My life is chaos right now. I have no center. I am in the process of moving from South Carolina back to North Carolina, taking three classes for grad school, and trying not to be a neglectful wife and pet mom. The pack needs tending to. So do I. For my place, I chose Freedom Park in Charlotte, NC because I’ll be living in the area in a few weeks and because it’s a place deeply entrenched in my memory.
Yesterday, I packed up Desmond, the Border Collie, and a notebook and took the hour drive into Charlotte. It was 58 degrees –the first day in months that reached that spring like temperature. The park was sure to be crowded. The winter weather here is fickle. Last week, there was six inches of snow on the ground. We spend our winters down south in a constant state of confusion. I wondered if there was a word for false spring.
I looked at this first trip as an information gathering mission. What was there that I had never paid attention to? What didn’t I know? I had no particular area of the park in mind for my place so I opted instead for a few spots. The first was under what I now know is a massive Willow Oak by the man-made pond
I sat on a tree root. Before I could even get my notebook out, Desmond relieved himself. I took my biodegradable bag and scooped it up with a bunch of leaves. I tried to get Desmond to settle down but he was so excited after being cooped up for the past few weeks that he paced around me for a good twenty minutes. My hands were a bit shaky, too –a touch of anxiety is ever-present.
The tree’s bark had deep crevices, leaves had collected in the valleys. After some gentle digging, I could see the coffee colored earth beneath. There were acorn remnants and pecan shells. A squirrel had been there. I wasn’t sure what kind of tree I was sitting under but I knew it wasn’t a pecan tree. I thought it was some kind of oak but the leaves were long and narrow. I knew oak leaves didn’t look like that but I couldn’t remember how to describe the leaves. Alternate? Opposite? Simple? I didn’t know. I walked around the tree to the sound of geese warning Desmond from the bank across the pond. His pacing increased. There was a band around the tree with some kind of goop on it. I knew it was meant to protect the old tree from some type of insect but again, I didn’t know what kind. Sitting there, writing in my journal, a twig that had been stuck in the glop of the band fell on me. I thought maybe I should have sat on the bench. A smoking man with greased back hair watched me examine the stick and wipe the strange substance on my paper, my pants, leaves, the tree. So much for relaxing in nature. I took a deep breath and decided it was best if we walk the trails. Get out some of this excess energy, especially since a large male goose who’d been warning us had now jumped into the water and led his burly gang our way. We stopped and had a staring contest. Desmond lost; he cowered behind me. Eventually, the geese figured I was okay and swam off. We kept walking.
On the trails, I tried to pay attention to trees and the creek. Little Sugar Creek is known for causing flash floods. I snapped pictures of trees that stood out. One was an evergreen, tall and stately with stringy bark. Another was severely knotted; it was stressed, too. Another was hollow; I wondered if it had the same kind of fungus that long leaf pines got. Red heart? I thought of the ecosystem it created. In a nearby tree, a woodpecker pecked. Tap,tap,tap,tap,tap. I couldn’t find him. I did, however, stumble across a stoic Blue Heron. He stood alone, one foot in the creek, one tucked. His eyes were open but in the five minutes I watched him, he never flinched. Here’s to hoping I can be more like the Heron on the next trip and here’s to hoping we meet again.
After I got home, I did a little research on trees and tree banding in Charlotte. According to the City of Charlotte, the Willow Oak accounts for 16 percent of Charlotte’s 160,000 street trees. Tree banding is encouraged by the city in order to protect Charlotte’s canopy from canker worms, which are a huge issue in the area, especially with Willow Oaks. I plan to look into this further but here’s some further reading if you’re interested.