Skip to content

a Whole New Beauty: Navigating the Gorgeous Green Swamp

June 26, 2014

 

Monday is a scheduled day off I use to explore places. When most people are going through the hustle bustle of getting to work or the demands of whiny kids, I like to have the woods and streams to myself. Lately I have been practicing land navigation through the Green Swamp, using map and compass skills in anticipation of leading a National Sierra Club Trip titled Wind River Intro to Cross Country. I have found the Swamp a mysterious place, one where I could get swallowed up and digested. I start at the Rock Ridge Road Trail Head in the East Tract of the Green Swamp and take bearings to various landmarks in the swamp. I like to work my way to the Withlacoochee River Basin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                        OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even though I grew up in Louisiana., I did not spend much time in swamps. We were busy off shore fishing, camping and water skiing rivers in east Louisiana with exotic names such as Tangipihoa and Tchefuncte. In fact most Louisianans will swear the best water skiing river is the  Tchefuncte, with its slow moving black water and stately cypress tress.  But what the rivers and fishing did for me was to grow comfortable in the wild. But that being said I was unprepared for the swamps. My parents introduced me to the magic of the Rockies, a surreal and spiritual experience. There was something mysterious and god like about the sharp rock spires and terraces of snow along the faces. The air out west is a warm comfy blanket, and the openness of the mountains and prairies felt like heavenly infinity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA           

 

So for years I have been hooked on mountains. I hear from others too, their special places are mountains in North Carolina, Canada, Montana and Alaska.I have an infinity for those places that harbor animals that can take you out with a swat of their paw and contours where a misstep will plummet you to demise. God in Nature is a visceral experience, archetypal, making me feel small, humbled.  Later  I would dub myself a mountain snob. As if Florida was just not good enough.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                                                      OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Family responsibility forced me to explore the local rivers of Florida. I have always enjoyed paddling on rivers and finding remote spots along Rivers to camp. There is something to making home next to running water that is calming and adventurous. And the cool refreshing, breathtaking springs! Miles and miles of cool clear water, where can look twenty feet below and witness turtles, fish and even frolicking otters and streamlined gators. And as I began to explore the waters of Florida solo, I began to challenge my fears about Alligators.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                                           OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

See although I grew up in alligator land I really did not see many of them. It was a little spooky to see so many of them in Florida, and most outdoor folks acknowledge the exhilaration of witnessing wild animals is ten fold solo in the real bush. But my early outdoor training, and my mega experience out west taught me that they just wanted their own space. I have had an number of interesting calls with gators such as the time I was snoozing and fishing on a lazy Sunday afternoon and I  ran my canoe into brush and nearly  on top of one in the Hillsborough. Or the time I headed right into one on the bank of Juniper Springs.  Or using nature observation techniques to see them moving through the branches by the swaying of the tops of aquatic plants. Despite my growing confidence around these prehistoric remnants of a reptile, I was rather haunted by Ranger story of steeping on one in the muck Myakka State Park. She was thrown back on the bank for a considerable distance. They seem to like to burrow in mud holes in the cooler months. My concern was stepping on one in the swamp.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                                                             OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Also of concern were rattlesnakes. However, the intimidation factor is quite low for me, having encountered 10-15 of them along the PCT mainly in California. In fact I am always quite excited to encounter one. , amazing at their brownness and triangular features that helps them to blend in with the dryness of rocks, dead wood and dirt of southern California. I even have story of being hounded by the infamous Mojave Green Rattler, while exiting the trail to get a tooth abscess attended to. I realized that the Eastern Diamond Back Rattlesnake love the palmetto prairie habitat of Florida, so I am looking forward to introducing myself to one of them.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                                            OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So I started in April, knocking the rust off my skill by taking short distances, easy loops through uplands. When I looked at my USGS map and all those swamp designations, the Green Swamp looked so daunting, formidable. My thinking was that uplands would be much easier to traverse than th swampy portions of the conservation area. What I did not understand was that the longleaf uplands with palmettos can be tangled brush over my head, that I had to fight  my way through. I had to re think my aversion to hiking sticks for I wanted my brother the Rattler to know I was in his vicinity.

Please don’t judge the following. On the Continental Divide Trail, it is just a matter of course that we walk through private property, crossing through barbed wired fences. Out west ranchers are a different breed and they tolerate those hikers.  My second hike in the swamp after some difficult uplands, I was heading north with a gorgeous meadow on my right flank. After some time I noted a farmer on a tractor on the distance. Then a “POP!” a shotgun fired. So that was either my warning or someone was target practicing. I went backwards quickly, crossed the fence and ate my banana. Respiration and pulse were normal, but I decided that I needed to respect property lines in Florida.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So I discovered that it is more fun and easier to hike in the swamp itself. The ground is cool and there are lots less obstructions. There are fascinating aquatic plants and cypress knees all about. The shades and hues of green are nothing short of miraculous. To be fair, I began at the end of dry season, and as I move through the rainy season the swamp is becoming more inundated and I walk to my ankles and knees in water. I am sure I will have a days in my hips to water. Yet the water is cool and the canopy cools the summer day. Several summers ago I noticed that when I returned from a river, the summer heat just didn’t feel quite as daunting. The swamp is refreshing, a cool breeze in the summer beat down. And my hiking stick is a reassurance for not stepping on a submerged gator.

I have walked along the Withlacoochee basin plenty before I started going cross country. The basi is so impressive with it’s open areas, plants with various hues of green and may cypress. Yet the first time I ran into the Withlacohee River crass country was exhilarating for I flushed two large gators into it’s waters. My predicament was that my route required crossing the  river, and I was not going to cross there. I went upstream and found a spot where it was only a foot deep and made the crossing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The last time I hiked, I made a lager loop, attempting to find a cross country route to a back country lake. Running out of time, I did not make the lake and took an bearing back to the road. Sometimes getting back is much worse that getting there. If my bearing was too far north, it would mean a lot of extra walking, and too far south I would never hit the road. After pushing through some uplands and getting a little frustrated with the incessant spider webs on trees, I found myself in a brush less area hammock of sorts. I then heard lots of faint squeaking noises. Then I recognized it…..a staccato grunt, and I recognized I was being warned by a wild sow that I was much too close to her piglets. The ground around me was torn up the sign of wild pits tearing up the ground in search of tubers and roots. Although the wild pig would represent minimal threat to me, I take caution when mamma says back away. So I moved briskly west, then southwest compensating for my movement  away from the pig family. I ended up right where I started on the road, noting that my rust was beginning to shake off.

greenswamp-east_tract

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: