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Land of Many Toads

Monday, 10 May 2004
written by Teresa

Neuse River Very often as we wander with no particular destination, we'll look at the map and just pick somewhere for our next stop. This frequently turns out to be a pleasant surprise, as we tend to arrive with few expectations. When someone recommends a particular place our anticipation of it is often informed by our perception of that person; if they appear to live an outdoor active life our hopes are raised. We went to Cliffs of the Neuse State Park in these circumstances and on the whole I would say we shouldn't have bothered, we were disappointed in the pseudo cliffs and the muddy brown water. Having said that, if we had arrived with no preconceived ideas we would have avoided the sense of dissatisfaction and simply seen it as a nice enough place with a quiet campground and a few short trails where our legs had their first hint that we had finally left the flat behind.

We found further evidence of undulations in the Uwharrie National Forest where we parked by Baden Lake for a few days. I have read that the word Uwharrie is taken from a local Native American word, heighwaree, but that it's definition has been lost. For anyone who has visited this woodland in the spring it becomes clear that the word means Land of Many Toads. Pudgy Toad They are everywhere, diurnal and nocturnal varieties, large and small, rummaging amongst last years leaves, hopping along or freezing in place clothed in perfect camouflage. During the day, they jump out of the way as we pass by on the trails, sometimes posing for a photograph before disappearing in the undergrowth. As we sit by the fire at night, an intermittent rustling surrounds us as the toads look for a late snack.

As the sunset colours fade from the sky and the reflections in the lake become more monochrome their cousins the frogs start their chorus. The conductor calls them to order and after one or two initial throat clearings they begin their nightly aria filling the air with a sound that is strangely familiar and comforting. Northern Spring Peeper While the masses sang by night it was a solitary frog that we saw on one of the trails. This was a frog in miniature; its back lined with imitation leaf veins so effective a cloak that taking our eyes away made it difficult to find him again.

Elsewhere on the Baden Lake Trail the amphibious theme if not genus continued with a Black Racer snake escaping our approach by slithering into the water and swimming with a smooth but speedy grace before a seamless return to land and a hasty disappearance into the distance. Later that morning we were treated to another Racer attempting to ward off our advance with a rattle snake impersonation. A very rapid movement of its tail in the dry leaves makes a sound usually associated with it's more dangerous relative and having experienced the momentary confusion I have to say its quite convincing until you catch sight of the colour and the tail.

Eastern Fence Lizard The Eastern Fence Lizard completed our reptilian sightings at Uwharrie. Its name gives no hint of the delight in store. From the back it looks unremarkable enough but a side view reveals the iridescent blue of its belly. While I'm sure it must be effective in attracting the ladies during mating season, this advantage must be surely be somewhat offset by the loud message the colour sends to anyone looking for a lunchtime snack.

The wildlife adds a level of interest and beauty that enhances our experience of being in these vast tracts of woodland and also compensates for the lack of views often obscured by the density of vegetation. However, we have noticed many times before that parts of the National Forests are spoilt by the inordinate amount of rubbish left by those who presumably profess to love the great outdoors. Uwharrie is no exception and along the Baden Lake Trail the dispersed camping areas are virtually unusable because of the dross left behind by people. Stretches of the lakeshore are actively unpleasant and the behaviour speaks of a disregard for the land and a degree of selfishness that is hard to understand. Presumably, lack of funding makes it difficult for the Forest Service to enforce the rules of Pack it in, Pack it out, and leaves them without the resources to clean up after those visitors who have no respect for the communal ownership and responsibility of these lands.

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