The north branch of Tranters Creek, like most blackwater creeks of the Pamlico Lowlands, is clogged with downed tree trunks and fallen limbs. Negotiating those obstructions requires a shoal draft boat and high water. It’s a torturous bit of navigation. Few people paddle very far up the creek.
Tranters Creek is a fringe swamp forest on the edge of the Pamlico Lowlands, a broad swath of flatlands that extend across the Pamlico River Basin from Washington 30 miles east to the river mouth. The river itself varies from 1/3 to 5 miles wide, drowning about 225 square miles with an average depth of only 11 feet. The swamp shares similar characteristics, wide and shallow.
Recently I bought a folding kayak that weighs only 22 pounds and draws only inches of water. It took me a while to learn how to unfold it and a bit longer to learn how to sit in it. And then it began to rain. It rained for days, flooding the lowlands, raising the level of Tranters Creek.
Since the Pamlico Lowlands are so flat, rising water spreads among the trees in a thin reflective pool. It forms a mirrored interface – a world above reflected in a world below – intersected by the width of the water’s surface.
A Wonderfully Sodden Place
The flat landscape drains poorly and floods frequently, the reason – the main reason – that Tranters Creek remains a pristine wilderness despite its proximity to the town of Washington, North Carolina. It’s unprofitable to develop such sodden ground. Only the infinitesimal calculus of profit and loss determines what survives and what is sacrificed. Tranters Creek is wonderfully unprofitable.
It’s fortunate it is such a sodden place. The fringe swamp forest of Tranters Creek has a delicate, ephemeral beauty, transient as sunlight.
Bald cypress, black gum, and water tupelo rise from the swamp. In the shallow water, wood ducks bob for invertebrates. Raccoons and white-tailed deer leave prints in the mud at the water’s edge. Otter and nutria, leopard frogs and spadefoot toads, water moccasins, rainbow snakes, and all kinds of turtles navigate blindly in water black with tannin.
The layered light and nearly infinite hues of green create a sense of density and mystery. It’s a place that seems to hold its breath in anticipation. The sudden sound of a woodpecker rapping a dead tree falls like a hammer blow in the silence.
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