Now that it’s October, it’s supposed to be fall. But for the most part, it feels like summer.
Here in central North Carolina, temperatures have regularly been above 90° F; afternoons have felt like a broiler oven; and there’s hardly been a drop of rain for two months. (Of course, now that I say that, the temperature drops and the sky falls out.) On the whole, the reality of climate collapse is in full effect.
Even so, there have been some great days for hiking. One of them was last month, when I traversed Pea Creek Trail at Eno River State Park in Durham, North Carolina. The day was as dry as a bone, but the skies were clear and the light was even — which meant there were plenty of opportunities for landscape photography.
Parking my car at the Cole Mill Access (4390 Old Cole Mill Road, Durham, NC 27712) in the late afternoon on Sunday, September 15th, I got out and started down Pea Creek Trail. Descending the embankment that leads from the parking lot to the Eno River, I approached Cole Mill Road. Looking back, I took this photo, with the remnants of wild sunflowers on the right.
After crossing under Cole Mill Road, I continued further down Pea Creek Trail. The river was lower than usual, which I could tell by the increased visibility of granite slabs in the Eno, so frequently used in the construction of historic mill sites along the river.
Continuing down Pea Creak Trail, I passed a number of flourishing sycamore, beech, pine, and maple trees — all of which gave no sign of changing color, despite the fact that it was the middle of September.
For all intents and purposes, it might as well have been June.
Then I approached one of the many tributaries of the Eno, the eponymous Pea Creek, and caught a glimpse of this river birch (Betula nigra) overhanging the bank. To this day, I’m not sure how it manages to hold on. But after all I’ve been through over the past year and a half, it’s a personal inspiration to me.
After admiring the precipitous river birch for a few minutes, I moved on.
Rounding a bend in the trail, I came to Pea Creek and decided to take a few more photos. But when I got to the middle of the stream, there was no stream to speak of, only pebbles, exposed roots, and fallen leaves.
As I stood in the middle of the streambed with barely more than a drop of water in sight, it was sobering to realize how quickly a river can disappear.
After a bit more hiking, I took the reverse loop of Pea Creek Trail, crested a forty-foot embankment, traversed a pine forest with a few historic homesteads, and returned to the same stretch of trail where I started.
Going in the opposite direction, I had the chance to linger on a few things I hadn’t paid much attention to before. One of those was an old flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) that had fallen on the east bank of the Eno River.
These were the only leaves I saw on my entire hike that were changing color, and the only reason was because the tree itself had collapsed and was slowly dying.
Making my way back to my car, I opened the door and hopped in. As I pulled out of my parking space, I rolled down the window and felt sweat dappling the back of my shirt.
Despite one exceptional tree, fall was nowhere in sight.