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Month: August 2021

Blue Ridge

“A Tree-mendous Day”

Our final full day together. Today we headed to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. Here we were able to walk among one of the few remaining old growth forests in North Carolina. Some of the trees here are estimated to be between 400-500 years old. We measured many of these Tulip Poplars, the largest circumference being over 20ft around!

Three people stretching a measuring tape around a tree
Measuring the circumference of the huge tulip poplar trees in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

Nine people standing in front of a huge double trunked tulip poplar tree
The group in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

After our hike, we made our way to Yellow Creek Falls for an afternoon of “marathon writing.” The sights and sounds (as well as a refreshing swim) of the waterfall made the perfect backdrop for our writing.

Five people sitting scattered on rocks around a pool at the base of a waterfall
We are writers

We headed back to our yurts for our final group meeting and dinner. We were able to reflect on how powerful this experience has been together and all the ways in which we have grown. We are looking forward to taking these experiences back to our classrooms in the fall.

Blue Ridge

“An In-Tents Experience”

Today was filled with serendipitous moments. We were greeted with a break in the clouds and fog revealing a beautiful sunrise, as we finished our drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Silhouetted person overlooking mountains and mist
Kelly looking out at the early morning mist in the mountains

A damper was put on our morning hike due to rain, but serendipity prevailed giving us the opportunity to view a herd of elk. A bull serenaded his harem by bugling. This was the first time many of our group had seen elk in the wild, because they have only been reintroduced to North Carolina in the last 20 years.

Five elk in a field of grasses and wildflowers
Herd of elk in the field near Oconoluftee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Freeman Owle, an elder of the Cherokee tribe, gave us a fresh perspective on the injustice that he and his people have endured. Most people in this situation would be bitter, but Elder Owle shared this message of hope. “If you’re trying to get even, you’ll never get ahead. “ He was very open to sharing the Cherokee’s sacred land, and he gave each of us a blessing by the Tuckasegee River. One of the special moments we had with him was when he sang “Amazing Grace” in the native Cherokee language, the song that thousands of Native Americans sang on the Trail of Tears.

Man holding a shell full of water and a sycamore leaf that is almost touching an outstretched hand
Freeman Owle also shared a blessing with each of us

On a personal level, Elder Owle connected with us as a fellow educator, reminding us that, “You can’t take possessions with you when you go, but you can leave a blazing trail behind you.” It is not solely the Native Americans’ responsibility to keep their culture alive; we all have a responsibility. Today’s experiences were unexpectedly powerful, moving, and magical.

Blue Ridge

“Hellbendering”

After a very rainy, peaceful sleep, we meandered to the group area for a breakfast of grits, oatmeal, assorted pastries, yogurt and creations with leftover fried chicken.

We loaded up the van to head for the Skinny Dip Falls trailhead. Along the hike, we were educated on identification of the Indian cucumber root, which has an edible root that tastes like cucumber with the texture of a carrot. It’s always beneficial to be aware of natural food elements in your forest surroundings. After a short but brisk hike to the falls, we took in the magnificent wonders of the waterfall.

We left Skinny Dip Falls and went back to camp to prepare for snorkeling in the Davidson River for a peek into the habitat of the hellbender salamander. We arrived at the Pisgah National Forest ranger station for an informational meeting with Lori Williams, a wildlife biologist with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. She educated us on everything hellbender. We even got to meet Rocky. Rocky is an almost fifteen-year-old hellbender that has been raised in captivity and is used for educational purposes.

Following our visit with Lori and Rocky, Ben and Reid (wildlife technicians) accompanied us to the river, where we suited up in warm clothes or wetsuits and snorkeled in the frigid water. Our group goal of spotting three elusive hellbenders in the wild was accomplished.

Thankfully, we warmed up in dry clothes and continued our adventure to Dolly’s where we revelled in luscious ice cream cones. We finished our eventful day with dinner in Brevard.

We returned to camp exhausted but satiated and ready to greet tomorrow with excitement and eagerness to continue to learn from Melissa, Megan, Chris, and one another.

Blue Ridge

“Little Girl Magnolia”

This morning we had the privilege of exploring the NC Arboretum grounds, where we saw a wide variety of plants, lizards, and tadpoles. After a quick stroll through the Bonsai forest including one piece created to look like the spruce fir forest of Mount Mitchell, Dr. Mildred Barya of UNC-Asheville led us through a powerful poetry exercise.

