Caesars Head State Park
In a work plan for the large publicly owned forest near my Maryland home, there was a section describing the forest and noting that it is “rare to find a loblolly pine older than eighty years.” Well, yes, it is rare to find one older than that, not because they all succumb to a natural death before then, but because we cut them before they reach old age.
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The Congaree pines show us what can be pines two to three hundred years old and still the tallest trees in the forest. Congaree has a pine 15 feet in circumference and 167 feet tall, the largest loblolly pine in the United States (today at least). Some of Congaree’s trees are as tall as a seventeen-story building.
When I tilted my umbrella back and looked up toward the top of the giant trees, I saw drops falling, as if in slow motion, toward my face. One very large drop landed directly in my eye, but even that brought me pleasure and a laugh. I felt like the whole forest was celebrating with me. Rain at last!
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Congaree National Park
This is a floodplain forest, a place shaped by water, a place that welcomes water. The boardwalk trail was designed to raise visitors above the mud, but, despite the day’s droplets, the ground was dry. The “buttressed” (wide-based) bald cypress trunks and the strange aerial roots called “knees,” which evolved to rise above the water and the muck, were rising instead from solid ground. Yes indeed, it had been a long, dry summer.
Surrounded by the beauty, the rain, and the shared strength of so many outstanding specimens, I practically bounced down the trail. Although it was the last weekend in October, the only fall colors were the few crimson leaves sprinkled through the black gum canopy, and the small pawpaw trees in which about a third of the leaves had turned a pure yellow. As I walked through the grove-like patches of pawpaw, the light got brighter the result of the yellow all around, even under my feet. The sunshine captured in the leaves seemed to be liberated again on this dark, gray day.
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A few miles down the trail, the rain fell harder. The drops hitting millions of leaves created the sound of polite applause, and I walked along under the lofty canopy to the sound of the forest appreciating the rain and, in my imagination, perhaps even my presence. Mile after mile the applause did not die down; in fact it built to a standing ovation, the drops were hitting so hard and so fast.
It was so wet now that my fingertips began to wrinkle. The moss and lichens were fresh and plump, and after a few hours I began to feel as if I could grow some moss myself. But I was still warm under my protective clothing, and still warm and happy deep in my heart. I walked through the thunderous applause with a big smile on my face. No human audience could show such enthusiasm for so long.
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