I have cruised down the Dismal Swamp Canal, rowed up the feeder ditch to Lake Drummond in the center of the swamp and walked along the ditches that lead into the swamp. I've even climbed the rickety steps in the of the old rotting superintendent's house on the shores of the canal, stood on the edges of the porch of the house that was once a tea parlor where travelers stopped to refresh themselves. But I had never really been in the Great Dismal Swamp. Until yesterday, that is.
I had an invite from friends to venture into the swamp. Bring something to eat and drink, wear hip waders.
It was fascinating. A thirty minute walk through the dark muddy water that at times tried to pull the waders off our feet. Roots from the trees hid in the water, reaching out to trip us all along the way. Rotting leaves, decaying cypress trees knocked down by hurricanes. Deer scrapes and bark pulled off of hardwoods by black bears.
We had to watch where we stepped, there were deep holes that could not be seen in the dark brown water. The person in the lead would call out the deep holes as they found them, each person passing the warning back to the next hiker. Vines, a mixture of poison ivy and thorny brambles, lined the trail.
At the end we arrived at an island, though it did not look like an island. Just slightly higher, drier ground than everywhere else. By the time we reached it I could not, on the overcast day, tell you which way was east or west, north or south. Somebody had a gps, someone else had a compass. I just followed along.
I read a book years ago that included a magazine story written by John Boyle O'Reilly. He canoed into the Great Dismal Swamp in the 1880's. He talked about escaped slaves, maroons they are called, that lived in the swamp. They were safe there, they were protected by the swamp. It would have been on an island like this where they lived.
The Great Dismal Swamp is a misnomer. It is a beautiful place.