In honor of Earth Day I visited the magnificent cove hardwood forest in North Carolina, preserved as a memorial to Joyce Kilmer, the fallen soldier and poet-author of “TREES” who died in battle in France on July 30, 1918. Though a prolific poet whose works celebrated the common beauty of the natural world as well as his religious faith, Kilmer is remembered most for a short poem entitled “Trees” (1913), which was published in the collection Trees and Other Poems in 1914.
A visit to this wondrous place in April will find you amongst the enchanting spring forest flora and fauna. Alive with woodland flowers such as bloodroot, crested dwarf iris, painted and Vasey’s trillium, bluet, delicate fiddlehead ferns, where the omnipresent tulip poplar tree and prolific rhododendrons abound.
The virgin (uncut ever) poplar forest has huge trees, many are hundreds of years old. Some of them are twenty feet around the base and more than a hundred feet high. The trees there include yellow poplar, hem-lock, sycamore, basswood, dogwood, beech, several species of oak, and many others.
The trail is a fairly easy self-guided stroll. There is a large map at the entrance. Photograph it as you go by as a reference in case you forget the routes of the loops. Kilmer Memorial, like so many parks in America suffers from hard economic times with no paper hand-outs or staff rangers but there are flush and pit toilets.
As I strolled along the trails I met folks from all over, some who spoke of a bear perched atop one of the poplars at the third bridge off to the left. I found it lollygagging on its back at the top of a poplar with a paw swinging at flies in the breeze. Most of the bear was hidden by the dense branches but the swinging right front paw was easy to spot. Miss Minna suggested I don’t make it a photo-op. She whispered something under her breath, it sounded something like, “Just let sleeping bears lie.”
The wonderful sound of the pileated woodpecker as it tapped away in search of an insect lunch punctuating the forest sounds of mountain streams and breezes and other wild birds; I even spotted a pair of wild turkeys. The cock immediately took to the tree branches, while she scurried into the underbrush. The upright striped tail feathers on the male were quite spectacular to see in flight.
My new friend Mike Hall from Western Maryland, traveling the southeast by motorcycle told me to beware the “fairy-glider” a very-aggressive marriage of the chipmunk and red flying squirrel that has been harassing campers. Thanks Mike cute story but I spoke with a chipmunk about it and he rolled over laughing!
The memorial park encompasses over 3500 acres and is part of the Joyce Kilmer-Sliprock National Wilderness encompassing over 17,000 preserved acres. Guiding you through the park is a wonderful figure eight loop-trail that crosses rushing crystal clear streams, little trickling brooks, roots abound take care and step lightly —expect poison ivy to make a strong showing.
So from the rich, dense forest of Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, hidden deep in the furthermost western corner of North Carolina, I bid you all a most, wonderful, reflective Earth Day. Enjoy the adventure and celebrate life: give back to the earth. PEACE.