Driving east From Columbia, NC along US 64, fields give way to wetland forests. To the north of the highway, the 10,000-acre Palmetto-Peartree Preserve maintains habitat for native species and migratory birds. To the south, the 150,000-acre Alligator River Wildlife Refuge also shelters species you don’t want to encounter on the trail: black bears, red wolves, American alligators, bobcats. Snakes. Lots of snakes.
In Dare County, the highway sign for Buffalo City references a former logging and moonshine town that has been swallowed up by nature. South of US 64, the location of the community that once had 3,000 residents appears in Google’s satellite view as a solid green canopy of forest.
Nature can win quickly here. Even when our ancestors cleared fields, the margins could push back. A hurricane could change the boundaries of land and water. Nature had and still has an advantage in this biodiverse coastal terrain. Black bears may paw through the trash while people sleep in their air-conditioned homes, and snakes may be lurking in the garden.That our ancestors came here in the 17th century and lived in that challenging environment and procreated and passed their genes into a modern world seems in many ways amazing. Even though my maternal line is filled with women who died before fifty, who were replaced by second and third wives who bore their husbands more children, we descended, and from US 64 and my home in Philadelphia, that is no small thing.