Ayr Mount (Hillsborough, NC)

There’s a big world out there, and sometimes you don’t have to venture too far from home to encounter something new in it. All that might be required is a slight detour; such as the one I took today after church to flee the I-40 bustle.

I took the Hillsborough exit (261), which promised a laidback route through one of North Carolina’s oldest towns. The historic borough was abuzz with activity near the River Walk and local restaurants. A brown sign for Ayr Mount that I’d never noticed before caught my eye. Intrigued by the name, I followed it. (Note to reader: If a sign said, “Jump off this bridge,” I probably would not follow it.)

I parked in a gravel lot. As I surveyed graceful, weeping trees and acres and acres (about 60 to be exact) of meadows, woodlands and gardens surrounding a brick plantation house, I wondered how I had lived in the general vicinity for eleven years and not known that this place existed.

Let me say this now in case I forget later: Anyone can walk around Ayr Mount or sit on the grounds any time they want to! Well, at least until closing, which today was 6pm. (There is a $12 fee to tour the house. Parking is free.)

Now for a little history, the rest of which can be found here. Ayr Mount was the home of the Kirkland family, whose patriarch, William Kirkland, immigrated to North Carolina from Ayr, Scotland, in 1789. Despite humble beginnings, William Kirkland became a well-respected merchant, amassing wealth and building Ayr Mount in 1815. The plantation remained in the family until 1985. In 1993, after extensive restoration, the new owner donated the house to the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. Today, thanks to the Trust and those who came before them, Ayr Mount stands representative of early American architecture, culture, and heritage.


Ayr Mount was built in the Federal style. Its all-brick exterior was rare for the time–most houses in the region were wood frame. I found the rear of the house (shown here) to be just as pretty (prettier?) than the front. The interior, which I did not tour, possesses unique features for the time as well, such as 14-foot ceilings, intricate woodwork, and plasterwork.

A small garden edged the rear of the house. The most vibrant showing this time of year was a profusely laden yellow Angel’s Trumpet bush.


Beyond the stone patio stretched acres of meadows and woodlands, with views like this one:

Visitors can either walk through the grass and get their feet nice and wet (like I did) OR the grounds can be seen to their full advantage by traveling Poet’s Walk, which is a one-mile walking trail that loops around the property from the house down to the banks of the Eno River and back.


Poet’s Walk at Ayr Mount


Bird houses, plantings, and seats are peppered all along Poet’s Walk. I didn’t go down to the Eno River (which would have made for a nice picture) for fear of totally (as opposed to partially) ruining my good Sunday shoes.

The Kirkland family cemetery is right along Poet’s Walk (and is the first sight seen from the parking lot).


Generations of Kirklands were laid to rest in the family cemetery on Ary Mount.

In my humble (and arguably morbid) opinion, the cemetery was one of the most striking sights on the property. The trees and plantings, along with the wrought-iron gate and stone perimeter came together to produce a sense of tranquility. Amidst this reminder of the end that we each face (if the LORD tarries), an epitaph rose high with this faithful proclamation: “Resting in hope of a joyful resurrection.” …And hope, believers in Jesus Christ know, does not disappoint.


Elon University: A Botanical Garden


Alamance Building, a National Register Historic Place in the historic district of Elon University. (Alamance County, North Carolina)

Elon University, a private liberal arts school founded in 1889 and located in Alamance County, North Carolina, has the unique distinction of being classified as a botanical garden. It doesn’t have a botanical garden. It is a botanical garden. And not only that, six buildings of the Colonial/Georgian Revival style and one monument on campus are on the National Register under the designation Elon College Historic District.

Intrigued by these recent discoveries, I paid the campus a visit and was not disappointed. Take a look at some of the beautiful flora and architecture I saw as I meandered winding brick pathways and surveyed lush green lawns:


Could anyone ever be late for class, I wondered, with this pretty reminder posing at the intersection of two brick walkways?


Columns and arches, such as those behind this lovely lily, were prevalent practically everywhere on campus.


