The Raleigh Naturalist

January 28, 2020

Scott Huler Takes the Measure of the Piedmont

Filed under: Book Reviews — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 3:32 pm

A Delicious Country: Rediscovering the Carolinas along the route of John Lawson’s 1700 expedition.

Scott Huler. UNC Press. 2019.

Scott Huler, in his admirable list of creative non-fiction books, takes us on journeys. His journeys include a mental as well as a geographic pathway and destination. In No Man’s Lands, he retraces the sea route of Homer’s Ulysses through the Mediterranean, observing the present and “trying to make modern sense of the oldest story we tell ourselves.” On the Grid, a book featured on this blog’s bibliography, explores the network of infrastructures that enable urban and suburban residents to live comfortably. Scott is a Raleigh resident, and an investigative writer willing to hop on a trash truck or tour a sewer plant, so that book was a nice resource for connecting the city of Raleigh to its natural setting. Scott’s new book offers a grand tour of the Carolina Piedmont, and urges us to see, to really look at, the often grim reality of rural life in the South and recognize patterns that echo today from as far away as the beginning of the 18th century.

A Delicious Country chronicles not one but two journeys – first the historically invaluable trip of John Lawson in 1700, and that one framed within the arduous but segmented trek of Scott Huler to replicate Lawson’s path and also replicate his endeavor – to see what he could see and meet and learn about all the people he encountered. Reviewers call Huler’s books “adventure memoirs,” and this one fits the bill times two – but Scott’s honest hard look at the current landscape of terrain and people is nuanced by the parallels he finds in Lawson’s own account, and his balanced portrait of Lawson as a young adventurer and aspiring developer, a friendly describer of the natives and a seedpod of their demise, rings true and is very thought-provoking.

What a cartographic tale this is, full of wonderful descriptions of the ancient paths whose traces or modern versions cross and connect the Carolinas. The thousand year old River Trail becomes the Catawba Path or Waxhaw Path. The Great Trading Path of the Native Americans became The Great Wagon Road, stretching from Philadelphia to Georgia. In the Triangle area, “I-85 follows the railroads, which follow the Old Hillsborough Road, which follows our old friend the Trading Path.” Scott provides rigorous description of his trek, and points out that Lawson, a gentleman and so treated with respect to daily duties on his trip, exhibited admirable practicality with his skill at surveying and gained much information as one of the first Englishmen to visit the area.

The Raleigh Naturalist found much excellent information about South Carolina’s coastal transition zones, the swamps of the lower Santee River, and the upper Catawba watershed in the North Carolina Piedmont that feeds it. This book offers many downright delicious leads for further investigations, and I fell down the rabbit hole a bit in using inter-library loan to obtain and read River of the Carolinas: The Santee, which Scott uses well and refers to as “a love letter to the Santee River.” Henry Savage’s 1956 title provides detailed descriptions of the river and an insightfully dated view of the relevant Southern history. The latter included a fascinating account of the French Huguenot immigration to South Carolina, some of whom hosted Lawson, and whose descendants hosted Scott Huler. Both of these books mourned the ecological impact of the damming and especially the major diversion of the Santee River away from its natural bed and toward Charleston. As Scott Huler traverses several different major ecosystems, his daily observations offer tangible warning signals regarding our waterways, our vanishing insects, and the rapid disappearance of open natural spaces.

The highlight of A Delicious Country for me was the thorough consideration of Native Americans in the historical and the current context. Scott was surprised in his research to realize the truly stunning level of Native American enslavement in Lawson’s time: in some respects equal to the trade in Africans. Laws and logistics simply led to the Native Americans being sent to faraway islands where their fate has gone relatively unrecognized. Scott met many Native Americans on his trek, and his rich description of joining a meeting of local tribal chiefs at the Native American Studies Center in Lancaster, SC lends a strong personal flavor to the issues of recognition, reparation and protection of heritage. It was a gift to be able to use Scott’s narrative to generate a decently broad sense of Indian presence in the Carolinas. The large Catawba group, of the Siouan language group, includes the coastal Sewees, and the Santees, Waterees and Congarees – all with a namesake river. The Sugarees and Waxhaws lived near present day Charlotte, the Sapona on the Yadkin River, the Keyawee in the Uharries, the Sissapahaws on the Haw, and of course the Occaneechi in the Hillsborough area. Far pre-dating all of these were tribes of the Mississipian mound-building culture, whose easternmost reach is marked by the Santee Indian Mound, part of a wildlife refuge on the shores of Lake Marion, SC. Last but certainly not least in this tale are the Tuscaroras of Lost Colony fame, who moved southward into eastern North Carolina from their Iroquoian roots and were mistreated by the emerging English coastal colonies to such an extent that in 1711 they ended up capturing and executing John Lawson, who was indeed a leader in the intrusive settlement but who had befriended and sympathetically described so many tribes across the area.

