Although Kersten has lived only a few miles from White Pines Nature Preserve for twenty-five years, she has never been to the park, so we decided to go.
Two rivers meet at White Pines—the Rocky and the Deep—before continuing towards the Cape Fear River Basin. We seldom see white pines in the surrounding, loblolly-heavy woodlands, but they flourish in this park’s ecosystem.
Kersten is delighted by how quickly we arrive at the trailhead, and after two dashes back to the car—Kersten to shed her sweater and I to retrieve my hair tie—we launched our Thursday morning adventure.
The trail is well-worn, the trees marked with colored metal discs. We decide to start along the Green Trail, switch over to Black, and return via Blue.
Tiny, white flowers are the first to draw our attention, their lobed leaves sheltering emerging blooms with a tender embrace. When I later learn their common name is Bloodroot, I think about the unprovoked bloodshed in Ukraine. We stoop to examine one after another until we’ve had our fill and can walk by without bowing to their simple beauty.
A glimmer of water catches our eyes. “A verdant spring,” says Kersten.
“A verdant spring. I read about this the other day,” she laughs.
My phone erupts in a calypso tune, and for a few minutes, Bob joins us with talk of salamanders and trout lilies. I tuck the phone into my back pocket, thinking, what a good sport he is for supporting my post-retirement pursuits.
Kersten takes note of a toppled tree with roots like ram’s horns, and she tells me about her father’s habit of scraping at root balls in search of treasure.
“He found a lot of arrowheads that way,” she says. I’m embarrassed that I cannot remember the year of his death—such a momentous event in my friend’s life—but am unwilling to pick that scab by asking.
We walk in companionable silence, breathing in the warm, piney air, thinking about our fathers and some of the good moments we shared with them.
“A trout lily!” I say, crouching over a tiny yellow flower. Kersten bends to examine my discovery. “They only bloom for a few weeks this time of year,” I say. “We can’t be far from the river, now.”
We reach the confluence where the Rocky pours into the Deep. “This river,” Kersten looks to our left, “doesn’t seem to be moving. It just gets absorbed by the other one.” We stand there for a minute or two, absorbing the negative ions, taking in the weathered sedge and the rocks, pondering the interplay of passive and active, trying to picture the journey of a single twig making its way to the Atlantic.
We continue along the River Trail with the Rocky on our right, pausing to look at sunbathing turtles and greeting the occasional fellow hiker, beaming as people do when surrounded by tall trees and moving water. I expect our smiles have a similar cat-that-ate-the-canary vibe. We’re all getting away with something, sharing a great little park in the middle of the week.