Volume 4, No. 1
-Mrs. J. B. Rhine
As we all know, wild life and wild places are vanishing rapidly all over the the country and most rapidly of all, near expanding towns and cities. Just as more people need quiet out-door natural places to escape to at times for renewal and relaxation, such places are becoming scarcer and farther away. This is especially true of Durham and it’s neighboring county of Orange.
However, a fragment of wilderness, somewhat comparable in flora to what it must have been in the past, still remains along the Eno River. Opposite Durham to the north and running west into Orange County toward Hillsborough, on the banks and cliffs above the river there still remain some of the plant communities that must have been known by the Eno Indians before the inroads of civilization drove them out and cleared the wilderness.
These oases of wildness still remaining arc mainly on the more inaccessible cliffs and narrow ledges above the river. Traces of lumbering operations from earlier times remain on the level land near the river, where huge Stumps of pine and oak show the forest that once must l have covered the land. In most of the area these extend almost to the water’s edge. But in numerous places steep cliffs above the river discouraged the cutting of the larger trees. Under their remaining sheltering brandies ancient tangles of laurel still remain clinging to the slopes. Within five miles of the city and extending along the river westward can still be seen in spring a display of pink and white laurel that would be an irresistible attraction to many of the city bound if they knew about it. If a few woodland paths were cleared across the river from the cliffs, one of the rarer attractions of nature— usually found only in western North Carolina-could be enjoyed right in our own backyard, so to speak.
Not only is there laurel but also rhododendron comparable to what one might go a hundred miles westward to see. Stands of it have been much decimated, but some still remain—within the limits of five miles or so of Durham—and with protection no doubt it would slowly spread.
Another unusual kind of attraction of Eno banks is the occasional stand of huge beech trees that escaped lumbering becausc of their inaccessibility. In many places they tower over the laurel cover, and then again they may stand almost alone with only their own clean brown leaves for carpet underneath.
Another inhabitant of the river reaching from the neighborhood of the city westward is the American holly. In places the stand of this is fabulous. Sometimes down east along the coast and north into Virginia one can sec hollies to equal these, but no where else in these regions hereabouts can such loveliness be found so prodigally. Some of these trees are very old
judging by their height and diameter. Others arc distinguished more by number than size. Ohvinu’slv nature here furnishes the special conditions that permit the holly seed to germinate, so the region can have, if it learns to appreciate it sufficiently, a remarkable holly forest—green in winter as in summer, a rare and beautiful attraction free of charge that few other regions could ever buv for money.
Under the laurel, in a few hidden places, patches of rapidly disappearing wintergreen are coming back and trailing arbutus and galax, wherever grazing of cattle has ceased for a decade or so. Occasionally too, some strangers to the region are quietly creeping back where protection from logging, grazing and fire has been good enough, seedlings of bay, occasionally, and chinquapin, the coral bell, and “old man’s beard,” and the June berry, Amelanchier.
Farther to the west, the topography changes. The cliffs are on the north rather than the south side as in the Durham region. With change in exposure comes change in plant life, too. In a few places huge stone outcrops are quite spectacular, and various mosses .and lichens add to the variety in areas where broad leafed trees, mainly oaks of various kinds, come almost to the water;s edge. Along the river towering sycamores and yellow birches line the waterway. At places as the river slowly changes channel and eats away at a tree covered bank the roots of these trees are exposed and hang out above the stream as the branches above half cover and form convenient resting places for for picnickers and fishermen.
The pity of it is that all of this is just a remnant of what once was here. But, even so, it does remain. Yet it has remained till now because it is inaccessible. But its inaccessibility is passing. As the population of the region pushes closer, the spirit of wilderness must depart – unless it is protected. The river and its environs become the possession of the few, with their own private claims monopolizing it, unless it is protected for the many who can appreciate it and teach coming generations to do likewise. The Eno and its banks should protected. The population grows – but rivers do not. They shrink and this one could disappear—if no one cares enough to save it.