Hiking through swamps

Wetlands are some of my favorite places to walk. There is so much wildlife to observe and diverse flora. You can walk for several miles and it doesn’t feel far at all.

I love how different coastal wetlands are from swamps too. We have the coastal wetlands of the Intracoastal Waterway in our neighborhood, which are almost always full of luxurious, transcendent light and the cool relief of the tradewinds. No matter what kind of mood you are in when you show up, you will feel brighter by the end.

The swamps, however, are the opposite. The swamps are dark and brooding. Everything in them is wet, and you will be too when you are done walking. Even your underwear will be wet. Water hangs in the area, like some backwards cloud that starts in the earth instead of the sky. You can hear creatures moving around you, but you can’t see them and you are sort of thankful for your ignorance. It feels dangerous to be there. I grew up thinking of swamps as ugly things, but now I think they are quite beautiful and good for the imagination.

These are pictures from the Graham Swamp Conservation Area in our town. The freshwater swamp itself covers about 3,000 acres of land that is part of the Bulow Creek floodplain. I wrote about hiking to the ruins of the Bulow plantation, which was torched by Seminoles, here.

To love a swamp, however, is to love what is muted and marginal, what exists in the shadows, what shoulders its way out of mud and scurries along the damp edges of what is most commonly praised. And sometimes its invisibility is a blessing. Swamps and bogs are places of transition and wild growth, breeding grounds, experimental labs where organisms and ideas have the luxury of being out of the spotlight, where the imagination can mutate and mate, send tendrils into and out of the water.

Barbara Hurd, Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination

There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.

Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing

Though I imagine we’re killing ourselves right now in all manner of ways that’ll seem insane to people in the future. And as doors to the next world go, a bog ain’t a bad choice. It’s not quite water and it’s not quite land – it’s an in-between place.

Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

My most memorable hikes can be classified as ‘Shortcuts that Backfired’.

Edward Abbey, The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West

(This is quite true of our relationship to Graham Swamp. We once walked over eight miles in the swamp because we thought we were taking a short cut back to the main road. We ended up finding a lake instead.)

I passed so many vacant acres and looked past them to so many more vacant acres and looked ahead and behind at the empty road and up at the empty sky; the sheer bigness of the world made me feel lonely to the bone. The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people, too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world seem not huge and empty but full of possibility. If I had been an orchid hunter I wouldn’t have seen this space as sad-making and vacant – I think I would have seen it as acres of opportunity where the things I loved were waiting to be found.

….

There is a deep stillness in the Fakahatchee, but there is not a moment of physical peace. Something is always brushing against you or lapping at you or snagging at you or tangling in your legs, and the sun is always pummeling your skin, and the wetness in the air makes your hair coil like a phone cord. You never smell plain air in a swamp – you smell the tang of mud and the sourness of rotting leaves and the cool musk of new leaves and the perfumes of a million different flowers floating by, each distinct but transparent, like soap bubbles. The biggest number in the universe would not be big enough to count the things your eyes see. Every inch of land holds up a thatch of tall grass or a bush or a tree, and every bush or tree is girdled with another plant’s roots, and every root is topped with a flower or a fern or a swollen bulb, and every one of those flowers and ferns is the pivot around which a world of bees and gnats and spiders and dragonflies revolve. The sounds you hear are twigs cracking underfoot and branches whistling past you and leaves murmuring and leaves slopping over the trunks of old dead trees and every imaginable and unimaginable insect noise and every kind of bird peep and screech and tootle, and then all those unclaimed sounds of something moving in a hurry, something low to the ground and heavy, maybe the size of a horse in the shape of a lizard, or maybe the size, shape and essential character of a snake. In the swamp you feel as if someone had plugged all of your senses into a light socket. A swamp is logy and slow-moving about at the same time highly overstimulating. Even in the dim, sultry places deep within it, it is easy to stay awake.

Susan Orlean, The Orchid Thief

2 thoughts on “Hiking through swamps

  1. I remember happy days when I was a few years older than Elsie of exploring the tidal marshes of the Chesapeake Bay. Once we found an adult snapping turtle and brought it home. We thought that we could hide it in the garage and no adult would notice its presence. To be a dumb boy again.

    Liked by 1 person

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