The Raleigh Naturalist

December 30, 2010

Best Views, Best Intentions, 2010

Glory in the Morning. all pictures by John Dancy-Jones
 All pictures click to enlarge

It has been a slow year at Raleigh Nature, squeezed by my Meniere’s Syndrome, classroom teaching, other online interests, and gardening.  Here are some nice images from 2010, some with notes on the separate posts I would  liked to have written with them.  Thanks for checking in and we’ll keep plugging.  Have a great one!

snowy trees on White Oak Road, December 2010

 The snowy holidays were great fun and a white Christmas seemed like an enticing treat from the Climate Change Coming. We are still working on raising food year round at the Person Street urban homestead and the chickens have been a spectacular success and my best excuse for not being out in Raleigh nature.

Esperanza, our combless Aracauna, with her friends, out for a stroll

Fall pond at Oak View Park

I am truly grateful for Get To Know a Park, since I would rather concentrate on out of the way places, but there are still plenty of park rows to hoe.  Besides Oak View, there is a small new one on Honeycutt Road, and little gems like Hymettus Woods at Wade and Dixie.  One of my biggest regrets of 2010 is not getting over to the new section of greenway emerging by the beltline on House Creek, where I have been specifically invited by a reader (lo siento 😦 ) 

Fall colors at Oak View

boulders in Cemetery Branch at Brookside Drive

Cemetery Branch

Crabtree on east Buckeye Trail

There is always a lot of nature lore to explore, and 2010 was no exception.

woad blue mold after heavy rains

Raleigh Swamp mallard hen

sunlit slider on Middle Crabtree

my TFA science classroom's pet box turtle


Oakwood hawk with a diappointingly invisible captured squirrel

biggest gall yet!

snapper in the Wilmington creek beside Dorian's apartment

There is a lot I would like to cover from my travels outside Raleigh as well. The Maine post went well, but my mountain traveling has been heavy, and there is always just sooo much to tell.

Boulders on 64 in western NC

rock sculpture at UNC-A's Botanical Garden

ballon from rest stop on 40

Bass Harbor, Maine

There are so many things happening with parks and green amenities in Raleigh.  I had hoped to write about the beginnings of the Neuse River trail, which starts at Fall Dam and eventually hits Anderson Point, the river’s intersection with Crabtree.  This wonderful, under-used park has been the source of many a stimulating walk and deserves multiple posts.  Halfway down that trail (where it joins the existing one) is Raleigh Beach and the Milburnie Dam, which is up for possible removal.  Now THIS topic I would have preferred to address at Raleigh Public Record, and I may yet (the project is on a back-burner currently).

Milburnie Dam

raccon midden at Milburnie Dam (hat for scale)

Happy New Year and here’s hoping again for an invasive species page, a record trees map and more straight street pieces in 2011 – and if we’re lucky, Marsh Creek Part II !           Love,  John


June 24, 2010

Life, Art and Nature: Summer Solipsis

Filed under: About & reflection, green initiatives, Pecans & Mistletoe, Raleigh History, waterways — Tags: — raleighnaturalist @ 8:43 pm

Marty Baird's show at The Mahler documents experiences of NC waters.

     A personal post as I approach a new era of the blog: moving it toward my book, The Natural History of Raleigh, and recovering from the sabbatical of sorts imposed by other interests, my school year and most of all Meniere’s Disease, which is a non-lethal but incurable inner ear condition which has hampered all my work for the past year. As I have learned to manage my disease and its triggers, I have also become fully engrossed in work related to Raleigh Nature but not what I want on the blog: urban agriculture and the movement toward local sustainable farming in the area.  I’m posting about that work at Pecans and Mistletoe, a project blog which has taken on a life of his own.  Severely limited in screen time many days, I can always find relief from my tinnitus and relaxing pleasure in tending our garden, which we have converted to mixed herb, flower, and food crops.  And our new chickens have lifted the gardening into a whole new level.  It was a challenging school year, and now that summer is here I will try again to make more time for this blog.

