Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 2: Watershed

A neighbor told me that Morehead Hill is the crux of two drainages: to the north, the Neuse; to the south, the Cape Fear. At the time she told me this, I couldn't picture the critical point of inflection, but after just two days' biking, I know it well: Chapel Hill Street, on our northern frontier. We are all on its downside, altitudinally, at least. Atmospherically, it seems a distinct drop to that strip of tired storefronts, though I do like the mural on the long-closed Durham Food Co-op, and I'm amused by the accounting firm in a converted church. A commercial zone could be a highlight, as Ninth Street is to Watts-Hillendale, but the only nightlife I've seen on CHS is the coterie of ink aficionados that tends to gather by the tattoo parlor. If I wanted to walk (or bike) for dinner or drinks, I'd head to Bright Leaf Square or American Tobacco.

Watershed was very much in action today, I'm sure, since so much water was shed when the near-100 degree heat broke in a Florida-esque cloud burst. My office has no window, so I was very much taken by surprise, having last seen sunny skies in early afternoon, to find a deluge about an hour before I was due to get back on my bike. However, by then, again in Florida-esque manner, it had cleared, though not before taking down one of the stately East Campus oaks.

We are among hardwoods here. Two large white oaks dominate my backyard, while some sort of elm leans in from the east. The whole neighborhood appears a veritable forest from Google Satellite View. This is much different from the scrappy pines that pass for woods in most of Cary - loblollies. Inman called them "trash trees" in Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, and he would have seen a lot of them. By the 1860s, the North Carolina Piedmont had been pretty much stripped of its original hardwood forest cover - oak, hickory, chestnut - and it's the loblollies that come first in abandoned fields. They're weedy trees. They grow fast, provide sparse cover, and die once shaded out by the hardwoods that slowly come up to replace them. It's the seric cycle, and somehow enough of it passed since the last time this land was cleared for tall oaks to rise up all around us.

There's hope in that, like the hope I feel when I see ailanthus trees sprouting up all along the edge of Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh. Aliens, I know - aggressive invasives - but given hardly half a chance they will advance upon that mall and destroy it, clearing the way, again, for oak and hickory, if not (alas) chestnut. And, speaking of watersheds, we've seen time and again how quickly Crabtree Creek would reclaim its river bed, from Sears to Belks by way of Lord & Taylor, if it were not held at bay in a ditch to the west.

This is the hope that motivates this Urban Biker lifestyle, though it seems absurd as the news continues regarding BP's hole in the bottom of the sea, and while 100 degrees in June starts to seem normal, which it really isn't, not even on the NC Piedmont. At times I feel like the old eco-radical in TC Boyle's A Friend of the Earth, in a near future where the Earth is clearly a lost cause. Though we're not quite there yet, and Boyle seems to suggest that even his hero isn't yet, either.

Here's to that, then.

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