There is a freshwater cane plant native to Tidewater swamps. Deep in the woods it can grow to be about seven feet tall with only inches separating each plant. It is impenetrable except on the deer trails, which are often no more than six inches wide. The cane shafts stay green until the most frigid temperatures hit. The sun frequently hides in the lead colored skies of our winters, making reckoning by the sun impossible. Some of the biggest patches that I encountered were over twenty acres.
Yes, one can get, as we called, "turned around", in these little jungles. We could not call it being actually "lost", because we were often no more than a mile from a country road. One is turned around when no matter which way one thinks one is going and no matter how long one tries to do so--that country road just can't be found. Getting turned around in a heavy fog with a bit of rain made it even worse.
The lack of ability to see contrasted with the ability to hear the movement of every creature coming through the reeds. The deer paths were so narrow that even a creature the size of a dog crashed the reeds. When all of your concentration was on the sound of that crashing it would seem as if something the size of a care was crashing reeds towards you. A little deer made a racket. A big buck who crashed reeds with his body, feet, and a huge rack that combed through the reeds the sound was like something the size of a tank crashing in towards you.
If the deer did not pickup your scent and wheel to avoid you it might proceed directly on the deer path where you were sitting. The adrenaline flows like water. Sometimes you even feel your heart racing. The reeds are thick enough so that when you are finally able to see the deer, and he is finally able to see you you might be only a couple of steps from each other.
I had the experience happen several times when I was a kid. And every time, after I calmed myself down, my mind would move in the same direction---Less than a hundred miles from where I was there were thickets that contained wild horses. It would be so wonderful to be as close to a wild horse as I got to the deer. I would think about how much noise a horse would make crashing through the reeds, I rode horses in the woods, but I had never ridden one into the vast cane patches.
I knew that the wild horses made it up into Virginia on occasion. I suspected that some might still survive in the Dismal Swamp. To this day, very little of the Dismal Swamp ever feels the touch of a human. I had hoped that when I was old enough to drive perhaps I could go into the Dismal Swamp and see the wild horses that I hoped still remained in the briers and tangles, living off the same browse the deer ate and being every bit as fleet and wary as a big buck.
I was probably incorrect about there still being wild horses in the Dismal Swamp. Oh, but there were still wild ones on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. They were near Nags Head, about the only place we ever went for a summer vacation when I was little. I always kept my eyes open, looking up and down the beach for a mustang. Eventually I learned that the wild ones lived about 20 miles to the north, well beyond where the paved road ended.
I never got to see one of these wild horses when I was a kid. I was in my late forties when I first met these horses. Rebecca and I had been invited to join Tom Norush, Doug Norush, Vickie Ives, of the Horse of The Americas Registry and representatives of the American Livestock breed conservancy to study the wild herd at Corolla and Shackleford for the express purpose of determining if they remained straight Spanish Colonial Horses. One could only hope they were and the fear was that they had been mixed with modern horses over the centuries as had those of Chincoteague.
Rebecca and I were slipping though an area of live oak and browse in a very windy brisk late winter day. She had camera in hand. We had seen a pair of little wild pigs and were seeking to get a good picture of them. I slipped through the dense pocket of live oaks and with the sun shining on him so that even in his rough winter coat he glistened, stood a solitary black mustang stallion. The wind made it so he could not hear of smell us coming. He was not one of those who hung around the cottages at Corova. We were in the bush. Those horses were more man shy than the ones who share their summers with hundreds of thousands of tourist.
It did not matter that he could not hear because of the wind--I was speechless. Up to that point in my life he was the most beautiful stallion that I have ever seen. He caught sight of us, snorted, and trotted on out of sight.
Not quite two years later he was found dead. A gun shot to his neck from such close range that the wadding from the shotgun shell was lodged in the dead horse's neck. He was the latest victim of who ever took pleasure in shooting a wild horse.
That is the picture that Rebecca took of him as he slipped away from us.
(Here is a link to the report Vickie Ives wrote of the wild herd inspection tour. it is a must read for anyone who wants to understand what makes these horses significant.)