Farewell Summer?

It’s September 1st already. Here in the United States, most people are talking as though summer is over. I think what they really mean is that summer break is over. I can assure you that here in the South, we have plenty more ninety degree days ahead of us. And several more longer days than nights as well. In fact, the fall equinox is not until September 22nd—at 10:29 PM EDT to be exact, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. The fall (autumnal) equinox, as you may know, is when both night and day are each about 12 hours long, and it’s when the fall season officially begins.

But nobody likes a stick in the mud, so I’ll get on the bandwagon and look back whimsically at the summer of 2014. It was a busy one, at times a challenging one, and most definitely a fun one. As I was organizing my photos yesterday—a never-ending chore for a shutter bug—I came across a few gems that brought back memories of places and people and summer adventures.

Sarah P. Duke Gardens
I only visited Duke Gardens a handful of times over the past few months—I used to go there nearly every day! It’s been a real culture shock, but a reality of my circumstances. Whether one goes there 100 times or 1 time, however, there’s always something to photograph!

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A cabbage white butterfly with its wings tucked. When the butterfly spread its wings, I could see one black spot, signifying that it was a male (females have two spots on each wing). — Duke Gardens; Durham, NC

Lake Johnson
I started taking photography classes, but I am sorry to say that I’ve fizzled out a bit. Let me back up: I took an introductory class, where I learned how to take pictures in manual mode. I graduated to intermediate photography; but unfortunately, I showed up to the first class on the wrong day. The studio was locked up tighter than a drum. The class was the night before. It was kind of downhill from there. I’m more of a “see-what-I-like-and-take-50-pictures-of-the-same-thing-and-hope-at-least-one-of-them-turns-out” kind of gal. Turns out, tinkering with aperture, etc. stresses me out—and then photography is no longer fun. Maybe I’ll get better with practice. …I went to Lake Johnson in Raleigh, NC, back in early summer to practice:

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Here’s a shot that I took where I changed the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed as part of a homework assignment. — Lake Johnson pedestrian bridge; Raleigh, NC

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By the boathouse, I encountered a greylag goose sitting on her nest. — Lake Johnson; Raleigh, NC

North Carolina Botanical Garden
My young nephew spent a couple of days with me in early July—and he made it back home in one piece! In between his Lego construction projects, we visited the North Carolina Botanical Garden, where he was an eager explorer and birdwatcher.

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My nephew was blow away by the height and size of this beautiful sunflower at the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill NC.

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My nephew and I spent most of our time in the bird shelter, consulting the poster of North Carolina birds and identifying them as they stopped by the feeders. Pictured here is a male cardinal, our state bird. — North Carolina Botanical Garden; Chapel Hill, NC

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My favorite visitor was the white-breasted nuthatch. I like the way nuthatches hang sideways or upside down, a posture which plays an important role in their foraging. Nuthatches probe into bark with their straight, pointed bills in search of insects. They stuff nuts into crevices and pound them open with their strong bills, thus giving them the name nuthatch. — North Carolina Botanical Garden; Chapel Hill, NC

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My nephew didn’t quite know what to make of some of the aquatic plants at the North Carolina Botanical Garden. (Chapel Hill, NC)

Weycroft Tobacco Barn
The tobacco industry is but a shadow of its former self. North Carolina was once a significant contributor to tobacco—from the field to the carton to the consumer. At one time, there were over half a million tobacco barns—simple, wooden structures used for curing the tobacco—that dotted the North Carolina countryside. Now, only about 50,000 tobacco barns remain and most of those are in gross disrepair. Life goes on, as they say, but it’s always delightful when I spot a tobacco barn, particularly a restored or reclaimed one.

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On a visit in late June, my nephew and I explored this restored, circa 1870 tobacco barn in Weycroft Preserve. A recalling of days gone by, tools associated with tobacco farming are affixed to the other side of the structure.  — Chatham County, NC

Fearrington Village
I heart Fearrington. In fact, I’ve blogged about it before, both here and here. It’s such a local treasure; and its crown jewel is the Fearrington House Restaurant. Ranked as one of American’s top restaurants, Fearrington House puts the fine into dining and does so in a farmhouse setting. I’ve had reservations three times, and all three times I’ve had to cancel—each reason increasingly more calamitous than the previous. The closest I’ve gotten so far is sitting in the white adirondack chairs out front. They provide a relaxing view of the Belties (Belted Galloway cows) in the pasture. My sister and I do have reservations for September. …Lord willing. Lord willing.

