The Raleigh Naturalist

August 4, 2011

Torn Still, by the Tornado

Filed under: About & reflection, Central Raleigh, East Raleigh, Nature Lore, South Raleigh — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 6:09 pm

Tornado Damage on Marlborough Road 3 Months Later

The April tornado is 3 months past and yet unredressed signs of it  are still scattered about Raleigh.  I haven’t posted in all that time, finishing the school year and having a summer  swallowed by book arts, as I made paper, printed, and started a Paper Plant blog.  Before covering the rich naturing Cara and I have done in spite of my new blogging obsession, I wanted to address the previous post and show that East and Central Raleigh are still reeling as fall approaches.

The tornado totally changed the visual landscape of my regular bike rides.  Looking from the back lower corner of the federal courthouse campus at East and Hargett, an entire city block was just razed.  From that spot on the shoulder of Raleigh’s cap, it now feesl as if you are looking southeast straight down into the coastal plain.

Martin and East Street downtown after April tornado

Mount Hope Cemetery April 16, 2011

Mount Hope Cemetery didn’t get covered in the first post, but a visit last week revealed many of the same sights I had photographed but not published in April.  It and City Cemetery are still closed.

click on cemetery pics to enlarge


old cedar torn by April tornado at Mt Hope

Marlborough Road in East Raleigh still looks like the disaster zone it is.  My old childhood creek runs beside it and has become a tangled mass of dead trees scattered with stagnant pools.  The city is making plans to clean it up, but it will be a while.


torn pine on Marlborough Road

Marlborough Street hit close to home, but the damage is widespread.  The Raleigh Public Record provides this info from the city’s waterway inventory:

The report stated that a total of 1,436 trees were found damaged as part of the inventory. The areas with the most debris were areas near Beehnon Way and Tryon Road, Marborough Road and King Charles Road, Skycrest Road and Capital Boulevard, and Valley Stream Drive and Louisburg Road.

RPR did a good general look at Raleigh damage in this post.  The damage to nature is most relevant to this blog, but we felt very lucky after trees were decapitated 30 yards from our house, and we had many friends who sustained damage anywhere from annoying to catastrophic.   Many of them have praised Chris Crew of FEMA for his TLC to friends in this situation.

Nature knocks!!!  Sometimes hard.  Take care of yourself, now.

Washington School and downtown from Mount Hope Cemetery

February 13, 2010

Snowy Tree Blocks Buckeye Greenway

Downed Tree on Buckeye Trail in East Raleigh Blocks Snowy Greenway

High winds on top of rains toppled quite a few trees in the area, including this pair of medium specimens lying across the Buckeye Trail greenway at the bottom of Suicide Hill, as it was labeled by the cross country runners who used the greenway before its recent upgrade.  Lowered grade, I should say, since the cruelest, steepest stretch was lengthened and terraced to bring this oldest section of greenway into national codes.  Suicide Hill climbs a rugged quartz and sandstone outcrop that forms the Rocky Overhang, one of the seminal pillars of this blog, as it represents my favorite Crabtree hangout.

Raleigh Nature’s  “scoop” on this downed tree is wonderfully fitting as I get back to basics after a bit of hiatus. Enamored of the Ken Burns series, engulfed by teaching responsibilities, and constantly lured by my current intellectual fling, Ray Johnson/Black Mountain/mail art, I have wintered in the blog a bit, but could not resist the lovely, harmless 3 inch fluff that ended on a Saturday morning.  So I took off for my favorite sight-seeing greenway, Buckeye Trail from Milburnie Road. At the edge of Rollingwood, Crabtree has carved out a tall bluff (at least for this part of Raleigh) and under this 40 foot hump the creek has gouged a fishing hole complete with overhanging boulder shelves from which to cast.  Drowning worms  and hauling up the occasional catfish or bream at the Rocky Overhang is a family tradition for me as child and parent.  Heck, I took dates there, I loved the place so much. I was slightly horrified the day soon after Hurricane Floyd came through to see that a very large sycamore tree across the creek had fallen directly onto the Rocky Overhang, and for several years it was too tangled to get down there.  The kids and I mourned but also learned some valuable lessons about how Crabtree changes over time.  Now that tree has finally eased its way mostly into the fishing hole (after forming a hideous litter trap for more than a year on the way in) and the boulders have cleared somewhat.  In the spring, we’ll take a look, but for now here are more snowy scenes from Buckeye Trail, a gall tale, and a link to the photo album from my snow walk.


The baby beeches we have admired before looked nice mixed into the snowy pines.  Below is the scene at the beginning of Buckeye, where Longview Branch parallels Milburnie as it slides into Crabtree.


Below is a  ditched brook that brings water from the slopes of Rollingwood under the greenway and into Longview Branch just before it reaches the creek.

Just off  Milburnie is the old landfill that now forms a rich meadow, a favorite browsing place of the numerous deer living in Crabtree’s floodplains in East Raleigh. 

Below are some deer and coon tracks in the February snow.

