Clowns in the Woods at Eno River State Park?

Clowns have been in the news for some time. There’s been media coverage of clowns in South Carolina and even in North Carolina where I live, in addition to many other states. In one case a man with a machete was reported to have chased one of these clowns into the woods. That incident took place in Greensboro, North Carolina, which is a mere thirty miles from where I live. So I’ve been thinking about clowns lately, despite my own skepticism regarding the phenomenon.

The reports of malevolent clowns that I’ve read have characterized their activity as consisting in large part of a concerted attempt to lure people into the woods by use of candy or offers of money. Obviously this sounds nonsensical, but the idea caters to certain preconceptions of clowns that have been prevalent on social media for some time, including this notorious meme of a clown in the woods.

As you probably know by now, I love the woods. If I were to choose any place in all the world to live without any consideration of economics and with only my own happiness in mind, I would choose a forest. This probably stems from my childhood, since I grew up in a residential area that was heavily wooded, and I found myself in the woods frequently as a child. Consequently the woods are a place of familiarity and comfort for me. Or at least they usually are.

With the advent of reports about clowns engaging in various sinister activities loosely related to wooded areas, my feelings have started to shift. This shift has been entirely unconscious but noticeable nonetheless. Nowhere was this shift more apparent than on a recent hike to Eno River State Park in Durham, North Carolina, which I took earlier this month.

I arrived at the park around 5:30 pm and immediately scrutinized the trail kiosk to see where I would go for the day. I’d already explored the trails surrounding Fews Ford and the southern stretch of the Eno. But when I saw that there was a considerable expanse of forest to the north which I hadn’t yet traversed, I knew where I’d be heading.

Setting off from the trail kiosk at the park office, I joined the Buckquarter Creek Trail. Following this, I wound my way through the surrounding hills, quickly leaving the Eno in the background and descending gradually before finding Ridge Trail. Joining Ridge Trail, I continued marching steadily northward, thankfully unconcerned about clowns for the moment.

Before long, I heard the sound of rushing water ahead of me in the distance. I looked at my trusty map and determined that the sound was emanating from Buckquarter Creek itself. Reaching the creek, I looked for a bridge but instead found a line of rocks which appeared to be passable but which clearly required sure footing to cross. Before I did this, I had to take photos of the beautiful American sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis) which graced the edge of the north side of Buckquarter Creek. Sadly the thought also occurred to me that it might be a good place for a malevolent clown to hide.

After taking my photos, I gingerly hopscotched across the stream, ascended the base of the eponymous ridge, took a right at the fork in the road, and joined Shakori Trail. Judging from the depiction of the trail on the map in my hand, I figured it wouldn’t take more than fifteen or twenty minutes to complete the Shakori Trail, which loops back to Ridge Trail at its northeasternmost extremity. By now the sun was noticeably fading, and I estimated that I had thirty minutes of strong daylight by which to safely navigate these unfamiliar woods.

There were, however, a few caveats. I had set out from my house without charging my phone, and it now had less than five percent power. Additionally my small digital camera which I take on hiking excursions had already died, leaving me to take photos on my phone and thereby expending more of its limited energy. Finally I had no flashlight and knew I would need to use my phone for that purpose if the woods became too dark, thereby expending more of my phone’s limited energy. All of this increased my apprehension about venturing into this stretch of woods; but I did anyway, fully cognisant that this was by far the best place in the entire park for a clown with a bad attitude to be hiding.

I could immediately tell after crossing Buckquarter Creek that the woods to the north were rarely traversed by humans. The trail was narrower, there were more sticks and branches in the way, and at points the trail itself seemed to fade into the surrounding woods. Normally this wouldn’t have bothered me; but because of the lateness of the hour and my unfamiliarity with the area, I was becoming apprehensive. Thoughts of what might be lurking in the encroaching gloom didn’t help.

Despite the depiction of Shakori Trail, there was a greater distance to walk than I was expecting. With every passing minute the sunlight waned, the trail continued, and my apprehension grew. It didn’t help that I happened to stumble upon the largest animal-droppings which I’ve ever seen on a park trail. I can’t say definitively what species made the deposit, but I’m guessing it was a bear. To the casual observer, however, it could easily have been the droppings of a clown.

