Sunday, February 26, 2012

Quest for Shortia (Part 2): Not it!

I don't expect to find Shortia (Oconee Bells) this weekend, but that wasn't going to stop me from looking.  It's too early for them to be in bloom, but I could still hunt for their characteristic leaves.  I decided to do a solo, overnight, out-and back backpacking trip along the Foothills Trail from Burrells Ford Road to Whitewater Falls where I wasn't as likely to find them.  That way I could save more promising sections for later in the spring, and still check this section off my to-do list. 

At home, I etched the image of the Oconee Bell leaf in my brain, especially in comparison to galax.  I memorized features of its habitat and the list of plants it's likely to be found with (rhododendron, hemlock, near streams on north facing slopes).  I knew I was finally reaching the point of being totally obsessed when I started dreaming of Oconee Bell leaves.

While hiking, I honed my search image.  I practiced recognizing and distinguishing any evergreen plants with roundish leaves, so my brain learned what was NOT Oconee Bell. 

Heartleaf- NOT it!

Even though I didn't find the Oconee Bell, the trip was a special because I got a clear view of the moon, Venus, and Jupiter all in a together in the sky

Monday, February 13, 2012

Quest for Shortia (Part 1): How it Starts

Late winter finds me pulling out my plant guidebooks, flipping through looking for inspiration.  Last year was my hunt for the yellow lady slipper orchid and a "mystery plant" (turned out to be Wood's bunchflower).  This year I decided would be the year for Shortia galacifolia, commonly known as the Oconee Bell.

It began the year after I moved here.  My friends would ask, "Have you seen the Oconee Bell?  The trail guide mentions this section has Oconee Bells, let's keep an eye out."  But I never quite get the timing right.  And I never knew the fascinating botanical story behind this remarkable plant.  This year would be different because I'd become captivated by the story of the Oconee Bell.  And I'd start my quest of it earlier in the season.  And I'd stay off the high mountaintops of NC, which has historically been where people go wrong finding Shortia.

The quest was on!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Bartram Trail from Warwoman Dell

It was my first solo backpacking trip in a long time, and I was nervous about going alone.  I was pushing my comfort zone on the weather-- forecast was for cold and rainy.  I made it to the trailhead (Warwoman Dell) by listening to my CD mix of happy, inspiring, empowering music.  I started hiking by telling myself that I could always turn around and go home if I got too scared, but just to try hiking for a little bit and see what would happen.

But within the first half hour of hiking (north up the Bartram Trail), even though there was hardly any rain, I saw tree foam!  It seemed like magic to spot that bright sparkle at the base of a tree.  But there it was bubbling and glistening.  My whole mood shifted, I could feel the fierce grip on my hiking poles soften, and my body relax.  After that, I had those moments of hiking bliss where the worries in my head disappeared and I experienced flow.

Tree foam!
When it got dark, I found a stealth spot to camp out of view from the trail.  By the time I hung the bear rope and hammock, it was only 6:30-- but already very dark and cold.  What do you do, alone in the woods?  I am not fond of campfires, and I didn't want to night hike in case I couldn't find the way back to my campsite, which was carefully hidden.  But since I was alone, I realized I could do whatever I wanted to, and there was no one for miles around to care.  The songs I'd listened to on the drive up crept into my head.

And I started to dance.  Slowly at first.  Then, with complete and happy abandon.  Dancing alone under the clouds, hands waving in air, rocking out, twirling, swishing, feeling happy in my body, moving enough to stay warm despite the falling temperatures.  Moving to the music in my head, then to the music of the wind in the trees.  The clouds parted occasionally, beams of moonlight casting shadows on the forest.  Bliss.

I zipped up into my hammock by 7:30, completely content.  Drops of rain started to fall on the tarp, but I was cozy warm.  I slept long and more comfortably than I ever do at home.  By morning the clouds had parted again, and I watched the sunrise from the comfort of my hammock.

I was glad I pushed myself by going out alone, despite my fears.  I needed all that time to reflect and relax, and be by myself.  And I had everything I could ever need out there alone.