Not far from Hoot Owl central, here in the heart of Carolina, a large stand of towering loblolly pines borders the two-lane rural byway leading back to my beginnings as a naturalist in the Sandhills. An almost pure stand of loblolly, with a veritable carpet of reddish orange straw blanketing the sandy soil beneath, not unlike the scenery you might encounter on any of hundreds of rural highways in the American Southeast, and only a week or so removed from its role in broadcasting its share of a few million tons of bright yellow pine pollen throughout our region.
A few years back, one of my secret sources of nature knowledge encouraged me to have a short walk in those woods along about the first of May. Having spent hundreds of hours wandering woods like these as a child, I wasn't expecting much in the way of surprises. But these woods, like all of nature, have a way of exceeding expectations...
Two steps into the forest, a mere forty feet from the busy by-way, the magic begins. Bright green basal leaves thrust forth from six decades' accumulation of decaying straw, bizarre bowing blossoms on hirsute stalks bear witness to nature's ingenuity. These creatures were born here, in this precise spot; they belong here, to this place, the magical pinewoods of Carolina.
I wander farther afield, probing the boundaries of this remarkable space; in clumps, and singly, these magnificent native flora abound in an area no larger than the footprint of a modest house. In a tiny little corner of the forest, where who-knows-what critical environmental factors exist, these glorious little sprites spring forth to dance in sun-dappled silence for but a few brief passages of the golden orb, and then they are gone.
Why do such mysteries exist?
Why here, and why now?
Are they here for me, or am I intruding on a show intended for some other; or perhaps, intruding on lives that wish not to be disturbed?
The wonderful magic of the pinewoods is palpable, and I am humbled in the presence of such indescribable beauty and biological complexity.
I am grateful that I exist in a world filled with such wonders.
What can I learn from them, from how they live and grow?
I leave the pinewoods with more questions than answers,
humbled, inspired and grateful.