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).

Long walk off short pier
It wasn't always a dead end

It’s a short walk on Naples Pier before you have to turn around.

But did you know it used to be the only road out of town?

Brief history of Naples Pier

That was before south Florida had roads.

Residents, tourists and supplies all traveled to Naples by boat.

What we know today as Old Naples was the entire town.

All the rest of modern-day Naples was swamp.

Most recent closure

Today the closest remnant of the swamp is twenty miles away.

Now that is a long walk!

End of the road?
Long walk off a short pier

Naples pier seems like a short enough walk:

Just a thousand feet more and it comes to an end.

Naples Pier is a historical landmark

But, in the time before roads, that’s where the journey just began.

The only way in and out of Naples was by boat.

That made Naples Pier more a beginning than an end.

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.

definitions may vary

Deepest lake?
Or is it only pond worthy?

By most metrics,

Deep Lake should be called a pond.

Assorted views of Deep Lake

Considering that it’s only 300 feet across …

And its circumference is 300 feet less a quarter mile, that sounds more like a pond. But if you consider that its open pool is five times deeper than Lake Okeechobee’s 20-ft depth, and – here’s the icing on the cake – that it isn’t enclosed by a 35-ft tall levee, thus allowing its waters to naturally overflow into the swamp.

By definition, that sounds like a lake to me.

weekly wave banner

Ode to Oasis VC
A farewell song to a ranger who knew it well

The best thing about a song around a campfire …

Is doesn’t have to be perfect.

That’s what makes Stuck Inside of Oasis (with the Cypress Blues Again) the perfect campfire song. It’s not sung brilliantly, even if the video of Oasis that accompanies the song was shot in broad daylight (with growing cumulus clouds in the background). And I mess up quite a few lyrics and chords – also typical of campfire fair.

The song was written and first sung as a farewell song to a long-time ranger that spent many a long day welcoming and talking to visitors to Big Cypress National Preserve.

More recently I put the song to video, and in listening back I now see it in a much different light. As much as a farewell song to a good friend, it’s as an ode to a rather odd but endearing building called Oasis located in the middle of the swamp.

To me it’s nothing less than a hotspot of the universe.

Listen to the music video here.

P.S. Please share with a friend!

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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.

Read more

Homage to the Sun

Well, we’ve had a pretty good run …

But nobody expects the good weather to last.

Homage to the Sun is a sculpture at Naples Hall

Look for the humidity hammer to star striking down soon.

ghost of watersheds

Lonely Cypress?
The Lake used to keep it company

If it weren’t for the sign,

I’d probably walk by the tree and not think twice.

This tree originally grew
in knee-deep water along the banks
of an undiked Lake Okeechobee

Or maybe I’d sit on the bench …

And luxuriate in its shade.

And even possibly take note of the old concrete wall.

Today, it is perched over ten feet above
the water line of the Caloosahatchee River
on the outside of the Lake’s perimeter levee

Still, I doubt it would naturally occur to me …

That the concrete wall was the old lock to the Lake Okeechobee before they built the modern one a mile or three upstream.  Or that the tree once served as the sole navigational marker on the Lake.

And the stories this tree could tell if it could speak.

The title on the sign says it all

Fortunately there’s a sign.

Headwater lake?

Yes, Lake Okeechobee holds more water …

But Lake Trafford is 5 feet higher.

Map of Deep Lake, Lake Trafford and Lake Okeechobee. Can you see Lake Istokpoga, too?

Don’t expect either one …

to overflow their banks any time soon.

Twin Hydrograph comparing lake stage for Okeechobee (left) and Trafford (right)

But prior to drainage, both spilled south: Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades and Lake Trafford into Camp Keais Strand and Corkscrew Swamp.