Walking to the NC Botanical Gardens from UNC

The official botanical gardens for the whole state of North Carolina are attached to UNC Chapel Hill. Isn’t that special?

These gardens are a cluster of flowers and woodlands, and the offices and gift shop are sustainably built, and everything is so aggressively progressive and fresh, that it makes me guilty to think of driving a car there.

Luckily, as long as it’s not the weekend, you can take several of the famous free Chapel Hill/Carrboro buses there.

Or, you can walk or bike! Now, if you go onto the Garden’s website, they suggest you hike the connecting path from the University through the Coker Pinetum. Now first, why did they ever call it a ‘Pinetum’. I’m sure I never heard that word before.

Second, I’ve been on the Coker Pinetum before. At least, I think I was on it. We were stumbling through some sort of scraggly, unromantic, dark, surly, sullen clump of trees near a raging highway, and after several consultations trying to figure out if we were lost or not, we finally were spit out sort of near the Gardens.

I suggest a much better pathway if you want to walk to the Gardens. Go on Laurel Hill Road.

Now watch out, because if you look for the route on google maps, the very first option they give you is the Coker Pinetum scrabble.

You know how they also try to fool you? They not only try to entice you with the Coker Pinetum, but then they also tell you that it runs right by the ‘Meeting of the waters’ creek (seen in the map above). Who doesn’t want to go to a creek called Meeting of the Waters? But I don’t even remember seeing any such creek on my one sojourn to the Coker Pinetum.

So ask Google Maps instead for the Laurel Hill Road option.

Actually, the version you see above is not what Google Maps will give you initially. I tweaked it a little. My version is a little longer than the Google Maps version — but my version will let you walk the entirety of Laurel Hill Road. And you don’t want to miss it 🙂 It’s like stepping into a fairytale — flowers everywhere, a woodsy path with lots of twists and bends you can’t see much beyond — and when you get to it, there’s more woods and flowers and slopes. It’s not a road that serves you by being straight. It’s a road that goes where it wants to go, and you go along with it.

Just before you turn on it, you see this fine sight:

Joseph St. Jean

Joseph St. Jean was a professor of Geology at UNC Chapel Hill. He was 94 when he died this past March.

Because I was in the same department, in the early years of my PhD, I sometimes saw him around Mitchell Hall. Yes, indeed, he was still coming in to work in his office at age 90.

I wanted to talk to him because he was old, and I was sure he was full of stories. I had originally meant to write an article about him the way I eventually wrote about Dr. Joe Carter. But me barging into his office with my reporter’s attitude didn’t go over so well, and I didn’t get all that much information. I just got blank stares and some hesitation in his very old and red-rimmed eyes.

Well, if anyone ever does want to know more about this legend of Mitchell Hall, here’s what I gathered:

Joseph St. Jean spent his childhood in Washington State. He later graduated from the College of Puget Sound, which had 300 students and everyone was very close.

He then went to graduate school at Indiana University. His advisor was a Scotchman with a gruff voice who scared everyone away. Dr. St. Jean managed to stay on his good side. Then, during the summers, he worked for the Indiana Geological Survey to make some money, and even worked during the winter holidays. He was married by this time.

And that’s it! Dr. St. Jean’s specialty for research was finding fossils of sponges that date back to the pre-Cambrian era.


Need inspiration?

Today, I heard a speaker who had some soaring words for us. She said: Walk towards the things that makes time stop for you; that make you light up; that you can’t be pulled away from.

Well, I wanted to sit down and tell her all the times I’d tried to walk towards just exactly those things, and I couldn’t get there. It really is not just as easy as “walking towards”, because everything is in place to trip you up.

But I had to leave early on an errand and didn’t get the chance to probe further.

However, today back at UNC, the statue of Silent Sam came down! Now that’s something.

When Silent Sam was dedicated in 2013, supposedly in honor of soldiers who died during the Civil War, this was the speech given:

“One hundred yards from where we stand, I horse whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds because she had maligned and insulted a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison.”

But read news articles about Silent Sam; you’ll notice they rarely mention this. The news – all those journalists who protest when Trump calls them “fake news” and the enemy of the people – don’t ever mention the real offensiveness of the statue, hardly. They just say, “it’s a Confederate memorial.”

And then people say, “it’s heritage, not hate!”

But the statue is down now!