“Have you watched ‘Chicken People’ yet?”
When I talk on the phone with my friend Jane, she usually tells me about the latest crop of movies she’s watched on Amazon Prime or Netflix. Some of the titles she mentions are merely recommendations, whereas others she classifies as “required viewing.” For her, the documentary film “Chicken People” falls into the latter category. After several weeks of failing to complete the mandatory viewing assignment, I finally got around to watching the movie.
I enjoyed “Chicken People” quite a bit. It focuses on a small handful of breeders of show chickens, and their attempts to produce award-winning birds. Each breeder has an interesting backstory, a unique motivation egging them on in attempts to produce a Grand Champion, and a genuine love of their animals. I also appreciated the opportunity to see lots of unusual and often incredibly beautiful chickens.
Jane was pleased when I reported that I had watched “Chicken People,” and we discussed the movie at length. Little did I know, however, that getting me to watch the movie was only the first part of a secret scheme she had hatched. The next phase involved trying to convince me to become a chicken breeder.
“You need a new hobby,” she exclaimed, “and you told me you aren’t using the master bedroom, so you have the perfect space for them.” She tried appealing to my appreciation of nature and to my obsessive-compulsive personality, and suggested that it would be a good way of meeting some new and curious people.
I wasn’t buying any of it.
Michael is a friend from work. We usually meet up about once every two weeks. We enjoy each other’s company, but are often at odds regarding how to spend our time together. Michael likes to nest in a comfy chair with a bottle of Templeton Rye at hand, whereas I prefer to fly the coup, and get into nature for a hike.
When Jane was unable to persuade me to raise chickens, she regrouped and argued that it was important that I convince Michael to become a breeder. “You can talk him into it,” she said. “You guys need more common interests and it sounds like he has plenty of space and too much time on his hands. It would be great! You could help him and enjoy the birds without having them in your own home.”
After persistent urging from Jane, I mentioned the fowl-breeding idea to Michael on a couple of occasions. Each time he responded with a mirthless stare, and then said something like, “I’m reading a book about the development of aircraft during World War II,” or “I’m getting tired of hoppy beers, and think I’ll try other styles for a while.” It was clear that I was not going to be able to help Jane satisfy her wish to be a vicarious chicken farmer.
When I informed Jane that I had failed to convince Michael to take up the proposed poultry-producing pastime, there was something in her voice that told me that she was crestfallen. I felt badly about cocking up her scheme, and tried to think of something I might do to make it up to her. With this goal in mind, I decided to attend a chicken show as soon as realistically possible, and to report my experience at the show as one of my small adventures.
A simple Google search provided a list of North Carolina poultry shows for 2017, including one in Winston-Salem at the end of March. I decided I would attend the show as long as I could find a cheap place to stay and the weather was predicted to be good enough for hiking in the area. As the date of the show approached, I found reasonably-priced Airbnb accommodations and a favorable weather forecast, so I finalized my plans for the weekend, and when the Friday before the show rolled around, I hit the road.
Forsyth [County] Fowl Fancier Show
Overnights away from home are always difficult. Finding the right places to put stuff, managing in a small, foreign bathroom, and generally getting comfortable are all challenges. So, even though the Airbnb rooms were quite nice, I didn’t get a single good night’s sleep during the trip, and Friday’s was particularly poor. This was due, in part, to a resident alarm clock going off at 2:00 a.m., evidently having been set and left on by the previous renter.
My Saturday start was slow and labored, and I didn’t set out for the poultry show as early as intended. The directions to the Dixie Classic Fairground were confusing, and it took a long time to find it. Once I arrived, there were no signs indicating the specific location of the show, and the fairgrounds were extensive. I wandered around for a while, peeking into various buildings, and eventually heard an unintelligible announcer over a loudspeaker in the distance. I followed the voice into a flock of people at the far end of the grounds only to discover a track event in progress.
I managed to locate an information booth, but is was unmanned, so I simply continued roaming into previously unexplored areas, hoping to stumble across the show, or at least upon someone who knew where it was being held. Eventually I gave up, and headed back to the lot where I had parked. On the way, however, I heard roosters crowing, and moving towards the bird sounds, I found the event.
All the show chickens were housed in a poorly-lit building about the size of my living room. Most of the space was occupied by cages stacked to form several narrow aisles, and there was only a small margin at one end of the room where people could stand. The standing room was completely full and the aisles were roped off, excluding everyone except the competition judges. Because it was impossible to see, I left the building without getting a look at any of the contestants.
