Apr 29, 2010

Fakahatchee Strand swamp walk

11 of us stepped off the shell-white dirt road, one at a time single file, into the cool water. I felt my chinos clinging to my legs and my sneakers fill with the coolness as my foot settled into the muck under the dark water. Eeeeeeewwww I whispered involuntarily. We were nervous, feeling cautiously for footing among roots vines and fallen limbs we could not see. Each of us was required to carry a stick, for balance and for...other things, and had been told to wear well fitting shoes that laced tightly. 

With each step the muck tried to suck a shoe off my foot. This soon came to feel ok if not normal, and I could look around at the astonishing creepy-weird beauty, the silence, the watery jungle, closed in now all around me. We were lost in a wild maze, except for our naturalist/ranger/guide, John. Even our other guide, Bill, said at one point when we seemed to really be lost "you're the only one who knows the way out of here, John!" 

We got lost when John herded us away from a very large 'gator, who looked asleep at first but then started to move silently in our direction. When John said "everyone get behind me quick" we moved as fast as one could in thigh deep water, pants and shoes sodden, over hidden limbs and vines. No one fell! I wonder if I was the only one who thought of Avatar -- a primordial natural world, nothing here of humankind -- Avatar with water, which on Gaia would be blue instead of coffee and tea colored. 

Two people ahead of me discussed the book The Orchid Thief, for indeed we were in that world of orchids, the Florida Everglades, a part of it that is densely tropical due to a few centimeters drop in the land. Epiphytes and bromeliads were everywhere! Our guides were orchid experts and pointed out the occasional rare or hard to see of the orchid plants. 

We saw no blooms, but we did see plants of the famous ghost orchid, and another so rare John said there were only 4 known to exist. This was in April; their bloom time is November and December, not Spring. However, Spring is alligator mating season, another reason we had to be especially cautious. Unusually high water and hormones makes them a bit more troublesome. On the drive out we'd had to stop for a big one in the road. Eventually John got behind it and kicked its tail. "Don't lean out of the truck, they can really jump!" he yelled to us as it ran by the truck heading for the water.

After we parked and got out of the troop transport truck (a story in itself) he and Bill gave us our instructions for gators. Don't get to their side, stay behind or directly in front. If the tail is curled and one shoulder hunched, get out of there fast. If one swims a bee-line toward you, get out fast, don't zig-zag or go to the side. Then they told us some stories of their encounters with alligators, as they encouraged another big guy to leave the road near our water entry point. This world is John's daily workplace, and Bill's home, where they try to monitor and preserve the health and well being of this vast shallow river, which flows about a mile a day. The gators are just a part of it. As for the cobras, pythons, cotton mouths, just keep your eyes open they said. And we did!

Meanwhile, back in the water, we waited among some cyprus trees for the all-clear on the big swimming gator. Still thigh deep in water, we sat on some sodden squishy fallen trees and ate our sandwiches and granola bars. Everyone broke out some lunch, and cookies and chocolate were shared. Eventually we started off again, but we were a bit off the trail. John scouted ahead for trail markers, and perhaps other things. The vegetation became denser, and suddenly, after 5 hours in the swamp, we climbed up into the glare of the sun and the white road again! There were times on the hike when I asked myself why why why I ever thought this would be a good idea, but I think I would do it again, especially in orchid blooming time!

I didn't take my camera, didn't want to risk dropping it or falling in with it! But lots of folks have gone on this walk and here's a glimpse from Youtube by someone who went a bloom time!


  1. Did anyone mention that the ghost orchid bloomed early at Corkscrew Swamp? Beautiful blooms? Or that another novel, Ghost Orchid, is specifically inspired by that ghost orchid? Susan Orlean never actually saw a ghost orchid, fascinated as she was by the thief and the orchid history. The novel, Ghost Orchid, inspires its readers to seek out the beauty of the Everglades. Its author stalked the real ghost orchid for three summers from its first blooming in 2007 to the present spring. A mystery of love, lies and redemption is wrapped around the ethereal, mystical ghost orchid high in the canopy of Corkscrew Swamp at the edge of the Everglades. NPR reviews praised the novel for the beauty of the Everglades that shines through on every page. You'll recognize your creatures of the swamp, but at Corkscrew you can visit them from a comfortable boardwalk and still be taken in, alone, by the sweet serenity, pausing where the characters in Ghost Orchid looked out across the Marsh, mesmerized by its spectacular beauty. Is love eternal? Specifically, a mother's love? A walk in Corkscrew Swamp with Ghost Orchid from the gift shop is a great Mother's Day gift. www.dkchristi.com

  2. Thanks DK! I see your book is available in paperback or kindle...sounds great! I'm a little confused, aren't you the author? So then did you stalk the orchid for 3 summers? Guess I'll have to read it!