I'd heard that there was a ghost in the swamp. And finding myself with nothing particular to do on a bright balmy day last week I set off, glazed with mosquito repellent, to see what I could see.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is the "largest remaining stand of ancient bald cypress left in North America," some six thousand acres in the heart of southwest Florida. It is managed by the National Audubon Society.
I was virtually alone in the sanctuary that day. But as I trekked deeper into the wild, and ever further from traffic and voices and buzz, I came to realized that my reference for the meaning of 'alone', the absence of human beings, was short sighted.
An old, lichen-dappled boardwalk threads through the preserve. There was something familiar, comforting, about those old boards, drawing me endlessly into the woods.
Corkscrew is replete with ferns. The little resurrection fern, whose brown, shriveled leaves turn green and fresh after a shower, is joined on a tree stump by a strap fern. A fallen tree often becomes a nursery log, releasing back into the world around it the nurturing energy it stored up during its life.
Swamp hibiscus, bright stars lighting the undergrowth, are a wild species.
Josephus Somewhereatan pausing for a rest at a rain shelter.
Scores of bird species are at home in the swamp. A curious white-eyed vireo eyes the curious visitor.
Birds and butterflies are fond of the fruit of the strangler fig. Seed that fall into a likely crevice on a tree quickly sprout and begin sending roots to the ground. They don't actually strangle their host. But in their relentless climb skyward, the strangler's own canopy can rob the host of adequate sunlight and kill it. Corkscrew sanctuary is close to the species' northernmost habitat, and cool winters, even an occasional frost, usually keep the strangler in check.
A lubber grasshopper vacates a swamp lily and alights on a leaf. It could be poison ivy. The swamp is dripping with poison ivy.
While I was gazing into the woods, a red shouldered hawk flew right behind me, a small black snake in its beak. It landed here and screamed.
And there it was, the ghost. Sorry I couldn't get closer. A ranger stationed nearby would see to that. It is thought to be the only one in the sanctuary. They're protected in Florida and are on the Cites list. Here's a closer look at one. Dendrophylax lindenii, the 'ghost orchid', is the subject of Susan Orlean's "The Orchid Thief", from which the movie Adaptation was adapted. There are a few more in the Fakahachee strand, growing on cypress and pond apples, mostly in alligator infested waters.
And then my heart stood still. It turned out to be a trio of what I took to be young white tail siblings. The sisters lurked in the dappled green, on the left of the photo, while boyo came out to stare at me sidewise. After a moment they booked, hoofs scrambling on the resonant turf. They left a scent of horses. Which is to say deer.
The sun was dipping into the western sky by the time I made my way out of the sanctuary. I stopped at McD on the way home. If I looked like somebody who'd seen a ghost, nobody seemed to notice.