Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve (Florida Nature Walks)

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.)

Entrance to the park, reminding visitors that this site is not all about them.
A lightning-fast hunter.
The sun dipping down behind the aptly-named “Gator Pond.”
Cypress trees standing in a dark mirror.
Water lilies. I wish the park were open at night just so we could hear the frog chorus.
Boardwalks through the preserve.
Air plants dangling from the tree branches.
This entire tree was overwhelmed by a network of large mushrooms.
We thought this tree was majestic.
More boardwalks.
A natural time machine.
Ferns by the millions.

9 thoughts on “Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve (Florida Nature Walks)

  1. Okay – now I have a reason to visit Florida! That slough sounds like a wonderful place to explore. I’m so glad that you mentioned the smell of the slough, because it brought to mind something I hadn’t remembered for decades. When I was about 21 I had a factory job working swing shift, in Goleta, California, and would ride my bike through the Goleta Slough to and from work. Midafternoon I didn’t notice the scents so much, but at 11 p.m. they were fabulous. It’s too bad I was riding as fast as I could, out of a certain if slight fear at being out there in the dark alone, because it would have been lovely to stop and inhale, slow and deep.

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    1. There are a surprising number of plants that bloom in the evening or night. I thought about planting a “night garden” just to go out and sit in it after dark, maybe with some candles and nice music (and bug spray, lol). I had heard of some people doing that with white flowers as a visual to catch the moonlight, but you could do it with scent too. Night-blooming jasmine, for example. Our neighbor has an ylang ylang tree from the Philippines (the flowers are the basis for Chanel No. 5 perfume) and it is most fragrant at night. You can smell it down the street. Not a very attractive tree, but a pleasure in its own way.

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      1. Where I live now there is so much marine influence of the cool northerly type, it’s rarely pleasant to be outdoors in the evening, and the flower scents are suppressed. But there are the occasional balmy evenings, and currently I have a jasmine vine on my patio just waiting for the opportunity to send out its essence on the moist air. It will have to do, until I make it to Florida!

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  2. We just returned from the Ft. Myers area, where we spent a week visiting two of our daughters and their families. We did try to visit this preserve a couple of days ago with one of our daughters and our grandson, but there was literally no place to park, so we revised our plans. We did visit the Mote Marine Laboratory and Museum in Sarasota, which I highly recommend to you. It’s a genuine laboratory which has also set itself up as a museum. While it doesn’t quite have the glitz of, say, The Monterey Bay Aquarium, it’s close enough, and has some rich offerings of unique or intriguing marine animals. For a few more days they have a display there, “Savage Ancient Seas,” which is worth the time if you can make it.

    Your sensory-rich descriptions remind me of those of GretchenJoanna (who commented here, above), whose blog I also follow, and whose very special garden I have visited. Your comments reminded me of one time when she she commented to me about the wonderful aromatic delights of the Central Valley in summer, and I thought to myself, “Huh. I guess I need to broaden my horizons,” because although I had understood the importance of the farms of Central Valley to our well-being, I had not appreciated its natural beauty. All I had thought about it was, “This is HOT”!!

    As a frequent visitor to your delightful part of the world, I’d like to say “Welcome” to you. Thank you for this lovely post about the preserve, and I hope I will able to see it soon, myself!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! We have been so caught up with moving and selling the old house that we are just now starting to explore the area. I am going to try to coax my husband to do Big Cypress and the Everglades soon too. I am definitely adding your recommendations to my list!

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      1. In 2007 when we went to the Everglades, we had a wonderful experience on an airboat ride (if you are up for the noise) because after I asked the guide how he could distinguish so well among the various inlets, he told me he was 5th generation Floridian and was brought up maneuvering these inlets. I had wondered because he had a particular and rather unique dialect. Boy, did he know the inlets. I see that the place has some poor reviews but we loved it. Very “genuine” old Florida, down to the kitsch. The little store was kind of a shack with lots of dopey tourist items, which made it more fun than ever. I remember I bought a bright
        yellow metal sign which said “Alligator Crossing” which I brought home to our youngest son. I guess it depends on what you want as your experience, whether you would like a rather mom and pop spot like this or not, but the fact that our guide (I think owner, also) was genuinely knowledgeable and a lover of the glades made this place a fantastic experience. We didn’t need any reservations — we just saw it as we were driving by on our Sunday drive to the Glades from Ft. Myers and pulled in, but that was in summer. Anyway — I think where we went was Captain Jack’s Airboat Tour in Everglades City.

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