The hurricane had battered the East Coast for hours before, barred by Cape
Hatteras, it moved onshore. The outer banks were, from the point of view of
the creatures that lived there, always much the same: sand, wind, clouds
racing their shadows. There were the daily rhythms of the tides, the cycles
of the moon, and the turn of the seasons. The big storms came and went,
killing some and offering opportunity to others or to their spawn.
Inland, where the trees grew tall because there was no profit in the swamps
and soughs, things had not changed in hundreds of years. Ancient deadfalls
hung in the limbs of trees old but still live. They struggled to bear the
double burden, and would, in their turn, fall and encumber others. In death,
the dead protected the living. Few men ventured there and those that did had no wish for the primeval wilderness to change.
Slowly the hurricane moved in, ripping branches from trunks. Shaken by the
winds, the dead dragged the living to the water-logged ground that shivered
from the impacts. Then, roots unable to hold in the soft muck, trees began
falling continuously. Whatever lived in the Great Dismal Swamp cowered and
waited. It was too late to move, even if they, in all their varying degrees
of sentience, knew which way to go.
The storm snatched the bird from the fallen, shattered safety of its hollow
tree, and threw it high, tumbling it helplessly through the night and on into
the gray half-light that followed what should have been dawn. It went west,
high on the wind then down across low country until the land beneath it grew
familiar. Oxbows reflected the sky between the dark green of hardwoods.
It landed, exhausted, shook out its black and white feathers and its scarlet
crest, and began life again, drumming on the trees, hunting a mate. Many of
its generations later, a man in a kayak looked up, saw one of its descendants,
and gave the traditional tribute, "Lord God!" Hands shaking with excitement,
he fumbled his camera, and it fell into the murky water. Listening to the
drip of water from his paddle, he discovered he was not too unhappy. Better,
perhaps, not to tell anyone he had seen the Lord God Bird, the Ivory-Billed
Copyright 2005 by Catherine Mintz