The last of autumn’s leaves fell as my plane departed London Heathrow leaving behind grey skies and rain. Sunshine and blue skies awaited my arrival at Raleigh Durham.
Welcome to fall in North Carolina where forests splash the landscape with dramatic oranges and reds, and dazzling mirror-like lakes reflect the vibrant colours of turning trees.
Last month I was invited to Thanksgiving by good friends, Alison and Rick, who live in Wake Forest in Wake County, located north of Raleigh, the state capital of North Carolina. Wake Forest is a beautiful, historic town surrounded by forests, woods, meadows and lakes. The climate is subtropical with hot, humid summers, mild winters (relatively) and boasting temperatures of around 20°C in spring and autumn. I felt that the days were warm and the nights were frosty; my friends ‘reckoned’ it was ‘so cold it was gonna snow’.
I was lucky to stay at Ali and Rick’s beautiful home and to explore the surrounding woods and forests. I set myself the challenge of keeping my camera on manual mode for the entire trip to capture the incredible range of colours, textures and lights of North Carolina.
As well as its human inhabitants, Wake Forest is home to many forest animals including squirrels, deer, coyotes and a wide variety of birds; the mountainous region of North Carolina even has bears! The red cardinal, the official state bird, was a frequent visitor to the bird table. I found that forest wildlife was less bold than London’s urban wildlife and rather shy of having their picture taken!
I was also excited to see red squirrels, which I’ve never seen in London!
The clearings in the woods behind the house, where we took the dogs for walks, were heavily populated by stripy, stingy insects that Ali called ‘bees’.
… but closer inspection revealed that they were wasps. I wasn’t entirely sure, but one photo tweeted later confirmed that they were yellow jackets, the common name in North America for a predatory and temperamental wasp. Poor bees, falsely accused!
We also came across lots of lovely pine cones in the woods, perfect fuel for beekeeping smokers.
While I didn’t spot a bee, it wasn’t long until I met a beekeeper.
A meeting of beekeepers
Ali suggested a visit to the North Carolina State Farmers Market where I spotted the beekeeper’s stall almost immediately!
Here I met Berry the Beeman, a crop pollinator and beekeeper of Bee Blessed Pure Honey. Berry teaches children about bees and was happy to share stories about his hives. He likes to keep some Carniolan colonies, because they are gentle in nature, and he often gets Kona queens from Hawaii, because they breed fast and are, apparently, very big bees! (He may have been pulling my leg.) My hive partner, Emily, and I prefer big queen bees because they are much easier to spot on the frame!
Berry invited Ali and me to sample his honey crop. The clary sage honey was mildly floral and delicately textured, while the basswood was powerful and tangy with complex layers. ‘As you know, no two honeys should taste the same,’ said Berry, who told us that clary sage and clover have replaced the tobacco fields as major forage for honeybees in North Carolina. I would like to have tasted tobacco honey!
The Beeman, who reminded me of Ealing’s beekeepers, would have been at home sitting at the apiary table drinking tea and eating cake on a Saturday afternoon, so I told him a little bit about our association. When I mentioned that John Chapple, a mentor to many new beekeepers, often tastes interesting and exotic varieties of honeys on his travels, Berry said he should try the basswood honey; Ali excitedly threw in ‘He is the queen’s beekeeper!’
I bought three jars of honey for John, Andy and Pat, who always help Emily, me and others with our hives; you can see what they thought in the epilogue to this post. Berry’s stall was very popular, so after buying my honey and asking for a photo we moved on to look at the Christmas trees.
Guess who’s coming to dinner?
Thanksgiving was an amazing affair – I have never seen so much food even at Christmas! Traditionally a harvest festival, Thanksgiving is now celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in America; being English this was my first Thanksgiving Dinner. Rick is an excellent cook who made sure that I got the best experience of this American holiday. Turkey, bacon, stuffing, mashed potato, sweet potato and marshmallows, squash, cous cous, jello, green bean casserole, three kinds of dessert… they would have to roll me back on the plane to England!
All that eating, drinking and being thankful was followed by more forest trails to walk off the Girl Scout cookies Thin Mints.
My last two days in North Carolina were spent exploring historic Wake Forest downtown where it seems that the British had been before.
As everyone knows, an Ealing beekeeper is 80% tea and 20% cake so a cuppa in The Olde English Tea Room was obligatory. It was lovely inside – like a cosy tea room in the West Country, except that the cucumber sandwiches and lavender tea were much nicer! The atmosphere was warm and friendly, I love those southern accents!
The antebellum southern architecture of downtown was reminiscent of sprawling plantation properties and ranch-style houses with beautiful wood panelling, gabled roofs and huge balconies. I also liked the random planting of ornamental cabbages in flower beds – very accommodating for friendly neighbourhood insect pollinators. Local councils in London could take note!
Rain clouds loomed on the morning before my flight back to London and provided the perfect photographic backdrop for my tour of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Cobalt blue skies and bright sunshine are beautiful, but not always the best conditions for taking photos. Overcast conditions provide interesting contrasts and hues.
The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary was established in 1950 on the campus of Wake Forest University. The campus and college buildings have an older history dating back to the 1800s, and tours of the picturesque grounds are available on Tuesday and Friday mornings. I am always fascinated to find out the history, culture and architecture of the places that I visit. My tour was led by Josh who told me all about the tobacco fields that once grew in Wake Forest, the migration of the original college to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the inception of the seminary, which has an impressive international programme. I was rather envious of his travels.
Like everywhere in Wake Forest, the seminary was very friendly and, after my tour, I was free to explore the grounds and take photos of the elegant buildings, pretty gardens and a gnarly, twisted, old tree that I found particularly interesting!
All too soon it was time to say farewell to Wake Forest and to the new friends that I had made there. The warmth of days was matched only by the southern hospitality and the charm of the people of North Carolina. I look forward to when I can return.
A huge thank you to Ali and Rick who welcomed me into their home and to their friends, Lydia, Heather, Carol, Jen and Mickey who made me feel like part of the family.
Back in Blighty, I am no longer worried about crossing the road, but everything looks smaller. Gazing out of my window at the Royal College of Physicians, the trees in Regent’s Park look like saplings compared to the tall pines and oaks of Wake Forest. It is also so cold that it has actually snowed.
At the apiary everyone was interested to hear about my trip to the States over a pot of tea and Emily’s homemade chocolate cake. I gave John, Andy and Pat their Bee Blessed Pure Honey, and John and Pat wasted no time tucking in.
My Facebook album of Thanksgiving in Wake Forest, North Carolina, is available to view here.
North Carolina State Farmers Market