Waters Shaking

IMG_7014We took a day trip yesterday to Okefenokee—a swamp with a percussive Native name roughly translated as “land of the trembling earth,” or “waters shaking.”  The swamp’s name refers to its peat bog, which is neither dry land, nor part of the water, but a sponge-like floating habitat, that squishes and quivers as you walk upon it.  Okefenokee is a vast expanse of protected land–a National Wildlife Refuge–on Georgia’s southern border, with a romantically gloomy cypress swamp at the western entrance and upland swamp islands on the eastern edge.

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We visited the western side years ago, so chose the eastern entrance for this trip.  Although the day was sunny and mild, the southern version of winter was hanging on, so it was very quiet, with few visitors, a skeleton staff, and little visible wildlife.  The quietness contributed to its stark beauty, though, with tall longleaf pine forests–burned over by wild fires or intentional burns that are necessary to maintain the pine ecosystem—very still except for birdsong and hammering woodpeckers.

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OF Feb-120The drive from St. Simons to the swamp took only a little over an hour, but brought us from the affluent coast to a sparsely populated inland area with pockets of heart-wrenching poverty.  The area’s housing consisted mostly of stark rows of rickety, weathered trailers that no one should have to live in.

The area used to be inhabited by hundreds of people logging the swamp’s old-growth cypress, with a system of railroad cars and waterways for transporting the logs and lumber out of the swamp, and by homesteaders, scratching out a living on the sandy flats.  At the swamp’s eastern gate, the Chesser family’s homestead cabin has been preserved as a museum.  It was like stepping into Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ book, The Yearling, although this area is farther north than her home place in Florida.

Walking through the pines to the homestead.

Walking through the pines to the homestead.

Robins singing their hearts out

Robins singing at the sky.  Time to find a mate.

The homestead’s yard was swept white sand, with no vegetation, to keep down the fire danger and discourage bugs, snakes, and other crawly and hopping creatures from coming into the house.

Chesser homestead cabin and yard.

Chesser homestead cabin and yard.

Chesser portrait photo on the wall--I love it.

Chesser portrait photos on the wall–I loved this one.

The homestead was nicely furnished with period pieces.

The homestead was fully furnished and felt pretty authentic.

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For natural aerial bug control, the homestead had gourd nests for martins, swooping birds that feed on mosquitoes and other flying insects.

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After the Chesser homestead, we walked a boardwalk that extends three-quarters of a mile out into the swamp.

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Seen from the tower

The burnt-over pines created a wonderfully eerie landscape, especially in the areas with standing water, which reflected back the stumps and contorted tree remains and had its own colorful water plants and algae.

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It's not easy to see where the water (and the reflection) begins.

It’s not easy to see where the water (and the reflection) begins.

Cypress knees

Cypress knees

The boardwalk ended at a viewing tower surrounded by tall moss-hung skeleton trees.  Dreamlike.IMG_6992

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We only dipped our toes into a tiny edge of the park.  Dogs are not allowed on the boardwalks or in boats on the water (they’re alligator bait–so tasty).  Next time, perhaps we will leave Zoe at home, take the plunge, rent a canoe, and really explore.

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17 thoughts on “Waters Shaking

  1. We have been to Okefenokee Swamp many times but we’ve never been to the Chesser homestead. After reading your post we will have to check it out one day. One of our favorite places to camp is Stephen C. Foster State Park in Fargo, Georgia in the middle of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. We can leave Blondie in the RV and rent a canoe for a paddle through the swamp. There is a marina, museum, and walking trails. We often see deer in the campground and alligators around the marina.

    • I was itching to get in a canoe and hit the water. That’s the way to really see the swamp. We haven’t been to the state park yet and will have to check it out. The homestead is interesting, it really felt like they captured a slice of time there very well. There also are hiking trails at the eastern entrance, but we only did the boardwalk.

    • No kidding on the alligators–just like the sharks where you are? Every new place has new creatures. Thanks for the compliment on the pictures. I’m enjoying your blog!

  2. Wonderful observations and photos, as always. The south, in backcountry, is one region I have never explored much, though a large part of my family is in Memphis. Thanks for letting me roam vicariously. We are really searching for a small diesel RV…so maybe sometime we will also be on the road again. I love your blog.

    • I hope you are feeling better Arlene. I’m really happy that you are enjoying the blog. I like doing it for my own sake, but it is nice to know that others also enjoy reading it. I think you and Bill would traveling around the south. Its so different than other areas of the country and filled with history.

  3. I love the name Okefenokee it just rolls off the tongue and resonates with swamp music and Spanish moss. Loved the photos and the sky is so blue. I would be rather nervous of those alligators if I was in a canoe.

  4. Beautiful post and photos of one of my favorite places. You definitely need a canoe, kayak or motor boat to see the swamp and wildlife at it’s best. The alligators are much slower and less in evidence this time of year than in warmer months. I haven’t been to the Chesser Homestead but really enjoyed your narrative and pics. On my To Do List for sure!

  5. What a lovely scenery this swamp land is! Love the intro picture with the flying bird, great shot! A very different landscape than the dry praise and mountains we are surrounded by. I imagine it would be an adventure exploring this area by kayak? Thanks for sharing great photos!

    • Thank you! It’s always a challenge for me to get decent flying bird shots. Most people canoe rather than kayak in the swamp. I’m not sure if it’s because the canoe gives you a little more separation from the alligators and snakes in the water. Could be exciting in a kayak.

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