     But speaking of Raleigh nature!  We have three wonderful art shows that feature a spectacular range of takes on the relationship between people and nature, and I thought I would kick off my Raleigh Nature comeback with an art column.  Marty Baird’s show at The Mahler is described on the website as

Paintings and drawings that document artist Marty Baird’s experience of the waters in several North Carolina Rivers and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  A percentage of sales during the exhibition will be donated to Triangle Land Conservancy, a non-profit that protects important stream corridors, wildlife habitat and natural areas in North Carolina.

Marty’s work in the show varies widely, but all the pieces display the action of gravity on liquids as they encounter the paper.  The piece at the top of the post is one of the most successful of her painted word lists, which evoke names for water and wetland features.  Much of the other work is literally water and gravity – deftly defined ink lines of water volumes, delicate featherings of outblown tributaries, patterns of action taken from flowing water.  The benefit to Triangle Land Conservancy will help protect stream corridors and riparian wildlife.  Be sure to check it out.

The current show at Block Gallery features imagined and photographed naturescapes.

Hannah Costner has done a great job taking over Sarah Blackmon’s gig curating The Block Gallery in the municipal building downtown.  The current show combines two completely different artists, whose work nevertheless makes a complete show that works well.  Anna Podris has shown her whimsical encaustics all over town, and I love them every time I see them.  Fantastic creatures and pure nature animate every one of her paintings.  As she says, each piece creates its own world.  Gene Furr’s nature photographs reflect his journalist background – superb documentation of natural scenes and animals with over-the-top spectacular settings, lighting and details.  This show continues Block Gallery’s stellar offerings of recent years, as well as its fine tradition of providing a venue for cutting edge video, dance, and music at its openings.

Luke Buchanan offers intriguing and nostalgic cityscapes at Rebus Works.

Nature is what you make of it and Luke Buchanan explores what people have made of Raleigh.  His show at Rebus Works by the Boylan Ave. Bridge are large, even powerful painterly treatments of classic Raleigh street scenes.  Everything from Cup-o-Joe’s to Hayes Barton comes to life in highly recognizable images which still yield to well used artistic license.  The postcard image above is actually from the related group of drawings at Stitch on Hargett Street, which has been the venue for several “sideshows” out of Rebus, but here gets a lion’s share of the show with a dozen really nice drawings (many already sold) with the same themes as above.  Luke’s work does what I want this blog to do : wake up and pay attention to the wonderful Raleigh around you.

I will never  have the time I’d like for this blog and it’s eventual book project, anyway not until I retire from teaching in 5 years.  I hope the book is out by then.  I’m still caught up in Black Mountain College and Ray Johnson work over at Raleigh Rambles, and I now have a new daily item: my page on Facebook. But I’m looking forward to posting a lot soon here – if it will cool off enough to get outside!!  Peace to all. Get outside – and if it’s too hot, then go see some art!

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!

November 1, 2008

Slow Fall at Dix



Raleigh from Dix Hill

Raleigh from Dix Hill

 Dorothea Lynde Dix (1802-87) was perhaps the most famous and admired woman in America for much of the nineteenth century. Beginning in the early 1840s, she launched a personal crusade to persuade the various states to provide humane care and effective treatment for the mentally ill by funding specialized hospitals for that purpose.

     306 acres are left from a huge estate that was given over to the benefit of some of our neediest folks.  As the fall colors take their time this year decorating Raleigh’s skyline, so Dix Hill’s fate lingers in the slow balance of state decision.  Walk the big meadow with me and glimpse some early fall colors.

   We turn from downtown and look down at the gazebo and greenway path which runs along Rocky Branch as it follows its new, straightened course beside Western Boulevard.  On that walk we’ll see lots of elusive birds, wild grape, and some small spots of fall color.

     The campus has many historic buildings, massive white and red oaks that ring the meadow, a small grove of highly productive pecan trees, and one open slope that is the joys of all sledders.  Centennial Campus and the Farmer’s Market have already taken the lion’s share of what once was .  Now the state needs to let Raleigh’s long term interests take precedence over a short-time cash windfall.  The folks at Dix 306 are working hard to make that happen.  We should support them any way we can.

