The Raleigh Naturalist

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!

April 12, 2010

Pigeon House Re-Hab Project Helps Edna Metz Wells Park

A wonderful piece of graffiti has garnered some media attention for the stream restoration project along Smallwood Drive just below Cameron Village.  Cameron Village was the first shopping center in the Southeast, and when Willie York built it he diverted, ditched and straightened the headswaters of Pigeon House Branch, which gather between Cameron Village and the Raleigh Apartments.  The creek takes a straight shot right under Clarke Avenue into Edna Metz Wells Park, and after heavy rains the water, which gathers from a large section of the Oberlin Road ridge of Civil War fame, would roar through the tiny park, eroding and scouring and backwashing debris into the tributary water piped down from the glade along Forest Street above the park.  The City of Raleigh is working on a general rehabilitation plan for Pigeon House Branch, and the Smallwood project, which is pretty much finished, is part of that.  Apparently they are going to remove some invasive species before doing final plantings, both on Smallwood and in Edna Metz, in the fall.

From the main approach, the park looks beseiged..  But as you will see below, in the interior, all is well.  This spot is a real haven in Central Raleigh, and was a mainstay for my young children and me in the nineties.

 The Smallwood St. project involved using large boulders and some nice terraces to slow down and complicate the path of the water.

 

The media interest, started by a nice post from Goodnight, Raleigh, centers on a graffiti portrait of Edie Sedgewick, Andy Warhol’s muse, painted on the culvert where Pigeon House enters Edna Metz.  My picture of the scene is below.

Josh Shaffer called me and asked about the construction and Ena Metz, but never specifically mentioned the graffiti.  I’m pretty sure they won’t scrape it off as part of the re-hab project, but I can’t really say for sure.  Hope not.  It is indeed a nice harmless piece of art.  The figure says “De,” which is the word for power in Taoist philosophy.  I appreciate Josh’s feature of it and the park, as well as his kind words for my work.  And thanks as always to John Morris and his compadres over at another of Raleigh’s “splendid blogs!”

Goodnight ,Raleigh post on Edna Metz Wells Park

photo album of Edna Metz and Smallwood project

 

to buy the book based on this blog, click below

The Natural History of Raleigh

December 8, 2009

Lassiter Mill Shows Crabtree at Strength

 

 The previous post talked about Crabtree Creek’s tendency to flood – last week again brought heavy rains over the Crabtree watershed that brought the creek up to the edge of  its large channels.  This also sends an impressive load of water over Lassiter Mill Dam, as seen above.  I shot a video clip of the rushing water from below the tailrace, as linked below.

video- Lassiter Mill dam at high water

What happens at Lassiter Mill vividily and intensely demonstrates what happens lots of places more gradually – the deposition of new soil by spreading flood waters.  This is an essential part of the natural systems of the Piedmont, and our flood control measures prevent the process from periodically enriching the soil with a layer of mud and silt – though the process continues to work just fine in the “waste” lowlands that remain in Raleigh.  An astounding number of these lowlands have become major thoroughfares – roads built relatively later in Raleigh’s long history, on land left undeveloped due to the floodplain.  The Beltline follows the low contours of Walnut Creek, House Creek, Crabtree Creek, Big Branch, Marsh Creek and then Walnut Creek quite precisely as it curves from Cary’s Buck Jones to Glenwood, over the crest of North Hills, and around southeast to Poole Rd and then Lake Wheeler Road.  The water is piped and rushed away from underneath these elevated roadways, carrying its minerals with it.

The suburbs and businesses near these roads certainly don’t need the sediments!  But the stuff has to go somewhere, and these days there is a lot of stuff.  When streams are buffered by a healthy band of water-loving trees and shrubs, erosion material is reduced greatly. In central Raleigh, Crabtree is clogged with lots of dislodged soil, construction materials and unnaturally exposed red clay.   But the deposition process is a vital one, and it gets exaggerated at Lassiter Mill, where the water brings its load of suspended minerals hurtling over the dam and then slows and spreads its course below.  As it slows, it drops much of its sediment load.  The area below Lassiter Mill changes yearly as the creek alternately erodes and builds up materials.  Check out the new load of sand deposited by the recent high waters.

