A Garden Place (Hortitopia)

On Saturday, I had the good fortune to hike with the Greenville Natural History Association, by invitation of Bill Robertson, an acclaimed Upstate nature photographer.   I was a bit worried about the expedition to Chestnut Ridge, especially after I saw the elevation profile.

Elevation profile of Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve

Elevation profile of Chestnut Ridge Heritage Preserve

Bill said he was only hiking the first mile, however, and I really should come along.   I’ve been eager to hike with Bill, who’s very generous with his knowledge and encouragement, and decided to plunge in.  Once I met up with the group at the car-pooling location on Saturday, I noted I was younger than most and was optimistic I could hold my own on the trail.

On the ride to the Heritage Preserve, I met and got to know Ian and Jane, members of the Association and frequent hikers.  I later learned Ian routinely hikes 10 miles several times each week and is an excellent photographer, as well as a photography teacher for OLLI at Furman University.

The early blooms on Chestnut Ridge are mostly the same as those in my woodland garden, primarily sweet Betsy trillium (T. cuneatum) and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), but it was instructive to watch the process of the photographers in the group, who true to Bill’s word, pulled up at the first area of native wildflowers while the rest of the hikers continued on towards the Pacolet River.

I took a few pics with my new camera, a Nikon D7100 which is well beyond my grasp of understanding.  On this occasion, however, I knew time was better spent watching Bill and Ian, who were taking macro shots using a tripod and diffuser.

Bill (holding diffuser) and Ian working on macro image of bloodroot

Bill (holding diffuser) and Ian working on macro image of bloodroot

Bill's bloodroot

Bill’s photograph, shown here, uses the stamens of the second flower to create a golden glow around the foreground bloom.

After a while, Ian decided to hike to the river to have lunch with Jane and, foolish in my new-found confidence, I invited myself to go with him to rejoin the group.  As soon as we topped Squirrel Mountain and began the steep decent to the river, I had serious misgivings because I knew the return trip could well get the best of me.

I love hikes that have a treat at the terminus and the Pacolet River didn’t disappoint.  Though the waterway is small, it is located in a deep valley gorge and offers a sandy bank at the river crossing that is perfect for a picnic.  When we arrived, the group was just dusting themselves off for the return hike, so Ian and I quickly ate a few bites.  Lynne, the hike leader, stayed behind to “sweep” and I was much relieved to have a second encourager as we watched the group quickly disappear up the trail.

Pacolet River

Pacolet River

On the return, as I usually do when I’m in over my head, I just put my head down and pressed the gas.  Though I was huffing and puffing, our small group was about halfway up Squirrel Mountain when Lynne spied a garter snake writhing beside the path.  Closer inspection showed the snake had snared a Southern Appalachian salamander (Plethodontid teyahalee) and we watched as the snake slowly worked its way from the amphibian’s mid-section down to the tail so it could turn its prey and devour it.

Common garter snake, about 18-inches long, with Southern Appalachian salamander

Common garter snake, about 18-inches long, with Southern Appalachian salamander

Garter snake devours its prey

Garter snake devours its prey

Needless to say, we thought this would be the trill of the trip, but we were surprised a second time only steps beyond the summit, when I discovered a Luna moth (Actias luna), just emerged from its chrysalis and drying in the warm sunshine.

Luna moth (Actias luna)

Luna moth (Actias luna)

Luna moth, drying its wings

Luna moth, drying its wings

If you look closely, the moth can be distinguished as a male by its antennae, which are larger and wider than those of the female.  Though not rare, the Luna is seldom found because its life is brief.  The adult doesn’t have a mouth or eat because its single purpose is to mate, and thus it only survives about a week.

Stopping along the way to photograph the snake and moth allowed me to catch my breath.  The return trip was strenuous, but luckily and with many thanks to Ian and Lynne, I made it back to the start of the trail without too much discomfort or embarrassment.

The name of this blog, Hortitopia, is a word (horti + topia = garden + place) made to describe, in part, the amazing region where I live.  I’m grateful every day to enjoy its unique and wonderful species diversity.  To learn more about the Upstate,  read my first blog post here.

A clump of sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum) flourishing among a large patch of  spring-beauty (Claytonia virginica)

A clump of sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum) flourishing among a large patch of spring-beauty (Claytonia virginica)

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.  ~ William Shakespeare

34 thoughts on “A Garden Place (Hortitopia)

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Christina–I hope you get to see a bit of the Upstate when you visit Georgia and South Carolina this coming summer. Just wish I was going to be home to see you!

      Reply
  1. Pat Webster

    An evocative post, Marian, ending with a quote that I’m particularly fond of. Aren’t you fortunate to know people who see and enjoy what is there for the viewing. Spotting the luna moth and capturing it in photos — what a bonus!

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Pat–Lucky is right. Which reminds me of another quote, from my friend David Clup who wrote The Layered Garden…”Plants have introduced me to a lot of nice people.”

      Reply
  2. Angie

    What a great way to spend a day – I’ll bet the trip blew away those winter cobwebs Marian. The flora and fauna, lovely too see and the Luna Moth is spectacular.
    Thanks for sharing your hike with us.

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Amelia–I’ve read all about this moth since Saturday and it’s an amazing insect. We happend by at just the right time, most butterfiles and moths take just a few hours to pump up their wings and dry them for their first flight.

      Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Pauline–I’m itching to go again, but I’m chained to the computer today. I was out snake hunting in the home garden at lunch time, but didn’t see any of my old friends out and about yet.

      Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Matt–It took about six minutes from the time we first saw the snake for it to turn the salamander and then only about a minute to get the salamander, tail first, completely down his mouth. (I can tell from the time documentation on the photos; the two shown are near the first and last taken.) It was amazing to watch!

      Reply
  3. Gloria Ballard

    Marian, it sounds like it was a lovely day and well worth the effort. So much beauty to see in nature!

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Gloria–Yes, definately well worth the effort. I’m headed to Charleston later this week for a garden writers meeting, but I hope to be out on the trails again soon.

      Reply
  4. Linda Peters

    Great blog! This is one of our favorite hikes this time of year. Wildflowers are amazing when you get back near the stairs.

    Reply
  5. Cathy

    That moth is so beautiful and you say it only lives a week… how sad! Your trip sounds lovely Marian – so much to take in, but you captured the highlights well with your new camera. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  6. Chloris

    What a wonderful post, I so enjoyed reading about your hike; what an amazing experience. You must be very fit. I love the amazing photos of the snake and the moth. I would love to see trilliums growing in the wild.

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Chloris–Amazing is a good word, expecially as I am not nearly as fit as I should be. But if you ever want to hike the Southern Appalachians, please come in late March and I will be your host and guide (with help from those more knowledgeable than me, of course) and we will see trilliums by the thousands.

      Reply
  7. fernwoodnursery

    Great photos and what a wonderful day in the woods! We all love our gardens but getting out to explore the natural world……coming upon native flowers and critters in their natural habitat, just the best. What treat and a delight, thank you for sharing your day!

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Sharon–The sweet Betsy looks really great with the spring-beauty, don’t you think? I’ll have to see if I can find some at the native plant sale for my woodland garden.

      Reply

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