After passing the poop, I continued on my way. The trail was still climbing upward at a steady rate, indicating that I hadn’t reached the top of the ridge for which Ridge Trail is named. At the same time, the sunlight was still fading. Without warning I heard a rustling in the woods to my left. There was a declivity to that side which obscured my sight, and an image of a clown with a malicious sneer momentarily intruded on my thoughts. By this time, my stomach was fully tied in knots.

Still I was determined to finish what I’d started, and no amount of rustling in the woods was going to stop me from doing that. At last the trail began to level out, and within ten minutes I saw a yellow fence-gate which marked the convergence of Shakori Trail with Ridge Trail. Relief flooded over me in an instant, but I still kept looking for clowns.

From that point onward, I kept a brisk pace. It was 6:30, and I didn’t want to extend my stay any longer than absolutely necessary. The woods were darkening noticeably by this time, and decreased visibility only increased the play of imagination. Every darkened corner of the woods seemed to be the perfect hideout for a clown; every rustle in the branches seemed to be the approach of a clown. I tried to scour these thoughts from my mind, but they simply wouldn’t leave.

At last I made it back to Buckquarter Creek. I quickly hopscotched across and felt a wave of relief at the prospect of being back on a section of trail that was reasonably well traversed by other hikers. To my left, however, there was a deserted cabin in the woods, which under the circumstances didn’t require a significant leap of imagination to be perceived as a potential hideout for a malevolent clown.

With the last stretch of trail in front of me, I saw motion ahead. Immediately my stomach was in my mouth. I’d been thinking of clowns for so long that the first thought to jump into my mind was of course the worst. I was tense and uneasy but continued. Finally I could make out the features of the approaching entity. I relaxed as soon as I did. It turned out to be just another hiker with his dog at his side and his baby on his back.

Finally I was done with the trail, and I got back into my car to head home. There’d been no encounter with clowns, no molestation from clowns, no sinister offers from clowns, no lurking or skulking of clowns. It’d been a good hike, even if I hadn’t arrived as promptly as I should have or with appropriate preparedness of electronic devices. In short, nothing bad had happened.

And this was when it dawned on me. The most harmful effect of recent media coverage of clowns in the woods has been the effect on people’s relationship with nature. Woods have been vilified once again as sites of malevolence, perversion, and violence. This vilification is nothing new, as anyone who’s familiar with the story of Little Red Riding Hood can attest. But the disparaging misrepresentation of clowns in the woods continues the trend and takes it to another level, adding an element of infantilizing terror to the experience and further dissuading anyone, especially children, from ever taking that first step into the woods. And that’s the real horror story.

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19 thoughts on “Clowns in the Woods at Eno River State Park?

  1. whimsicalmoonfarm October 15, 2016 / 3:11 am

    Briefly, clowns give me the willie’s, thank you very much, and your post succeeded in immediately playing on my clown psychosis. Job well done! (Shiver).

    More importantly, you emphasized the harmful effect of ‘media’ on our relationship with nature. I appreciate that you brought the whole creepy clown thing (I will get you for that! : D) around to getting back into the woods/nature. I am totally with you on that ideal. Thank you for a great post. And I still hate clowns.

    • Mark Miles October 17, 2016 / 4:16 am

      Yeah, I’m not crazy about clowns in general, though I do recognize that they’re good people for the most part and are simply doing what they love, which is commendable. And thank you for the kind words. 👋

  2. rivertoprambles October 15, 2016 / 12:17 pm

    Excellent woods’ story, Mark, with a well-taken conclusion, or point that you make. Reminds me of a good Sleepy Hollow Halloween tale. Those trails, those streams, we follow are often much larger in real life than our maps portray, so that aspect of the walk is understandable. These bogus clowns are figments of the few, and they’d do better to get a real life. Thanks for taking me along, far from the real clowns of the world.

    • Mark Miles October 17, 2016 / 4:22 am

      Thank you as always, my friend. The sad part is that the real clowns are the politicians and business executives who are largely running our society. Only they rarely receive that designation and cause far more harm as a result. Regardless, no amount of clowns will keep from loving the woods.

