Inspiration on the Wild Wekiva
By Charles Towne
“What’s a bog?” Asked Pooh. “If your ankles get wet, that’s a bog.” said Eeyore. “I see”, said Pooh. “Whereas,” continued Eeyore, “If you sink in up to your neck, that’s a swamp.”
The Tao of Pooh
The Wekiva River is bordered on either side by swampland. To most normal folks swamps are to be avoided. To so many people the very idea of a swamp conjures up pictures of inhospitable green water, lurking alligators and snake festooned trees. Come with me and I will introduce you to my friend, the swamp:
As we gaze in awe at the natural beauty surrounding us we are unaware of the fact that we are being watched.
The watchers identify us as intruders, interlopers, therefore they watch through wary, cautious, even sometimes, hostile eyes.
As we walk and wade into the Florida swamp one can’t help but be struck by a sense of timeless nature, tranquil and apparently, at first glance, unchanging.
That impression could hardly be more deceiving.
Far from what its outward appearance may imply the swamp is not a garden of easy abundance but precisely the opposite. Where at first the quiet, leafy opulence might appear a sanctuary it is, in reality, a killing ground, hosting an unremitting fight for survival that occupies its inhabitants every moment of their lives.
Though most frequently impossible for the casual observer to discern, every inch of space in the swamp is alive. From the soil under our feet to the soaring tops of the tree canopy over our heads it is rampant with numberless life forms and everything is connected and interconnected.
(And by the way, if one were to know the truth there are life forms as yet undiscovered in the swamp, and even in the canopies of the remaining cypress trees. These as yet undiscovered inhabitants are protected from discovery by the very fact that their home is the swamp.)
Fungal organisms in the soil eat the dead and in turn are eaten until, if one were able, a subtle suggestion of sound might be heard, the whispering slurp, hiss, and gurgle, as the swamp functions as a gigantic stomach, digesting all.
Here then is an ever-changing remorseless cycle of the remarkable life and remorseless death. By stepping into this habitat with all of its contradictory complexities and simplicities, like it or not, we become one with it.
To some, entering the swamp might very well elicit feelings of confinement so implicit it evokes a sense almost claustrophobic in its intensity. Thick, dense foliage surrounds us limiting our sight to only a few feet at most while the tannin darkened waters under our feet conceal…what?
Even a small swamp several thousand acres in extant can present a daunting experience to the initiate, to the unfamiliar.
The swamp, so constant and yet ever-changing offers a glimpse into the very beating heart of this wonderful thing we call nature.
Due to the regions latitude, the swamp is provided a relatively stable temperature and a moist environment which constantly nourishes the indigenous species that call this their home.
Trees such as the cypress are the most obvious of the swamp’s inhabitants as they rush recklessly to lift their crowns above that of their neighbors in search of sunlight and by this very act, they expose themselves to the one thing that can topple them, for there, with their heads reaching for the clouds they become vulnerable to storm winds avoided by those more timid trees that remain low and inconspicuous.
Vines climb that they may also benefit from the life-giving sun but do they climb straight? No, they rise, snake-like; in swirls, loops and curlicues, thus adapting wonderfully as the tree bends and sways in the wind. If the vines were straight and inflexible they would break from the strain, therefore, those loops and swirls act like coil springs, allowing the vines to gently stretch and yield, and survive.
If we could behold it from the perfect eye of omniscience we could see the swamp breathe, for as the trees transpire, or in a sense sweat, they pump water into the atmosphere from their leaves, this water meets warm air and condenses into rain thus the swamp exhales thin white clouds of condensing moisture that rises above us like the breath of some sleeping creature on a cold winter dawn.
And how about the sounds? Have you ever heard the roar of a bull alligator? Or how about the hammering of a pileated woodpecker, or its demented laughter.
Oh sure, there are some that we recognize such as the chittering and scrape of a pair of squirrels as they chase each other through the foliage, or the chirr of a prowling raccoon or the deep echoing bass of the bullfrog.
But then, quite suddenly we stop and stare as some creature screams, the scream to be suddenly cut off in the jaws of some hungry predator.
On the stillest day, we might hear a large bough break from its parent tree and crash to the ground, or the racket of a dead, dry palm frond clattering its way to the ground.
And then there are the night silences. One moment the swamp is alive with the trills of countless frogs and insects and perhaps the drowsy chirping of a sleepy bird and then, quite suddenly, there is absolute stillness; leaving one to wonder what is going to happen next, for at that time and in that place you know that a predator is on the prowl.
So then, this is the swamp, the living swamp, and thank God, I love it!
AN OUTDOORSMAN’S PRAYER
Father God, you are the creator of all, everything that was made was made by you. There is so much death that surrounds us, we see it every day and everywhere. Death surrounds us and yet it was not your plan, for you designed us to live forever. Some believe in you in an abstract way, they acknowledge that there must be something, something, in control of the chaos that seems to run rampant in the world today, but that was not your plan. Since Adam’s fall sin has had its day, but that will cease, and your divine plan will ultimately be fulfilled. Praise you oh magnificent God. Praise you for creating us to be reasoning, intelligent men, so we would be able to enjoy and protect what you have made.
Sadly there are those that claim that you do not exist, or worse yet, that you did exist, but now are dead. For some that might be true, but as for me and my house, we will believe, and serve you. Let us look at nature and see your hand at work, knowing that you are ultimately, and ever more will be, in control. I praise you, Father, I praise you and I love you, In Jesus’ Holy and beautiful name I ask it, Amen.
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.