December 16, 2015. I walk down to Dead River this morning. The spring-like weather continues, with a high this afternoon reaching 72º. The switch cane in the former logging road leading to the river has gradually thinned out over the years, probably due to shading from an encroaching canopy, but I am puzzled why the old road bed, now forty years old, has remained, except for cane, free of brush and tree growth. I surmise that heavy traffic from 18-wheel logging trucks in the mid-1970s compacted the soil so much that root growth is still prohibitive.
I find that I am not the only one using this trail. Parts of it are still muddy from all the flooding, and the evidence left behind in the form of numerous tracks show it to be a regular coyote/pig highway.
Spiders, at least a few, are, believe it or not for this time of year, still active (barely). I nearly run into one web in the middle of the old log road occupied by a lethargic spiny-backed orbweaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis), and another holding a triangulate orbweaver (Verrucosa arenata). Later in the day I find a single female golden silk spider in the old levee forest around Dead River.
I approach Dead River from the south by first walking along the north side of Running Gut. The lower reaches of the gut before it empties into Dead River are steep-sided and as wide as Cedar Creek. The north bank has several large thickets and even a briar patch half the size of my backyard, forcing me to make several walk-around detours.
I stop for a few minutes at the Big Lake Cattle Mound. It should really be called the Running Gut Cattle Mound since it’s much closer to the latter than the former. It’s not a big mound, only about twenty-five feet wide, fifty feet long, and about three-and-a-half feet above the floodplain, except along the edges where it tapers to ground level. Although I’m sure it has eroded over the years, it still is not large enough to hold many cattle during a flood. I wonder if its small size means that it was constructed after the Civil War by a reduced work force rather than by slave labor that it took, for example, to build the much larger Cooner’s Mound.
The mound is relatively open but does have two, three-and-a-half foot diameter cherrybark oaks growing on its western end; one small American holly; and three small ironwood trees. And like other mounds in the swamp, no beech trees that you’d think should be here.
When I arrive at Dead River, and I never know what I’ll find here, I’m greeted by only a small flock of wood ducks that take off, squealing at my approach. Otherwise there are a few cooters lined up on logs, soaking up sun, and one hunting kingfisher. Later, a pied-billed grebe swims down the muddy former river channel. The red fruits of green haws lined up along the far shoreline provide a picturesque and colorful setting to an otherwise bare and somber forest.