Last week, I took a walk at the Mason Farm Biological Reserve in Chapel Hill. It’s one of my favorite spots. Walking there, it almost feels like you’re far, far away from human civilization. Lots of big, big trees, quiet pathways, and lovely undisturbed open spaces where bluebirds and other birds like to live. I saw a new barn owl box in one field, put up by my friend Mark and others of the local Audubon Society – very cool.
Walking around the long, winding loop road at Mason Farm almost always feels good to my soul, even when I’m not the only person out there (usually the case — it seems fairly popular with runners). It may sound hippy-dippy, but I like connecting with the earth there, without the electronic and mechanical interferences that usually distract my attention from all that beauty. I know it’s always all around me — and, in fact, that I’m always a part of “nature,” since nature actually includes things like the grocery store or the shopping mall. But it’s often hard to remember about connectedness when I’m surrounded by concrete and fluorescent lights. Walking at Mason Farm, it’s easier to sink back into a slower rhythm, to look around, and see some of the others that I share being in nature with. Sometimes it’s nice to walk. Sometimes it’s nice to sit still and see what creatures wander by.
I’m also a water-lover, especially flowing water. So another nice thing about Mason Farm is that, to get there, you have to ford Morgan Creek. Usually you can do this in your car, unless the water’s really high (at which point it’s fun to take off your shoes and wade across). Here’s the view of the creek to the left as you’re crossing into the reserve:
Notice anything interesting about this picture? I did, too! There’s a rope and pulley mechanism hooked up across the creek at this point — the purpose of it may once have been to transport bird food across the creek when the water was up, according to friend Peter White, director of the North Carolina Botanical Garden (which oversees Mason Farm). The rope doesn’t seem to be used much anymore, though… except for a minor mystery that has developed over the past couple of years.
According to Peter, for the past year and a half, every month some new object shows up pinned to the rope. Sometimes it’s seasonally significant: last Valentine’s Day, the Garden’s assistant director for conservation Jonny Randall found a Valentine’s-themed dress clipped to the rope above the creek. At this point, strange things had been showing up clipped to the rope for many months, with no explanations forthcoming. He unpinned the dress, carefully folded it up, and left it beside the creek with a note, asking, “Who are you?” No response came, said Peter.
The sign above doesn’t seem especially seasonal. But it is mysterious. Until I checked with Peter, I wondered if “SOAR” was an acronym for some UNC student research or ecology group. But a quick Google search for “Soar, Mason Farm” turned up nothing. Instead, I like to think of it as a directive, or an encouragement. “Hey, you! Soar!”
Well, okay. A few days after my walk, I sat down to have an artist’s date with myself: opening up and using the fingerpaints I’d bought for myself months ago! What do you suppose happened?
Thanks, mystery sign maker, for the inspiration to soar.