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With the temperature in the mid-60s, I couldn’t resist taking a hike through a nearby nature preserve called Hemlock Bluffs. The name derives, as one might guess, from the hemlock trees that can be found there. Eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis), to be precise. 

You don’t see many of them, a dozen or so of any size, but you shouldn’t see any at all. Eastern hemlocks like weather that’s considerably cooler than the North Carolina Piedmont. So how is it that you can find them here, 200 miles from the mountains, where they’re considerably more at home?

It’s an anomaly of nature, as one might expect. Millions of years ago, a much larger version of the current Swift Creek eroded softer volcanic rock on the north side of a quartz ridge, exposing sharp bluffs more than 100 feet high.

During the last glacial age, some 18,000 years ago, the area was considerably cooler and species like hemlocks. jack pines, and the ground plant galax were common. As the glaciers retreated and the region warmed, most cool-weather species died out, but beneath the north-facing bluffs, close to the stream, the average temperature remained cool enough for a few hardy hemlocks and scattered clumps of galax to survive. 

I like walking there, not just for the exercise (three miles of hilly trails) and a chance to happify the dog, but to pause on the occasional overlook and take a look at those trees that aren’t supposed to be there, but are. Some of them may look a little ragged, but there’s something holy about them. They survive, and even thrive.

And some days, that’s a good thing to see.


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