The Visitor

October 4, 2019

By Katie Henderson

Note: The colors indicate the different color-coded blazes that mark the trail system.

Left on blue. Left on white.

Yellow, orange, yellow.

Left on blue. Left on white.

Yellow, orange, yellow.

The mantra runs through my head as I twist and turn through the fresh oak forest. I could have printed the map, or at least jotted the directions in my palm with Sharpie, but today I prefer to work my memory and see if I can find my own way. I like the freedom of running unencumbered by maps or GPS. Wild running.

Left on blue. Left on white.

Yellow, orange, yellow.

I am spending the morning at the George and Julia Brumley Family Nature Preserve, or affectionately “Brumley” for short. The trails are manicured and easily navigable. The berms offer a promise of free-flowing and fast laps for those traveling on two feet or two wheels. Like all fun single track, there are rogue roots underfoot, enough obstacles to keep my mind alert and my gait loose. There are occasional rock gardens that would make my knuckles turn white if I was on my Diamondback, though maneuverable easily enough for the novice mountain biker I am; however, today I am in my element, letting me two feet navigate the terrain. I lean into the downhill and enjoy the thrill of moving at an ever so slightly reckless pace.

Left on blue. Left on white.

Yellow, orange, yellow.

Left on blue. Left on white.

Yellow, orange…

My over-eager pup darts for a squirrel, taking his leash right as I take a quick step left. In a blink, the leash fastened to my waist is wrapped around a sapling on the edge of the trail, my feet swoop out from under me, and I land on my back… hard. I lay in the middle of the Buckeye Loop, momentarily stunned, Ridley panting over me. He is wondering why I chose to abruptly lay down in the middle of our run. The squirrel easily escaped his leashed foe.

While I am already down, I take a second to catch my breath, both from the three miles of trail behind me and the wind being knocked out of me from the fall. The momentary respite gives me a chance to appreciate the soft light twinkling between the white oak canopy and the sounds of blue jays welcoming the morning. This really is a special place. A few deep breaths and I gather myself up, brush the soft clay off the back of my legs, and bound forward.

Orange, back to yellow.

The steady sound of my feet on a bed of pine needles beats a rhythm in my mind. I am moving at the speed I could comfortably run for hours. Passing a small pond, a prehistoric screech brings me to a sharp halt, though this time I am thankful to stay upright. I watch as a great blue heron glides low, searching for crappie or bream below the water’s surface. Out looking for breakfast, the majestic bird will eventually make its way home up the Eno River by nightfall.

Left on blue. Left on white.

Yellow, orange, yellow.

Back to white, to blue, and I have finished my loop. I could grab a bit more mileage north of Old NC 10, but I am satisfied for the day. A future Brumley East trail expansion will make this the perfect venue for my long runs.

Dusting off my shoes, I reflect on the morning: the songbirds and grey squirrels, the herons and wild oak roots. This is their home. I have been a visitor in the home of the wild voices, the wild earth. That’s the beauty of a nature preserve… it is preserved. This land, and so many acres like it, isn’t ours to control or change. It is there to respect and enjoy. It is there to provide a home for animals and a place for plants to grow without the shadow of a building or the confines of concrete. Its purpose is to stay wild. And the wild is why we love it.

Katie Henderson is a storyteller, endurance runner, and conservation advocate. A native of western North Carolina, Katie has spent the majority of her life exploring new trails, soaking up sunshine, and seeking peace in wild spaces.

This writing piece is part of a series of stories written about and by members of our community who walk, run, and bike at Brumley Forest Nature Preserve as TLC raises funds for the expansion.

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