There are several caveats and complications to consider.  This is a large load of sand!  Eight or nine inches at a dose, and not the silt and mud that the plants would prefer. But nature adapts, and the Lassiter “beach” is fun to browse, with a wide variety of weeds incubated from the loads of  soil and debris.  The silt and sand that currently washes down Crabtree is terribly unhealthy for the filtering mussels and other delicate aquatic life.  The red clay that paints Crabtree brown is such a strong pigment that Crabtree often changes the color of the Neuse where it conjoins.

Crabtree builds itself “shoulders”  as it repeatedly overflows, dropping the heaviest particles first as the water disperse into the floodplain.  This is why Crabtree presents such a tall ditched appearance as above at Hodge Road.  The plants arrange themselves in an orderly sequence beside or on top of these embankments according to their tolerance for flooding.

The next time Crabtree rises over it’s banks, put on your rubber boots and check out the glistening mica-rich silt that covers the greenways before the city sends its scrapers to clear it off to the side, where it enriches the plants as well as any landscaper’s mulch.  You are walking in the stuff that makes our floodplain soils, a rich muck delivered by the yearly floods.

Nature.org floodplain info

BBC floodplain story

 

November 15, 2009

Hodge Road Creek Levels – Crabtree Changes with the Weather

Filed under: Central Raleigh, Crabtree Creek, Gems & Surprises, waterways — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 2:54 am
Atlantic 11-11-09_1_1

Crabtree under Atlantic Ave at Hodge Road Nov. 11, 2009

Crabtree is a low -flow system that has carved itself an impressive channel through Raleigh over hundreds of thousands of years.  That course fills to overflowing fairly often, as Crabtree drains a huge swath of Piedmont terrain, from Brier Creek in north Wake County, out to west Cary and down to Walnut Creek south of Raleigh.  Flood control lakes such as Lynn and Shelley have eased flooding in Crabtree Valley, but Middle Crabtree Greenway in central Raleigh, as well as Walnut in East Raleigh, continues to flood after heavy rains.  Above is 12 hours after high water at Atlantic Avenue and Hodge Road.  Below is a high-low pair of pictures for the same spot.

                           Atlantic Ave greenway underpass_1_1          Atlantic Ave Crabtree bridge
              Crabtree threatens 9-08          Underpass completed 7-08

I have posted about flooding here before at Raleigh Nature, and maintain an ongoing post of comparison pictures at my nature projects blog, Pecans & Mistletoe.  “The Gar Hole” is the most important feature of this favorite stretch of greenway, accessible at Atlantic Avenue on weekends (parking available then at the plumbing supply warehouse) or at the deadend east of the Longbranch on weekdays (unless it’s flooded).  So I take regular shots of the gar hole and the view from the railroad bridge at different seasons and water flows.  Below are some interesting pairs.

                            gar hole with young slider 6-20-07          gar hole 11-07-09_1_1

                              June 07                                       November 09

                              gar hole March 7_1_1          Gar Hole 9-7-07_1_1

                                       March 07                              June 07

Gar Hole after December 07 rains

                                    Hodge View 11-7-09_1_1          Hodge 11-11-09_1_1

Crabtree from Hodge Rd RR bridge 7 November and 4 days later after “Ida” rains.

                            old bridge 12-31-07_1_1          RR Bridge 11-11-09_1_1

               Hodge Rd. RR bridge Jan 07 and after rains 11–11-09

Creek Levels at Pecans & Mistletoe

*****************

                              box elder beetle at Hodge Rd RR bridge_1_1          barn spider in silhouette_1_1

box elder beetle at Hodge Rd RR bridge; barn spider

gar hole butterfly

gar hole butterfly

June 18, 2009

News, Notes and Another Promise

The Natural View

The Natural View

Why I have posted just once a month for 3 months:

Best reason – my new column on nature and environment at Raleigh Public Record.

