North Carolina Wolf Country
One morning, I let sunrise slip up on me, but still pushed my canoe into Boat Harbor Lake while a dawn fog lay thick on the water. Fourteen miles of canoe/kayak trails crisscross the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and offer waters that are in some places narrow bands of blackwater creeks, in others open routes along marsh-fringed lake.
I put in at Buffalo City, where a few rotting pilings are all that's left of a logging town long abandoned. The creek channel meandered along the marsh, then tunneled through the dense pocosin woods, and I paddled past tall ancient cypress trees with crowns shattered by lightning, old enough to have housed Carolina parakeets and the occasional ivory-billed woodpecker. A few miles into the woods a trailing wake in the creek ahead caught my eye, but I couldn't tell if it was a beaver or an otter. I stowed my paddle and brought binoculars to my eyes just in time to make out the bulbous snout of an alligator. It was only the second one I've seen in North Carolina.
That made for three large predators in three days, by foot, paddle, and car. What I've been describing sounds like some distant, exotic refuge, but it's not. "People just don't associate the East Coast with such big, expansive, wild country," Pocosin Lakes Refuge biologist David Kitts told me earlier, out in the pocosins beside Pungo Lake. But it's out there, the wolf howls of unrestrained wildness and bear-size chills running down your spine, just beyond the blacktop in the forgotten wild country of the Carolina coastal plain.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication