holy Week is a good time to reflect, prayerfully and thankfully, on Jesus Christ’s suffering on our behalf. Come Easter Sunday, sorrow will be turned to joy in celebration of the risen Savior.

Blessings to you during this Holy Week.

St. Patrick’s Shamrock


A view from the hilltop of Saint Patrick’s Church on the southeast side of the Green Ridge State Forest in the Appalachian Mountains. — Little Orleans, Maryland

On a hill overlooking Fifteen Mile Creek near the C&O Canal in Little Orleans, Maryland, sits historic Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church. Built in 1860 in a simple Gothic style with arches above the doors and windows, Saint Patrick’s is a quaint sight…with a twist. The stained glass window above the main entrance is the shape of a shamrock.


St. Patrick’s Catholic Church (Little Orleans, MD)

The construction of the C&O canal in the early to mid 1800s brought an influx of Irish immigrants to the area. In fact, the majority of the laborers, ranging from diggers to carpenters to stonemasons, were Irish. In 1860, the Irish built Saint Patrick’s as their house of worship, an effort that was supported by such individuals as Lady Elizabeth Stafford, a granddaughter of Charles Carroll—who, as you may know, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.


The church was named after St. Patrick, a missionary who brought Christianity to Ireland in 400 AD at a time when Ireland was known for its violence, raids on its neighbors, slave trading, and pagan worship. It is in honor of Patrick and his mission work in Ireland that St. Patrick’s Day was instituted.

The 1.5-acre tract of land on which St. Patrick’s stands was given to the Catholic Diocese of Baltimore in 1808 by local resident Leonard Bevons. A cemetery surrounds the church, with some of the gravestones predating it. The oldest grave is marked 1802. [1]


The graveyard at St. Patrick’s is a mixture of the modern day dearly departed, as well as the unmarked graves of Irish canal construction workers and their descendants. (Little Orleans, MD)

Some of today’s parishioners can trace their roots back to the original Irish laborers who worked on the C&O Canal and on the railroads in Western Maryland.


A weathered gravestone of a 19 year-old Irish immigrant.

The shamrock, a distinctly Irish symbol, on St. Patrick’s Church in Little Orleans serves as a reminder of the rich Irish heritage of the country church and surrounding community. Tradition has it that St. Patrick used the shamrock—a three leaf clover—to explain the doctrine of the trinity (that is, one God in three Persons). Although Patrick may have done this, such claims did not emerge until the 17th century. Nevertheless, as “the apostle to the Irish,” Patrick led thousands to Christ. In that, there is cause for celebration.


Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

I bind unto myself the name,
the strong name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in Three,
of whom all nature has creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
salvation is of Christ the Lord!

— an excerpt from St. Patrick’s Breastplate [2]

[1] maryland.gov/msa_se5_21.pdf
[2] Whether simply ascribed to him or whether he actually wrote it, for centuries this prayer (usually sung as a hymn) has been associated with St. Patrick’s life and ministry.