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The Fearrington House Restaurant in Pittsboro, NC. Photo credit: L. Morrison

As I eagerly await the true arrival of fall, I’ll resist the urge to put away my sandals and sleeveless tops. And although a sense of fall is in our thoughts and conversations even now, most likely summer will fade into autumn in much the same way as the late British poet, Philip Larkin, describes:

Autumn has caught us in our summer wear.

Bennett Place: Celebrating 9 & 90+ Years

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Bennett Place in Durham, North Carolina

Today marks my ninth full year as a Durhamite. I must confess that, with the exception of Duke Gardens, I really haven’t explored Durham, North Carolina, much in the past nine years. Determined to change this, I recently set out for Bennett Place, a local landmark and North Carolina Historic Site that was fully restored in 1960 to what it looked like in Civil War-era 1865.

I parked in the lot off of Bennett Memorial Road, which is by the Visitors Center. Beside the Visitors Center is a nature trail, where I immediately spotted a whitetail deer—a herald to the nature of the trail, or so it would seem.

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A whitetail deer by the Nature Trail at Bennett Park in Durham, NC.

That encounter digitally documented, I made my way down a grassy road lined on both sides with snake-rail fence: the original Hillsborough Road. (I opted for a self-guided tour, but guided tours are available and free of charge. Donations are accepted.)

Meet the Family
Members of the Bennett family included James, his wife Nancy, their two sons, Lorenzo and Alfonso, and a daughter named Eliza. Both sons joined the Confederacy and died in the first years of the war—Lorenzo as a result of battle, and Alfonso from pneumonia while still in training. Eliza’s husband, Robert Duke, also died while serving.

Like the Bennetts, many other families during the Civil War experienced mortal losses and other hardships, (such as food rationing as the result of blockades). What was unique, however, was that the Bennett property would become a place for negotiating surrender–surrender that would bring with it the dawn of peace and national reconstruction.

A Meeting Place
Near the close of the American Civil War, Bennett Place became the site of a “Generals meet-up.” In April 1865, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston left his headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina, and met Union General William T. Sherman, headquartered in Raleigh, at the Bennett Place to discuss terms of surrender. They traveled down the old Hillsborough Road toward the Durham Station of the North Carolina Railroad, each coming from opposite directions. The Bennett farm proved to be a halfway point.

Johnston was escorted by 60 troopers of the 5th South Carolina Cavalry Regimen. Sherman had with him 200 men from the 9th and 13th Pennsylvania, 8th Indiana, and 2nd Kentucky Cavalry. Sherman brought with him the news of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination only days earlier.

The generals’ private discussions began on April 17th. They met again the following day and terms of surrender were signed; however, the the terms were rejected by government officials in Washington with claims that they were more generous than previous terms (that General Ulysses S. Grant had given to General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865). The generals met a third and last time at Bennett Place on April 26, 1865, and signed the final papers of surrender for Southern armies in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida–a total of 89,270 soldiers, making it the largest group surrender during the Civil War.

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Bennett House and the original Hillsborough Road (between the two snake-rail fences): Confederate General Johnston and Union General Sherman traveled the Hillsborough Road from opposite directions, (Johnston coming from the direction on the right; Sherman from the left), and convened inside Bennett House. — Bennett Place, Durham, NC

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The Bennett House as it stands today is a replica constructed of materials from another Durham farmhouse of the same period. The original house burned down in 1921. All that remained was the chimney (still intact and pictured here on the left side of the structure). The Bennett House consists of one large room on the first floor and a small room on the second floor.

