Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Black River History

The Black river has a section we call the Narrows. A forest literally grows out of the river which becomes navigable only by canoe or kayak. I love an article written by Wallace Kaufman in 92 in American Forests. Here is an excerpt:

"As soon as Scots-Irish settlers moved into Carolina's coastal plain in the early 1700s, they began to log the Black's bottomland forests. Nineteenth-century steamboats hauled off the big stands of gum, live oak, and longleaf pine. In 1885 during a five-day study of the river's navigation possibilities, Captain W.H. Bixby of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported seeing rafts carrying "about 620,000 feet of timber and about 10,000 barrels of rosin." To build bridges and docks, loggers took bald cypress out of the seasonally flooded swamps beside the river, but they left the largest trees because the bell-bottomed giants had been hollowed by dry rot.The last steamer left the Black River in 1926. The sandbars returned, the land was too wet to clear, and trees once more arched across the river. Local people assumed the remaining cypresses were no more than a few hundred years old.

Today, as the cypresses probably did then, the old silver-barked trees tower over the rest of the forest. The lower branches are often broken, and those on top are flattened as if they,d met an invisible ceiling. Some trunks are cracked open from crown to buttress. Every one of the cypresses seems to have been hit by lightning or survived a Civil War artillery barrage. This kind of "overmature" old-growth makes some foresters talk of silviculture, but as our worries about the global climate grow, these once useless trees have taken on an important role in helping us measure the seriousness of today's environmental problems.
In 1986 scientists from the University of Arkansas found one big cypress that time had not hollowed. Its annual growth rings revealed it to be the oldest tree east of the Rocky Mountains, having taken root some time before 364 A.D.

All around us rose the silver-gray and moss patched trunks of bald cypress trees. We were looking for one in particular. It would be four feet thick above its buttresses and have a slight lean and two distinctive burls. It would be labeled with a small aluminum tag inscribed, "BLK 69." It was the tree the scientists had discovered in 1986 the oldest known living tree east of the Rocky Mountains. Other trees either along the Black River or in other cypress swamps--may in fact turn out to be older, but BLK 69 is the one that has won new respect for this almost-unknown forest.

We found many larger trees, but when I struck the trunks with my paddle or even my fist, they echoed like a drum. I asked several local people how to find BLK 69. Each of them had read about it in the newspaper, but no one was sure how to find it. Fishermen who string their shad nets and herring lines across the mouths of creeks and coves say the tree is in an area called "Three Sisters," a system of old channels and ponds on the west side of the river. But channels that are distinct at one water level disappear at another. Getting in and out, even in a canoe, can be a little like squeezing down the passages of a cave. Even old-timers going in to fish, hunt or gather mistletoe sometimes got lost."

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