Monday, January 25, 2010
The Great Dismal Swamp
As visitor attractions go the Great Dismal Swamp doesn't always feel like the most rewarding place to visit.
If you go to the Grand Canyon you drive into a parking lot, get out of your car and peer over the edge at a vast chasm and a multi-colored wonderland of buttes and mesas.
The Great Dismal Swamp that straddles the border of Virginia and North Carolina, doesn't have the same must-see appeal. If you wander into the Great Dismal Swamp you find a crazy tangle of trees, a maze of water filled ditches and a confused haven for nests of snakes and multitudes of tics.
People seldom come here to find something; they are more likely to want to lose themselves in the overgrown mirk of the place. During the days of slavery underground railroads ran through the swamp and slaves eked out an existence here in desperate colonies to evade their erstwhile masters.
It was so vast and so thick that some who entered never returned.
The young poet Robert Frost, despondent over a broken heart, came here to "disappear" but changed his mind. As the November night fell over the swamp, Frost was put off by the bottomless waterways that swallowed even the light of the moon and headed for home the next day.
If the swamp has a focus it's the spherical Lake Drummond at its heart. But you can lose the skin on your feet and your will to live not to mention the occasional friendship on the four mile long trudge down a ramrod staight path down the Washington Ditch trail.
But if you keep on trudging, you turn a sudden dogleg to the right and Lake Drummond opens up like a glittering jewel in the most inhospitable of places. There's certainly something magical about this empty and untouched expanse of hourglass water fringed with cypress and tupelo trees in the heart of a ragged wilderness.
A new state park beside the Dismal Swamp Canal in North Carolina now affords a new access to the swamp but it's a long haul for walkers to get into the heart of the swamp.
Fortunately the new park includes a boardwalk for visitors who want to check out the swamp without getting blisters.