I Haven’T Said A Word About The Trees Yet. Survival Comes First And Botany Second, Even For This Tree Lover. In The Beginning, The Trees Were Unremarkable Mostly Red Maple, Ash, And Loblolly Pine, None Too Large. Then, Suddenly, A Good-Sized Bald Cypress Appeared, And Soon Many More, Until We Were In A Forest Dominated By These Lovely Wetland Trees. We Were In A Cypress Swamp Always A Special Place To Be.
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There Used To Be Fifty Thousand Acres Of Cypress Swamp In This Area, But Now It Is Down To Five Thousand, And Almost All Of What Remains Has Been Burned Or Logged In The Recent Past. Many Of The Giant Old Trees Were Used To Make Shingles For Houses And Roofs; The Rest Became Charcoal For The Iron Forges. Only A Precious Handful Of The Ancient Cypress Trees Remain.
As We Paddled And Pulled Among Hundreds Of Trees, We Were Searching For Just One: The Granddaddy, The Patriarch. I Tried To Stay In The Moment And Enjoy Each Tree As It Slipped Past, Or As We Dragged Our Canoe Over Its Roots. At One Narrow Bend In The Creek, I Remarked At A Real Beauty, “Look At That One!”
Dutifully, Tucker Looked And Said, “Wait A Minute. This Place Looks Exactly Like The Place They Described To Me. Do You Think This Could Be Our Tree?” I Had No Idea What Had Been Described To Him Or How He Could Tell One Place From Another In This Black Swamp, But It Was A Lovely Tree, And Suddenly There Was An Air Of Certainty And Celebration. It Just Felt Right. We Had Found The Patriarch! Tucker Called The Others Back, And We Climbed Out Of Our Canoes And Stood On Its Buttressed Roots, Stroking The Stringy Bark. For This Momentous Occasion, I Dug My Camera Out Of My Wet Pack And Was Relieved To See It Dry In Its Baggie.
But Wait A Minute Look At That Tree. It Is Even Bigger. That Must Be The Patriarch. Yes, Of Course, Now We Have Found The Real Patriarch. The Real Patriarch Must Be Touched Now. Oh…My…God. Look At That One! It’S Much Bigger Than Either Of These Two. Yes, We All Agree, That Must Be The Really Real Patriarch. We Repeated Our Adulations For That One, Too. If This Were A Group Of Grown-Ups, They Would Have Been Making Wisecracks And Cynical Remarks, But The Only One There That Day Kept Her Mouth Shut.
We Ate Lunch In Our Canoes Under The Shade Of The Really Real Patriarch, And Then Cast Off To Complete Our Journey. The Second Section Of The Creek Was Even More Beautiful Than The First. Here The Cypress Dominated The Forest Almost Entirely, And Their August Foliage Cast A Dark Shade Onto The Even Darker Water. The Trees Growing By The Waterline Flared Out So Abruptly At Their Bases They Looked Like Southern Belles Attending A Ball In Their Hoop Skirts. Many Of The Flared Roots Had Become Hollow, And It Wasn’T Difficult To Imagine A Snake, Frog, Spider, Or Even Bat Tucked Up In The End Of The Narrow Chambers. Even Though I Was Wet, Muddy, And Tired, I Appreciated This Dark And Complex Beauty, So Rare In Flat, Agricultural Southern Delaware. What Would Those In The World Of Furniture And Cars Think Of This Neverland? Some Would Envy Me, I Guessed, And Others Pity.
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