Into the Cypress Swamp

Heron Pond

Sunday night was the wildest night yet. No close encounters of the Whippoorwill kind this time, instead we had Barred owls calling out, “Who cooks for you?” [That would be me.] and coyotes howling across the valley at each other and the nearly full moon. But all of this was drowned out by the one party site left in our now half empty campground, right across the road from us. I was tempted to on my nocturnal excursion to play the iBird Whippoorwill call, in their campsite, after they had gone to bed, with the hope that they would get the 6 AM wakeup call, but I desisted. No need to torture a sex starved Whippoorwill.

On Monday, we left the rocky highland portions of Shawnee National Forest and descended into its swampy lowlands nearer the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers. The Ohio was in full flood and had only crested the day before, so we gave it a wide berth. Instead, we ended up retracing some of our paths in this area from back in 2004. Then we were on bicycles and were riding the Tunnel Hill trail. This time in a car, we cover much of the same ground.

Before, we also visited Heron Pond, but then it was in the fall and it was dried out. This time it was plenty wet and alive and active. We traversed the same rough gravel road that we had to walk our bikes on before. It is still not a very Prius friendly pathway. From the parking lot, we walked the half-mile to the floating boardwalk. Before the boardwalk was resting in the drying mud.

There is something magical about flooded land. There is always an eerie quiet in land covered by water. In land covered by cresting flood waters this magic can seen dark and sinister. This was not the case here. A cypress swamp is supposed to be flooded. This swamp boasts a thousand-year old cypress trees. When we arrived, we had the boardwalk to ourselves. It was peaceful and we were happily communing with nature. Then another party arrived. It was a threesome, mother, daughter and grandfather. We ticked-off their noisy progression.

About when they arrived where we were, at the end of the boardwalk, some creature began making low-pitched noises of a grunting nature not to far off, but unseen in the swamp. It was not quite bird sounding and also didn’t sound like the barking of deer, two of which we had flushed earlier. This mystery spooked the little girl and all the shushing from her adults only seemed to increase her anxiety. She wanted to leave. With 20/20 hindsight, I realize that I should have turned and told her not to be afraid, because she was an alpha predator, the apex species, the modern-day T-Rex. I don’t know if this speech would have been comforting to her against the unknown, but at least I didn’t mention that I had seen a cottonmouth on the trail coming in.

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