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 blown 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.

A Walk thru the North Carolina Botanical Garden

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It was a pleasant 66 degrees when I arrived last Saturday morning at the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It was my first visit to the public garden, which is operated by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a “conservation garden” that promotes the education and appreciation of plants native to the state. (Admission to the Garden is free, although donations are accepted.)

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The Education Center at the North Carolina Botanical Garden offers classrooms, an auditorium and seminar rooms, an exhibit hall and gallery, a reference library and more.

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The Green Gardener Reference Room and Library contains books and articles on plants of the southeastern United States, as well as reference materials on horticulture, botany and birds. (These resources can be used by the public but cannot be checked out.)

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Around the perimeter of the Education Center are large water tanks that hold rain water for the Garden.

Within the Garden itself are several distinct, smaller gardens and natural areas where native plants of the various regions of North Carolina are displayed. The Education Center’s greeter provided me with a detailed map and suggested the best way to view the Gardens. This, of course, would have been useful information for anyone with a sense of direction. I, however, am not one of those people. I had barely made it through the back door of the Gift Shop in route to the herb garden, which the greeter recommended as my first stop, before I was lost. Nevertheless, my wandering walk was relaxed and enjoyable as here and there I read facts on garden plaques and even overheard snippets of conversation from a guided tour.

My turn about the grounds found me first in the Piedmont Habitat Garden, which is a sunny spot where pieces of old farm equipment rest among the perennials as a nod to the agricultural history of the Piedmont region of North Carolina.

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I ventured deeper into the Garden and snapped the following photo. (Moments later, and to my relief, the child’s father had her in tow once again.) The scene strikes me as very old-timey. Or perhaps timeless.

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I soon stumbled upon the aforementioned herb garden, then inspected the aquatic plants in the Native Water Gardens. The latter was being lorded over by a sour-faced gray and white cat who, I am sorry to say, was not very photogenic and therefore did not make the cut for this blog post. On I went until I reached the Garden of Flowering Plant Families, which serves as the meeting place of botany and bold sculptures by North Carolina artists.

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Colored bottles line the pathway of the Garden of Flowering Plant Families. …This picture is especially for you, Mom.  🙂

In the Coastal Plain Habitat, I heard plops and gurgles from the otherwise still waters. Despite these curious sounds, I didn’t encounter any frogs, toads, or the resident non-poisonous water snakes known to bask in the sun there.

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Wooden bridges stretch over dark waters in the Coastal Plain Habitat of the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

My favorite spot was the Mountain Habitat Garden, where plants and trees indigenous to the mountainous areas of the southern Appalachians create rich, dense shade. Nestled in this cozy cove with the likes of Mountain Sweet-pepperbush, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and Mountain Doghobble is the cabin of playwright Paul Green.  Green often incorporated “botanical knowledge and herbal folk wisdom of North Carolina’s native peoples and settlers” in his plays.  It was in this cabin, which was restored and moved to the North Carolina Botanical Garden in 1991, that Green conducted much of his research on native herbs. [1]

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The Paul Green Cabin at the North Carolina Botanical Garden

Could I have only taken one photo all morning, I would have chosen the following one. When I saw this Magnolia tree and its red fruit, there seemed to be something usual about it. Sure enough, as I was taking this picture, a small tour group approached and the guide announced that this particular Magnolia tree—the Bigleaf Magnolia—is rare and endangered.

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Fruit of a Bigleaf Magnolia: Although Magnolias are aplenty in North Carolina, the Bigleaf variety is rare.

I love Magnolias, but I must admit that I have never been a fan of towering, tufted Pines. Of course, it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind as the saying goes.  In truth, the Longleaf Pine never looked finer to me than it did in the North Carolina Botanical Garden that morning, and I left the Sandhills Habitat repentant that I had ever referred to them as spindly trees. Indeed, they are tall and strong and played an integral part in the settlement of North Carolina by Europeans in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The sap of these “Tarheel Treasures” was valuable in making products such as tar, paint and varnish, while the durable wood was useful for bridge girders as well as railroad ties and ship masts.

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Longleaf Pines reach toward the Carolina blue sky in the Sandhills Habitat Garden.

For the bird enthusiast, the Garden offers a rustic bird-watching shelter complete with informative charts illustrating the various birds that frequent the grounds. From a crude wooden bench, I had a “bird’s eye view” of Nuthatches, Yellow Finches, Common Starlings, a Mourning Dove, and even a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

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Just past the bird-watching shelter, one can hit the Piedmont Nature Trails—a trail system offering 88 acres of central North Carolina forest and 2 miles of hiking on trails such as the 1/2 mile Streamside Trail and the 3/4 mile Old Hickory Trail.

It’s amazing what a few hours can do—or rather, what one can do and learn in just a few hours!


[1] http://ncbg.unc.edu/display-gardens/#mountain_habitat_garden