Being that we were visiting North Carolina and we'd already exhausted most of our other leisure activities—sittin', settin', whittlin', nappin' and klannin'—Lisa suggested we take a nature walk. That seemed like a pretty good idea, sort of a ready-made anecdote as I pre-counted our trip to the semi-rural South. If someone were to ask how we spent our time in North Carolina, I could very easily picture myself replying, "we went to church and took a nature walk." That would hold up in court, and it was the kind of itinerary that would perfectly satisfy the inquiry. We took a nature walk in the South. Yes, that data computes well with my New York experience and my book/tv/film understanding of the South. Small talk, fulfilled! (This is how we will all speak when the robots take over.)
We drove to the site of our nature hike, behind the Campbell University's physical plant building. Judging from the head of the trail—a cruelly twisted, shadowy mouth, overgrown with unidentified foliage—this was not going to be very promising. I grew up near the 5 Rivers nature preserve. We would drive there every summer, hike the trails, and then visit the small museum so my brother and I could spend a few minutes staring at a sleepy snake in an aquarium. (As a boy, you are required to spend as much time as possible giddily obsessing over things that can violently kill you. Guns, tanks, crossbows, piranhas, dinosaurs, cobras, sharks, scorpions, spider, draculas—stuff like that.) At 5 Rivers, the trails had clear markers. They had maps posted behind plexiglass at the trail head. Tiny signs were placed throughout identifying flora and fauna, with stern warnings against hand-feeding chipmunks your gorp or rubbing poison ivy on your wiener. They had stairs made of logs! And the trails had great, ancient-sounding names designed to make you feel like you're walking in the moccasin-sheathed feet of Native-Americans.
This trail had none of those noble qualities. Just a hand-written sign on oak tag that said, "NATURE HOLE" with a scary witch-finger pointing into the darkness. It looked not so much like a place to enjoy nature; more like a place to deposit a sawed-off girl torso in a suitcase. So, in we went. We proceeded with caution, as it was the only way to move through the thicket. Lisa took the lead (thankfully) and, within seconds, she began expressing her fear and disgust. It sounded like this:
SFX: foot crunching on twigs
Lisa: Oh, gross! Look out!
SFX: car ignition firing.
That's about how long our nature hike lasted. Lisa and I walked approximately 12 feet into the nature hole and, after gingerly peeling several tricky branches out of our path, including one serving as a roost for a very stoic slate-colored beetle, we simply turned around and called it a day. We patted each other down, to remove nettles and cobwebs, then retreated to our Volkswagon Beetle, lightly traumatized. Then we drove a few miles out to Lake Small. (Yes, that's it's name. I think "Lake Small" would make a great title for Greatest Hits album from the Assponys.) Lake Small was a filthy pond, all green and stagnant water loaded with phosphate-nutured algae.
Unlike the nature hole, Lake Small had plenty of signage. Every 15 feet or so a sign was posted instructing nature lovers that this was a strict "NO SWIMMING" zone. These signs were incredibly unnecessary, of course: if someone were to enter Lake Small it would not be with the intention of swimming. The signs should have said, "No Discarding Recently Used Murder Weapons or Babies" or "Yeah, We Know. We Don't Need You To Tell Us We've Got A Problem, Hippie."
It took us about 5 minutes to circumnavigate Lake Small, proving at least part of its name correct. We figured a minimum of one complete circuit was necessary to count as our nature hike. Afterwards, we drove to the ShortStop convenience store for Little Debbie Fudge Rounds and Cow Tales —the one leisure activity we'd left off our list.