      Have a great week ahead. 👋

  3. wildernesslifeblog October 15, 2016 / 6:48 pm

    I really enjoyed reading that and the end really saddened me. There are not enough people out in the nature, the last thing we need is – sorry – a**hole attention seeking SOB clowns scaring people. I know for myself that I would be traumatized if it happened to me. That might sound like I am over exaggerating but I am really not. Something scary happens and my mind freaks out in the dark.

    Lucky we do not have a**hole attention seeking SOB clowns in the woods in Lapland 🙂 ….. yet.

    • Mark Miles October 17, 2016 / 4:27 am

      I agree that it’s sad that some people choose to misuse wilderness. I’m not opposed to clowns, however, and I find the amount of coverage being given to these few individuals is greatly disproportional to their actual presence.

      Anyway, I hope you have no troubles in the woods in Lapland. Forests are special places and should be treasured by all.

  4. lisa@notesfromafrica October 16, 2016 / 5:10 am

    Nicely written! Didn’t think that a story of clowns and a walk in the woods could be that suspenseful. 🙂

    • Mark Miles October 17, 2016 / 4:30 am

      Thank you! I was uncertain if I should post it considering I usually share the softer side of things, but it seemed to need to be said.

  5. Savithri Senanayake October 16, 2016 / 6:31 am

    What a wonderful story my dear Mark! It was a bit creepy thaugh! Ihope you enjoyed your hike! Have happh weekend !
    Regards Savi.

    • Mark Miles October 17, 2016 / 4:32 am

      Thank you very much, Savi! It was the most uncomfortable experience I’ve had in the woods in a long time, but I was happy to be alive afterward. Have a lovely week, my friend!

  6. neptunesdolphins October 16, 2016 / 10:57 am

    The fear of the woods has building up for sometime. I see on PBS kids shows now, the new shows are all about getting kids into nature. Sad. I grew up in the woods with my family knowing the animals. People today barely know a woodpecker from a blue jay.

    • Mark Miles October 17, 2016 / 4:35 am

      Yeah, I agree. There’s so much inexperience with the natural world in our culture, and it’s only becoming more prevalent. Likewise, in the absence of real experiences in real forests, people will be increasingly susceptible to any kind of nonsense that comes along. It’s saddening, but it makes the sharing of enriching stories about nature all the more important.

  7. Storybook October 18, 2016 / 5:10 pm

    I bemoan the similarities between M Night Shyamalan’s The Village monster stories to keep the children out of the woods, or the anti-nature conditioning in Huxley’s Brave New World, and the media’s unintentional demonization of nature via creepy clowns. It’s almost the same story! For the media, it’s all about the ratings but nature will suffer in the long run. You’re right we should share our stories and take back nature from the creeps. Thank you for sharing!

    • Mark Miles October 24, 2016 / 4:48 am

      Thank you so much for your considered response. I hadn’t thought of parallels to The Village or Brave New World, but they’re certainly present in our culture. That’s why it’s our imperative to tell another story. Thank you again.

  8. Dorset explorer October 19, 2016 / 7:30 am

    We’ve had ‘copy cat’ clowns in Dorset 🇬🇧! There is a gorgeous woodland stream walk behind our village. It’s usually used as a shortcut from one end of the village to the other. I was walking there in crepuscular light and heard that ominous rustle! Suddenly, just as you describe so eloquently, this happy walk became full of mystery and a shiver ran down my back…it was a bird in a tree, of course, nothing sinister! Great writing Mark.

    • Mark Miles October 24, 2016 / 4:54 am

      Thank you so much. It’s funny to remember how apprehensive I was at the moment and how convinced I was that something bad was going to happen only to realize later that I was simply reacting to what had been put in my head unconsciously in the course of consuming recent news coverage. Everything we encounter in life changes our minds, whether we realize it or not.

  9. womanwalkingblog October 31, 2016 / 5:07 am

    Woods can switch from tranquil to terrifying so easily, can’t they? And once your imagination has been taken hostage by thoughts of creepy clowns/ bogey men intent upon unspecified malice, then every rustle of a leaf is a portent of danger. I’d say you were pretty brave setting off into the forest in fading light in the first place, clowns or no clowns

  10. Peri Dwyer Worrell November 10, 2016 / 3:07 pm

    So it looks like you have posed a new question for the ages: “Does a clown s**t in the woods?” Haha. Very nicely written. Looking forward to more posts!

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