Thursday, April 25, 2013
There is a place deep in Blackwater River State Forest that is perfect, or at least as near to perfect as can be found. The plants and animals are native. The longleaf pines are still present with their signature wind-roaring music. But there are still human influences; like the seldom-used forest road that runs nearby, access enough for forestry workers to oversee controlled burns or hikers to explore the fringes of the area.
The land here rolls gently, dry scrub hills that descend into the soft ground of bogs, cut by tiny creeks, many less than a foot wide, fed by rainwater that percolates down through the sandy soil. Most nutrients of use by plants are flushed away with all this water. That is why plants here have adopted a carnivorous lifestyle.
The main population of pitcher plants lives on a boggy hillside that faces south. It is a small trial to get there. First, leave the comfortable forest road and climb down into the ferns and grass. If the forest has been burned in the past few months, the grasses will be only knee high. Where the ground starts to get soft and there are patches of pitcher plants, stop and listen for the sound of water. Follow that sound down to where the ground is still black from fire, where the heat was highest, and the oaks and bays are struggling to recover. Look for green ferns and sphagnum moss. Try not to sink to your knees in the soil. Find the lowest elevation where the main creek’s flow cuts through the thicker hardwoods. There’s a place to cross if you are careful to test the ground with your weight and have a few smaller trees to cling to. Don’t be tempted to just step into the stream unless you want to lose a boot, as it is so soft at the bottom of all that water that there might not be a bottom at all. Jump if you must, from one foot to the other across the water. Then reverse the process for your ascent to that south-facing hillside.
The pitcher plants seen at first glance (Sarracenia Leucophylla, Sarracenia flava, and their hybrids) are not the only ones. The ground is also covered in them (Sarracenia psittacina). Tread softly.
There are also orchids, their pink coloring distinguishing them from any other plant. Usually, they are rivaled by Meadowbeauty (Rhexia), but their blooms are not present yet so soon after the fire.
This land is rare. It is aligned perfectly for sunlight, sloped just right for water drainage, made of the correct soil, still housing the plants that evolved here. There is no spot quite like it in all the forest, or in all the world. It was bought by the state for conservation, recreation, and admittedly some exploitation. Unfortunately, this means the state government has the power to do what it may. The land has been recommended for oil drilling as recently as a few months ago.
For wherever you find your secret place, here are suggestions:
Go early. Even if you get no sleep the night before. The forest is softer in the morning.
Find a place to stop. Stand if you must. Sit if you can. But be still.
Close your eyes and listen. Open your eyes and watch.