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The wooden well on the Bennett Farm: Reportedly, the Civil War generals tied their horses under a large oak tree near this well while they discussed terms of surrender inside the Bennett House. — Bennett Place, Durham, NC

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The Bennett family gathered in the kitchenhouse, (picture here), while the two Civil War generals negotiated terms of surrender in the main house. The reconstructed kitchenhouse was built on the original foundation. — Bennett Place, Durham NC

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Furniture and kitchenware of the 1800s provide a glimpse into American Civil War-era life, as seen through the window of the kitchenhouse at Bennett Place in Durham, NC.

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The smokehouse on Bennett Farm was used for curing meat and storing food and supplies. (This reconstructed smokehouse was erected where the original once stood.) — Bennett Place, Durham NC

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Inside the smokehouse, tools of the period (Civil War/late 1800s) are on display. — Bennett Place, Durham NC

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From the rear of the Bennett Place: the replica 1800s garden in the foreground, the kitchenhouse just beyond the fence, the smokehouse to the right, and Bennett House in the distance. — Bennett Place, Durham, NC

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A Unity Monument was erected at Bennett Place on October 12, 1923, as a symbol of national unity. The monument, which turned 90 years old in 2013, consists of two columns, one representing The Confederacy and one representing The Union. The columns are joined at the top by a bridge bearing two shields and the word UNITY. (Durham, NC)

Inside the Visitors Center, there is a gift shop, a research library, and a three-room museum containing information and artifacts relating to both the Bennett Family and the events that put Bennett Place on the Civil War Tours map and in the history books.

I looked for but didn’t see any signs stating that I could not take pictures, (my bad if I missed them!), so I turned off my flash and took just a few.

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A Confederate soldier’s uniform and typical effects on display in the museum at Bennett Place in Durham, NC.

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This Civil War-era home remedy kit is quite interesting…and quite exhaustive, it would seem. — Bennett Place museum in Durham, NC

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Copies of the surrender documents between General Johnston and General Sherman are on display in the museum at Bennett Place. (North Carolina)

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The Bennett family lost two sons and a son-in-law in the Civil War, leaving no males to work the farm. James Bennett (Bennitt) ceased farming at about age 70 and signed a sharecropping agreement with his in-laws. He died in 1878. Nancy and Eliza Bennett moved into the growing city of Durham.

Places like Bennett Place serve as reminders that disagreements, hardship, and loss are the sad realities of life. Places like Bennett Place can be a bit depressing. It’s little wonder, then, that some thought it important to erect a monument there to symbolize unity. One Nation. Under God. Indivisible.

Our Sunny Day Boat Ride

LakeNorman_Sail_082214My nephew turned seven this past week. To celebrate, he wanted to take a boat ride. His crew? His Mom and Dad, Nanny and Pap, Aunt Beth, and me. So this past Friday, we rented a pontoon and set out on the “inland sea” better known as Lake Norman.

Lake Norman is North Carolina’s largest manmade lake, consisting of about 50 miles of surface area and 520 miles of shoreline. It’s average depth is about 30 feet, but it can be as deep as 110. The lake was first made in 1959 by Duke Power in order to run the generators at Cowans Ford Dam to subsequently provide energy to the Peidmont region of the Carolinas.

We rented our pontoon from Westport Marina in Denver, North Carolina, where there was a lot of activity for a weekday morning.

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Nanny and my nephew watched a boat being moved from storage to the marina waters for a day on Lake Norman.

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My nephew fed the resident ducks before we set off for our boat ride. — Lake Norman, North Carolina

There are 82 islands on Lake Norman. According to Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists, Duke Energy owns all of the islands and has numbered them. Many of the islands have beaches that are public access.

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The islands on Lake Norman are eroding. (Pictured here is one of the smaller islands.) Erosion creates challenges for the wildlife that inhabit them–wildlife such as ospreys, snakes, turtles, bats, beavers, deer, and heron. (Information courtesy of the Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists.)

We found our own little beach and anchored for lunch.

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Small beaches, like this one that we stopped at, provide a place to relax, eat, or even cool off in the water if you dare. …To varying degrees—from wading to full-on swimming—each of us dared. — Lake Norman, NC

Beyond the sandy shore, the island that we stopped at seemed very remote and heavily wooded. (Translated: exciting!) I was immediately transported to scenes from Lord of the Flies and Treasure Island. I tossed my life jacket aside and headed into the “wilderness” for something to photograph. I had seen a bird’s nest from the boat and was delighted to find a clearing with a “bird’s eye view” of it.

