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Wild Places Renew Us

web posted October 16, 2015

LIFE DOWN SOUTH- Itís getting harder to escape civilizationís flotsam and trappings. Just about everywhere I go, telltale signs of civilization exist. If I donít see powerlines, I see contrails streaking the sky. If I donít see contrails, I see litter, even in wild places. Plastic bottles wash into the heart of blackwater swamps. Windborne plastic grocery bags snag limbs. We do a superb job of ruining natural places. Still, several places will reward you with near-pure views of wildness if you go to them. One is the Chattooga River. Itís the only mountain river in a four-state area free of significant development. Rising as a glittering mountain stream near Whitesides Mountain, the Chattooga flows ten miles in North Carolina before snaking a 40-mile border of rock and water between Georgia and South Carolina. The riverís ancient. Geological processes 250 million years old carved out this majestic river that drops 2,469 feet over fifty miles (49.3 feet per mile), creating a daunting and dangerous whitewater river.

Itís wild but peaceful. I like to walk out onto the rocks at Woodall Shoals. I sit and listen to the river purl and roar. If no contrails mar the sky and no rafters or kayakers float into view, I feel Iím in true wilderness. Iím overdue for a day on the Chattooga. Next spring I plan to head to the legendary river and run it again.
Another wild place where signs of civilization are sparse is Florida Bay, also known as Wambaw Bay. Itís a surreal, hauntingly beautiful place deep within the Francis Marion Forest near McClellanville. Its colonies of pitcher plants astound the eye. Yellow pitcher plants stand in dense clusters in red root grass thatís thick, green, and luxuriant. The pitcher plants stand in clusters, their red throats welcoming unsuspecting insects.

Throughout its savanna wind-twisted pond cypress evoke images of Africaís acacia trees. Itís said this bay is among the most beautiful of the Carolina bays, and I believe it. Vegetation is lush. The vibrant plant zonesócolored bands of grasses and sedgesóplease the eye. The pitcher plants evoke images of an alien city where futuristic skyscrapers rise over a grassy plain. In the pine tops, cicadas sing as canopy winds mimic the surf. What I like about this wild place is its remoteness.

Yet another wild place I like is Roblynís Neck, a 14,000-acre tract along the Great Pee Dee River in Darlington County. Iíve driven a four-wheel-drive SUV deep into the woods there, all the way to a bluff offering a great view of the Great Pee Dee River and Marlboro County. Iíve negotiated silky green waters where snakes weave serpentine paths through duckweed.
As for the river, it has a grand history. Virgin pine logs once floated down the Great Pee Dee, a large, wild river borne of North Carolinaís Appalachian Mountains. Waiting downstream at the riverís mouth near Georgetown once stood the worldís largest lumber company. In the swamps edging the river roam wild hogs hunted by men on horseback. You feel youíve stepped way back in time to the 1800s.

When I return to civilization I suffer an overdose of traffic, laws, billboards, franchise restaurants, and one of manís uglier contraptions, convenience stores. Itís a depressing reminder of how artificial civilized life is. I get the feeling that no matter where I go everything suffers what I can only refer to as sameness.

When I was a boy, my parents to me to Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. To this day I remember the lush forest and its fallen trees covered with bracket fungi more so than New York City, which I also visited as a boy. We donít always realize it but we need the natural worldís rocks, rivers, and swamps. Our manmade world? Well it gives us asphalt, wires, concrete, steel, rubber, paper, and plastic. Itís a relief to escape civilization for places that hang onto their wildness for Thoreau was right. ďIn wildness is the preservation of the world.Ē

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