The stump of a large oak I miss very much looked just as sad in the beautiful snow.  This tree had the largest gall I ever saw – a triple-grapefruit sized lump that housed the larvae of box elder beetles.  Greenway maintenence brought it down – I doubt the gall was a factor, but I’ve wondered.

the oak gall

Photo Album of my snow walk


May 18, 2009

Grassy Branch Sees Daylight

Pigeon House culvert_1_1

Many waterways in Raleigh travel unseen, as does Pigeon House Branch above.  Recent years have seen efforts to rehabilitate – uncover and often “un-straighten” – creeks.  The process is called daylighting.  It helps with flood control and improves the ecosystem.  It happened in Northeast Raleigh last year, and it’s set to happen for Rocky Branch on the NCSU campus(pdf).  So Raleigh has recognized the process as valuable, but it is still an unusual occurrence.  For one Oakwood resident, stymied in efforts to have the city uncover his backyard branch, the benefits were worth the huge personal effort of unearthing the waterway himself by hand.

Grassy Branch in Oakwood

Grassy Branch in Oakwood

Chris Crew is a longtime Oakwood resident who co-authored the wonderful Oakwood nature essay I recently featured.  He lives on Elm Street, almost at the bottom of Oakwood’s slope.  Grassy Branch is a small but steady flow that passes under Elm Street and edges his backyard. Until a couple of years ago, it passed unseen in a large buried pipe.

Chris's side yard_1_1

Chris learned of the city daylighting program and tried to get Grassy Branch uncovered.  During heavy rains, the water backed up and even spouted out vertically from broken places in the pipes.  The city couldn’t or wouldn’t do the work because other contiguous neighbors would not enlist their properties.  Tired of the geysers and wanting a healthier backyard creek, Chris decided to do the job himself.  So he and his family hand-dug and wenched out two sections of the 42 inch pipes.

Grassy Branch re-exposed below Elm Street

Grassy Branch re-exposed below Elm Street

I don’t have pictures of “the dig” – I just heard about Chris’ project recently.  But there is one more section he can remove before Grassy Branch crosses his property line.  I’m hoping he’ll invite me to help, and I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!

Grassy Branch re-enters pipe

Grassy Branch re-enters pipe


Both Pigeon House and Rocky Branch involve daylighting projects that have or will be addressed in other posts.  An interesting neighborhood daylighting project finished up a couple of years ago near my school, the Fletcher Academy.  The picture below shows the view my students and I have on nature walks at the bottom of Cedar Hills Rotary Park. Three years ago we were looking at the creek disappear into a large pipe.

former pipe entrance for Big Branch_1_1

Today, the adjoining houses have less to fear from flooding, and the biological and geologic interactions missing from pipe existence have been restored to the creek.  One slightly bizarre feature of the project was the city’s purchase and destruction of a house on Mapleridge which sat practically on top of the creek.

site of former house at Big Branch

site of former house at Big Branch

  Big Branch daylighting project_1_1   Big Branch above Mapleridge_1_1   Big Branch re-exposed below Mapleridge_1_1


March 2, 2009

March Mad Beauty


   A late snow and a schoolday off to blog about it!  It didn’t take long to find a snow paradise.  The Oakwood Inn’s block sported the lacy treetops above.  But I was headed to the greenway.  I decided to check out an old favorite – the east end of Buckeye Trail.

   This wonderful view is the edge of the meadow at Buckeye Trail’s east end off Milburnie.  Down this oldest section of Raleigh’s greenways is a vista that provoked one of the first thoughts that originated this project – and it was a book project long before I ever knew what a blog was.  The scene used to look like a cathedral of treetops – but the loss of a huge red oak several years ago changed the look.  What’s left is seen below.

   The missing tree was on the right, and when it was there, I was ready to write a book partly to tell people to come here and take a deep breath.  It is still a very nice section of greenway.  I got to see the baby beeches of a couple of posts ago in a new light, literally.  The gentle snow provided a chance to see water moving across the greenway: in a freshet, and being blocked by the asphalt.  The creek was medium high, which I documented with a current shot of my favorite log-sitting spot.  Once I had done that, I knew I should head over to Hodge Road and take shots of my water level standard spots, which I’m documenting over on the nature projects blog.


The March snow was mighty pretty!