John Lawson’s book, A New Voyage To Carolina, was published in London in 1709. Scott describes its value: “in one of the most important early books to emerge from the colonial South, Lawson vividly describes the region’s flora, fauna, landscape and native inhabitants according to the emerging discipline we now call science…Lawson’s descriptions of Native American cultures are some of the best and most sensitive we have…” Scott Huler’s book integrates the best bits of Lawson into a fine contemporary exploration of the same territory 320 years later. With all its commentary on topics from NASCAR country to the Percy Flowers Plantation development, his tale perhaps most strongly reminds us of the great value in getting outside, actually going to places on our own power, and keeping a sense of discovery alive. Paraphrasing a book promo for Lawson’s work, Scott says it best: “One hopes that Original Voyages will always have due Encouragement.”

The Trek from Charleston to Bath

Postscript

Scott Huler built a really nice website to support and document this project. This site helped him connect in real time with people who lived along his route, and his interactions with those folks is a great side story in the book. John Lawson’s book is available in a slightly pricey edition from UNC Press, but I was delighted with my cheap e-scanned print edition from Amazon. Scott describes the important natural collections Lawson amassed and sent to London – and took his family there to visit them! A great guy – buy his books!

January 3, 2020

Environmental Issues Part of New State-wide Focus Here

Filed under: About & reflection, Gems & Surprises, green initiatives, Raleigh History, Western NC — Tags: — raleighnaturalist @ 6:38 pm

The picture above is about half of the subscription to Environment I ordered in 1971 as a senior at Enloe High School. I had formed an Ecology Club at Enloe and started several initiatives through that to raise awareness of environmental issues. 49 years ago the destruction of our natural environment and the senselessness of a carbon-based energy economy was big news and actually led to many important reforms. I am proud to have been a tiny part of that and grateful to all my Enloe friends who supported and participated in the club.

The tiny ink price on the top magazine tells us what happened to the other half of the subscription: sometime in the ten years I was a bookseller in the 1980’s, I put up the whole batch for sale at 25 cents each. When I became an environmental educator in the 90’s, these issues were rescued from the bookstore remains as a historical resource. This blog has always been a promoter of green initiatives, especially conservation of natural areas. But with my retirement and now the wonderful success of my new book, The Natural History of Raleigh, which was the whole reason for the existence of the blog, I am ready to take this site to a state-wide perspective that allows full rein for my explorations of western North Carolina. Along with that, I will be addressing more overtly and more loudly the massive environmental challenges we face as we enter 2020 and beyond.

A long-planned signal of these changes is the change in name of the weblog from Raleigh Nature to The Raleigh Naturalist. My heart will always be in Raleigh, and many future posts will continue to be devoted to my native city. Many others, such as my cherished dream of writing a decent article on Highway 64, will connect Raleigh to the whole state and beyond. Happy New Year and cheers to sustainable living and honest connections to the land that nurtures us.

Yearbook portrait of the Enloe Ecology Club, 1971

Green Resources

The Natural History of Raleigh

November 15, 2019

The Natural History of Raleigh Is One Year Old

Filed under: About & reflection, Greenways & Parks — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 5:27 pm

atamasco lily on Buckeye Trail in East Raleigh

My book about greenways, natural areas and wildlife lore in central Raleigh is one year old! I am over half-way through with making hand-laid paper covers and letterpress printing them for the edition of one thousand. Many have sold through Quail Ridge Books in North Hills, but I am also grateful to So&So Books in Oakwood, The Concern Newsstand in Chapel Hill, The Mordecai House gift shop and especially all my friends and others who ordered directly or through Amazon. I hope all readers of Raleigh Nature will want to obtain and read the book based on this blog.

It was also lovely to have the News and Observer do a nice feature on the book and to have the current issue of Walter Magazine run an excerpt of the tree chapter dedicated to the huge oak we just lost across from The Berkeley Cafe.

Nash Square oak tree by N&O

Thanks to all the readers of this blog, which helped make the book a reality. Raleigh rules! When it comes to greenways, anyway.

The Natural History of Raleigh

May 24, 2019

Schenck Forest Preserves Forestry Lore and Practice

Filed under: Greenways & Parks, West Raleigh, Western NC — Tags: — raleighnaturalist @ 6:06 pm

Schenck Forest held a special place in my family back when the kids were the right ages to run with the dogs down in the creek bottom. Yes I admit we used to give them free run once we were down there. Those days are long gone – I understand the strict reinforcement of the rules, and I surely cannot say I never saw dog problems there. The place remains a beautiful place to visit, but it also represents an important marker of forestry practices, and is named for the pioneering sustainable forester who made his name at the Biltmore Estate.

