Saturday, October 20, 2012

“For A Charm of Powerful Trouble...”

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager


If you have consulted the three witches of Macbeth fame and are on the prowl for a fenny snake, eye of newt, toe of frog, adder’s fork, blind worm’s sting, lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing, you might want to take a trip to the Great Dismal Swamp. Among its countless species of plants and animals, you are sure to find that rare delicacy that will make your broth boil and bubble.

Explorer William Drummond is credited with proclaiming the swamp covering thousands of acres in North Carolina and Virginia as “dismal.” Although Native Americans inhabited the area in 1650, early European settlers had little interest in the vast area. Governor William Drummond was the first to discover the 3,100-acre lake in the heart of the swamp that now bears his name.

As the years passed, the swamp served as an investment for entrepreneurs, a logging bonanza, a refuge for slaves, a hideout for escapees, a paradise for hunters, an enticing subject for writers and artists, and a home for thousands of plant and animal species. Human exploration finally gave way to preservation when in 2007 North Carolina officially designated it as the Dismal Swamp State Park.

One of the most memorable field trips that I ever took with a group of students was a trek through the swamp to Lake Drummond. Even with forty active middle-schoolers during early spring, there was a tranquility that remains indescribable for me. Sitting on the dock and enjoying our lunches, the kids and I could sense the peace that prevailed in that natural setting. Sounds of birds and children’s laughter echoed from across the lake and magnified the eeriness of that spot.

So much has been written about the swamp, which has fascinated everyone from George Washington, to Harriet Beecher Stowe, to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, to Robert Frost and to our own Bland Simpson, author and native of Elizabeth City.

Scientists have compiled observations and facts about its geological history and constantly studied the species which inhabit the area. One of the rarest ferns, the log fern, grows up to 48 inches high in the woods of the swamp. The Plunkenet flatsedge also flowers from July through October while the purplish-pink flowers mark the sandywoods chaffhead.

The longleaf pine, also known as the southern yellow pine, takes 100-150 years to reach its full size and sometimes lives to be 300 years old. Other plants for which there is concern are the Virginia least trillium, the silky camellia, sheep laurel, and purple bladderwort.

Among the threatened animals which live in the swamp are the bald eagle, red wolf, star nosed mole, and the southeastern shrew. Three species of poisonous snakes, cottonmouth, canebrake rattlesnake and copperhead also inhabit the swamp.

Teaming with life and breathtaking beauty, the Great Dismal Swamp is anything but dismal, and it is preserved just for you. Visit there and find a special peace.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Living the Dragon Life

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager


Last week was “Be Kind to Animals Week” and our reaction at Port Discover was “isn’t that every week?” Humans have been known to go to extremes to make an animal happy. My case in point is Angus, the fifteen-inch bearded dragon, who now lives at Port Discover.

When the brownish-orange Australian native arrived at the science center, preparations escalated to make him contented in his new atmosphere. Research began as to what a proper Australian name would be, favorite diet items, habitat needs, personality traits, compatibility, and temperature requirements.

Soon, plans evolved for the construction of a palatial habitat fit for a dragon. With the help of the world’s best volunteers, one of the front display windows at the center was transformed into a little piece of pseudo-Australian heaven in which Angus would live.

A floor of sand and rocks, greenery, heating lamps, and special warming areas were all assembled to meet his every need. There’s even been talk of a pool for wading. Angus is an inland bearded dragon whose relatives lived in the arid woodlands and deserts of central Australia. His Port Discover habitat now has the long tree branches and rocks that he would have enjoyed basking on in his native land.

Angus spends his days catching crickets, munching on greens from the Kid’s Grow Garden, and going on field trips with the Port Discover educators to Albemarle area classrooms . He also makes public appearances at special events like the Saturday Farmers’ Market. Several days a week, he takes a stroll in the garden and swims in his own pool.

A harness was purchased for use during his outings, but when the leash was attached, we saw his “beard” and his spiky scales suddenly extend to full capacity in his attempt to show his displeasure. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that snakes along with birds and crocodiles are his natural enemies, so he might have mistaken the leash for and opponent.

Some visitors have suggested that Angus might need a friend to share his life. Since male bearded dragons are territorial, that might be a poor choice, and a female friend might mean babies eventually. For now, he seems quite happy with being the single king of his domain.

Our new pet has attracted a lot of attention from humans of all types. Kids come just to see how he’s doing and ask that he be taken out so they can pet him. Adult passers-by often stop to watch him, talk with him, and comment on his activities. It’s rather amusing to see an adult talking to a lizard on Main Street. His regular visitors delight in finding where he’s hiding or how high he’s perched on a branch.

Pets add a richness to our lives that can only be experienced by establishing a relationship between human and animal. Angus and the women at Port Discover who love him know that well.

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