We pushed the canoe through a thin channel, marsh grass brushing our elbows on both sides. Jenn was at the front of the canoe, I at the rear, and we hadn’t seen an alligator in more than a day, after seeing so many early in our trip that watching them sink below the surface of the Okefenokee was nearly blasé. We’d glided over the tea-stained water from a wide patch dusted with water lilies to this narrowest of throats in the reeds, with the quiet and the warm, overcast day lulling us.
And then there was the gator, right in front of us, and then, with a great splash, under us. It was as startled by us as we were by it. Jenn may have squealed. She definitely jumped, and mercifully straight up, instead of to the side, which would’ve turned the canoe in, obviously, a bad place to take a swim.
It was glorious.
And it was all a mere four-hour drive from home.
Sometimes life’s circumstances conspire to prevent you from traveling far. And when that happens, it usually hits this globe-trotting couple especially hard. We’ve been lucky enough to see, quite literally from A (the Amazon rainforests and Angkor Wat) to Z (Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls). But we were determined to still have a true getaway this year, even if we wanted to stay within a day’s drive of home. At some point, we realized it was kind of ridiculous that we’ve spotted crocodiles while paddling the great Zambezi River, but never ventured four hours southeast to see Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp.
And that was that. We booked our time off for late summer, when our tiny crops at home would be done-for and we’d be in the break between our summer and fall CSA vegetable subscriptions. The other benefit of this meant that our wonderful farmers, JennyJack’s Chris and Jenny, could join us for the three-day outing. The four of us lighted out about two weeks ago for a three-night camping trip in the Okenfenok’. Canoeing by day, incredible bird migrations by sunset, camping on platforms and eating only what we brung in. The living doesn’t get much simpler.
For a trip like this, where the local flora and fauna are drastically different from what you’re used to seeing, we decided to go with a guide.
Ours was the seasoned croc biologist Chip Campbell, co-founder of Okefenokee Adventures. It was a great move. His ability to tell an ibis from a juvenile blue heron from afar was invaluable, as was his deep-rooted knowledge of the whole ecosystem. It was like a three-day interactive lecture, in the field. Or, swamp, in this case. (Of the two of us, Jenn is more the birder, and she got eight lifers in the swamp.)
Of course, we were ready for bugs, and heat. We thought we were ready for the sun, but we weren’t. I don’t know what most people’s conception of a giant swamp is, but Jenn and I both envisioned a gentle paddle through tea-colored waters teaming with life, while shaded by cypress trees and water-dwelling brush. We were mostly right. Except for the shade part. There are gorgeous prairies in the swamp — large swatches of grassy waters, scattered with hammocks of what may appear to be land but are actually floating masses of vegetation. We rowed through parts of the largest two prairies in the swamp.
The views were stunning, but the sun was stinging. We had a giant jar of our Oinkment sunscreen, and we’d applied it liberally before shoving the canoes off the bank, between alligators and great blue herons. But by the time we realized how roasty we were getting, we’d missed the window where we should’ve reapplied. My knees seemed to find the perfect angle for absorbing sun, which would’ve been great for solar panels. Not so much for skin. Next time, I’ll know to rig up a solar recharging station that I can fit over my legs to juice up the phone while we’re rowing. If we’d taken cues from our guide’s garb, we would’ve been in long pants and long sleeves, despite highs in the low 90s.
The second and third days were mercifully, marvelously overcast, and we got to explore the many wonders of a park that, for us, has too long been hidden in plain sight.
When we were done, we pointed the Corolla south for a little more exploration a little farther from home — but still an easy drive back: Key West. More about that leg of the trip later, which carried with it a whole different set of lessons. But for now, we’ll leave you with a bunch of the 4,382 photos we took from the swamp.