lodges, the trees-makes it seem older. Then, too, the trees are getting stranger and stranger. A maple to our left is grow- ing completely in the water. The roots extend six feet into the air before the trunk begins. Many of the trees have rot- ted away in the middle, up to four feet out of the water, creating little caverns or sometimes holes all the way through them. One tree, with a double trunk, has rotted away entirely, creating two trees, each with a semicircular base. And another has grown a root upward a few feet, over a stump and back down and around the trunk of the stump on the other side as if it is hugging it.An ancestor perhaps, felled by loggers many years ago. We see a pine out in the water as well, with a swollen base like the tupelos and cypresses.
'Today, the cypress
knees, which rise out
the water an}'1l'here
from afew inclus to a
Jewfeet, scare me. Today
they arefigures out of
rising ghosts who can't
quite break free of the
We now come to two dams, each of
which we have to climb onto and over
which we must hoist the canoe. We are
alone, and I feel a bit like Conrad's Mar-
low, as if I was "traveling back to the ear-
liest beginnings of the world, when vege-
tation rioted on the earth and the big
trees were kings." And just then, as we
round a bend, we spot the first of the old
trees. Its base is at least eight feet wide,
but up ahead I spot a larger one, and
from Dennis Helms' description, the
biggest. This one at four feet up is at least
eight feet across, 25 feet around. At
water-level it is much wider. It becomes
much thinner toward its top, a hundred
feet or so in the air. The branches then
fan out and curve upward in a bell shape.
The top limbs have been blown out by
lightning, but it is perhaps this lightning
that saved the tough old tree, making its
wood unmarketable and thus fending off
the loggers and shingle-getters. Cypress
knees fan out from this old monster 50
feet in all directions.
According to Dennis Helms, core
samples of the wood date back at least
1,000 years, though the middle of the
tree is rotten. That means that there is
1,000 years of intact wood plus hundreds
more years that cannot be measured. Per-
haps this tree was waist high on the first
Holy Week. And I'm still waiting, for
tomorrow is Easter. And so we dig our
paddles in the water and stop the boat
and stare. This tree is not the only one of
its kind by any means. They dot the region,
one here, one there, across the Great Dis-
mal Swamp and Coastal Plain of North
Carolina, and especially the Alligator
River region. Tall and resolute, gnarled
and rotting, they are holding out, wait-
ing. But for what?
Up ahead, there is a dam higher than
all the rest, and the water is too low.
What could be farther back? Could we
paddle farther, to the time of the Middle
Archaic, when these Indians developed
the atlatl to sling blades through the air?
My father says that farther up we will hit
the bridge over Highway 32 in Sunbury.
But I am uncertain. And it is afternoon
now, so we turn around and begin the
long paddle out.
I wandered out into the hall a few
hours ago and a man I had never seen
before was leaving a lTlessage on my
neighbor's door. He asked me how I was
and I said "OK" and repeated the ques-
tion, to which he answered,
"OK ... blessed." Though as I write this, I
am painfully aware ofa fading sunburn
and sore shoulders, I, too, am blessed,
with a pond, some old graves and the
swamp whose name I bear.
Postscript. My swamp a year later.
There is a photograph ofmy grand-
mother on my desk. She's holding her
pet lamb. She's no more than 12. Behind
her is a fence; behind that, an open field;
and behind that, our swamp. For whether
it's ours or not, I've claim.ed it, selfishly.
The week after her death this fall,
Dad and I took her puppy, Ted Barker,
for a walk behind the back field on the
edge of the swamp where several beavers
have created a pond. Teddy jumped right
in and swanl around in the brown water.
He's nanled for the puppy my grand-
mother had when she first moved back
here, in 1917.
I learned only this year that, at about
that same time, my grandfather used to
go out trapping. When he was in his early
20s, he worked as cook, staying out for
three and four days at the time, cooking
mostly ham, eggs and the like. They'd go
up and down creeks, near Gatesville and
out into the Chowan River in their 30-
foot long boat. Granddad even remembered
the sound of the single cylinder Bridge-
port engine, how it puttered as they went,
and how they kept a little boat tied behind
them for the tight spots.
CAR0LINA ALUMN IREV
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