Riverdave's Journal
This essay appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Fifteen 501 Magazine

Explore the region’s forests through Tree Camp ...

Durham and Orange counties are lush with forest. There is no better word to describe it. Our green canopy is perhaps our greatest regional natural asset. With no mountains or coast nearby, instead we have a beautiful, rolling canopy of verdure with more than one hundred species of trees in which to revel.

While it is healthy to stroll under this breathing and seething canopy and simply connect with the forest as a whole, there also exists the possibility to get to know its individual components. A program called Tree Camp provides such an opportunity.

This year-round day camp is designed for adults who want to take on the challenging and rewarding step of getting on personal terms with these tree species. The camp is designed to be a one-day leisurely walk of between two and four miles, with a focus on mastering the region’s arboreal delights. The camp’s location moves every few months so that participants can return and experience a variety of both habitat and season. This rotation also allows camp-goers to become familiar with diverse families of trees such as oaks, hickories and maples through their various stages of flowering, leafing, fruiting, and dormancy.

In my experience, most people stand before a forest and are daunted by the thought of being able to decipher the green puzzle in front of their eyes. Occasionally, a brave soul will purchase a field guide and take on the challenge alone, but that quest often is cut short after only the tentative identification of ten to fifteen species. Some get bogged down in a field guide’s technical botanical terms, while others discover that they simply have not trained their senses to discern the fine detail of natural colors, shapes, sizes, and contrasts. At that point, the noble quest ends in frustration and the field guide finds its resting place on the bookshelf next to the bird guide.

But the desire to commune with trees never dies in the heart of a true seeker on the path to connect with the planet’s arboreal riches. On either side of U.S. Highway 15-501, an adventurer can be drawn into Duke Forest, the preserves at the North Carolina Botanical Garden and Mason Farm Biological Reserve, the wetland properties of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or the parklands along New Hope Creek. He or she also can explore the protected tracks along the Eno, Little, Flat and Haw rivers, as well as the public greenway trails of Durham and Chapel Hill — a truly dazzling array of enchanted forest refuges beckoning the longing lover of green.

With the help of a mentor, one steadily can move beyond the initial level of a dozen trees to grasp all one hundred local species. This is not a monumental task. The challenge can be met with a little discipline and a year’s observation of seasonal changes. Tree Camp provides an opportunity to finally get on intimate terms with the trees in your back yard.

Tree Camp for adults no longer is an elective course in the present climate of concern about the fragility of forest ecosystems. It is a required course of study for all who seek to live sustainably and peaceably on this leafy planet Earth.

Riverdave Owen is a Durham native and local naturalist. 
Photo by Riverdave:  Looking for a special tree to commune with?  Try this venerable pecan tree across from the work shed at Fews Ford, Eno River State Park in Orange County, NC