Cultural Water

Swamp’s falling foliage
And why it bests the fall "leaf change" up north

In the summer swamp, everything is green.

That gradually gives way in fall to a study in black and white.

The swamp mosaic turns green and gray during the fall, helping make it visually pop. But is it as scenic as the “leaf change” Up North?

Well, probably green and gray is a better way to describe it. Slash pine and cypress comprise the majority of the swamp, and in some places are pretty much all you see. While a connoisseur of the Big Cypress landscape can easily differentiate the cypress from the pines during the spring and summer half of the year (and for the more botanically inclined, all the other green-leafed trees, i.e. gumbo limbo, pop ash, willow and pond apple to name a few): It isn’t until mid October with the browning and then falling of the cypress needles that the boundary lines between cypress, pinelands, prairie and hammocks really start to pop.

While I may be biased, and don’t get me wrong I love the summer clouds — There’s just something super scenic about the cypress losing their needles and turning gray. Partly it’s the contrast to the perpetually green pines, but it also has something to do with the abundance of water still on the ground. October is high water season in the swamp.

The mosaic is more than just pinelands and cypress. As shown above, taller cypress domes are separated by a sea of dwarf cypress and dotted by hardwood hammocks as shown in the foreground

Everyone raves about the fall foliage in the deciduous forest of the Northeast, but we can’t forget that cypress is a deciduous (albeit also a conifer) tree, too. South Florida may not have your traditional “leaf changing” season of multitudinous orange, yellows and reds. However, the cypress needles – by browning and falling – put on an autumnal show all their own. Better yet, it lasts quite a bit longer, too — for four months all the way to February.

But to see it in its most glorious form, you need to see it when the water is still up. Disclaimer: This may involve getting your feet wet. Water is shin to knee deep depending on where you walk in the swamp.

Fall foliage along Turner River road, looking north. Can you see the open marl prairie in the distance towards Upper Wagon Wheel Road?

In sum, for me, if I had to chose: When it comes to the autumnal foliage event, I’d take the swamp’s “falling of the needles” over the continent’s “changing of the leaves” every time.

Full disclosure: My proximity to the swamp probably sways my opinion (to a degree).

Columbus

United States of “Florida?”
Columbia was on the short list, too

Yes, Florida has a panhandle …

But usually its peninsula comes to mind first.

Talk about a bigger panhandle!

Christopher Columbus never stepped foot in Florida, (c. 1451 – 1506), let alone anywhere on the North American mainland. He got close in the Bahamas, and then sailed down to Cuba and Hispaniola which he promptly mistook for India, thus giving the natives a name that still sticks: Indians; even if the name “New India” never took hold.

In steps Amerigo Vespucci (c. 1454 – 1512). He took sail seven years after Columbus, was only a visitor (not a captain), and only saw the south American coast yet somehow it’s his name that made it on the map for the two continents that formed the “new found lands.”

Newfoundland, of course, was discovered Leif Ericson (c. 970 – c. 1020) who outflanked both Columbus and Vespucci by 500 years where he set up a Viking camp in Vinland to (among other things) grow grapes. Had only he landed in Florida he could have grown oranges instead. Although that’s not a hundred (or even fifty) percent true: Florida conspicuously devoid of oranges when Juan Ponce De Leon (c. 1474 – 1521) first set eyes on it in 1512, the same year that Vespucci died. The Puerto Rican governors interests lay not in citrus, but water -– and the “Fountain of Youth” to be exact.

He never found it, but he was looking in the right place given the bounty of Florida’s first order magnitude springs. And he also gave Florida its name, with the important caveat (as mapped above) that he wasn’t thinking “just about the peninsula” — he had the greater continental landmass in mind. It has a nice ring to it, and had a cartographer so long ago only penned the map differently, it may very well have been …

The United States of Florida!

Nature-friendly driver
Tortoise double passes slow-moving hare

What’s the right speed …

When you’re driving through nature?

Getting there fast is overrated

Answer: Somewhere between the velocity of the Tortoise and the Hare. And if we’ve learned anything from that fable: Going slower actually gets you there first. (Just ask the poor hare – he’s never won once! Once of these days the Hare is going to wisen up and challenge the Tortoise to a sprint.)