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An osprey on Lake Norman, North Carolina.

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My nephew’s approaching footsteps and calls of “Aunt Lolly, where are you?” set the osprey aflutter and gave me the perfect opportunity for this beautiful shot. — Lake Norman, North Carolina

We pushed away from shore and continued cruising, taking in the sights and enjoying the wind in our hair on such a warm day.

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Although my nephew is a bit past the Thomas & Friends stage in his young life, he was tickled to see this barge carrying a “Cranky the Crane” across Lake Norman.

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The freshwater of Lake Norman is used by Marshall Steam Station (pictured in the background here) to cool the steam that drives the turbines. One of the most efficient power plants in the nation, the steam station generates enough electricity to power approximately 2 million homes according to the Duke Energy website. — Catawba County, North Carolina

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Blythe Landing in Mecklenburg County, NC, is a 26-acre park on Lake Norman that offers floating boat launches and fishing piers.

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This is how the other half lives: a helicopter sits on a private dock in The Peninsula region of Lake Norman, North Carolina.

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Afternoon sightseeing, dinner, and Sunday buffet cruises are available on the Catawba Queen, which sets out from Queens Landing. A replica of a Mississippi River paddle wheeler, the Catawba Queen is a distinctive presence on Lake Norman, her American flag waving and her paddle wheel a turnin’.

The sight of the Catawba Queen evoked a spirit of adventure in a Huckleberry Finn sort of way; and I can say of our sunny day boat ride that I was not disappointed.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. — Mark Twain

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Durant Nature Preserve: A City of Raleigh Park

Durant_Park_Sign_LogIf you follow my blog with any regularity, you know that I’ve been trying to make my rounds of all the parks that the city of Raleigh, North Carolina, has to offer. I was off work for some appointments the other day and had a few hours to while away in between. Since I’ve only made modest progress toward my goal of exploring Raleigh’s parks, I decided that it was the perfect time to check another one off of my list: Durant Nature Preserve.

Getting to the park was a cinch–Interstate 540 is only minutes from the park, which is located on 8305 Camp Durant Road. The road itself starts out dirt and gravel, then turns into macadam. (Seems  a little backwards, I know.) Much like the other parks I’ve visited so far, I was delighted at how rural the setting seemed. After passing a subdivision, where Camp Durant Road turns from gravel to macadam, the only indication that I was near civilization was the distant noise of traffic along dual-laned Durant Road.

Durant Nature Preserve was the headquarters for the Occoneechee Council of the Boy Scouts until 1979, at which time the City of Raleigh purchased the 237 acres, formerly known as Camp Durant, and turned it into a park. The quiet, woodsy recreation spot was elevated from a mere “park” to a “preserve” in 2010.

Durant Nature Preserve offers fishing, picnicking, five miles of trails (plus access to the Abbott’s Creek connector of the Capital City Greenway), and educational opportunities that range from summer camps and year-round programs to self-guided, “sensory” tours of the gardens and trails.

My visit fell into the self-guided, “sensory” category and began at the preserve’s newest installation, the Sensory and Natural Play Garden. The name pretty much gives it away: this garden is ideal for the kiddos, but it’s also fun for all ages. Partly serious, partly silly, this area includes such features as native plants, ponds, a rock garden, and even a snail crossing.

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A rustic bird feeder in the Sensory and Nature Garden at Durant Nature Preserve. (Raleigh, NC)

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In the rock garden, a mushroom sprouts up among the art.

I didn’t see any wildlife–not even birds–in the Natural Garden, so I was delighted to spot a yellow-spotted millipede on the sidewalk as I made my way further into the park. I would later see three more millipedes while trekking through the woods.

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A yellow-spotted millipede at Durant Nature Preserve in Raleigh, North Carolina.

