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Finding Zen at the Nags Head Woods

Finding Zen at the Nags Head Woods

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Published by Seaside Vacations

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Published by: Seaside Vacations on Dec 22, 2009
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12/21/2009

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Finding Zen at the Nags Head Woods
“If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you havelearned how to live.” Lin YutangIt is difficult to consider any time spent in nature as “useless,” but from the point of viewof a culture overrun with to-do lists and daily schedules, an afternoon spent hiking andrelaxing in the woods may appear that way. Actually, a lot of activities found on theOuter Banks may seem “useless” from this perspective, but this is a world-class vacationdestination after all, and we owe it to ourselves to slow down and enjoy as many“useless” days and “useless” experiences as possible.With a little exploration off the beaten path, the Outer Banks offers endless opportunitiesto discover new experiences to help waste away the hours of the day. Nags Head Woodsoffers a great opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and even thehustle and bustle of the beach. A maritime forest seems to defy nature; the Outer Banksis only a few miles wide with water on both sides, yet a 1,400 acre maritime forest thrivesin such an unlikely location.On a warm, sunny, late-August afternoon, I found myself wandering aimlessly throughthe vast Woods. I picked that random afternoon to slow the pace of my everyday life andtry to capture some of the beauty of late summer on the Outer Banks. My afternoon journey led me to a remote area of the island that would be difficult to find if you didn’tknow where you were headed (see directions below).As I stepped from my car and began to meander through the Woods, I was immediatelygreeted by the type of silence only nature can offer…the buzzing of insects, the chirp of songbirds, and the trickle of water running through streams. The air was warm, but the breeze was cool, and the towering trees provided a blanket of shade that blocked the hotafternoon sun. I chose a trail at random and headed on my way. Nags Head Woodsoffers a variety of trails and endless nooks and crannies to escape for a relaxing rest or quiet contemplation. I allowed my mind to slow and gathered my thoughts, and I took time to watch and enjoy the natural environment bursting with life around me. Anafternoon spent with nature can help keep life in perspective.When I rounded a bend at the end of one of the trails and found myself facing the NatureConservancy building, it dawned on me that not only is Nags Head Woods an amazingarea to help you get back to nature and unwind, but it is also incredibly important from anecological perspective. My mission morphed from a purely Zen related retreat to includethe larger perspective of a Zen retreat with an abundance of educational andenvironmental importance. I gathered all of the information I could and set out to informmyself about the unique qualities of this rare environment. It turns out that Nags HeadWoods is vastly important to the local ecosystem, and it is one of the few remaining areasof its kind.The site stretches more than three miles along the western side of Bodie Island adjacentto some of the Outer Banks’ most intense residential and commercial development.
 
Owned jointly by The Nature Conservancy and the Town of Nags Head and Kill DevilHills, it has long been recognized as one of NC’s most important natural areas.Approximately 1200 of the 1400-acre system is now in conservation management.According to pond sediment and pollen samples, woody plant communities have existedon the site for more than 1000 years. Nags Head Woods is a complex maritime forest system overlying an extensive duneridge-swale system with elevations ranging from sea-level to more than 90’. Two of thelargest active sand dunes on the East Coast, Run Hill andJockey's Ridge, run along thenorthern and southern borders of the preserve. Shielded from the ocean winds by thedune ridges, Nags Head Woods features a diversity of plant and animal life that isunusual to find on a barrier island.The forest includes a variety of ecological community types, including three classified bythe NC Natural Heritage Program as globally rare. These three rare community types aremaritime deciduous forest, maritime swamp forest and maritime shrub swamp. Thisextensive ecological preserve protects a remarkable range of unique habitats, includingforested dunes, interdune ponds, marshes, and wetlands. Nags Head Woods is NorthCarolina's most biologically diverse maritime forest; its acres of wetland, dune andhardwood forest habitat make this site one of the best remaining examples of a mid-Atlantic maritime forest and a national natural landmark.Towering oaks, hickories, and beech trees, some hundreds of years old, rise from the sandand create a canopy of trees more typical of the mountains of the eastern United States.Over 100 species of birds have been documented at Nags Head Woods. The preserve isan important nesting area for more than 50 species. Fifteen species of amphibians and28 species of reptiles have been documented as well. The freshwater ponds are inhabited by seven species of fish and many reptiles and amphibians in addition to a great diversityof floating aquatic plant life, including the rare water violet. An extensive marsh system bordering Roanoke Sound on the western side of the preserve supports a wealth of wildlife including river otter, egrets, herons, and many species of migratory waterfowl.At one point during my afternoon journey a butterfly chose to bob and weave along thetrail with me. I watched with feigned disinterest in the hopes that butterfly would remainas my travel companion for a while. As I gazed at its erratic movements I was struck byits carefree nature. It seemed to be without a care in the world, and it helped me realizethat when we take time to reconnect with the nature that is around us, we too can share inthis carefree feeling.Vacation is the perfect opportunity to live without cares, and Nags Head Woods is anideal spot to retrieve your Zen-like mindset while at the same time witnessing one of theOuter Banks most remarkable natural treasures.
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