December 14, 2008

Mistletoe Sightings

Filed under: Central Raleigh, East Raleigh, Nature Lore, Pecans & Mistletoe — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 8:19 pm
     Mistletoe is common in the Southern Piedmont and has a strong herbal tradition as a medicine and as a holiday superstition and game.  This evergreen parasite is spread by bird defecation after eating mistletoe berries.  The latter link from the NC Museum of Natural Sciences tells us the name derives from the Anglo phrase for  “dung-on-a-twig.” Three different species have a complex role in all this.  The species most commonly used as decoration, phoradendron flavescens, is a native of North America. In California, it is considered a parasitic pest.  Viscus album is the European species whose berries are poisonous and also useful as medicine.  The species in my pictures is Phoradendron leucarpum, oak mistletoe, considered less common and rare in Europe, but apparently it is Raleigh’s most common, and the one favored by European Druids for its alliance with the mighty oak.
     Raleigh certainly has its share of oaks, and many of them in the area northwest of downtown sport the dusky green balls.  The spots inside the Beltline I best remember mistletoe are gone.  The planted median of Glenwood north of Peace Street used to have oaks that were full of prominent mistletoe, but I just today realized they have been replaced (quite some time ago – another geezer moment) with crepe myrtles, which are doubtless less trouble for the Progress Energy linemen.  But a large oak with a huge spread of mistletoe grows just across the street.  Mistletoe is not endangered: in fact I see it often in my travels, now that I have trained my eye to look for it.  But it does get harvested, and some  of what you see hanging in door jams is quite local indeed.
     Where do you get yours? Maybe from Dan, who was set up on Person Street as I drove out to take mistletoe pics for this post.  I explained our coincidence, bought a big branch and chatted about mistletoe.  I mentioned the old strategy I’d seen out at my country cousins of shooting it down with a shotgun.
     “Yeah, but that messes it all up.  I got this here the hard way – thirty feet up.”  From his yard, he said, but there is mistletoe in some public areas around town.  Does much inside the beltline get picked each year?  Wondering, I say goodbye to Dan and head out in search of unharvested mistletoe.  First stop is the most hilarious spot for mistletoe to hang: the corner of Cook and Oakwood.  The irony of this clump presiding over a corner where women of the street often hawk their sad-eyed wares in broad daylight is just too great for me to forbear mentioning.
Mistletoe at Oakwood Cemetery

Mistletoe at Oakwood Cemetery

     Heading out of downtown, I find nice groups at Harvey Street but none on Glenwood north of 5 Points.  Over on Wade, there are healthy stands at the SECU facility and on up that hill toward Oberlin.  The Canterbury/Banbury neighborhood has huge oaks, but many of them are Willow Oaks, and I saw almost no mistletoe there.  My schedule took me back toward home, and I saw the nice batches at the edge of Blount Street Commons.  This was a very partial and cursory inventory, but I plan to make this an annual post and develop a map of mistletoe sites in Raleigh (as I will for pecans, thus the name for my nature project blog).
Suite101 Botanical info
***********’s mistletoe history
NC Farms Selling Organic & Low-Spray Christmas Trees and Wreaths (and Mistletoe)
Have a great holiday season!

July 4, 2008

Back to Basics – East Raleigh beginnings

Filed under: East Raleigh, Gems & Surprises, Greenways & Parks, Nature Lore — Tags: , , , — raleighnaturalist @ 6:35 pm
lower Longview Lake from south

lower Longview Lake from south

    This is the first picture I took with my new camera for this blog, in late January 2007.  Longview Lake was the big body of water in my childhood.  I was more familiar with the upper section, just below  Enloe, which has been surrounded by development and is filling up with silt.  This lower section is in good shape, and some of the homes have small docks, of which I’m quite envious.

   Longview temporarily collects the waters of Bertie Creek, coming down Bertie Drive below Enloe, which then crosses Milburnie at Peartree Lane and makes its way down to Crabtree as seen below.  This lowest stretch of Bertie, which parallels Milburnie and crosses under Buckeye Trail’s beginning, gets some interesting visitors exploring upstream from the larger creek.  Just below the Buckeye bridge over it, the small creek pools up, and I have seen large sliders and snappers meditating a climb over the partly submerged sewer pipe blocking their way.  Above the greenway bridge, there are some nice rock riffles, and I was once amazed ( and too startled to act) by lifting up a large flat rock to reveal an Amphiuma – my only sight ever of this huge, biting salamander.

Bertie Creek hits Crabtree

Bertie Creek hits Crabtree

    Crabtree and Bertie enclose a diagonal of East Raleigh neighborhood, east Rollingwood, that is bordered by rich upland woods.  These high areas surround a large rock outcrop that turns the creek right after it has absorbed the waters of Marsh Creek.   That union, Marsh Creek and Crabtree, creates a huge marshy area highlighted by Raleigh Swamp at Capital Boulevard.  Below that, after the rocky overhang, Crabtree is steadily on its way to becoming a coastal plain waterway.  It’s flat, meandering path is lined with deep, silt-lined walls of clay, gouged regularly by floods.  It is not a pretty creek – the banks give the impression of accumulated eons of ring around the bathtub.  But there are interesting tangles of trees  and the occasional surprise.

Marsh Creek floodplain from Rollingwood

Marsh Creek floodplain from Rollingwood

Crabtree at Milburnie

Crabtree at Milburnie

This “surprise” was a heron which scattered from behind a sewer tower and managed to get caught in my uplifting camera lense.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this easternmost section of Buckeye is very “birdy,” with all three kinds of local woodpeckers, hawks being harassed by crows, and plenty of herons.

Nature News

The Wake County Quarterly

Here, like usual, are so many opportunities to learn about and interact with nature.  Even if you don’t need the structured activities, it’s nice to be reminded of the beavers at Blue Jay Point, the farm history at Oak View Park, the bats at Crowder Park on Ten-ten, and the restored gristmill  at Yates Mill.

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