Monday, May 16, 2016

The Great Dismal Swamp

This is Lake Drummond, in the Great Dismal Swamp.  I've wanted to go to the Great Dismal Swamp since I read Harriet Beecher Stowe's Dred decades ago: who could resist a place (spanning the Virginia-North Carolina border) with that name?  But more than this, it was both a stop on the Underground Railroad for many - its woods and swamps gave shelter; local settlers stayed clear because they thought it was unhealthy (probably true) and contained lions (well, there are plenty of bobcats) - and it was permanent home to up to 50,000 escaped slaves, or maroons.  They seem to have lived on the sites of earlier indigenous communities; they came to trade with enslaved workers who gathered shingles in the camp: it has an extraordinary history that's only just being fully uncovered, though there are various literary points of reference - not just Stowe, but Moses Grandy (an enslaved waterman)'s Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy, and Longfellow's "Slave in the Dismal Swamp" -

In dark fens of the Dismal Swamp
  The hunted Negro lay;
He saw the fire of the midnight camp,
And heard at times a horse's tramp
  And a bloodhound's distant bay. 

Where will-o'-the-wisps and glow-worms shine,
  In bulrush and in brake;
Where waving mosses shroud the pine,
And the cedar grows, and the poisonous vine
  Is spotted like the snake; 

Where hardly a human foot could pass,
  Or a human heart would dare,
On the quaking turf of the green morass
He crouched in the rank and tangled grass,
  Like a wild beast in his lair. 


On my reading list?  Dan Sayers's 2014 A Desolate Place for a Defiant People: The Archeology of Maroons, Indigenous Americans, and Enslaved Laborers in the Great Dismal Swamp. University Press of Florida, Gainesville. He's at AU: I saw an AU car and a couple of students at the Visitor Center, but they disappeared off into the swamp ...

Turtles, sunbathing, on a branch in a drainage ditch that leads to the lake.

Drainage ditch, looking very swampy, if not all that dismal on a very sunny day.

Or perhaps it's the mosquitoes that make one dismal ...

A wider view of Lake Drummond.  That little white cloud was perfectly positioned.  I'd love to come back when it's misty, but it's not a place I imagine that I'll find myself passing very often (it involved the 17 miles of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel to get here from Chincoteague, which was dramatic in its own right).

And today's bird: a red-headed woodpecker.

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