Very good one: I have been documenting The Bain Project, posting like a madman at Raleigh Rambles.  The Bain Water Treatment Plant has plenty of relevance for Raleigh Nature, as it used nature’s own filtering process – gradations of rock and sand – to clean water drawn from Lakes Raleigh, Johnson, Benson, and Wheeler.  It and the more ancient pumping  station which served as the city’s first water facility sit beside Walnut Creek (more about Walnut Creek below).  Just behind the Bain facility is a wonderful greenway deck that traverses wetlands strewn with swamp mallow,  huge white blooms that startle in a sea of southern green.

Raleigh Naturalist at Bain

Raleigh Naturalist presents at Bain

 Good news: I have more time now, being a teacher, and I also hope to bring Raleigh Nature readers some neat photos from our anniversary weekend in Charleston and our upcoming trip to Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island.  My promise is at the end of the post.

Walnut Creek greenway at Rose Lane

Walnut Creek greenway at Rose Lane

Lots of happenings around the greenways.  The section that follows Walnut Creek  parallel to Poole Road got flooded Tuesday June 16, along with Rose Lane and other roads near the creek.  The NandO story about the flooding was being followed up the next day by Josh Shaffer, who I met walking Rose Lane when I went to photograph the high water on the greenway. He was hoping to chat with some of the folks who are stranded by high water once every year or so at this dead-end extension of Rose Lane across the creek. I remember quite well my teenage years when Rose Lane dead-ended into a meadow well short of the creek, because we used to drive down there to park in what seemed like deep country in the sixties. Whoever decided to build houses past a perennial wetland with no outlet is the real problem, but the curent residents are facing the consequences.   Josh covers lots of interesting stuff for Nando, from Legos to beloved beer slingers to taking small children to play in cemeteries.  His recent story on kayaking Crabtree Creek   really struck a chord, with its realistic description of the grit, mud and smells encountered on the creek, but I prefer the much quieter section of Crabtree above Lassiter Mill for canoe jaunts.  Getting back to poor Walnut Creek, the heavy rains that caused flooding also sent 15,000 gallons of untreated sewage into the creek upstream in Cary, but the Nando story said no fish kills had been reported.

sliders at Yates Mill_1_1

Newsflash from NandO:  the 4 inches or so of rain also did damage at Yates Mill Pond, pictured above, which has temporarily closed the millsite and trails. Repairs are expected soon.

Lonnie Poole golf course_1_1  The new Lonnie Poole Golf Course around Lake Raleigh is mostly finished and expected to open in July. I posted dismal views and comments about this project in February 08, but when I stopped by recently I felt a little better.  There are lots of wooded buffers, especially next to Walnut Creek, and I must admit the course is looking pretty.

Raleigh skyline from Poole Golf Course

Raleigh skyline from Poole Golf Course

The Fletcher Park water garden is being fine tuned.  Apparently the water level, though quite low down in the retention ponds, was too high for some of the plantings, so a crew came in and extended a kind of penisula of land into the lowest pool, as you can see below.  The crew that explained this to me were taking survey sightings to appraise the work that had been done.  Many of the original plantings had been shifted to higher ground.

new Fletcher peninsula_1_1

The ponds still look pretty muddy to me, but I know time will do wonders. They had an opinion on one item that had been bugging me since the NandO article – springs.  There are no active springs in Fletcher Park, just surface water from the neighborhoods and seep from the ball fields.  Fletcher Park’s lilies are in full bloom!

Fletcher lilies_1_1

There!  All the nature news fit to post.  I can’t promise any certain frequency of posts, but I promise to stay totally committed to getting fresh postings up about nature and wildlife inside or near the beltline.  See you on the greenways!

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

 

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