Pinxter Azalea has just passed its peak in most locales, but today at Raven Rock State Park it is still striking enough to turn heads, ours included.
Along the streamside margins, and even further up the on the ridge above this stretch of the Cape Fear, the fiddleheads have become full-fledged fern fronds; framed in this instance by fallen oak blossoms, boldly declaring the advent of Spring.
Our quarry today lies farther along the trail, in the very shadow of the namesake Rock itself;
today we seek acquaintance with a rather inconspicuous but most impressive spring bloomer, the pawpaw tree. And just above the final landing on the steep wooden stairs descending the cliff adjacent to Raven Rock, we enjoy our first glimpse of the striking purplish-brown blossoms.
The fruit born of this blooming are North America's largest native fruit, fallen into relative obscurity in recent times due to their short shelf life and lack of cultivation.
Remembered in the classic American folk tune which finds Nellie or Susie or any other lyrical name of your choosing, "Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch, pickin' up pawpaws, puttin' 'em in your pocket..."
The pawpaw "patch" alludes to the pawpaw's clonal method of reproduction, typical of a few woody plant species, which form rather dense stands of genetically identical individuals in suitable habitat with a shared root system.
This patch of a few dozen smallish trees appears to be thriving in the understory on the very brink of the river, shaded by towering hardwoods and the rock itself.
By most accounts, the fruit tastes of very ripe peaches, with perhaps a hint of banana, and the foliage of the pawpaw happens to be the preferred food of the zebra swallowtail butterfly.
For our purposes today, however, the blossoms are the stars, and we are thrilled to bear witness to their splendor.
On the return trip, the sun is lower in the sky, and the forest takes on a green-tinted fairytale glow, painting the trail with shadows and making every moment into a postcard...
Hoot Owl's photographers are up to the task, pickin' up the postcards, and puttin' 'em in their pockets, to share them later with friends...
Moment after memorable moment, from forest trail to overlook to stream side and back again,
a perfect spring day yields to a perfect spring evening.
As the travelers approach the forest edge, a male summer tanager bids them adieu from the cool woodland shadows,
and the azaleas invite them to return again soon.
A brief stroll through Moccasin Branch before parting,
where the giant creekside ferns are a bit behind their woodland cousins,
reminding us that all of nature moves at its own pace, and that to venture too far from the forest, or tarry too long in returning, is to risk missing unimagined treasures.
We'll be back soon!