Sidney Creek lies only ¾ mile from my house on the shore of Chocowinity Bay, but the short paddle is a transition between worlds. The wetlands encompassed by Sidney Creek, Chocowinity Creek and the sawgrass islands that edge the bay are only a quarter square mile. It seems inconsequential on a map, leads of open water meandering among drowned forest and saw-toothed sedge, inhabited mostly by birds and a few white-tailed deer hiding from hunters in season. It continually surprises me how much life can be crammed into such a small area.
Cypress trees killed by salt water intrusion, Sidney Creek, NC.
Paddling toward Sidney Creek, the ghost forest marks the edge of the wetlands, cypress trees with bare branches or no branches at all, their trunks bleached by successive summers, long dead but still upright like standing stones. The water in Chocowinity Bay is mostly fresh but the rising sea and hurricanes drive salt water up the Pamlico River and into the bay, poisoning the roots of cypress trees at water’s edge, disrupting their circulatory system, drying them like bones. There are ghost forests throughout Pamlico Sound marking the sea’s advance inshore.
Sawgrass and cypress trees at the edge of Sydney Creek, North Carolina.
On a typical summer’s day, still and sultry with thunderheads towering on the eastern horizon and cumulus clouds reflected by flat water, paddling toward Sidney Creek can be disorientating, as if weightless, floating among clouds with only ripples spreading from drops shed by my paddles to distinguish between clouds above and clouds below.
Past the ghost forest, acres of sawgrass form islands with narrow leads between. There are no lunar tides on Chocowinity Bay but wind-driven tides raise or lower the water level, widening or narrowing the leads, as well as rain falling upstream. Sidney Creek is simply a wider lead through the sawgrass.
Old pier and punt, early morning, Sidney Creek, NC.
A few cypress trees knee-deep in the water guard the proper beginning of Sidney Creek. For years one of those trees housed an osprey nest. Year after year the fledglings took flight, learning to live like a bird, until a hurricane hammered the nest into matchsticks.
Deep water pool beside Norfolk Southern railroad bridge, Sidney Creek, NC.
On a summer day with the wind still, birds are the most obvious motion. Turkey vultures circle overhead, kingfishers flit between branches, and osprey plummet from the sky. Occasionally a startled box turtle sunning itself on a fallen branch splashes into the water or bass rise to a hatch from the deep water beside the Norfolk Southern railroad bridge, slapping the surface with their tail.
It’s that summer stillness that most impresses me. Gaston Bachelard wrote in The Poetics of Space, “As soon as we become motionless, we are elsewhere; we are dreaming of a world that is immense. Indeed, immensity is the movement of a motionless man.”
Resting with my forearms on the loom of my paddle, listening for an osprey’s skirling cry, the few acres of Sidney Creek become vast and encompassing.
Cypress tree and Spanish moss, Sidney Creek, NC.
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