Adaptation

Twice in as many weeks, I’ve been startled by something big crashing through the thick reeds that grow on the bank of Sidney Creek. Jumping directly to the apocalyptic, I thought — bear.

There are bears here, black bears, although so appropriate to the environment they are seldom seen. I once found a black bear in a ditch beside a nearby road, likely roadkill. And I’ve been told black bears have been seen on the shore behind our house. It’s hard to imagine a bear so bold.

It wasn’t a bear but a deer. In both cases, young bucks. Startled by my presence, they bolted, making a ruckus as they leaped through the water and the reeds. In one case, the buck paused to look through the reeds, curious about what sort of threat I might be. Only a slight motion and a shadow gave away his position. I had time only for a snapshot.

Detail of deer in the reeds along Sidney Creek, Chocowinity Bay.
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The risk to any animal well adapted to its environment is a rapid change to the environment itself. The world is now changing more rapidly than it has in millions of years, largely the result of our compulsive meddling, and all the creatures that live in it are at risk, even ourselves.

There is a downside to intelligence without wisdom.

Saint Peters

They have been collecting the dead here for almost 270 years, before the colonies became a country, before the country was shattered by war. The dead in St. Peter’s graveyard were safeguarded even as civil war raged above them, as artillery riddled houses, cavalry charged through the streets, and the church burned down to the ground to meet them.

St. Peter’s has been holding the dead for a long time. There are three Revolutionary soldiers, 17 Confederate dead, and far too many children.

A lamb decorates a child's headstone, St Peter's graveyard, Washington, NC.
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Massive trees have grown to shadow the graves — magnolia, oak, cypress, dogwood, birch, even a Ginkgo. Palmetto palms surround the graves like bayonets planted in the ground. And sunlight flows like water, ebbing and flooding among the headstones.

In the shadow of a massive magnolia tree lies the grave of Colonel James Bonner. He named the town Washington after his friend and fellow soldier, George Washington. Beneath a cypress tree, Thankful O’Cain and her babies are buried. Nearby the relatives of film director Cecil B. DeMille are encrypted, waiting for the resurrection that was promised.

The grave of Mary Ellison, consort of James Ellison, St Peter's graveyard, Washington, NC.
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In 1890 they stopped burying the dead in St. Peter’s. Townsfolk were concerned the dead would contaminate their well water.

Early morning light, St Peter's graveyard, Washington, NC.
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Abandoned

After the storms, wreckage accumulates not only ashore but on the water, on the rivers and sands, the bays and wetlands of North Carolina. The Coast Guard removes the most harmful materials, the oil and fuel, but the wreckage is the responsibility of local governments, often the poorest counties in the state.

Partially submerged sloop on the shoals, Chocowinity Bay, North Carolina.
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An abandoned sloop on Chocowinity Bay.

So the derelict hulls remain, rotting slowly. Steel and fiberglass take a long time to rot. The wreckage remains for years, sinking slowly into the muck, the earth rising to meet it, dark water lapping in dark places.

There’s something especially tragic about the wreckage of a boat, more than an old house or a collapsing barn. The boat is utterly abandoned, cast out of its element, exiled from the sea and discarded on the shore.

Someone once slept inside that hull, like a mollusk in its shell, rocked by waves, and dreamed of distant places beyond the curve of the horizon.

Boats weren’t made to be motionless.

Sloop aground on Pamlico River near Washington, NC following Hurricane Dorian.
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Aground on the banks of the Pamlico River near Washington, North Carolina, after Hurricane Dorian.