     Below is a trace of fall glory in midst of a glorious lingering summer.  Hopefully this image does not represent the sunset of hopes for the landscapes of Dix Hill.


   I went on this walk partly because of Ashley Sue over at Green Grounded, who complimented me in anticipation of seeing fall colors on Raleigh Nature.  Below are clickable thumbnails of some other sightings at Jones lake off Sunnybrook, and then ending with my all time best fall picture, from the west Beltline.  Happy leafing!




October 20, 2008

Blue Ridge Parkway and other waypaths

   The Blue Ridge Parkway serves as a ribbon of access to the peaceful grace of both rural and wild scenes in the NC mountains.  The stretch surrounding Doughton Park, where Cara and I camped in August, offers more of the agricultural type.  The Parkway passes through currently used farms, with cows, sheep, goats and small gardens.  Near Doughton Park is Brinegar Cabin, whose old style of mountain farm living was enacted, and thus preserved, well into the 20th century. I posted a set of documentary photos about it at Pecans & Mistletoe, which is fast becoming the home of my explorations into heritage sustainable agriculture as well as a site for extended nature projects of all kinds. The nature images from our trip are on a post at the Raleigh Nature Photo Archive, which, like Pecans & Mistletoe, is a blogspot blog where I load and display most of the pictures for The Natural History of Raleigh, which is the name of my overall nature project and the future book which will culminate the work of these three blogs: Raleigh Nature, the main site, Raleigh Nature Photos, the photo album site, and Pecans & Mistletoe, the nature project site.  Occasionally some piece of all this leaks over into Raleigh Rambles, my personal blog, where I can talk about anything I want.

   Getting back to our mountain trip, we saw a beautiful pair of walking sticks at our campsite on the grassy knob of Doughton Park.  There are campsites at this park where you can walk out your tent, start down the hillside behind you, and go for a day or so before hitting a road.  We took a long hike through a nearby wooded trail and saw lots and lots of mushrooms, as you will see on the photo album.  Below is a particularly lovely grouping of shrooms, moss, and liverworts.

    Brinegar Cabin, which is right on the Parkway, really reminds you of how closely we lived with nature until not so many decades ago.  The Spring House (which is now contaminated by a Park Service outhouse built uphill from it), the naturally cooled food cellar, and the “linsey-wooly” products and cobbling service which generated cash money, all are vivid reminders of a way of life that, at this site, lasted until the 1930’s.  Best of all was the sights and lessons of growing and processing flax, which excites papermakers like ourselves very much.

June 29, 2008

Garden frogs are out!

Filed under: Nature Lore, Pecans & Mistletoe — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 9:52 pm

 This post was originally published on April 4, 2008.

I believe the parent/predecessors of this green frog came to us in a large potted water plant from that amazing aquarium store on west Hillsborough.  We have bullfrogs in the turtle pond at the top of the yard (see below), but these smaller, more active individuals inhabit the unfenced pond at the bottom of our garden. Although we do bring in a few tadpoles each year as live treats for the turtles or general pondwater/biota  additions, I consider these frogs to be voluntary residents and a compliment to the micro-ecosystems we try to maintain in our sloped Oakwood backyard.  Below is this frog’s view of our garden.

Below is a bullfrog peering into the ivy that rings our pond turtle grotto.  Bullfrogs have larger ear spots and usually green noses and no small spots.  But you get such furtive looks at them they are hard to identify with total confidence. One reference I use a lot is Dorothy Hugh’s wonderful nature website.  She is honest about the difficulty and ambiguity of amateur sightings, and yet goes ahead and provides excellent information in a beautiful format.  Her page on frogs is a great example of comprehensive, efficient tools for comparision of the surprisingly varied but similar species present in the area.


Below are more garden images from this rainy spring break. I didn’t go canoeing above Lassiter Mill with my buddy Clyde as I had planned.  You can check out some preliminary photos, but the mill post will have to wait.  Our brand new rain barrels are definitely up next! Buy yours soon.


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