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A moment in time at a Carrboro special place

2010 May 27

Summer bluets in full flower on the way down to Bolin Creek. Photo by Ken Moore.

By Ken Moore

What a surprise this past weekend to discover that the vast white penstemon fields of Mason Farm Biological Reserve came in second place to the mountain-like qualities of the Adams Tract section of Bolin Creek.

I had been looking forward to nature artist Robert Johnson’s Nature Notes Workshop at the N.C. Botanical Garden because it was scheduled to take place during the peak flowering of the tall white beardtongue, Penstemon digitalis.

The flowers were on schedule and the fields were spectacular.

In my estimation, those penstemon fields, in full flower, are as dramatic as any wildflower display anywhere, anytime, in the state of North Carolina. If you have not ventured out there for a viewing, you can catch the tale-end of their flowering. Perhaps a tardy visit will make you mark your calendar to see them at peak next year!

The 14 students, ranging from a high school junior and two university students to retired folks, keen on the outdoors, all enjoyed learning Robert Johnson’s ways of “being and seeing in nature” at both sites. It was Bolin Creek that really captured them.

The moss and lichen covered boulders and the melodic gurgling of the stream

Robert Johnson instructs students along Bolin Creek. Photo by Ken Moore.

made it all worth the uneven walk up through the pine forest and down through the oak-hickory forest to the edge of the creek. The setting charmed even Robert himself, who seemed transferred back to his mountain home at the base of Mount Mitchell.

Beginning at Wilson Park’s Adams Tract trailhead, the group stopped frequently to note characteristics of forest types, with eyes focused on little details like the common wild ginger, Hexastylis virginica; obscure, easy-to-miss Virginia snakeroot, Aristolochia serpentaria; and dozens of summer bluets, Houstonia purpurea, the many-flowered cousin to the single-flowered bluet or Quaker lady, Houstonia caerulea.

Robert had us all settle down along the creek, where we sat, eyes closed, for a good 10 minutes, with all our senses keenly focused on sounds, feelings and even the tastes of the air.

Then without a word, each student ventured off to find a spot from which to make a simple pencil sketch of the scene with a detail or two in a 6-by-8-inch pad. With reference to a small color chart based on 12 water colors, students made abbreviated color notes on their sketches.

Then back indoors at the Botanical Garden, under Robert’s guidance, students settled in to complete their sketches and details, adding color from their notes and keen memories of the place. While some returned to their penstemon field experience from the day before, most focused on the mountain-like experience along Bolin Creek.

Student Norma Cheren’s Bolin Creek landscape with details. Photo by Ken Moore.

The results were as spectacular as the outdoor scenes themselves. Some students were accomplished botanical illustrators, enthusiastic to discover a new way of viewing the outdoors; other students had never put pencil or brush to paper. Each set of images was beautiful and unique to the separate experiences of each beholder.

With pencil in hand is a great way to take a closer look and capture a certain unforgettable moment in time of a special place.

You know what? Every one of us can do it, if we simply try.

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