Fire, when it comes to the natural world, is often associated with loss — the loss of trees, of shrubs, of grasses, of animal life. But it also plays a key role in keeping the forest alive. This year, North Carolina is celebrating that role, proclaiming it the Year of Fire in its State Parks.
The first time I hiked Lake Mattamuskeet was on a late November day back in the late 1990s. I was heading back from the coast and only intended to stop for a moment, stretch my legs, see tundra swans, teals or widgeons had arrived for the season. I wound up walking one of the dirt access roads around the lake for a couple of hours. The snowbirds had yet to arrive from the north — or maybe some had and I just didn’t notice. Rather, I was taken by the sweeping view across the lake, the endless blue sky, the quiet. Ever since, when I’ve been to the coast in winter I’ve tried to spend time hiking Lake Mattamuskeet or one of the other National Wildlife Refuges along the coast.
Winter — such a misunderstood season. For too many, the notion of hibernation learned in elementary school seems to have stuck: it’s cold, hunker down, stay inside until spring. While that notion may apply to cold-blooded types in more northerly climates, hibernation isn’t an approved practice in North Carolina, where daytime highs around 50 and sunshine are common occurrences.
I’ve had a dream to live in a place where I could walk out the back door and be on a trail. I’ve twice flirted with this dream: once living a quarter mile from a greenway network in North Raleigh, then living just above the headwaters of Swift Creek in Cary, where there wasn’t a trail per se, but there was some awesome floodplain to explore (under the right conditions).
Saturday, our GetHiking! Winter Wild series takes advantage of the winter cold to hike the Lower Haw River State Natural area, which extends along its namesake river from Bynum south to U.S. 64. It’s an especially good time to hike this stretch, I tell people, because the dense foliage of summer is at bay, the flying and biting pest population is at a minimum, and the cold-blooded snakes will be tucked into their hidey-holes.