In an open space across from the “show,” people standing by their pickup trucks were selling chickens. I thought that checking out their wares might be a better way of seeing some interesting birds, and began combing the area. Although there were many beautiful specimens for sale, it was sad to see them crowded into very small, unphotogenic cages. I thought some venders might agree to pose while holding a chicken or two, but none with whom I spoke would cooperate. On the contrary, all the bird owners insisted that I not take any pictures of them or their chickens. I wondered if this was because they thought I might be associated with a group like PETA, or if it was due to a general wariness.
The situation reminded me of something I experienced when visiting Roanoke Rapids Lake. I had encountered a man tending to the grounds there, and approached him to exchange some pleasantries. When he saw me clutching my camera, he asked, “Are you from the government?”
Walking North of Greensboro
Although the payoff for the time invested at the poultry show was quite poor, the rest of the weekend was ahead of me, and there were plenty of other places to visit. The poultry show was in Winston-Salem, but I was staying just to the east, in Greensboro, and my plan was to spend the rest of my time walking in the areas north of there.
There were only two major destinations of long-standing interest on my agenda, but there were also several other spots that seemed worth looking itno while in the region. The map above shows the locations of these places, and the green hemi-oval represents the general vicinity of Greensboro. Over the course of the weekend, I went to A) Idol Park, B) Mayo River State Park, C) Summerfield Community Park, D) Haw River State Park, E) Northeast Park, F) Shallow Ford Natural Area, and G) Lake Cammack Park.
While inspecting a map, I noticed a park just five miles south of my first major destination, Mayo River State Park. Located in Madison, North Carolina, Idol Park is a small recreational area described on the town’s website as, “an all-day adventure location.” How could I resist?
The park includes a baseball field, basketball courts, playground equipment, and a picnic pavilion. There are also a few short walking trails that cover a total distance of one-half mile. The trail map is very detailed, and a complex route through the park is suggested for those who wish to walk a total distance of one mile.
The park was completely deserted, and it didn’t take me long to stroll through all of it. The wooded portion was sort of a mess. Perhaps it had been ravaged by a recent storm, because fallen trees and broken limbs were everywhere, and the bird houses that a sign credited to a Boy Scout troop were nowhere to be seen. Twice while I was walking I heard loud cracking sounds, after which large branches came crashing to the ground.
I noticed movement within the hollow of one of the still-standing trees, and waited to see who was inside. It wasn’t long before a Carolina wren emerged and perched on a nearby bough.
The park is bounded on the western side by Big Beaver Island Creek. The sound of the gently moving water was relaxing, and only occasionally disturbed by the noise of construction going on not far away.
Mayo River State Park
Mayo River State Park was established in 2003 and opened to the public in 2010, making it one of the newer additions to the North Carolina State Park System. It is comprised of more than 2,200 acres situated west of the Mayo River (a tributary of the Dan River) in the town of Mayodan. The park is still under development, and only 400 acres are currently readily accessible to visitors.
The park features two small fishing ponds fed by a tributary of the Mayo River, and a restored pavilion-style picnic shelter design by renowned architect and student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Antonin Raymond. There are also two concentric loop trails, the shorter one covering one-half mile, and the longer one almost two miles.
When I arrived, a young couple was standing just a few yards down from the trailhead. The boy had a camera and was photographing some violets that were growing in the crotch of a tree. I didn’t want to disturb him, and figured they would be on my heels in no time if I moved past, so I decided to check out the different buildings distributed around the large field beside the parking lot. I hoped to find a copy of the park map that I could keep.
Of course, the trail was so simple that a map was not necessary, but I wanted one for my collection. I checked out the information board, the picnic shelter, the restroom area, and the park ranger’s office, but no maps were to be had. This was no great disappointment, and the expedition had killed 15 minutes, so it seemed likely that the couple would be well out of my way when I returned to the trail.
To my surprise, however, they had only moved a few yards from where I had seen them last. The girl was sitting on a rock and leaning far back against a tree. Her arms were stretched above her, crossed at the wrists, and resting on the tree’s trunk. Her face bore a huge smile as the boy snapped picture after picture of his cheerful model.
I wished the couple a good morning and hurried past to begin my walk along of the longer loop trail. I travelled in a counterclockwise direction, and had a view of the creek soon after beginning. The trail moved steadily, but only gradually uphill. The predominant ground cover was running cedar (aka Southern ground pine, fan clubmoss, and crowsfoot). In fact, there were almost no areas where it was not present.
