Unfolding the Map
A disjointed post today, as I try to think up things that Engelhard, North Carolina brings to mind. I actually just got back from a play about Moby Dick, Captain Ahab and the crew of the Pequod, so the sea and seafood is on my mind. To learn about Engelhard and its connection to seafood, click on the thumbnail at right.
"Along highway 264, skirting the sound, grew stands of loblolly and slash pine, as well as water oaks, bayberry, and laurel. Away from the open waters, the day was warm, and in pocosins drained by small canals and natural sloughs, mud turtles, their black shells the color of the water, crawled up to the warmth on half-submerged logs.
"The road passed through the fishing town of Engelhard..."
Blue Highways: Part 2, Chapter 13
Engelhard, North Carolina
Reading this passage, I had to look up a few words. Not having grown up on the East Coast, I didn't know what loblolly or slash pine was, nor did I know what water oaks or bayberry looked like. Finally, I wasn't sure what a pocosin is. So this was an education in itself.
Loblolly pines and slash pines are relatively long-needled pines. They sort of look like the bull pines I grew up with in my area of California. Water oaks are a type of oak tree, of course, but with leaves that I wouldn't have recognized as oak leaves. Bayberry has pretty purple berries that it appears can be eaten.
A pocosin is something I've never experienced. It's a type of marshy wetland, and in some areas is referred to rather colorfully as a "dismal." The marshy area is caused by seepage from creeks or sloughs that drain the area, and the soils are nutrient poor. However, they are a good habitat for the loblolly pine.
I didn't grow up around many marshes or swamps, so I'm not really all that familiar with that type of wetland. The closest thing to a swamp that I knew of was man-made. Pudding Creek was dammed by the lumber company in my town so that they could float logs there. By the time I was around, it wasn't a log retaining pond anymore, but the dam caused marsh grasses to grow up around the edges of the creek and give it that swamp-like attributes. And the best part? Unlike Louisiana swamps, there were no snakes nor alligators.
Of course when I lived in New Orleans, we were surrounded by swamps. My two main experiences with them was driving over the Atchafalaya Swamp on the elevated Interstate 10, and taking an airboat tour. Which is to say, not much at all. But New Orleans' precarious position meant that we were all aware of the swamps that surrounded us. After Katrina, the importance of and the plight of the wetlands of coastal Louisiana were driven home to most Louisianans, if not a good portion of the country.
William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) doesn't stop or give any description of Engelhard, but doing a little web research reveals that it may be an unincorporated community, but it seems to have some life to it. I am curious about the Engelhard Seafood Festival, which may not have existed when LHM drove through. It appears to be a pretty large event, and I think that I would really like it because, growing up in a coastal town, I love seafood. My mother's father and her two brothers were fishermen, and so we often had fresh fish on the plate. To this day, if I am in a coastal area, I never fail to get fish. But since I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and far from any coast, I don't get it as often as I would like. Sure, I order mussels or clams here. But, please don't tell my mom, but I've picked up a little of her snobbishness about fish. She always had to have it practically wiggling out of the boat, and will turn up her nose at fish unless she knows that it is really fresh. Unlike her, I will eat flash-frozen fish, but usually the farther I am from the coast the less likely I am to eat seafood. So all of this is a long way of saying that Engelhard's Fish Festival sounds mighty fine to me.
As you can guess, I am finding it hard to come up with a consistent topic for this particular stop, so you are getting a bit of disconnected and disjointed thoughts. But, sometimes reading does that to us. Do you ever read a passage and find yourself reading it again and again because something else is on your mind and you aren't really paying attention? Or do you find that a certain passage just isn't taking you to a very deep place? Reading is supposed to take us out of our reality, and put us someplace else, even if the someplace else does not correspond to the linearity most of us like. There's nothing wrong with that, and sometimes we even learn something. I now know what loblolly and slash pines are, I know what a water oak is, and am tempted to try bayberries if I ever get a chance. And I can now throw the word "pocosin" into a sentence and sound really smart. I'm also really hungry for some seafood.
If you want to know more about Engelhard
Engelhard Facebook Page
Engelhard Seafood Festival
Granville Grant in Engelhard
NC Folk blog post about Engelhard
Northeast Fisheries Sciences Center: Community Profile on Engelhard
Next up: Swanquarter, North Carolina