On the floor of Umstead
Today I let whimsy take over my steering wheel as I was headed out to Gather to drop off my pottery students' finished pieces. I usually take the direct route down Western Blvd past NCSU, but today I hopped on I-40. I've been admiring the fall colors from downtown, and being on the open road with an expanded horizon and rainclouds forming, the sign for William B. Umstead State Park was all I needed to be taken off-track. I don't know all the entrances to the park, so I went the round-about way to the entrance on Glenwood Avenue and went down to see the boat house and the picnic shelters near Sycamore Trail and then drove down to Sal's Branch that I once surveyed for a stream restoration course. The stream bed was completely dry and leaves peppered both it and the adjacent trail.
One of the benefits of being alone and feeling a little melancholy is that the woods have treasures for you. They tell you not to feel overlooked, but rather to notice that tiny white mushroom just off the trail that probably no one else will see. They beg you to pause and see not just a picnic shelter but creaky old timbers and rocks, symbolic of the generations before, curtained by the most temporal of art - the crimson and yellow fall leaves. Pausing to observe a tree's roots tripping over themselves as if they weren't growing slowly enough to sort it all out, seeing lichen on a fallen tree fanning themselves in dappled light, bending down so low to snap a picture that your cheek lays flush with crunchy leaves and the spiders pause in their daily tasks to observe you, this is what the forest grants to those willing to slow down and daring to wander alone.