Fall Color and Climate Change at Johnston Mill Nature Preserve

Hiking trail under blue sky and power lines

Recently world leaders have been meeting at the COP26 Summit in Glasgow to discuss how best to tackle the increasing threat of climate change.

And though the outcome is as yet undecided, there’s no doubt that climate change is unfolding at an alarming rate throughout our world. Wildfires and floods are becoming more frequent and intense; droughts are becoming commonplace; some island nations are even disappearing under rising seas. (The Maldives, Antigua and Barbuda, Tuvalu, Seychelles, and the Solomon Islands all fall into this category.)

In the meantime, other smaller effects have also been noted globally — from changes in migration times for birds to earlier blooming of flowering plants to much later retention of leaves in autumn.

Map of Johnston Mill Nature Preserve

The last of these is something I noticed on my last hike at Johnston Mill Nature Preserve (2713 Mt. Sinai Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514) on Oct. 31, 2021. Though there were still fall colors to be seen, there were many stretches of forest that looked almost completely green, despite the fact that fall colors usually predominate in central North Carolina by early October.

Almost as soon as I arrived, I was struck by the flourishing of small plants and shrubs along Robin’s Trail, which almost looked like spring in some places.

Wooden footbridge in forest

Further along, I stepped out onto a stretch of old stones that used to form the foundation for one of several mills in the park.

Fall leaves in river under blue sky

From there, the green of the forest was more subdued, though hints could be seen here and there.

After I rejoined Robin’s Trail, I continued southeast for a tenth of a mile until I reached the junction with Bluebird Trail, which I took. Soon I reached a clearcut where power lines extended for miles in either direction.

Hiking trail under blue sky and power lines

And though it may not be immediately apparent, there were hosts of wildflowers in full bloom — as if it were still summer — which you can see in the bottom right of the above photo.

Orange trumpet-shaped wildflower

Under one of these power lines, another wildflower caught my attention.

After I returned from under the power line, I took a few selfies.

Hiker on trail under blue sky

Despite the fact that so much is wrong with our world, there’s still room to enjoy nature. In fact, as long as our enjoyment motivates us to protect nature, it serves a crucial purpose in our lives.

After a quarter mile, I came to another stretch of forest, where green was still in abundance, though muted by shades of orange and yellow.

Wooden foortbridge in a fall forest

With the wooden footbridge behind me, I hiked another half mile, joining Old Field Bluff Trail in the process.

Hiking trail winds through green forest

Not long after, I came to another stretch of forest, where there was hardly any fall color at all. Once again it looked like summer was in full force, and at the end of October no less.

Within another tenth of a mile, I came to a crossing over Old Field Creek.

Creek winds under trees

Of course the beauty of the river was foremost in my mind when I took this photo. But once again, you can see plenty of green, so much so that it almost looks like springtime.

After a quarter mile, I reached Creekwood Spur and went down a hill to where another creek ran through.

Selfie in the woods

There I took a quick selfie, while in the background a mostly green canopy framed the image.

Over the next half mile, I joined Beech Loop Trail and then switched back to Robin’s Trail, trying to make sense of the confusing trail junctures at this point. Then I passed another stunning view of New Hope Creek.

Creek with fall foliage and blue sky

Here at last the orange, yellow, and red balanced out the green.

But regardless of the balance to be found in a forest, there’s no doubt that our planet’s climate is gravely out of balance, and rapidly deteriorating. And the sooner we take action to stop the emission of greenhouse gases, the sooner nature will be able to recover, ensuring that future generations will continue to live on a habitable planet, not a dead one.