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Great Dismal Swamp

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Upon our return to civilization our friend John Moser read aloud Thomas Moore’s ballad : Irish poet Thomas Moore visited the swamp in 1803, before the drainage canal into Chesapeake Bay was completed. He wrote his poem, “A Ballad – The Lake of Dismal Swamp,” the best known of the Great Dismal Swamp folk legends, spreading this local tale throughout the English-speaking world. The ghost ballad sparked a tourist boom to the area in the early nineteenth century. Lake Drummond, a moss-green tarn that lies in the very center of the swamp, was the setting for this ballad.

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A Ballad: The Lake of the Dismal Swamp
Written at Norfolk, in Virginia

“They made her a grave, too cold and damp
For a soul so warm and true;
And she’s gone to the Lake of the Dismal Swamp,
Where, all night long, by a fire-fly lamp,
She paddles her white canoe.

“And her fire-fly lamp I soon shall see,
And her paddle I soon shall hear;
Long and loving our life shall be,
And I’ll hide the maid in a cypress tree,
When the footstep of death is near.”

Away to the Dismal Swamp he speeds—
His path was rugged and sore,
Through tangled juniper, beds of reeds,
Through many a fen where the serpent feeds,
And man never trod before.

And when on the earth he sunk to sleep,
If slumber his eyelids knew,
He lay where the deadly vine doth weep
Its venomous tear and nightly steep
The flesh with blistering dew!

And near him the she-wolf stirr’d the brake,
And the copper-snake breath’d in his ear,
Till he starting cried, from his dream awake,
“Oh! when shall I see the dusky Lake,
And the white canoe of my dear?”

He saw the Lake, and a meteor bright
Quick over its surface play’d—
“Welcome,” he said, “my dear one’s light!”
And the dim shore echoed for many a night
The name of the death-cold maid.

Till he hollow’d a boat of the birchen bark,
Which carried him off from shore;
Far, far he follow’d the meteor spark,
The wind was high and the clouds were dark,
And the boat return’d no more.

But oft, from the Indian hunter’s camp,
This lover and maid so true
Are seen at the hour of midnight damp
To cross the Lake by a fire-fly lamp,
And paddle their white canoe!

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(In the Great Dismal Swamp) “…the horrible desert, the foul damps ascend without ceasing, corrupt the air and render it unfit for respiration … never was rum – that cordial of life – found more necessary than in this dirty place.”

–Colonel William Byrd

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“Bald Cypress tree approximately 800 years old. Although the entire Dismal Swamp has been logged, a few old-growth trees like this remain. This tree was topped by lightning and is only about one-half to two-thirds of its original height.” (may have better picture on other camera)


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If you stopped moving you were prey for bugs, but spent some time being bit up to get this macro portrait of a dragonfly, which dozens danced around our vehicle the whole trip in swamp.

More pending : of which my friend called the Sasquatch series


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This is my “Crossley ID Guide” photo, which the park ranger showed us and recommended as a good reference book.

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road trip photos below…

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4 responses

  1. J Moser

    I gotta get me a white canoe. Nice job on the photos and on finding the entire poem.

    June 7, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    • Clearing dense forests and swamps for inland rice cultivation required extensive and strenuous labor. The basic inland rice field consisted of two earthen dams enclosing a low-lying area bordered by ridges. “Swamps had to be diked to separate land from water,” observes historian Theodore Rosengarten, and this work was done by enslaved people who “cleared and chiseled [the floodplain] with hoes until it was as level as a billiard table.” Enslaved Africans and to a lesser extent American Indians removed dense hardwoods, such as bald cypress, tupelo, and sweet gum, with axes and saws.

      Rice planter John Norris noted in 1712 that stumps and roots took twelve to fifteen years to rot out of the fields, so that slaves had to plant rice around these obstacles. Slashing and burning the fields expedited the decomposition process, as fire “softened” the landscape. Once rice fields were in place, enslaved laborers continued to burn the underbrush and hoe out weed roots to prevent recurring growth of competing vegetation. Field hands also spent January and February, the least active months of the crop’s growth cycle, burning leftover stubble on existing rice fields or clearing new acreage.


      June 9, 2014 at 11:14 pm

  2. “It’s just good for the soul to see a big tree,” _Brian van Eerden


    June 9, 2014 at 11:25 pm

  3. p.s. I’ve been drinking tonic water and must confess I do miss the Bombay gin. They were enjoyable years….

    June 9, 2014 at 11:32 pm

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