Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Great Dismal Swamp Part 3

Bruins, reptiles, amphibians. Pirates, ghostly apparitions, and black water--
there is, and always has been, a lot of coming and going 
in the ancient Great Dismal Swamp.

One of the more famous visitors was George Washington,
surveyor, general, president, businessman,
second husband to the rich widow Martha Custis,
 and according to some sources,
a man who raised the ire of his friends
by flirting outrageously with their wives at parties.
According to the Great Dismal Swamp Visitor Center's History link:
Washington's connection to the Swamp was a commercial one:
He visited the Swamp in the 1760s
as a member of a land development company.
Washington and his business partners wanted to drain the million-acre swamp
so they could harvest the timber and farm the land.
While subsequent logging enterprises were successful,
draining the Swamp proved to be impractical.

Later, Washington became frustrated by management of the land comapny
and tried to sell his shares to Robert E. Lee's father,
who was unable to raise the money.
Even so, Washington is credited
with the idea of building the Great Dismal Swamp Canal,
which was chartered in the late 1800s 
by the Virginia and North Carolina legislatures,
and later hand dug by slaves.
As it turned out, the Dismal Swamp
was an uncomfortable, if nearly impenetrable, 
haven for escaping slaves who hid out in its thickets.
They would have been able to survive in part
by consuming many of the wild edibles found there.
They would have found blackberries:

scuppernong grapes


and wild strawberries:

Through the centuries, the Great Dismal Swamp has beckoned for many
seeking refuge, commerce, or adventure.
But once they found their way in,
some probably wished they had never ventured there. Those who returned 
told tales of a strange white, other-worldly light shrouding the forest floor.
It was said to be an eerie, bewitching light
that seemed to appear and disappear with each footfall.
They weren't wrong.
These strange lights are still there and very real.
They are a kind of natural luminescence called "foxfire"
that results from decaying fungi.
I've never seen any, but it sounds very interesting.
Tomorrow, we'll continue our walk through the Swamp,
and I'll introduce you to what I call "witness trees."

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