I looked down the steep embankment to the water 10 feet below to see a sulfurous bubble break the surface. The thick carpet of green duckweed parted and then slowly drifted back into place leaving no trace of the pocket of air that had finally percolated through the primordial ooze decaying at the bottom.
I wondered how deep it was. 10 inches? 10 feet?
The trail was narrow and twisting following a natural berm between the St. Johns River on the right and the wetlands to the left, weaving through saw palmetto, cypress and sweetgum. Wetlands. Wet lands. The doublespeak of real estate developers and state agency regulations. More than just a wet land, this was a swamp in the true sense of the word with all the worrisome perils it connotes. It awakens primal fears in your subconscious leaving you with no more courage than a child pulling the covers over his head to guard against monsters under his bed.
The air was thick with humidity and passed through the lungs like warm soup. Even time moves slowly through this environment, lazily. I looked up to see blue skies above the trees, but no light penetrated. This was a dank green tunnel. The black loamy soil was wet and slick from frequent summer thunderstorms and would likely stay that way for weeks to come. Oddly, the ground did not hold a footprint. The only sign of the trail runners ahead of me was the occasional slide in the mud, evidence of a slip toward the water below.
Did someone fall in? Maybe I was wrong about that bubble. Maybe it wasn’t the gassing off of decaying detritus but instead the final exhalation of a trail runner trapped in the muck, or locked in a death roll with a 12 foot gator. The duckweed completely obscured the horrors that could be unfolding below.
Maybe that gator was watching me, biding its time, carelessly revealing its presence by allowing a single bubble to escape its nostrils in its excited anticipation.
Buzzing insects. The song of the cicadas. The croaking of the gators. Bird calls. The sound of the swamp is equal parts cacophony and dead silence. The crashing through the palmetto ahead could be a harmless armadillo or a charging hog. The two sounds are nearly indistinguishable and either could be equally as likely. Maybe it was just a rotten tree limb succumbing to the weight of a squirrel and falling on the bushes below. Everything rots here, even as that rot is hidden behind a veneer of lush green.
I stopped for a moment at a bridge crossing to take it all in, spotting a doe on the opposite shore of the stream. More accurately the doe spotted me as it was obvious she had been watching me long before I became aware of her. I crouched down to enjoy the moment. She was comfortable in this environment and showed no fear. I was the oddity. The thing out of place. When she had satisfied her curiosity she calmly walked away, apparently confident that I posed no threat.
It was time for me to move on as well.
Black Bear Wilderness Area, Sanford, Florida
September 20, 2015