Watersh-Editorials

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

Dike is in control
And why the Lake plays second fiddle

There’s the Lake Okeechobee we see …

And then the ghost of how it changed over time.

Chart of current Lake O level

In our modern day view …

We tend to focus on Lake stage and quality.

But that misses the bigger picture why the perimeter dike was built and how it changed water management on both the inside and outside of the 143-mile long earthen hill.

Cross sections (i.e. side views) of Lake O under pre-drainage and current conditions looking (1) West to East (top) and (2) North to South (bottom). Look at how much land has dropped south of the Lake. The black band shows the current “normal range” in the water table compared to the “cross hatched band” that shows historic pre-drainage levels.

How much has Lake stage changed?

For starters its 10 feet lower than its pre-drainage state (circa 1880) when it naturally flowed into the sawgrass plain and southward into the Everglades.

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Summer love affair
Why Floridians ❤ Summer

Summer in Florida gets a bum rap.

Too hot, too humid, too many mosquitoes.

Comparison of air temperatures up the East Coast

And I’m not here to argue that it isn’t inordinately long compared to what anybody is used to up North.

Look at that beauty!

But I will put a plug in for Florida’s summer clouds.

They are by far the best of anyplace I’ve ever been.

Find out more in this podcast why summer is actually Florida’s seasonal gem.