Here and there along the way, I also saw some bloodroot in bloom.
At the top end of the trail, the path became rocky, and there was a vista that featured many flowering redbud trees.
One of the rocks appeared to have a mouth. It looked old and wise, so I asked it what advice it could share with me. The rock said, “Enjoy the view and the cool breeze, and give your legs a good stretch.”
I took my time walking the last part of the trail, savoring the trip back down, but nevertheless, the hike was over in no time.
Summerfield Community Park
Summerfield is an affluent suburb of Greensboro, and even a brief visit to the community park is sufficient to suggest the tax brackets of most town residents. The grounds are immaculately maintained and many fitness stations are distributed throughout the park. Most trails are paved, but there is also a short nature trail and a gravel road that passes a communications tower on its way to a nearby upper-middle-class residential neighborhood.
My walk out past the communications tower is illustrated by the yellow line on the map above, and my route back to the car by the red line.
During my short amble through the park, I saw geese and turtles who live at Schoolhouse Lake.
The communications tower was so tall that I became dizzy and nearly fell over trying to take in its spire.
The amphitheater convinced me that locals enjoy many fine summer evenings of entertainment within the cozy little park.
Not far from the park, I saw a handful of historic buildings, including an old home, a town hall, and the R.C. Gordon hardware store.
I was especially intrigued by the shape of the entryway into a barn in the neighborhood.
Haw River State Park
Established in 2005, Haw River State Park is another relatively recent addition to the North Carolina State Park System. Located about 15 miles north of Greensboro, the park includes 1,400 acres of wooded land on the southeast side of the Haw River. The name of the river is an abbreviation of Saxapahaw River, and the waterway runs for approximately 110 miles entirely within North Carolina. It originates just north of the park, and terminates just west of Raleigh, where in empties into Jordan Lake.
The lots at the park were nearly full when I arrived, leading me to expect hordes of people on the trails. Instead, I encountered only a small number of walkers as I made a clockwise loop out of the pathways. (Shown in green on the map above.) Evidently, most visitors were at the park to participate in the many events held at The Summit Environmental Education Center, rather than to hike.
As I went out the boardwalk to see the Haw River, I meet an older couple who lived adjacent to the park and were frequent visitors. I greeted them and the man asked if I was interested in seeing a red-headed woodpecker. I told him I was, and he suggested that I take a seat on a bench beside him, his wife, and their dog, Buster. Almost immediately a bird flew into view and began hammering on a dead tree. (Approximate location is marked with a red dot on map.)
During my conversation with the couple, I mentioned that I was from Greenville. They assumed I was referring to Greenville, South Carolina, and the man said, “I guess you’ve already made your plans for August 21st.” I admitted that I didn’t know what was special about that date, and he told me it was when the next total solar eclipse would occur, and that Greenville was one of the cities from which it could be viewed quite well. He encouraged me to purchase a piece of #14 welder’s glass, and make the trip to SC for the event. He and his wife intend to go to Nebraska to witness it, even though it was clear they were not expecting to enjoy the heat of a Nebraska summer day.
My walk through the park was pleasant if mostly unremarkable. Some downy rattlesnake plantain was growing beside one part of the trail.
There were also some yellow-bellied sliders warming themselves on a log in the lake.
Before leaving, I sat in the car and had a late lunch before heading out for my last stop of the day.
Northeast Park is a 374-acre facility owned by Guilford County and run by the town of Gibsonville. Having first found it on Google Maps, I then checked out its website. I learned that it features miles of hiking trails, but the online map of the park was so poor that I could not decipher it. The lines representing hiking trails, biking trails, and equestrian trails were just a mass of tangled spaghetti, but I figured better guidance would be obtainable at the park itself.
The park is very spread out and has lots of facilities. There are tennis courts, basketball courts, picnic areas, athletic fields, and play grounds. It also includes a huge “Aquatic Center,” in addition to the three types of trails already mentioned. A loop road allows visitors to get from place to place, and there are several large parking areas.
When I first arrived, I drove through the grounds trying to find the best place for hikers to park, but was unsuccessful. I returned to the lot at the entrance, and walked around hoping to find the superior park map that I imagined must exist. Eventually I found a bin at the entry booth that was inconveniently located for both drivers and pedestrians. The bin contained lots of poor-quality copies of the same cryptic map available online.
I drove through the park a second time, again looking for a trailhead that might get me started on a hike, but I never found one. So, instead of hiking, I spent a little time checking out the restored historic brightleaf tobacco farm site near the entrance. Afterward, I called it a day.
