by Mark Miles
During the month of January, I went hiking for the third time to Bobbitt Hole at Eno River State Park. The two times I’ve been there previously were during the spring and summer, when there was so much vegetation along the banks of the Eno River that many of the best views were obscured. With the greatly reduced foliage of winter, however, I was able to photograph much more of the Eno River than I expected.
I parked at the trailhead for Cole Mill Trail, just off Old Cole Mill Road in Durham, North Carolina. It was early in the evening on a Tuesday, an unusual time for me to go hiking—I normally go on the weekends—but one of the few days in the month of January when central North Carolina wasn’t inundated by torrential rains.
Torrential rains and flash flooding are becoming increasingly commonplace in North Carolina. They’re also hugely destructive, especially when combined with cold winter weather that prevents the accumulated floodwaters from evaporating. This combination of flooding and cold temperatures causes the soil to become hypersaturated at a time when many animal species are hibernating in the ground. As a result, these animals drown in floodwaters, die of exposure, or starve from lack of seasonal food sources when they come to the surface. All of this is the inevitable consequence of a rapidly destabilizing climate that is currently being wrecked beyond repair by extractive industries fueling the growth of the global economy.
Despite the recent flash flooding and an increasingly destabilizing climate, I tried to make the most of the clear weather on a Tuesday evening as I hiked along Cole Mill Trail to Bobbitt Hole. There were a number of other people who had the same idea, apparently motivated to get some fresh air on one of the few days in January when there wasn’t an immediate risk of being drowned.
It was nice to see so many people enjoying the park without leaving it in worse shape than they found it. This, of course, is proof that humans are not destructive by nature. On the contrary, we are beneficial to nature as long as we tread lightly. The blame for our destructiveness lies at the feet of our economic system, which prioritizes greed over altruism and the individual over the community. If there’s one thing you’ll learn in any park, it’s the simple fact that all of nature is one big community.
Considering the plight of the park, I made my way on Cole Mill Trail past a sycamore tree—which was recently toppled by flash flooding and is now a stump—that has one of the the most distinctive root structures in Eno River State Park. For its twisty roots, white coloration, and hollow trunk—which frequently gives shelter to small animals—the American sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis) is by far one of my favorites. In the following photo, you can see some of the distinctively twisty roots of the sycamore covering a portion of the Cole Mill Trail by the Eno River.
After trekking a short distance, I came to one of many popular fishing spots along the banks of the Eno River. I’ve never been fishing along Cole Mill Trail, for the simple reason that I don’t have the time or equipment to do it properly. But judging from the number of fishermen I’ve seen at or near this particular location, I would be willing to bet it’s one of the best in Eno River State Park. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also incredibly beautiful and provides a great opportunity to hone your skills in landscape photography.
For a mile or so, I hiked through the peace and quiet of Cole Mill Trail. The number of other hikers was noticeably thinning by this time, and the colors of dusk were settling in. I was surprised by how beautifully the evening light accentuated the barren landscape of winter. Grays, whites, and browns were bathed in a shade of subdued violet that gave the experience a slightly otherworldly quality, not entirely out of place in our rapidly destabilizing world. This was especially noticeable when I stumbled upon a very unusual tree growing in the shape of a rainbow over the trail, nearly dipping into the Eno River, as you can see in the following photo.
After a short distance, I reached the footbridge that announces to the observant hiker the approach to Bobbitt Hole. The creek that the footbridge crosses has no name that I’ve been able to find, but it has so much character and distinctiveness that I can’t help feeling it should. For my own part, I would love to name it “Steep Leaf Creek,” since its sides are so steeply inclined and its banks are covered in a thick layer of leaves that have collected over the years.
The last sign of my approach to Bobbitt Hole was a distinctive stand of oak, maple, and pine. These trees are ubiquitous throughout Eno River State Park and North Carolina. They line the banks of rivers and lakes, fill forests and bottomlands, provide food and shelter to wildlife, and retain topsoil that’s increasingly at risk of erosion due to torrential rains and flash flooding. They are members of the community too, though most humans fail to see them in that light. And they are deserving of recognition for their contribution. It doesn’t hurt that they provide another opportunity to hone those landscape photography skills either.
Finally, I reached Bobbitt Hole. Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to find any historical background on Bobbitt Hole itself. Considering the history of the Eno River as a whole, however, it’s logical to assume that there were substantial mills immediately upstream and downstream of it. The ruins of Alpha Woolen Mill and Cole Mill are still observable on the opposite bank not far from this location. Beyond that, Bobbitt Hole is one of the deepest points on the Eno and one of the most popular swimming holes in this part of Durham, North Carolina. And of course it’s just plain beautiful.
But being beautiful isn’t enough in the global economy. Being profitable is the only thing that matters now, since multinational corporations and their political allies are making the laws and setting the precedents. In practice, this means that places like Bobbitt Hole and Eno River State Park will soon be on the chopping block. One only has to look at recent selloffs of national parks to see the trend. Yet without these places—places where we can breathe freely, think clearly, and feel deeply—we would lose the most important part of what it means to be human. And that’s why it’s our responsibility—as humans, citizens, and stakeholders—to preserve these places, for now and forever. Without them, our future will be nothing more than a footnote in history.
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