Considering the Future on a Winter Hike to Bobbitt Hole

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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The Music of a River that Flows through the Soul

by Mark Miles

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably realized I love both rivers and music. This goes back to my childhood, as do most things that are deeply felt and persistently cherished through life. My dad was the one who introduced me to my love for rivers, which was the logical result of our fishing trips on the weekend and during summer vacation. My mom was the one who introduced me to my love for music, which she cultivated by encouraging me to sing in my church choir and listen to classical music whenever possible. Because my parents divorced when I was seven years old, the two passions to which they exposed me were stunted and never fully developed. So it was left to me to remedy the situation, which I only began to do a few years ago, in my early thirties, when I rediscovered my love of classical music through composing and my love of rivers through hiking.

Since that time, I’ve been enamored with the idea of composing music that embodies the spirit of the river. I’m not the first person to have this idea though. Many classical composers have had the same idea, though they’ve adopted different approaches to fulfill it. I won’t be tackling the entire history of classical music regarding rivers in this article, but I will nonetheless be covering four of my favorite works which embody rivers with beauty and majesty, composed by four men of different nationalities and disparate backgrounds who found common ground in their love for the rivers they knew best.

Richard Wagner is one of the most famous operatic composers of all time, renowned especially for his Ring Cycle, a tetralogy of music-dramas about power, corruption, virtue, destruction, and redemption. It follows the story of the Ring of the Nibelungs, a powerful artifact, crafted from gold stolen from the Rhine River, that confers world domination on anyone who possesses it. In the process it gives the synopsis of a heavily mythologized German history and paints an unforgettable tone-picture of the land surrounding the Rhine River. The Ring Cycle is easily the most ambitious and successful work of Wagner’s career, taking fifteen hours over four days to be performed in total and being the product of extravagant funding by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who nearly bankrupted his country in the process. In short the Ring Cycle is a mammoth in every sense.

My first serious introduction to the Ring Cycle was through a “Best of Wagner” disc which I bought when I was ten years old. I had a passing familiarity with “The Ride of the Valkyries” from numerous movies and televisions series, but otherwise the Ring Cycle was a foreign country to me. Nevertheless this snippet, “Dawn and Siegfred’s Rhine Journey,” absolutely enraptured me. In it, the hero Siegfried bids farewell to his beloved Brünnhilde and sets sail down the Rhine River to make a name for himself in the wider world, thereby forgetting his beloved and assuring his own destruction. It’s intoxicating stuff, and though I didn’t know the story behind it when I heard it for the first time, I nonetheless knew in that moment that I loved classical music.

“The Moldau” is easily one of the most iconic works of classical music dealing with the tone-painting of a river. It comes from a larger body of work, My Fatherland, by the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, and it paints a sonic picture of the Moldau River over its course from the Black Mountain in the Bohemian Forest to its confluence with the Elbe River in Melnik, Czech Republic. The music is thoroughly evocative, conjuring the play of water, land, wildlife, and humanity through its length. From this work I learned that pride in one’s country can enrich the sense of devotion to the land when effectively applied.

Franz Schubert was renowned in his own time for his composition of chamber works that frequently found their way into pubs and drinking halls. This was no different with his song “The Trout,” which he later incorporated into a string quintet by the same name. The work sparkles with the freshness of a clear mountain stream — which may have inspired the setting for the piece — even two centuries after its inception, and it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to see in your mind’s eye both the trout and the river of which the trout is a part. The mellifluous vivacity at the heart of this piece confirms that — while many tone-paintings regarding rivers can be melancholy — there’s also plenty of room for sunshine.

“The Swan of Tuonela,” on the other hand, is the song of melancholy incarnate. Telling the story of a mythical swan who patrols the Tuonela River surrounding the Finnish Isle of the Dead, it evokes the longing, sadness, and tenderness of a being who’s seen it all, being witness to every soul that passes from the Land of the Living to the Isle of the Dead. Though the piece is ostensibly about a swan, the river is palpable in the supple string textures that provide the background to the voice of the swan. The composer Jean Sibelius is more widely known for his work, “Finlandia,” which was used as a rallying cry for Finnish independence from the Russian Empire at the beginning of the twentieth century, but “The Swan of Tuonela” is the gem in the crown that cements the surpassing excellence of Sibelius’s musical legacy.

At the end of the day, however, all of this music is just music unless we, as listeners and creators, take the next step by allowing the music to move us to get to know the rivers where we live. In my case, the river that I’ve been drawn to get to know is the Eno River, which flows through the town of Hillsborough, North Carolina, very near where I live. The Eno has a spirit and a voice too, just like the Moldau, the Rhine, and the Tuonela, and in my composition I aspire to one day be able to capture it and share it with you.

If you love the land where you live, I urge you as well to find some way to honor the river (or lake or watershed) that flows through your town and gives life to you and many others, whether through photography, painting, sculpture, composition, writing, or some other creative outlet. While it may not seem to be much, it will deepen your own appreciation for the true essentials in life and will give others a model of how to establish a relationship with the river that flows through their own backyard. After all, every river gives us so much; it’s time for us to give back.

References:

Der Ring Des Nibelungen,” Wikipedia, accessed June 2nd, 2017.

Farrington, Iain, “Richard Wagner: Siegfried’s Rhine Journey,” accessed June 2nd, 2017.

Ferrebee, Wayne, “The Swan of Tuonela,” Ferrebeekeeper, accessed June 3rd, 2017.

Götterdämmerung,” Wikipedia, accessed June 2nd, 2017.

Vltava,” Wikipedia, accessed June 3rd, 2017.