The floral splendor attracted butterflies galore, such as this black swallowtail.


But the butterflies were not to be outdone. I also spotted a hummingbird and even this hummingbird moth.


The porch of the alumni house looked like it would be the perfect place to stop for a spot of sweet tea.


You can’t stop progress! Elon’s campus is growing, as the orange construction fencing in this photo portrays. I encountered many folks, such as these leisurely dog walkers, who were taking advantage of the shady sidewalks and beautiful scenery.


A showy hibiscus bloom flaunts a raggedy petal near the historic O’Kelly monument, which I photographed very poorly and therefore did not make the cut.


Bees were busy in the lovely flower bed near the historic Carlton Library.


The relentless heat of a southern summer couldn’t wilt these hearty rudbeckia.


…and more coneflowers, because I’m crazy for coneflowers. Plus there’s the historic library in the background–nameplate and all.


Seemingly subtle accents, such as this ivy-covered brick wall, added to the charm of Elon’s campus. I wanted to go back to school all over again!


“E” is for Elon. (Believe it or not, it took me a moment to put two and two together. …Lightbulb!)


So many of the places on campus were prettier in real life than through my camera lens. One such place was here by the pergola and Lake Mary Nell.

I left Elon University decidedly appreciative of its visual appeal and southern charm.

Rays of Ravishing Light and Glory

Savannah_Flag_Marshall_House_2014Patriotism is on the decline according to one poll. An underwhelming 28% of Americans consider America the greatest country in the world. Which means 72% think it…ain’t.

To that 72%, I would ask: Exactly which country do you think rocks in the free world? (Pardon my loose reference to the lyrics of a song that mocked the politics of the 1980s and the subsequent Bush 41 administration but still managed to emerge as an icon of patriotism.)

To myself, I must ask: Does acknowledging that our country is a bit of a mess at the moment (understatement of the century) qualify me as unpatriotic?

God forbid.

And speaking of God, which a majority (it would seem) despises to do these days, consider the fact that our Declaration of Independence references God multiple times. Although the sole purpose of the document was a declaration to the world of America’s freedom from British rule, it nevertheless contains language that reveals to us how God was regarded (and that He actually was regarded) in 1776.

I won’t attempt to dissect the document as though it is a Christian manifesto (because it’s not), but suffice it to say that references are made to God as Lawgiver, Creator, Supreme Judge of all the World, and Protector of Divine Providence. Such qualities and language are consistent with (but not exhaustive of) the Christian view of God as revealed in the Bible.

I’m not saying that 100% of the colonists in 1776 were Christians, or even that America was on the road to becoming a Christian nation; but what I am saying is that the general context in which independence was proposed, adopted and fought for consisted of a community in which a large number of individuals called themselves Christians, understood Christian language, and adopted a reformed protestant view of life.

Consider further the 1776 National Day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer, which took place on May 17, 1776, during the fight for America’s independence. Here’s an excerpt from that document, which can be found in the Journals of the Continental Congress:

Desirous, at the same time, to have people of all ranks and degrees duly impressed with a solemn sense of God’s superintending providence, and of their duty, devoutly to rely, in all their lawful enterprizes, on his aid and direction, Do earnestly recommend, that Friday, the Seventeenth day of May next, be observed by the said colonies as a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that we may, with united hearts, confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and, by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure, and, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness; humbly imploring his assistance to frustrate the cruel purposes of our unnatural enemies; and by inclining their hearts to justice and benevolence, prevent the further effusion of kindred blood.

That doesn’t sound like a petition to just any old god to me. And incidentally, this was the second National Day of Prayer. The first one occurred in 1775.

When further considering American history in this vein, John Adams wrote these words to his wife, Abigail Adams, on July 3, 1776, concerning America’s independence:

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory.

