The Fayetteville Observer, Sept. 2, 2004

Another Voice: Night life is serene in a magical, pristine pond

By Melissa Clement
Staff writer

There are times I wish I could live outdoors and never go inside a man-made structure again, except maybe a tent. To save my sanity, I have to get away from modern living, traffic, television and cell phones that seem to be glued to the ears of half the population. Last Friday evening I left the Fourth Friday crowd downtown and drove to Rhodes Pond with my friend Grace McGrath for a canoe trip. We met with folks from SALT, The Sandhills Area Land Trust. SALT is a nonprofit organization with a mission to save the Sandhills' natural areas, farmland and waterways for future generations in view of ever-growing development pressures. The Rhodes Pond trip was one of a series of educational field trips offered by SALT to bring people together at area sites to educate them about unique features. The pond is being purchased from Dorothy Honeycutt Moore by the Ecosystem Enhancement Program, a part of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and will be open to the public.

Dark and pristine
The pristine 500-acre pond flows with the waters of the Black River and is studded with large cypress trees. The water is black because of the tannic acid that comes from the bark and leaves of trees. The water may look brackish but is fresh smelling because the Black River water is constantly being pushed through the swamp. dictionary says (ies) preferred for plural and jackfish, The water lilies, bass, crappies and jackfish that fill the swamp make it a favorite of those who fish. The full moon broke through the clouds just as our 11 canoes and kayaks ventured out to the calm waters where a soft breeze was blowing. Paddling was easy as we fell into line following guide Don Grey. He took us back into the swamp where the trees were so thick we had to weave our way through by making tedious maneuvers. When we paused to look at the magnificent moonlight on the water, biologist Candice Williams, the SALT coordinator for Cumberland County, explained that the lake had been drained on occasion for the sale of timber. When the land is drained, cypress seedling spring up. The stumps become habitat for swamp wildlife. In areas where the trees were left to grow, they are large and majestic. It was there that we could hear the beavers slapping the water with their tails to warn of our presence.

A snake-like bird
Grey pointed a flashlight at the nests of the snake-like anhingas far up in the trees in the deepest part of the swamp, which also is home to otters, muskrats, tropical warblers, barred owl, great blue herons and snow egrets. He gave us each small light sticks to wear behind our ears or in caps so we could be spotted in the dark. The lights gave a fairy-like quality to the parade of canoes moving slowly through the swamp. Executive Director Richard Perritt said the value of seeing the pond at night is that the edges and the shapes of all the features take on a different perspective when you are not distracted by the details you see in daylight. When you have to use all your senses, the smells and sounds become important and bring a deeper appreciation and connection to nature. The night was quiet, peaceful and magical. The tall trees with their spreading trunks sprawling across the water took on a haunting quality, like tall sentinels and masters of the swamp. It was a night to remember.

If you are interested in joining SALT, see www.sandhillslandtrust.org or call (910) 695-4323.

Staff writer Melissa Clement can be reached at clementm@fayettevillenc.com or 486-3528.