Carl Alwin Schenck

Dr. Schenck was hired by George Vanderbilt to design and manage Biltmore’s forestry operations after the “partial”departure of Gifford Pinchot. He founded a forestry school that greatly influenced the American industry and his work on the future Pisgah National Forest set a grand example of forestry practice at its best. NCSU’s 300 acre teaching forest enables today’s students to learn about and put into effect the principles of selective logging to enhance long-term value, protection of diversity in the forest habitat, and nurturing of future resources.

View from Edwards Mill Road intersection

photo courtesy of twbuckner

Above, Schenck Forest is to the left of the Reedy Creek Trail, which runs from the NC Museum of Art to the southern entrance of Umstead State Park. The forest ranges down to Richland Creek. There are several loop trails. As seen below, the area has ever-changing stands of trees – mostly loblolly pine -at all stages of development.

The strict leash rules were implemented in 2005. Enforcement via horseback, bike, and undercover on foot takes place afternoons and weekends. Richland Creek makes some big sandy swimming holes as it traverses the bottomland, and the temptation is high. Violators may be banned from the park for a year. The popularity of Schenck Forest remains very high. Biltmore’s huge forest became a national park and Carl Schenck is well memorialized by this wonderful Raleigh amenity.

 

The Natural History of Raleigh

click above to buy the book based on this blog

May 11, 2019

Mountain Meadow Flowers

Filed under: Exotica, Gems & Surprises, Western NC — Tags: — raleighnaturalist @ 2:26 pm

 

Asheville from Lookout Mountain

My retirement town has many great views, but the best one of downtown is from the hillside beside the UNC-A observatory on Lookout Mountain. (The campus is visible middle right). This southern-facing meadow is rich with spring flowers right now, and most of these species are to be seen in Raleigh as well.

The daisies erupt from a sea of green. This hillside gets mowed maybe once a year to keep out the trees and shrubs. So all the herbaceous plants fight it out.

The mix here is rich and includes Virginia creeper and occasionally poison ivy. It is regularly used by hikers and dog walkers.

The plants below don’t make pretty flowers, but we might remember bending the stem around and shooting their little brown fruits at each other. This is a nice stand of plantain, a highly useful herb which can make poultices and other medicinals.

Mullein plants

Mullein plants make a fine tea and don’t flower until late summer, but man, that flower is a phallic wonder! An amazingly tall green thrust cover with tiny yellow petals.

This aster has already flowered and is ready to set it’s seeds sailing in the wind. Every plant has its own rhythm.

The walk up to the view of downtown Asheville is short but strenuous, well worth the effort on an early spring morning to see the profusion of blooms.

An early feature on Raleigh spring flowers can be found here. If you haven’t done so, please check out the new book based on this blog!

The Natural History of Raleigh

 

February 14, 2019

Raleigh Swamp Recovers from a Swamping

Raleigh Swamp is a prominent, even dramatic feature of the Raleigh Greenway at the intersection of Crabtree Boulevard and Raleigh Boulevard, joining Buckeye Trail to Middle Crabtree Trail and crossing a large shallow body of water with a causeway. The water was never intended to be permanent, but a wetland was turned into a shallow lake by the work of beavers, as explained in this 2013 post.

The place is a paradise for visiting birds, thirsty deer and other wildlife, and an amazing collection of turtles that bask by the piled up dozens on the many logs protruding from the water. The causeway was built with best ecological practices, minimizing disruption, but it has needed repairs recently because of extensive flooding. Cara and I visited in November 2018 and saw some of the work.

The crossing of the greenway with a utility cut has been strengthened and guarded with metal gates. The northwestern end of the site has a short stretch of asphalt that has repeatedly been ruined as the flooded marsh cuts through the shoulder of Crabtree and dumps excess water into the creek. looks like they are going to repair (instead of culvert) it once again, but this spot has closed the causeway, officially that is, for months. Most people just make their way around the mild barricades.

Different species of trees can tolerate shorter or longer periods of flooding. Ash, river birch and of course willows can survive many weeks of inundation. But if flooding lasts too long, trees die and the vegetative regime changes.

This area was a scrubby wetland with a smattering of drier tussocks and paths through it until the construction of the Raleigh Boulevard bridge. Many relics of the former trees dot the wide expanse of water. There is thus a small justiofication for the term used by locals and myself, Raleigh Swamp, though in fact this is a marsh. Whatever you call it, it’s a great place to bike walk, fish, or bird watch.

Below is the illustration I created from the lead photograph for my new book, the Natural History of Raleigh. Raleigh Swamp is featured in Chapter Four.  Happy trails!

The Natural History of Raleigh

 

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