Light and Shadow in the Summer Sun

by Mark Miles

Toward the end of June, I went to Occoneechee Mountain for the sixth time this year. I’ve been making it a habit to go at least once per month, and that schedule has allowed me to enjoy the fluctuations of the seasons without becoming inured to the place by visiting too frequently. As a result, the mountain remains fresh and exhilarating to me whenever I visit.

Cresting one of the first slopes along the main trail, I came within view of the early evening sun. It was dazzling after the gloomy atmosphere of the hill leading up to it, and I stood for a few moments to soak in the moment.

After branching off on the mountain loop trail, I descended again into the relative gloominess of the forest. It wasn’t in any way unpleasant, but I have to admit I was slightly unnerved on my first few visits when the canopy seemed to become much darker much quicker than the open terrain around the mountain.

On my way up the side of the mountain toward the overlook trail, I stumbled on this beauty. Appropriately enough, its common name is Maryland meadow-beauty (Rhexia mariana), which I only found out after searching for a solid forty-five minutes on my phone through an online database. It’s a perennial with spiny stems, lanceolate leaves, four-petaled flowers, and drooping anthers. And it lives up to its name too, being one of the most beautiful flowers to be found on a western slope in the early evening, when the orange sunlight accentuates its innate magenta coloration.

To my surprise, despite arriving at the park later than I wanted, I had almost perfect timing for sunset, making it to the overlook itself within minutes of the last peek of the sun over the horizon. There were two other people there to savor the final rays of the day, and together we shared the moment on the edge of the mountain-face before going our separate ways.

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Hiking to a Place Called Gratitude

by Mark Miles

Back in June I went hiking along the Eno Riverwalk in Hillsborough, NC. I’ve been visiting this place at least once per month since February when a terrible breakup made me reconsider a lot of things. One of the things I reconsidered was my failure to make time for the activities that I love, those experiences that make me grateful to be alive. Hiking is one of those activities, and it was only natural that I decided to make it a priority on some kind of regular basis. I chose the Eno Riverwalk as one of my regular destinations because I love the scenery and because it’s reasonably close to where I live, reducing the likelihood that I’ll use distance as an excuse not to go. So I’ve been visiting this place consistently for months now and have begun to notice subtle changes along the with each season. Some of these were especially noticeable on this latest visit.

One of these changes was the abundance of foliage and flowers. As I was making my way along one of the trails, I noticed a small yellow flower growing from a bush about three feet in height. It was very pretty but was unfamiliar to me at the time. After some online searching I was able to identify it as a cinquefoil (Potentilla spp.), though the elongated drooping stamens prevented me narrowing this plant to a particular species. Cinquefoil is related to the rose family, and the clustering of petals in multiples of five is a dependable indicator of this. This correspondence with the number five also gives the flower its name, which in medieval French means five-leaf.

Another plant also grabbed my attention. It stood roughly two and a half feet in height, had long narrow leaves, and produced very odd and distinctive seed-pods. The seed-pods themselves were about two inches in length and were covered in grasping spines which gave it a very rough appearance. I wasn’t able to identify this plant, but it was one of the most interesting I came across.

Near the end of my hike, I stumbled upon a bend in the Eno River where the water pooled before continuing on its eastward course. The place was amazingly serene, and I was honestly tempted to spend the remainder of the afternoon there. I didn’t, but I did stay long enough to take a photo of this incredibly expressive sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis). It was standing at the edge of the river and had clearly seen better days. The soil underneath it had been eroded by years of steady motion from the Eno, yet the tree remained in place and tenaciously held on to its life by a thread. Looking at the sycamore and thinking of my own relationship troubles, I couldn’t help feeling the greatest admiration for this tree which had endured so much yet retained its beauty, dignity and strength. In light of that, how could I possibly feel self-pity or despair? I have so much in life to be thankful for, and I have this sycamore to thank for reminding me of that.

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A Tale of Two Sisters

by Mark Miles

Of all the cats I’ve lived with, Heidi is by far the biggest poser. Whether sprawled out on my bed, perched on a tree-branch, or attempting to ambush her sister, she has a knack for positioning herself for maximum photographic effect. I half-expect her to strut into my bedroom one morning and announce her intention to actively pursue a career in modeling. She certainly has more than the requisite level of intelligence, and no one can accuse her of wearing too many clothes…

Bella on the other hand is my resident manager. She’s the one who conveys to her sister where to go, when to go there, and what to do (or not do) when she gets there. She’s the one who emits blood-curdling howls at any hour of the day or night when someone who hasn’t passed inspection comes within sight of one of her many lookouts around the house. She’s the one who checks every unusual noise to ensure that no underhanded activity is afoot and who tries to join in if so. There is, in short, nothing that goes on in this house that’s not explicitly or implicitly subject to her approval. This extends also to the overall existence of Heidi, whom Bella tolerates but will generally not be bothered with.

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Is Instagram Headed for Extinction?

by Mark Miles

Instagram is progressively becoming unusable. At first I thought it must’ve been a momentary glitch, but the steadily increasing number of slowdowns, speeding tickets, indiscretions, crashes, and miscellaneous draconian obfuscations is quickly becoming too heavy-handed to dismiss. Considering the fact that Facebook now owns Instagram and had lost considerable market-share to its previous rival, it only makes sense that the corporate executives behind Facebook would want to recuperate a share of the active users whom they lost to Instagram’s easy access and mobile compatibility. And what better way to eliminate one’s competition than by buying them out, slowly wrecking their most distinctive features, and merging them into one’s own company? In turn this would allow Facebook to reduce costs (by cutting jobs), regain capital (by selling redundant assets), and recapture preeminence as the leader in social networking among teens and young adults. (From here on, I’ll refer to Facebook as FB and Instagram as IG.)

So FB is gradually making IG less distinctive and more derivative. Coincidentally FB itself is gradually adopting many of the most successful features of IG: filters for pics and videos, seamless borders, quick scroll-speed, and mobile compatibility. All of these features make FB more competitive and more attractive to the average user. However the problem of what to do with all those loyal users of IG remains. And one solution, quite frankly, is to aggravate, stymy, and alienate them to such an extent that they desert in droves, return to previously used forms of social media (including and especially FB), and actively wish for the dissolution of IG. Then, when it happens, there will be practically no one to mourn IG’s passing, and FB will be able to say with utmost insincerity that it’s merely meeting the demands of the market. Nevermind that it manipulated the demands of the market by alienating consumers from a former competitor’s brand.

And this is where I find myself. I’ve been a loyal user of IG since the end of 2014, and within less than two years I’ve amassed four thousand followers, the vast majority of whom I don’t know personally and have no contact with apart from IG. Many of these followers have become friends, have offered support in times of crisis, have encouraged my creative endeavors, and have made my experience on social media much more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. Some of these people have even become a kind of family. Needless to say, I don’t want to lose touch with these people, but I find myself grappling with the very real possibility of doing so in the near future due to an app whose declining state has resulted from the secretive decisions of corporate executives in business suites playing Russian roulette with the social lives of millions of people.

In light of this, there are no good options for the individual, myself included. I can transfer as many contacts as possible to FB, doing FB’s work for them and finding myself sucked back into the social quagmire of endlessly regurgitated nonsense, on which FB thrives. I can ask my followers to follow me on other platforms with which they may have no familiarity nor desire to engage. Or I can sit back, bury my head in the sand, and pretend that none of this will happen when most or all of it probably will. It’s only a matter of time. The only consolation in this entire experience is that what the individual does is not what society has to do, and what society does is up to all of us.

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