The Cypress of the Shallows
Art Museum
Explore a living art gallery without walls located on Washington County’s Coastline along its northern boundary waters on the Albemarle Sound. You can’t drive to it. You can’t walk to it. Yet its corridors are miles long. The best way to view and experience the magnificence of this museum is with the stroke of a paddle.
This art gallery is composed of thousands of Taxodium distichum, or more commonly known as Bald Cypress. Perhaps no other species of tree in the US is so remarkably individual and different in appearance from one to another than bald cypresses. Shaped, broken, re-invented and broken again by Nor’easters and hurricanes, these testaments of time show a resilience that goes well beyond that of even the sturdy coastal live oaks. While there are older cypress trees found in North Carolina’s protected tributaries, (like the one on the Black River whose growth rings confirm its age of 2,624 years old), the cypress of the coastal sounds possesses far more character and unimaginable shapes due to their exposure to the unchecked fury of every storm that comes their way.

When someone paddles by these 3-dimensional pieces of art and views them from different angles, each piece changes shape, character, and personality right before your eyes - sometimes causing you to wonder if it is even the same tree. The stunning array of cypress trees stand like sentinels in the shallows of the Albemarle Sound, (the largest freshwater sound in North America). The cypress sculptures have been created by the same artist. The Sculptor continues to touch up these works of art in this living garden using the brushes of sun, wind and water. Their ancestors lie hidden beneath the waters in the form of stumps and logs. Therefore, canoes and kayaks the safest way to meander among their living offspring.

Paddle from tree to tree. Each tree has a story to tell. As you sit bobbing in your boat, imagine what that story is. Look at these sculptures from different angles. Indulge yourself in the simple and yet profound beauty of these towering trees. Viewing this museum is not a race or a sprint to the museum gift shop. Pause and let your muscles relax and your troubles dissolve as the water cradles and gently rocks you into a state of bliss.

More than just trees, this open-air museum is also an aviary where eagles and osprey soar through the treetops, nest, raise their young. They dive with sharp talons extended to catch the abundant fish found in the Albemarle. Smaller kingfishers chitter as they swoop from perch to perch looking for their next meal.

Tourists go to great lengths to go to Easter Island to see ancient sculptures made by man or travel to see Roman or Mayan ruins. But how much more impressive is it to see ever-changing living works of art created by God through nature and set in a giant reflecting pool of the Albemarle Sound.

The final ingredient added to this experiential art gallery is the glory of each sunrise and sunset casting golden light on the surreal sculptures and reflecting off the mirrored surface of the water. Most mornings and evening the vast expanse of the Albemarle Sound becomes a placid reflecting pool, delighting padders and photographers alike. The combined effect rivals that of any place on earth.

Welcome to the Albemarle.