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.

1549395664111.jpg

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.

1549395489242.jpg

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.

1547096283392.jpg

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.

1547096152157.jpg

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.

1547095961900.jpg

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.

1547856693967.jpg

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.

1549396115121.jpg

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.


Please share on social media and be sure to follow @markallmywords on Instagram and Snapchat.

First Signs of an Early Spring at Occoneechee Mountain

by Mark Miles

Spring came early this year in central North Carolina and brought with it exceptionally warm temperatures, arriving by the middle of February after a winter that was exceptionally cold and snowy. The pairing of exceptional warmth with exceptional cold may seem unusual, but it’s more easily understood if you think of it as a climatic fever. When you have a fever, your temperature is elevated, yet your body experiences chills as it attempts to fight off infection. This is precisely the situation in which our planet finds itself, attempting to deflect the worst ravages of industrial extraction by hobbling the climate on which industry depends for ease of extraction and transportation. In the process, however, there are numerous side-effects which most media outlets conveniently blame on the natural world rather than the extractive industries which are truly responsible for destabilizing the climate.

This pattern of climatic destabilization – which includes the undermining of established patterns of temperature and precipitation globally – is an increasingly common phenomenon throughout our world and represents another aspect of climate change. Though most people are hesitant to speak the truth on this matter, the fact remains. What we’re seeing isn’t merely a momentary aberration; it’s the transition to a new and highly inhospitable global climate, in which our world will be irrevocably altered for the worst, whether we like it or not.

At Occoneechee Mountain, this climatic transition was more subdued on my first visit of 2018 than it was in 2017. In 2017, there were flowering plants of every stripe putting forth new growth by January. When I visited Occoneechee Mountain in February of this year on the other hand, there were comparatively few flowering plants in bloom. There were some, however, and there were other signs of spring to be found as well, despite the fact that spring in central North Carolina doesn’t typically arrive until the beginning of April at the earliest.

When I arrived at Occoneechee Mountain on the last Sunday of February, the clouds were overcast and gloomy, telling of the torrential and unseasonable rainstorms that have recently become common in central North Carolina during the winter months. The land was still drenched from the latest rainstorm, and with temperatures in the 60s it felt more like April than February. I got out of my car, started hiking the Mountain Loop Trail, and tried to keep solid footing on ground that might as well have been the last remains of a mud pit.

Aware of the mud and careful of my footing as a result, I crossed the north and west sides of Occoneechee Mountain without difficulty. The deciduous trees were still mostly bare, though buds were starting to appear on many of the maples and dogwoods. The pines were stately and serene, lending the lion’s share of green that could be seen on most stretches of the trail. There were, however, other patches of green here and there. As I progressed down the trail, those patches became more prevalent on the forest floor, and it wasn’t long before I decided to stop in my tracks and take a closer look.

What I found when I took a closer look was a strikingly beautiful yellow and red flower that loosely resembled a columbine and had unmistakably distinctive maroon leaves with green spots flecked across the surface. I was baffled as to the identity of the flower, since I’ve never seen it at Occoneechee Mountain in years past and have certainly never seen it in a domestic garden. At a later date I was able to identify it as a yellow trout lily (Erythronium americanum), which I learned through a bit of research has a tendency to remain dormant for most of the year, thereby explaining why I had never noticed it before.

There are in fact only about ten weeks of the year when the plant is active, during which time each individual yellow trout lily will produce either one leaf with no flower or two leaves with one flower. Though there are reputedly only about five percent of plants with flowers in any yellow trout lily colony at a time, the profusion of tiny yellow and red flowers at my feet left me wondering if there was a single square inch of the forest floor where these plants weren’t already residing.

Walking past the largest profusion of yellow trout lilies along the north side of Occoneechee Mountain where it skirts the Eno River, I noticed faint ruins of a mill race that used to adjoin the Quarry. The ruins of the mill race followed the course of the trail at this point, and it was only after walking north of the trail and looking back that I was able to discern a better view. The presence of the mill race was more readily visible on this visit because of the vibrant green moss blanketing the ruins, which seemed to have greater intensity of color after the latest rainstorms.

As I passed from the ruins of the mill race up the side of the mountain toward the Overlook, I decided to stop and admire the view. Though it was marred by the clearcut of an electric line extending to the north and south, it was refreshing to see so much land that’s still in a reasonably natural state. The fact that Occoneechee Mountain is directly adjacent to downtown Hillsborough, North Carolina, is one of the park’s biggest assets, since the town of Hillsborough is generally vigilant in its preservation of historic sites – of which Occoneechee Mountain is one of the foremost. However being in close proximity to a town that’s expanding in population and housing brings with it the imminent risk that much of the surrounding terrain will be significantly degraded and will cause harm to the mountain by extension. As a result my feelings are increasingly ambivalent when I look in the distance from Occoneechee Mountain.

Regardless of any ambivalence about housing, I love the views and the land itself, and it wasn’t long before I was hiking the last stretch of Mountain Loop Trail in quest of the amazing view from the Overlook. When I reached the crossing of Mountain Loop Trail and Overlook Trail, I switched from the former to the latter and continued the last portion of my ascent before coming into view of the fenced-in area at the edge of the old Quarry that provides the most memorable view in the whole of the park. The clouds were still overcast and were threatening to downpour at any moment; similarly I was drenched from my own perspiration as a result of hiking in such warm springlike temperatures. None of that mattered, however, when I reached the edge of the Overlook and the high point of my hike.

After taking time to relish the view from the Overlook, I returned to the trail and descended Occoneechee Mountain. The forest surrounded me on all sides again, and it was easy to forget that an expanding town and a major interstate were both less than a mile away from my location. I passed the lone house in the park, where the park ranger lives, and reached the last stretch of trail before the parking lot. As I came into view of the parking lot, I noticed one other telltale sign of spring: a bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana) in full bloom.

These trees are frequently the first to indicate the arrival of spring, and this one in particular left no doubt in my mind about how quickly the world around us is being irrevocably altered in front of our very eyes, whether we like it or not.

References:

Erythronium americanum,” Missouri Botanical Garden, accessed March 7th, 2018

Callery pear (Bradford pear), Pyrus calleryana,” Invasive.org, accessed March 7th, 2018,