First, we read “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver to inspire our inner writer. The group dissected the poem and made personal connections to the theme and the healing powers of the natural world. Then, we were tasked with constructing our own poem in just 20 minutes! The caveat: we had to use 4 out of 7 words provided AND all of the five senses in our writing. The theme would be around motion and stillness. Take a look at Sandy’s beautiful poem:

Little Girl Magnolia

Your outstretched, bent, and gnarled

arms

shield the musty, decaying

world beneath.

With leaves of velvet, fluttering

and filtering the searing heat

from above.

The vibrant abundance of your

chartreuse family rid me of

my loneliness.

Allowing me to escape the

despair that once bound me.

Your cool, wispy shade

envelops my body and

restores my hope.

That one day the inner,

ancient voices that haunt

me will seize.

And I will again savor

the sweet honey of peace.

We ended the day with a short hike to Black Balsam where we were rewarded with indescribable views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

(We are still unable to post pictures. We wish we could share some visuals with you now, and we will as soon as we can!)

Blue Ridge

“A Day in the Clouds”

Sunrise over the Black Mountains (named for the abundance of dark-colored spruce and fir trees at higher elevations).

Sunrise over the Black Mountains (named for the abundance of dark-colored spruce and fir trees at higher elevations).

Beep, beep, beep! 4:45am comes early, but when we’re chasing a sunrise, nothing can stop us. We drove to Ridge Junction Overlook, through the fog and clouds, and watched the sunrise. Since we’re lifelong learners, we had to explore the surrounding wildflowers, too.

Museum ornithologist John Gerwin holds a banded Hermit Thrush while the group learns how to determine the age based on the feathers and body conditions of the bird.

Museum ornithologist John Gerwin holds a banded Hermit Thrush while the group learns how to determine the age based on the feathers and body conditions of the bird.

Next, we joined John Gerwin, NCMNS ornithologist, to catch songbirds in mist nets. He taught us about banding, tracking migration patterns, and releasing birds. We have all improved our bird watching and listening skills.

John Gerwin releasing a bird.

John Gerwin releasing a bird.

The adventure continued as we traveled farther into the clouds. Our mission was to summit Mt. Mitchell, highest peak east of the Mississippi River. This alpine ecosystem greeted us with Frasier firs, wind, cold, and lots of rain. This didn’t stop us from exploring the surrounding forest and discovering some salamander, lichen, and spider species that were new to us

Eryn teaches us about her expert topic, the Fraser Fir Tree, and their importance to the unique, high elevation spruce-fir forests found at Mount Mitchell.

Eryn teaches us about her expert topic, the Fraser Fir Tree, and their importance to the unique, high elevation spruce-fir forests found at Mount Mitchell.

After we returned to the van and peeled off all of our wet layers, we spent the afternoon choosing our own adventure. We visited Setrock Creek Falls, searching for salamanders and crawfish. Fun fact: crawfish carry their young on their underside even after they’ve hatched. South Toe River provided us with very cold water for snorkeling and trout-watching. While drying his mist nets, John caught a chipping sparrow, providing us more opportunity to learn about this species. An evening campfire gave us additional time to reflect and enjoy each other’s company. As we approach the halfway point, we all agree that this has been an excellent experience, and we cannot wait to see what’s on the other side.

Blue Ridge

“A Day of Surprises”

Surprising our fearless leaders, the group was ready to go about 30 minutes early this morning. Leaving Stone Mountain, we traveled down the Blue Ridge Parkway stopping to observe the natural beauty along the way.

Ranger Jonathan Bennett regales us with the story of how Linville Gorge got its name.

Ranger Jonathan Bennett regales us with the story of how Linville Gorge got its name.

At the Linville River we ate lunch (and fabulous desserts). Ranger Jonathan Bennett entertained us with a rousing history of the Parkway, and more specifically the Linville area itself. Of great note were his sound effects (particularly the clip clop of horse hooves).

A spectacular group of NC Educators overlooking Table Rock from Wiseman’s View in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.

A spectacular group of NC Educators overlooking Table Rock from Wiseman’s View in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.

We then journeyed up to Wiseman’s View and took in the breathtaking view of Linville Gorge. Words cannot express this view, go see for yourself! Watch your car’s suspension though.

At the North Carolina Museum of Minerals we met up with Ranger Bennett again, where he showed us a recently deceased rattlesnake specimen.

Dead on the road Timber Rattlesnake, collected by the National Park Service to be used for genetic studies.

Dead on the road Timber Rattlesnake, collected by the National Park Service to be used for genetic studies.

We finished the day at Briar Bottom campground where we set up camp. While dinner was prepared, John Gerwin (fantastic ornithologist) prepared us for our birdwatching adventure tomorrow.

Early to bed, early morning tomorrow!