True Swamp


I would like to begin this post with a polite rescinding of all of the nice things I have ever said about greenbrier. Blackberries will always be a sworn enemy, but after this afternoon, the greenbrier has fallen out of my favor as well.

We got a slow start to the day, a bunch of refuge business fell out of the sky all at once. The office was abuzz with all of the activity, and when I went out to open a locked entrance for the people doing the preparation for the lidar flight, the rear driver’s side tire began to hiss violently. My third flat of the summer! The gravel roads really chew up the tires on the vehicles.

This was annoying and stressful, I ended up going to the shop for an air fill-up before I floored it to get to the tire shop. I didn’t get back until 11 am, so the beginning of the day was a bit hectic.

When things finally settled down, Fred and I headed out to take soil samples. This was something that has been on the list of things to do all summer, but with traveling to Prime Hook and the other refuge projects it’s become one of the last things I’ll do here.

I’ve been writing about the swamp all summer, and now that my time here is coming to a close, I’m not sure if I did a decent job of putting this place into words. As I was out, tromping around in the muck for one of the last times, I was reflecting on sensations, both uncomfortable and inconsequential.

So how can I adequately describe what it’s like out there? The area we were sampling from today was very swampy – the vision of what I had originally imagined the swamp to be like. There was standing water, crumbly and burnt logs and plenty of thorns. The vegetation had grown up thick, and the thorny vine grew in arches over the maneuverable areas of the path. Most was mucky and wet, and every dry spot was covered in ferns and moss and dense nets of greenbrier and blackberry.

Walking around the vegetation can be tedious, a step too fast can send you face first into the mud or back into the leaves. Too slow and the saturated peat can close in around your feet and pull menacingly at your boots. Every footstep sounds different, feels different – the unexpected firmness of a dry spot or the invisible foot-holding of an old trunk is startling after crunching through the vegetation and treading through the water.

The firm stalks of blackberry and the hardy vines of the brier crack like static as they grab at shirttails. The criss-crossing of vines can be as immoveable as a brick wall. On the way back I found myself tangled up and I fell fat onto my backpack, the auger I had been carrying clanked awkwardly into the brush, and I felt like a bug caught in a web right before my legs went out from under me. As I scrambled to stand back up, stuck on my back, I felt like an overturned turtle, humbled by the density of the seemingly benign mass.

As I close out my final week, I can’t help but think that I’ll miss it all.