Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Despite the popular vision of swamps as creepy wastelands, these environmental oases offer some of the richest opportunities for wildlife
A swamp by any other name would certainly sound sweeter. Just the mention of these soggy woodlands is enough to send Northerners packing back to the temperate climates of their upstate homes. What most people don't realize, however, is that our verdant swamps offer some of the best opportunities for wildlife viewing, solitude and adventure south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Unfortunately, we're left with a PR nightmare for bottomlands, one that has pervaded generations since our ancestors first arrived to the United States. For centuries, swamps have been relegated as wastelands, landscapes only suitable for draining and harvesting timber. In fact, during the 19th and 20th centuries, turning swamps into farmlands or cities—relieving its citizens of the ceaseless wetlands—was the very essence of conservation. We've certainly come a long way in the last 100 years. With the establishment of national parks, nature preserves and sanctuaries to protect these critical habitats, perhaps there exists a chance we might reconnect with what's left of our low-country heritage and tear down our old biases toward swamps.
In the shallows, gnarled cypress knees boil up from the tannin-stained tributaries like petrified lava, radiating from flared buttresses of bald cypress trees. Their unique formations, sometimes mimicking deformed faces, haunted British soldiers during the Revolutionary War, purporting the myth that swamps were cursed. We know better now than to believe mythological creatures lurk in the hollows, yet our imagination runs wild in these habitats. Perhaps that's what draws me to swamps.
As a Floridian child reading Where The Wild Things Are, I could romp around the creeks and cypress sloughs of my backyard and immediately be transported to another world. With neighboring alligators and venomous snakes, going out to the swamps around Gainesville was the only time I could experience the visceral tug of vulnerability. In the 21st century, it's a welcomed discomfort to feel part of nature, rather than its master.
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