Deeper Dives

Deeper Dives

Where Go Hydrology features longer-format info

editorial

No Name Strand
All the major ones are named, or are they?

Among the many mysteries of the swamp:

Cypress domes are usually not named.

No Name Strand

That’s unusual because cypress domes are the swamp’s most iconic (or shall we say, trademark) feature by many accounts. They number in the hundreds of thousands, maybe more. But unlike lakes and bays, they remain nameless to this day. Think about it, even stars — however faint — get labeled with a number or a common name of some sort. In particularly, I’m thinking of Betelgeuse, Orion’s upper right shoulder, an orange-glowing red giant located 642 light years from earth.

Then there’s the case of the cypress strands. These are linear groves of cypress that carry the bulk of the swamp’s sheet flow. All of them are named, or all the major ones at least. In a landscape otherwise lacking geologic or topographic landmarks, strands stand out as major physiographic features that jump off the map. Major ones include Roberts Lakes, Gator Hook, Deep Lake, Cowbell, Barnes, Dayhoff and Garnett to name a few.

As good fortune would have it, the cartographers didn’t see them all, or see all of them fit to name. Or maybe in the years since the cartographers first drew up the maps the cypress grew back.

Not a major strand, but a swamp flow way none the less. That’s Birdon Road in the background, looking northeast

Whatever the case, it’s good to know there’s still some unnamed real estate out there in the swamp, that nobody’s ever named, and possibly never explored. A frontier then and a frontier now, the swamp is a boundless expanse that has interior regions still waiting to be defined.

Here’s to hoping they never are.

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).

Who Controls the Water
Or is it nature calling the shots?

The day humans discovered water …

We’ve been working to “try” to control it.

We’ve got this!

The catch? For every step forward there are usually two steps back. And lets face it, no matter how sophisticated we think we are, it’s usually been a trial and error approach. We don’t know what we have until we have it, and that usually means our initial plan needs more work.

I‘m reminded Tale of Humpty Dumpty:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again

So, whenever I drive anywhere in the Everglades and see a structure or other water management feature great and small, I imagine a wounded Humpty Dumpty crying for help, and a bunch of the “king’s horses and men” arriving on scene (or working behind the scenes) to figure out.

Or is there anyone there at all? The emergencies we manage are the emergencies we see, and usually they are only the ones that affect us the most, or are the topic of a public outcry that gains political traction.

bull dozer
Sometimes water control means returning it to nature

But are politicians the best arbiters of our waters? And to what degree are they able to deliver on their promises, especially when the experts are sidelined. And what if the answers are too hard to implement — does that mean we just punt the problem down the road. Some problems are so large in size and scale that they exceed the next election cycle, or the appetite of anyone to solve.

It’s a wonderful thought to think their is a Wizard of Oz type deity that is calling all the shots and in one flip of the switch can fix water problems left and right. The harder truth is that solving water problems takes time, good science and a willingness to do the right thing.

To answer the question: We all control the water, but only so much. Don’t expect nature or water to wait around or behave while we figure it out.

water control

Go to Water Control

animation tree

Geology of a tree?
When a topic gets away

Have you ever started on a topic …

Only to get distracted on a different path?

Brought to you by Firelight Radio

I started off trying to talk about geology, but the next thing I knew I was rambling on about a tree. But not just any tree! And that’s when it suddenly dawned on me: cypress trees first took root in south Florida in the footprint of the Lake Okeechobee some six thousand years ago. None of those trees are still living today, but there is one special cypress tree on the outskirts of Lake Okeechobee that may very well be the most famous tree of all. The only problem: it got stuck on the wrong side of the levee. In this podcast, I explore the options for connecting the “lone cypress” with the larger ecosystem. And BTW: the Firelight Radio podcast is hosted by a guitar, i.e. you can’t have a nature-folk movement without a guitar by a campfire … that’s just obvious.

Turner River Report
First report I wrote about the swamp

Everyone thinks of me as a blogger …

But I actually cut my teeth on a fairly detailed report.

Turner-River-Plan-2000

The assignment: Get to the bottom of the Turner River. The year was 2000. Parts of the river had been recently restored, and it had become navigable as a result, but there was still a thought that more had to be done. I’m not sure what my boss expected at the time, but I dove into the literature and the file cabinets to try to understand what the Turner River was all about. Keep in mind I’d only been in the swamp for a year. So I was still a rookie as they say.

Looking back it was a fun assignment, and I learned a lot.

It might even be time to update the report.

Okeechobee Foothill?
How time turned a dike into a levee

For as easy as it is to see on a map …

Lake Okeechobee is deceivingly hard to find on the ground.

Map of Lake Okeechobee

The reason?

Hoover Hill would seem partly to blame.

Listen to the podcast to find out more.

Sometimes called a levee and other times a dike

The earthen embankment both blocks the view from its base and promises a scenic vista from its top only to leave you wondering –standing at its crest and looking inward — where the lake starts and if it’s there at all.

Hoover Hill (left) and Lake (right)

With everyone thinking about how to optimally regulate the Lake’s stage, its important to remember that from a design standpoint, the dike-turned-levee was built first and foremost to control (repress) water levels on the outside, not inside, of the levee …

And with the design goal (on the outside) being dry arable ground.