A particularly informative area of the park is the Interpretive Tree Trail, which begins near the Park Office and winds its way toward (the Nancy Drew-esque) Secret Creek Trail. Plaques along the interpretive path identify native trees and provide interesting facts about them.

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Sweet gum trees have fragrant, star-shaped leaves. The sap of these trees were used as chewing gum by Indians and early settlers. (Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC).

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The yellow poplar is the tallest deciduous tree in the Southeast. The term deciduous means “falling off at maturity” and refers to trees that lose their leaves seasonally. (Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC)

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White oaks like this one at Durant Nature Preserve (Raleigh, NC) can be 60 to 100 feet tall. Their sturdy, beautiful wood make them commercially useful.

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The long, spreading branches of the American beech tree makes it attractive for shade. Wildlife eat the beechnuts that grow on these trees. (Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC)

Along the Secret Creek Trail, I saw different types of fungus and had several opportunities to stand out in the middle of the creek on rocks that extended from bank to bank.

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Coral fungi along the Sweet Creek Trail at Durant Nature Preserve in Raleigh, NC.

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A “sweet view” along the Sweet Creek Trail. There are several places like this one where rocks extend completely across the creek. — Durant Nature Preserve (Raleigh, NC)

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I photographed this ebony jewelwing damselfly along the Secret Creek Trail. Unlike a dragonfly which spreads its wings at rest, a damselfly’s wings are folded above the body when at rest. Damselflies aren’t all “damsels” and dames. This one, in fact, is a male. Females usually have a lighter body and a white spot on their wings.

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Maps throughout Durant Nature Preserve help park visitors to identify their location and plan their exploration. — Raleigh, NC (iPhone 4S)

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Colored wooden circles, like the yellow circle on a tree along the Lakeside Trail (left), denote specific trails. Hiking symbols on trees (right) indicate that the trail is more rugged and ideal for proper hiking. Trail legends (bottom) on maps posted throughout the park provide the length and blaze colors of the various trails. — Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC

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Fishing is encouraged on the two fishing docks at Durant Nature Preserve. Pictured here is the smaller dock by the boathouse. Fishing gear can be borrowed from the Park Office. –Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC

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Along the Lakeside Trail, I spotted two lizards: this one, which I think is a ground skink, as well as a six-lined racerunner with yellow stripes.

Despite a full overnight charge, my camera battery died…just as nature came alive. Along the Lakeside Trail, I encountered several skittish turtles that quickly slipped into the water, a great blue heron that took off and glided across the lake, and a hawk. I veered onto the Border Trail and made the most of my iPhone’s camera.

I have to admit that the further into the park’s trail system that I ventured, the more unsure I was of my actual location–(and the more I wished I had applied some bug spray, which is another thing entirely). The blaze markers helped with my navigation a bit, but there were several times when I would reach a fork in the trail and had to make a decision. A simple map in hand would have probably made this easier….but what fun would that be!

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The more rugged Border Trail at Durant Nature Preserve involves crossing a creek by way of rocks and a large concrete paver. — Raleigh, NC (iPhone 4s)

Shortly after crossing the creek, I found myself on a dirt road that appeared to be an access or service road. It was muddy going because of recent rainfall, but I soon made my way onto another wooded trail. It was here that I encountered a whole mess of deer. The deer are fawning this time of year, and sure enough I saw a mother watching over her little ones as they ate. Although it’s tempting to venture closer, a notice at the Park Office had advised that it’s best not to get too close to them so that the mother will not get spooked and abandon her babies.

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A mother deer with her three fawns at Durant Nature Park in Raleigh, NC. (iPhone 4S)

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Along the way, I encountered a “waterfall.” The yellow blur at about seven o’clock is a yellow swallowtail butterfly. — Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC. (iPhone 4S)

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What’s a park or nature preserve without a turtle log? –Durant Nature Preserve; Raleigh, NC (iPhone 4S)

There was so much more to see and do–I had also planned to visit the park’s butterfly and bird garden–but I had gotten a bit too entrenched in the trail system and it was time to head back to civilization. In my estimation, Durant Nature Preserve is a great local destination for all ages. No doubt, each visit will be a slightly different experience but always an entertaining exploration of creation.