Everglades Restoration at Sunset
As seen at the S-356 and S-334

Water is famously said to have …

A mind of its own.

Short narrated video at the Everglades S-356

Or in other words, it’s going to flow where it wants to flow. Except in the Everglades at spots like this where with pumps and gates we tell the water when and where it can and cannot flow and by how much. As primordial a landscape as the Everglades appears to be (with its ancient alligators and horizon-to-horizon flooded expanse, don’t mistaken that with being completely wild and free. Concrete structures and pumps guard its perimeter and dole out its water in a system that’s so complex that even a well seasoned hydrologist like me is sometimes left scratching his head. Not that I won’t eventually figure it out, and usually just in time for another mystery to unfold.

animation switch short

Looking back on Eta
Last year's game changer

Today (or is it tomorrow) …

Marks the one-year anniversary of Eta.

Playlist of videos (i.e. plural) I took during Eta

You know it’s a Big Rain Day (BRD) if you pause a year later (even two, or three) to think back and reflect on its size and extent. Eta was a big as it was unexpected. All signs were pointing to an early and deep descent into winter drought. Not only did Eta give the swamp an extra boost, its bounty from Eta fell just as the regional evapotranspiration machine was shutting down. That gave the water staying power, too. Or rather, slow-flowing power. Where does water go when you get that much water in the swamp? Answer: Nowhere fast.

The storm reminded me of Hurricane Mitch back in 1998. It too instantly reset the swamp clock to peak sheet flow time. Actually, Mitch may have been the bigger of the two. But they are more similar than different and should go down as the twin November game-changing storms of note.

Watersheds of south Florida

Neither slough nor strand
Mullet Slough is it's own special case

Oftentimes our available terms

Don’t quite fit the natural systems we try to describe.

Flying at 500 feet towards Mullet Slough

Case in point is the false dichotomy of the swamp’s strands and sloughs. Natural flow ways are one or the other, but not both, right? A little background about the video above: We’re flying from West to East. Although we didn’t make it all the way over the Everglades, you can see the mosaic start to gradually morph from a labyrinth of cypress, pinelands, prairie and hammocks to sea of almost all cypress towards the end.

Had we continued flying East it would have slowly and then suddenly turned into the Everglades River of Grass. It’s an area of the Big Cypress National Preserve known as Mullet Slough. Sloughs usually connote a treeless flow way (i.e. as in Shark River Slough) whereas strands (i.e. Roberts Lakes, Deep Lake, Gator Hook to name a few) are canopied waterways. But Mullet Slough is a special case. Not a wall of tall trees, it’s better characterized as stand of dwarf cypress trees regularly interspersed with cypress domes that point in the direction of flow.

Neither slough or strand, Mullet Slough is a watershed all its own.

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.

big weather

Steaming swamp
Think hot asphalt after a cool rain

From the distance it looked like smoke …

Or maybe dust kicked up from the limerock road.

It looked primordial, but it was actually super chilled

Only upon closer inspection did we see it was steam.

The source?

Similar to a hot asphalt road steaming after getting cooled down by an afternoon shower, the wisps of water vapor hovering over the cypress stand were the result of an ice-cold drenching from a super thunder cell.

The super cell, looking north, about 15 mile east of the strand

As good fortune would have it, I actually took a photo of the thunderstorm about an hour before and 15 miles upwind from the steaming strand. The air among the wisps was incredibly cooled and the fragrance from the cypress intense. Landing and walking in the water was further proof.

The water was chilled as if it had hailed.

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.