(In point of fact, Adams was actually referring to July 2nd, not July 4th, as the “Day of Deliverance.” Technically, it was on July 2nd that the Second Continental Congress, assembled in Philadelphia and representing the thirteen original colonies, voted 12 to 1 in favor of independence. On the 4th, all 56 delegates adopted a revised Declaration of Independence drafted by Thomas Jefferson—a document that would not be officially signed until nearly a month later.)

Was John Adams correct in his “prophecy”? From the most patriotic to the mildly apathetic, from sea to shining sea, we seem to have preserved and mastered the parades, games, and illuminations (fireworks), but what about all the rest—most namely “solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty”? Not because John Adams said it ought to be so, and not because the Declaration of Independence may or may not refer to God in no uncertain terms, but rather in response to the God revealed in the Bible—the God who indeed is, was, and always will be Creator, Lawgiver, Righteous Judge, and Sovereign over the affairs of the world and all that He has created.

Let each man and woman self-examine and be found a true patriot. But more than that, may men and women in this great country (and every other country on the globe) bend the knee to God Almighty, who stands ready through the “merits and mediation of Jesus Christ” to forgive those who are truly repentant of their sins.[1] In that (and only that), true and lasting freedom lies.

For the true Christian in America today, we have much to be thankful for this Independence Day. God has granted us religious freedom to worship the Triune God whenever and wherever we choose. (To bring this about, many fellow Americans have given their lives.) For true Christians everywhere, we can be thankful this day and every day that God the Father sent His Son (Jesus) to suffer and die for our sins—and that Jesus willingly suffered the agonies of the cross for us, died, was buried, and rose from the dead. We can be thankful that God, through the Holy Spirit, brought us to faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paramount to any written declaration penned on earth is the eternal promise that for those who believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, our names are written in heaven.

God bless America. God bless you.

[1] John 1:29John 3:36John 8:31

Cherry Allée

Which comes first, the leaf or the bloom? For the Akebono cherry tree, the “usual” order of events is reversed—the bloom precedes the leaf. The botanical term for this sequence is hysteranthy.

The intriguing nature of this tree, (a cultivar of the Japanese Yoshino cherry), doesn’t end there: the blossoms appear first as pale pink in early spring, then turn to white as the flowers open in the following days, only to turn pink again before wilting. The first dawn of pink that these petals display are likened to pink morning skies, resulting in the Japanese name “Akebono” which means “daybreak” or “dawn.”[1]

Akebono cherry trees are one of several varieties on display during the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., and these striking beauties bestow their branches on other parts of the country as well, North Carolina included.

In 2012, Duke Gardens redesigned their main entrance—the Gothic Gate entrance—to include an Akebono-lined cherry allée. Last year, I photographed the fruits of this labor while the trees were pretty in pink. (You can view that photo here.)

In early March, I made my way over to the allée to check things out. The trees weren’t in bloom yet, but I thought I detected a pinkish hue in the works on the trees at the far end of the allée. …Soon and very soon, it would appear! (As a volunteer photographer for the Gardens, the urge to camp out there morning, noon and night was irresistible but obviously impractical.)


Do I detect pink cherry blossoms in the making?! (That’s the Duke Chapel in the sunset.) — Durham, NC

Less than two weeks later, I received word that the allée was in bloom! I high-tailed it over after work that very same day…then the next morning…and a couple days after that, too.

Here’s just a sampling of the photos I took. Enjoy!




The allée was designed to resemble a stream descending gradually toward the Mary Duke Biddle Rose Garden and its focal piece, the historic Roney Fountain.

At the top of the grandiose stairway leading to the Rose Garden, the cherry blossoms create a striking contrast to the rustic stone arbor below.


Merely descending into the Rose Garden does not mean bidding farewell to the slightly fragrant, oh-so-lovely Akebono blooms. Even a backward glance is breathtaking:


A view of the cherry allée from the Rose Garden. — Duke Gardens


Coming or going, morning or evening, it’s been a magnificent spring for Duke Gardens’ cherry allée.


[1] https://www.nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/memorial-loop-trail.htm