Shallow Ford Natural Area
Shallow Ford Natural Area is so-named because the portion of the Haw River passing through was easy to cross before bridges were common. It is the northern-most part of the Haw River Trail system that includes both pedestrian and canoe trails. Currently, the other parts of the system are Great Bend Park, Indian Valley Paddle Access, Glencoe Paddle Access, Stoney Creek Marina, Red Slide Park, Swepsonville Park, and Saxapahaw Mill Trail. The long-term plan is to interconnect all these areas into a single, 80-mile-long nature preserve along the banks of the Haw River. Ultimately, the system is expected to begin at Haw River State Park and end at Jordan Lake.
My morning started early, and I arrived at Shallow Ford by 8:00 a.m., when the park opened. The weather forecast promised a partly cloudy day and no chance of rain. I had formulated my hiking plan by carefully studying the trail map and website. At first I was baffled because what appeared to be the shortest trail (Shallow Ford Loop in green) was credited as being the longest one. After reading the trail description, however, I learned that the Shallow Ford Loop included large portions of all the other trails, plus the part drawn in green. Thus, the red line on the map to the right gives a more accurate depiction of the trail, and is the route that I took, traveling in a counterclockwise direction.
The first part of the hike took me along the lower portion of Basin Creek. It was peaceful and pretty, and rue anemone were blooming along the way.
Evidently Mother Nature had failed to check the Accuweather forecast, because all day long the sky was gray with a thick layer of clouds. As I left the creek behind and made my way up a hill, I began to hear trickling water. This struck me as odd because the presence of a stream moving down the hill seemed unlikely. I quickly realized, however, that the sound was that of a gentle rain hitting the leaves of the trees. I looked up to confirm that rain does indeed come from the sky, and saw an owl silently gliding through the treetops.
The light rain did not last, and it wasn’t long before I arrived at the stretch of trail that runs beside the Haw River. This portion of the Cape Fear tributary was much prettier than the part I had seen at Haw River State Park. Several campsites were located nearby, positioned there to make the most of the beautiful view.
As the trail moved away from the river, it climbed back up the hillside. Not long after reaching the top, I caught sight of an area thick with spent daffodils, and realized I was nearing a spot where a homestead had once stood. (The approximate location is indicated by a purple dot on map.)
Evidently, the former residents of the home favored growing hyacinths by the privy.
Even though the promised partial sun never appeared, the entire hike at Shallow Ford Natural Area was thoroughly enjoyable.
Along the way, I saw cursed buttercup (above left), mayapple (above right), puttyroot (aka Adam and Eve; below left), and spotted pipsissawa (aka striped wintergreen; below right)
Lake Cammack Park
Lake Cammack is located north of Burlington, NC, and its 50-mile shoreline encompasses about 800 acres. An online map of Lake Cammack Park showed four different out-and-back hiking trails ranging from one to four miles in length. It also showed separate parking areas at the start of each trail, and I planned to walk a total of six miles.
As I approached Lake Cammack Park, I saw a sign instructing all hikers to check in at the marina office. I did so, and asked for a map of the trails. The volunteer behind the counter told me there was no map, and that there was only a single, two-mile trail. He said it was well-marked, and that it started right behind the office. I described the online map I had seen, but both he and his supervisor, who had come out from a back room, insisted my information was inaccurate. Later, when I re-checked the Internet, I found that I had been looking at a map of an entirely different place, and that none for Lake Cammack was available.
The first portion of the park trail was a gravel road through the forest (thick yellow line), and the walk back to the marina was along the main park road (thin yellow line).
The hike was nothing special, but the park was quiet and restful. Although there were several boats on the lake, no one was speeding around or making a lot of noise. The place seemed to attract mostly very serious fishermen.
Along the way there were maple trees in bloom, and common bluet (aka Quaker ladies or innocence) grew in many spots beside the road. Butterflies, including duskywings (left) and silver-spotted skippers (right), were present throughout the park.
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The chicken show had been a bust, but I had a nice weekend anyway. I had done some walking, enjoyed nature, and explored several new places. Perhaps one day I’ll return to Mayo River and Haw River State Parks – I’d like to keep tabs on how they develop over the coming years. The highlight of the trip was undoubtedly Shallow Ford Natural Area, and I expect to return there the next time I’m near Greensboro.
NOTE: The picture of the chicken at the start of this posting is not mine. No photographer credit was available at the website where I found it.