Beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop. And, hovering about, there are signs no one has ever read, chords no one has ever heard.Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
We decided to begin the new year by exploring some of the wetlands in the area. The Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is a 3,400-acre protected wetland that stretches through Fort Myers. While many plants and animals call the slough home, it also provides a natural corridor through a sprawling urban area for other wildlife to pass safely. This includes several endangered species.
When I was very young, I would go swimming in the sloughs around the Sacramento and American Rivers in Northern California. They did not look much different than the rivers themselves – though the sloughs were more sedate, they maintained the slight undertow and scale of the tidal rivers feeding the bay. Such was my idea of a “slough.”
The sloughs in South Florida are vastly different places than the sloughs of my California childhood. I would say most people would simply call them swamps. During the rainy season, the Six Mile Cypress Slough is like a shallow stream that is one-third of a mile wide. (I have learned the hard way from kayaking through swamps that just because the water is shallow, that does not mean it is safe to slosh through. You can easily find yourself sinking in mud that is as deep as you are tall beneath the water, and it some places it circulates like quicksand. Plus there are alligators galore out there.) The slough eventually drains into the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve.
This was a stunningly beautiful place to stroll. We were there right before sunset, and the fading apricot light cast a sort of fairy tale eeriness about the wilderness (most of the predators in the swamps go hunting at night, after all). You are walking through the swamps on an elevated boardwalk, first through cypress trees surrounded by water and then through dense ferns and water lilies. Spanish moss (which I learned today is not actually moss, but a form of bromeliad – how wild is it that Spanish moss is related botanically to pineapples?) and air plants dangle from any available branch. It seems primordial.
It also smells fabulous. You do not think about swamps as a places with a pleasant scent, but they often are. An earthiness combined with wet bark, almost like a fine wine. You find yourself involuntarily taking long, slow breaths, as if the microscopic work of eons was something you could inhale and carry around with you. (And perhaps it is.)