Some memories are sparked by a photograph or a conversation. They are bright and vivid and you can recall them quite easily. There is no mistaking where you were or who you were with, they are tales told over and over again throughout the years. Other memories are more illusive. They are stored only in the form of scent and sound. More often than not you hear a song or smell something cooking that reminds you of something, yet you just can’t place your finger on it. But other times you take a deep breath in, close your eyes and nod in recognition. For these times there is no doubt that your olfactory system is alive and well.
Ten years ago, I was in the same place that I was this weekend. I huddled amongst knobby knees of cypress trees. I spied the wings of interesting birds that swooped low tempting treacherous gators to have a snack. I hiked on top of the peat bog that squished like glue between my toes. I ate delicious food cooked over a fire. I paddled in canoes with people I love. I listened to owls and the chorus of other eery sounds during what I thought was the quiet of the night. Just like I did this weekend.
This black tea water, the smell of the earth, the sound of a canoe paddle swishing. There are only a few memories I hold as dear as these.
Ladies and gentlemen I present to you The Okefenokee-
Weekends with no obligation, nothing to do but be together in the calm of the wild, those are my favorite. It was an honor and a pleasure to bring these three boys to a place that taught me so much. I hope it did the same for them.
On one side of the Suwanee everything remained intact, exactly how it has for the last several millenia. You can easily envision The Native People of the land peering out from the ancient stoops. Without much effort you can practically see the look in an alligators eyes that reminds you that they actually roamed with the dinosaurs. This place is sacred and powerful.
But just the same, so delicate. On the opposite side of the river this trip, I saw solid devastation. It took my breath away on a bended knee. I can only imagine what the men and women who have worked and traveled there for 30 or 40 years felt as the trembling earth incinerated three years ago.
If anyone understands the dynamics of fire and the necessity of it, it is my husband. He is a forester and has seen her perfectly control the land in many stands. There is no denying on the whole humans are confused on such a subject. It seems backwards to do anything but put out the flames, but if this is what we choose to do, then we are creating a ticking time bomb. A fire will strike through lightning if no human can get to it first and torch the place down. Brush, small trees, and other invasives need to be kept at bay. They do serve as temporary shelters but in the end they are just fuel for the fire. The Okefenokee was no different. Yes, they did controlled burns but not enough of them. I am sure they would have liked to do more, but with budget constraints and the number of employees that massive chunk of land was just out of reach. But not for mother nature. In April 2011, with a sever drought and a thunder and lightning storm the fire began. Even after the licking flames were put out the peat smoldered for over a year. You can see a bit of the massacre here.
It is not all so bad. There are a few “mother” trees, scraggly looking living Cypress standing alone amidst acres and acres of singed black stalks indicating a sure recovery one day. Animals still roam the area and truly don’t seem to mind. I am sure the woodpeckers of the swamp quite like all the hollowed out trunks. Less work, more meals I suppose. The swamp still holds its ancient magic.
A journal entry from December 9, 2001 reads the following: Me and Molly went on a hike this afternoon in the pouring rain. It was so so so so much fun., I love the rain. I suppose it’s because everything gets really quiet and it is just so relaxing. Me and Molly rolled up our pants and hiked into the woods. We hiked until we got to the tree that grows sideways like this: (I included a little drawing 🙂 We climbed until (an arrow pointing the exact location) then me and Molly fell off. Then we talked and talked until I was so cold. But we talked about some awesome stuff. I am inside by the fire tonight, its nice because its raining tonight too. Also, about the adventure with Molly in the woods, we got lost. And well, we found our way back purely on instinct.
Instinct huh? This just makes me laugh. But perhaps its true, perhaps the peat laden land brought out the best in me, gave me some directional instinct to follow. Or perhaps I was just a silly little girl, with all the hope in the world.