Optical illusion swamp
Where appearance and reality morph

The swamp is full of optical illusions …

Or do they actually reflect a deeper reality?

Photograph of optical illusion no. 1

Take for example the oval groves of cypress trees called domes. They look like hills, but they are actually the low spots in the swamp. It’s the adjacent pinelands (foreground) that mark the high and dry ground. But the domes are also where water depth is tallest. So if you’re a fish or a bird or an alligator, the tallest depth of water coincides with the center of the hill-shaped domes.

Narrated video of optical illusion no. 2

Then there’s the case of the optical illusion you see in a helicopter flying over a fully flooded swamp. The reflection from the below reveals the strange effect of trees moving at a fast clip backwards and the mammoth clouds staying put (see video above). Of course, in reality we know it’s the clouds that are on the move (from hour to hour and day to day) whereas the trees are rooted down in one place. But over time, as the years and decades pass, the forest below is in fact on the move. Habits shift, retracting and expanding in, in response to the seasonal dosage and return interval of flood and fire on the landscape.

I‘m not saying that optical illusions are right or wrong. All I’m saying is that they hint at the deeper reality of the swamp.

Ochopee Bound
Same old swamp, always worth sharing

My philosophy when I fly:

Take as many photos (and video) as I can.

Narrated video flying over Western Big Cypress National Preserve

The reason? I think I learn as much from what I see up the air as I do processing the photos (and videos) back on the ground. Yet there’s also the reality that most of the photos (and videos) we take never see the light of day. With so many people taking so many photos, one’s left to wonder if their worthwhile sharing at all?

For me it’s an emphatic yes, but only with this caveat. They say a picture is worth a thousand words (and video possibly another thousand more). But what good is a photo or a video without explanation of what it’s about, why it’s important and the subtleties it hides?

That’s where the narrative comes in handy. Maybe essential is a better word. This film may not win an Oscar, but I guarantee somebody gives it a thumbs up.

product movies

Flying south
Loop around Loop Road

There’s always lots to see …

On a flight over Big Cypress Nat’l Preserve.

We flew clockwise around Loop Road

On this trip south of Tamiami Trail, we see a swamp mirror (reflecting the clouds), the Pinecrest Chain of Hammocks, Gum Slough, Loop Road, Sweetwater Strand and Gator Hook Strand and Trail.

strands and sloughs

More than one?
And four to be exact

Big Cypress National Preserve has four major watersheds:

(1) Central Preserve, (2) Okaloacoochee Slough, (3) Mullet Slough and (4) the Everglades.

Major watersheds of Big Cypress National Preserve

Within each watershed are major drainages …

Were water is deepest and flows longest.

Those include sloughs and strands.

View of Gator Hook Strand looking southeast towards Roberts Lakes Strand, just downstream of Loop Road which, if you really squint, you can barely make out.

Between the strands are higher lying (but still soggy) marl and dwarf cypress prairie.

birds eye view

Origin of domes
And how geology controls the show

What came first:

The depression or the dome?

Answer: Cypress domes form in shallow surficial depressions in the swamp’s underlying caprock, but that doesn’t explain why some depressions capped by a cypress dome and others, right next door, form a tree-free herbaceous marsh.

It might have something to do with the thickness of the marl.

Cypress dome and circular marsh

Or maybe fire frequency or flooding depth also factors in.

Mark it down as another mystery of the swamp.

Wet boot test
Soggy socks are even a better indicator

There’s basically two ways to know it’s the wet season: (1) You can look at the chart above or (2) go out and see it for yourself. Warning: The second way will probably result in getting your socks wet. Never the greatest feeling. But once you get past the hurdle of full immersion, you almost forget that they are wet at all. About the chart above: The swamp has two solid “wet season” months under its belt, and is working on a third (August). The blue bars show recent monthly rainfall. The horizontal white lines show the long-term average for each month. The “dark gray” and “light gray” bands show the normal and historic range for the month. We had a very dry “dry season,” thus despite the abundant rain, the swamp is a bit slower this year filling up. Final note: To become a true rainfall expert, we highly recommend both the approaches discussed above.

“No name” domes

The swamp’s signature formation, its cypress domes ..

Also strangely lack names.

It might also have something to do with the swamp having too many domes to count

A colleague explained it to me like this:

Unlike cypress strands (i.e. usually named), cypress domes are not the the greatest of landmarks to navigate by from the ground.

That’s as good an explanation as I’ve heard.