Being caught in a sudden rain shower among ancient bald cypresses in the remote floodplain forest of the Altamaha River is an almost unbelievable, primordial experience. In this timeless scene, trees many centuries old stand in the cool, tannin-stained water draining the back swamps of the Altamaha floodplain. The massive bald cypress in the foreground easily measures eight feet in diameter at breast height. It grows in an extensive stand of giant cypresses, one of which, recently discovered by Altamaha Riverkeeper James Holland measures over 43 feet in circumference. Joining the ancient cypress in this swamp forest are the unusual Ogeechee tupelos. Also centuries old, the age of these trees is indicated not so much by the diameter of their grotesque stems, but by the lateral extent of the cluster of trunks spreading from the original main stem. The dark, mossy growth covering the base of these trees shows the level to which the river often inundates this forest.
How these trees survived the logging that took place here a hundred years ago is uncertain, but at least their future is secure. In 2009, the 7,000-acre tract, which includes not only these ancient trees but several important ecological environments and over a dozen rare species, was sold by Rayonier Forest Resources and acquired by the state of Georgia with the assistance of the Nature Conservancy of Georgia. These lands now belong to the people of Georgia, protected within the Townsend Wildlife Management Area. *
* This is an excerpt from Philip's essay appearing in: Bartram’s Living Legacy: Travels and the Nature of the South