A bald cypress knee-deep in the black water of a Carolina creek is an iconic image of the coastal plain.
This land is old, the trailing edge of a continent growing younger to the west. The coastal plain was once sea bottom, scoured by storm waves and ocean currents. Whales once calved in the shallow water and the teeth of megalodon – the massive precursors of white sharks – are still commonly dug up along the shore of Pamlico Sound.
Blackwater rivers snake across the Carolina coastal plain, making sluggishly for the sea. The land is unrelentingly flat from the Fall Line at the edge of the Piedmont – the remnants of an ancient mountain chain now ground into gently rolling hills – to the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, a distance of over 100 miles with only 500 feet change in elevation. The water is black from tannin, the color of rotting tree bark.
Tranters Creek is only a few miles from my home on Chocowinity Bay. Perhaps it’s overlooked because it’s so close. I’ve paddled up the north branch before but never so far.
Days of rain raised the water in the creek and floated me past my most distant point in the past, floated me over fallen branches and tree stumps, to a place where the light filtered through the canopy and struck a singular cypress tree, illuminating it like the halo of a Byzantine icon. There was only the sound of jays and occasional crows and water dripping from the end of my paddle. The forest surrounding me was primeval as if the last 300 years of American history had been erased.