The Raleigh Naturalist

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!




June 29, 2008

Maple Sequence and Snapper Loose!

Filed under: Nature Lore, turtles — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 10:46 pm

This post was originally published May 4, 2008.

Check this out.  I have been watching this particular red maple on Hardison Drive in Quail Hollow all spring.  What amazing red color from the early samsaras, which emerge and mature before the first spring leaves.  Cool shift through orange as the helicopter seeds slowly lose out to the foliage.



Snapper Loose!

 So last week my high school teacher assistant, Randall, a senior helping with my 6th grade science class, brings in a turtle.  Except this turtle made my day, entertained almost my entire school population, and impressed the heck out of us all.  He was huge!  For a 6th grade classroom, anyway.  My students of all ages were in awe as I lifted him from the back and displayed the gaping, snapping mouth and long sharp claws.  By day’s end I had little claw marks all over my hands. On the other hand, this snapper was weary and disgusted.  I promised Randall I would find a nice spot to release him. (Randall had hooked him by the leg with a casting line and hauled him out of the lake in his backyard, where he certainly was not expected back). I though of Blue Jay Point, where I have released ailing box turtles and morose sliders.  I thought of Lassiter Mill, where I have seen, just as I mentioned in the recent post on that subject, animal control officers release unwanted specimens.  This was a big, dangerous turtle ( though they do get over twice this size), and I decided I wanted an undeveloped stretch of water.  Crabtree on the east end of Buckeye Trail was the obvious solution.  Snapper could climb up the bank into the Marsh Creek marsh by Yonkers Road, or float on down to Anderson Point and find the Neuse River, with lots of side choices along the way.

So I wrestled him back into his tub one last time and drove to Milburnie Road and parked.  As I got out, a small peculiar lady with four young children came ambling down the road.  I spoke to them and explained I was a science teacher who could share something interesting if they had a minute.  The kids were appropriately aghast and entertained, but Mom had other ideas.

” You don’t mean you going to turn that turtle loose!  You can give that turtle to me.  I’d love to have it.”

Now even if it wouldn’t have been crazy to give a strong, heavy, dangerous reptile to a small woman with four small kids, I knew exactly why she wanted it, and I was having no part of it.

“You just want to cook this turtle!  I’m going to turn it loose like I promised Randall.”

 And the woman just wouldn’t let go of the idea that I might give her this turtle.  She wanted it badly.  She and her kids watched as I started off down the greenway, lugging the tub.  They started on down Milburnie, but were clearly watching through the trees.  So rather than turning him loose in the small tributary right next to Milburnie, as I had planned, I heaved and puffed with the tub all the way down to Crabtree.  I set him on the grass and took these photos.  Then I slid him down the bank and took the video linked below.

I was right proud of myself as a Baby Boomer teacher who has embraced the 21st century, because I was able to show my students ( and especially Randall) this video post on Pecans & Mistletoe, my nature projects blog, the very next day.  They didn’t have to trust my account, they could watch this turtle go into Crabtree.  Hope you enjoy it as well.

 Snapper Loose! video

Lots to Lose – Lots to Save

Filed under: East Raleigh, Nature Lore, Pecans & Mistletoe — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 8:53 pm

This post was originally published Feb. 24, 2008.

This meadow off Sunnybrook is surely doomed, but it is sure fun to browse for now.  I have seen deer and gray foxes, lots of butterflies and a wonderful diversity of plant communities that range themselves around the various landscapes contained on this old farm.  It is the remnants of the very large farm bisected by the eastern stretch of the Beltline and displayed in all its historicity at Oak View County Park right across the highway.  This privately owned portion contains two ponds, one large enough to be called Jones Lake, an abandoned farmhouse, and a small grove of pecan trees.  The main pond is dammed at an unusually deep cut into sandstone that makes for an imposing ravine just below the dam, which then delivers the water to Crabtree, close by.  You can walk from the Sunnybrook meadow down a hill to the pipeline cut that parallels the beltline, and follow that water all the way to the pumping station , to see where those teenagers flung their Dad’s sports car over the guard rail, and you can see the memorials left at the site, which is still slightly blackened and scarred from the conflagration. This floodplain zone is wet and full of animal tracks.  The soil is sandy and obviously derived from the sandstone bowl which helps form Jones Lake. Or you can walk across the top of the dam, jump past the ravine, and walk around to the upper pond near Poole Road.  Here you see the pecans and the upland plants that are taking over from them.  Whatever subdivision gets created here will surely make some benefit out of the water holes and the many mature trees.  You would hope, at least.  I also used to park on Poole Road just past the fire station and walk in from that direction, but that end, between the upper pond and Poole, is now already under construction.  The clear cut for that part is not promising.  See below.


The meadow ends at the slope down to the creek that drains Jones Lake.

              The upper pond and pecan grove.

And the clearcut.

December 30, 2007

Dix Hill and the making of a world class city

Filed under: green initiatives, Greenways & Parks, Pecans & Mistletoe, South Raleigh — Tags: , , , — raleighnaturalist @ 4:11 pm


The oak grove above will probably survive whatever is to come, but the old “Dix Hill” where I went sledding has already been truncated by Centennial and the Farmer’s Market, and is now being fought over like a scrap thrown between dogs.  I realize there is going to be more development of some kind,and that the state will hold on to some space – as a matter of fact, the Dix hospital employees I talk to say they don’t expect to leave.  It makes sense for some portion – the juvenile part, say – of the mental health facilities to remain. I am not an activist but I’m glad the Dix group is working so hard to save what they can.  The truth is, the magnificent lower meadow, surrounded by majestic oaks, with Rocky Branch edging it, is the prettiest place inside the beltline.  A park here would go a long way toward establishing Raleigh as the true and enlightened city of oaks.


Rocky Branch above, Dix Hill pecan trees below


« Newer Posts

Create a free website or blog at