Reminder: Wherever you drive, forget to to keep a vigilant eye out for both, especially in roads that traverse conservation lands. Rabbits and turtles call those places home, and both too frequently are common roadkill.

Hare makes the headlines, but the Tortoise wins the race

Other advantages of going slow?

  • It increases your time to think and decompress.
  • More quality radio and audio book listening time.
  • You lead by example by showing other people how to drive.
  • Driving the speed limit is safer.
  • You probably save on gas.

P.S. And if run across any litter, pick it up. It does a place well to see it litter free.

Ghosts of watersheds past

Age of litter
Geologic evolution of a tin can

How old is this marl prairie?

Judging from this upper layer I would say a good thirty years old.

If this were a car, we’d call it a classic

That’s when they stopped making pull tab cans.

The label was too faded to read.

About a week later I ran into this can floating plain as day in the center of a small cypress dome. It was also a pull tab, thus presumably about the same age, but I was shocked to discover in picking it up that its label read as clear as day. And that was one thick can! They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

It didn’t hurt it was protected by the shade.

The aluminum on this can was surprisingly thick

Bottom Line:

I wasn’t sure if I should pick it up and haul it out, or let it stay, untouched, as a mid-1970s archaeological find?

Swamp buggy parade
A south Florida tradition

Everyone loves a parade, right?

In early November there’s a big one in Naples.

The first swamp buggy of Naples?

The parade is an annual tradition in Naples, FL.  Held every fall, it serves as a local reminder that good outdoor weather (after the stormy summer stretch) has finally arrived. (Caveat: we’re still waiting for it this year.) Of course it’s not riding a swamp buggy on asphalt, but getting it tire deep in water out in the woods that that has local hunters and outdoorsman and women moving into high gear.

Or in other words, time to get the buggy out of the garage!

Historical sign from Collier County Museum

Here’s more information on swamp buggies …

Including the difference between a Glades and Palm Beach buggy, for all you swamp buggy connoisseur out there.

Stuck Inside of Oasis
A belated farewell song to a Swamp Scholar

The plight of being a park ranger …

And being stuck in a visitor center.

The song as sung by Bobby Angel

Nobody knew that better than Ranger Rudi.

And nobody knew its history better either.

His secret?

A photographic memory and reading a lot didn’t hurt. But mostly it was his penchant for delving into deep conversations about with anyone he met.

The original lyric sheet (as sung at the Brass Tap)

History was never a closed book with Ranger Rudi.

You rarely saw the man without a book in hand, dog eared at various spots. His pursuit of history has been a life-long never ending quest.

Life on the Tamiami
Why 40 + 8 = 50 when naming Fifty Mile Bend

About 8 miles west of Forty Mile Bend …

Is another curve in the road.

Tamiami Canal reverse flows at Fifty Mile Bend

Technically, doing the math, it should be called 48 Mile Bend.

But we round up in the Big Cypress Swamp.

Thus it is known as Fifty Mile Bend. Turns out it’s also a hydrologic divide, sending water at that point both west and east, and yes I’ve seen it with my own eyes (as documented in the video above). What a kind-hearted canal to feed water in equal doses to the Everglades and Big Cypress.

Next step: Convince the regional water managers to do the same.
 

birds eye view

Remember When
Kirby Storter in Summer 2017

Everyone remembers 2017 …

As the Year of Hurricane Irma.

Kirby Storer Boardwalk, looking south

But even before Irma struck,

The swamp was already filled up …

Thanks to 20 inches of June rain.

Same boardwalk, looking North

It was the wettest winter since 1995.

Both year’s the Trail overtopped

End of boardwalk

At the Collier, Dade and Monroe Tri County line.

Summer of ’87
And why it feels like just yesterday

It seems like just yesterday …

That the cicada brood emerged from the ground.

As seen in Maryland …

Or rather, make that two yesterday’s ago.

The last one I missed, back in 2004.

But rewind the clock another seventeen …

And I was still in high school: It was the summer of 1987.

In the Summer of 2021

I feel like a cicada in a way …

Leaving me to wonder, if any of the cicadas feel me?