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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Touching Flight in North Carolina

Mosaic at Raleigh/Durham Airport

Bright and early on the morning of the 12th, I woke in my hotel room in Raleigh North Carolina and hit the highway, driving north in my rental car. I was indirectly headed for the outer banks of Hatteras, but first I wanted to visit a dismal spot.

The spot wasn’t too dismal really, that was just its name. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

Best name for a swamp, EVER!

To get to the Dismal Swamp I had to drive north and into the state of Virginia. I had never been to either Virginia or North Carolina, and it took the prospect of birds to get me to visit either state.

When I arrived at the Dismal Swamp, I looked around for the visitor’s center, and didn’t think I’d found it, until I realized it was there, only on a first viewing, it seemed to be disguised as a private residence.

Cleverly disquised Visitor’s Center

The visitor center was small in size but to counteract that, its employees were big on information. I asked the lady volunteer where I might get in an hour or two of a nature walk. She recommended a mint new wooden boardwalk, that had only been completed in the previous months.

Who can resist the call of the wild... I mean, souvenirs.

I only bought one, ensie little cloisonn̩ pin, of a Prothonatory Warbler Рa bird certainly not present on the swamp in winter. Speaking of winter, it was Рproof being that the swamp was frozen, I kid you not!

Do you reckon they're ice skating in hell?

Soon I was walking down the boardwalk. The dominant bird, perhaps because of the weather, was woodpeckers of the Hairy, Red-bellied and Pileated sorts.

New Boardwalk Winding Through the Swamp

The swamp was fascinating. I loved the cypress - or at least that is what I think the trees were - the boardwalk was so new it hadn't had informational signage added to it yet.

Great? Sure. Dismal? Sure looked the part.

Aside from numerous woodpeckers, the only other visible bird was a Carolina Wren, that was singing it's teeny heart out.

Crap Photo? Yeah - click and/or squint to see Carolina Wren

I enjoyed my walk, then got back in the rental car and headed south, to Hatteras.

A couple of hours later, when I saw the entrance to the Wright Brothers National Monument, I bubbled over with excitement!

Flight, the human kind, began here.

After paying my enterance fee, I circled the humongous hilly mound known as Kitty Hawk - where Orville and Wilbur Wright, from Ohio, came out to test their 'aeroplane' contraption on the windy low hills of Kitty Hawk. I was so excited and moved by the thought I was tromping around where human flight got it's upward start, I was on the sniffly edge of being blubbery teary mess for my entire visit.

Cool View of Monument from the Bottom of Kitty Hawk

To my total delight, there was on the back side of the huge monument, a statue - of sorts - honoring the first flight. It was bronze, it was awesome, and I mean that from the bottom of my altitude loving heart.

Bronze Statue and figures

Behind the Bronze aeroplane are joyous Bronze First-flight Witnesses

When I had completed sniveling my way around Kitty Hawk, I went to the visitor center. There I found loads of great stuff, including a full size model of the 1901 flying machine.

Life size Copy of the Wright Brother's Aeroplane

The visitor's center also honored other firsts of aviation. My favorite was a young woman I first heard of the only time I visited the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C. - Bessie Cole! The first licensed Black Aviatrices.

Spunky, Aerialist, Bessie Coleman

There was also a painting of Tuskeegee Airmen.

Those Magnificient Men with Their Flying Machines

Thing is, it may be 2010, but face it, in the great scheme of things, 1901 wasn't that long ago. I mean, my father was born only 7 years after the invention of flying. I can practically reach back and touch the world's first aviators.

Next I was off to my hotel down the Hatteras Coast in Sandy Bay. I wanted to get to bed early so I could be alert and ready for the first of two ocean roaming pelagic trips I was taking over the coming three days. I couldn't wait to find myself hanging over the deck, aiming my binoculars at ocean going birdies.

The usual sort of, pastel colored, high off the
ground home, on the Hatteras Outer Banks

[Management wishes to point out, Ms. Miller discovered a fascinating aspect of The Dismal Swamp is it was used by Underground Railroad and in fact, many runaway slaves lead their lives there for up to 30 years, hiding and building homes for themselves and their families in the swamplands. Management is disappointed that no hint of the swamp's rich history was found on the actual premises, but maybe Ms. Miller didn't exactly scour the place looking for historical tidbits. In honor of slaves who tramped through, or lived in the swamps, here is a poem about it by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (proof someone knew what the heck was going on there amid the cottonmouths)].

THE SLAVE IN THE DISMAL SWAMP

In dark fens of the Dismal Swamp
The hunted Negro lay;
He saw the fire of the midnight camp,
And heard at times a horse's tramp
And a bloodhound's distant bay.

Where will-o'-the-wisps and glow-worms shine,
In bulrush and in brake;
Where waving mosses shroud the pine,
And the cedar grows, and the poisonous vine
Is spotted like the snake;

Where hardly a human foot could pass,
Or a human heart would dare,
On the quaking turf of the green morass
He crouched in the rank and tangled grass,
Like a wild beast in his lair.

A poor old slave, infirm and lame;
Great scars deformed his face;
On his forehead he bore the brand of shame,
And the rags, that hid his mangled frame,
Were the livery of disgrace.

All things above were bright and fair,
All things were glad and free;
Lithe squirrels darted here and there,
And wild birds filled the echoing air
With songs of Liberty!

On him alone was the doom of pain,
From the morning of his birth;
On him alone the curse of Cain
Fell, like a flail on the garnered grain,
And struck him to the earth!

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