Tag Archive: swamp


Forget Black

The cracks, even the cracks of her feet were black with earth.

Her hair matted with black and hanging limp and wildly at her ears.

Her hands were stained black and there were small scars where the work showed through.

And just when it seemed she couldn’t get any blacker,

her heart stood still with the black mud.

Her eyes shed black tears that smudged her filthy cheeks.

Her mouth oozed.

She had stayed too long in the dark wet. She was one of them.

Yet there she crouched. Sobbing and shaken.

Her precious work torn asunder by those who spoke sharp words of machines.

All she knew lay raped and stranded in the bright sun.

It would be theirs tomorrow. Neat and shiny.

It would be organized and proper and clean.

It was always so sad to see them like this. Naked and lost.

No words would come to stay them from her treasure.

She would silently suffer.

It might kill her….

Yes, she would die if not for the others. They always come.

They take back their own into the dank woods.

Who knows what horrors lie there.

God it must be dreary and strange.

Oh, look, it must be time to go. The sun is sinking.

 

 

Well, in the beginning, we really had no idea what we were doing. At least not as it related to surveying. We understood the basic principle but hadn’t really done it right in the field. John wanted to survey a particular stream that he had worked on for another project. Can’t say the name here so we will call it Moon Bay.

John was in a very good mood (at least for now). We parked, and proceeded to the stream to find a reach to survey that represented the “natural” system. Funny thing about Florida, there probably aren’t any truly natural systems left. It’s actually a sad thing. You go miles into the wilderness and voila’ there’s a balloon on a nylon ribbon – deflated and sad-looking – ruining the wildness – making fun of it.

Anyway, John found what he wanted and we began moving up and down the system flagging each place for survey. John has a back issue sometimes. We were ducking under a lot of trees that had fallen over the stream in the last big round of hurricanes in 2004. He began to lose his sense of humor – this same sense of humor which has us in stitches most of the time.

We finished flagging the reach and went to get the survey equipment. Kristen and I had practiced and thought we pretty much knew what to do. We set up our temporary benchmarks (we are not surveyors so it’s all temporary). We began to shoot the stream survey. John continued to lose his sense of humor. It was hot, uncomfortably messy, vine ridden and lots of ducking and climbing. I remember Kristen and I thought how awful this site was. There was so much to go through, vines, palmettos, and underbrush. This was hell!

Somewhere near the end of the reach, John checked the survey data. There was a problem. A serious problem. At some point someone had made a mistake and now the whole thing was useless basically. John was not happy. I was not happy. Kristen was not happy. This meant that, at some point, we would have to come back. The very thought of fighting this mess of vegetation was too much to bear.

It made me wonder if i could really do this. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I would never want to come and do this with just Kristen and me. This place was too wild. There were too many dangers. I wouldn’t be able to see her at some points in the survey. Would we ever get this right? It was all too much to even think about. We were mortified.

I would and will never forget this day. I was sweaty and scratched to heck. I was upset and doubted myself. I felt like I had let the team down in some way by feeling this way too. I felt that I had wasted a chance to make an impression on John and Kristen too. How could this had gone so wrong? Now, it had to be done all over again. The fear, the stress, the pain, the risk of busting the survey again…..it just seemed impossible to bear.

It was going to be hard to make myself do this again. This was horrid. I hated the way I felt – DEFEATED.

 

Well, you all might as well know right now that Kristen hates to get up early and I love to sing while I drive. Trouble is, we almost always have to get up early to get where we are going and, well, I am no Carrie Underpants. You can imagine how much fun it is to drive long distances with me singing and Kristen grumpy. So – this day started like most others….me singing some corny karaoke style song and Little Kristen (my nickname for her) closing her eyes trying to pretend she was still in her bed.

We are on our way to Catfish Creek. Yay! We are going to recon the creek to locate a section (reach) of the stream that looks typical so that we can survey it. No, we are not surveyors (duh). We are technically differential measurers or data collectors. This also means that we really don’t know what we are in for and that we don’t really have true surveyor’s skills. This doesn’t matter in what we do! Things can change so much overnight at a stream site….well – that is another chapter!  We haven’t even really surveyed yet (unless you count the busted first attempt in extreme conditions and extreme aggravation at Coons Bay). So I think, “This should be interesting.”‘

We arrive, get escorted by some uninteresting but very helpful person who shows us into GOD KNOWS WHAT! I am dead serious. It’s like a friggin swamp. Really, like a seriously nasty, boggy swamp. This person expects us to wade through this crap to get to the creek bank. Wow. I think to myself that I had no idea what I am in for. In my head I am freaking out. On the outside, I am smiling and wading through the nastiest mucky mud I have seen in a long time. I am not the type of girl to show my fear or shortcomings! That is also another funny story of how Jacque met John!

We wade to the edge of the creek through buttonbush. Now, if you have never seen buttonbush in bloom, let me tell you that you are missing something pretty. The white puff-balls hang daintily from long sturdy bent branches on this creek side shrub. The flowers are so complicated. You will want to see some right after you finish reading this story and can see some at the bottom of the page. I digress.

We get to the edge of this nasty creek to realize….it’s nasty. It’s green and flowing very slowly. I think that I had pictured a crystal clear stream with fish and sand. All I can think is, “What the hell? I am not ready for this!” Instead, I just smile and look around like I know what I am doing! This is advisable in all situations where you believe that the other people involved think you know what you are doing when, in fact, you not only don’t, you really want to leave and wash your hands or say “Would you like fries with that?”.

We look around a bit as if we know what we are doing. We then ask if it is possible to get to the reach via the actual stream. Yeah – like the banks we are supposed to survey from are really a swamp – so we need to go find a spot from which to actually do the stuff we need to do. Plus, we need to measure a reach that is twenty times as long as it is wide (wide is bankfull width). That’s just f-ing great because this thing is probably about 40 feet wide I am guessing. That means we need a reach over 800 feet long. That’s a lot of nasty!

Well, at this point I have to stop. This is where it all really started. Us tromping into hell, acting like we know what the hell we are doing and looking for. Random people believing in us. John believed in us from the beginning….funny thing is, we eventually lived up to that and even believed in ourselves. Once we met his expectations, which were based on our false confidences, he believed we could do more than that and so we did. He led, we followed. All not really knowing who the others were.

When you follow someone you barely know into the creepy swamp, into unknown territory, it does something to you. Does something to your relationship. There are long fibrous tendrils of faith that grow from you to the others involved. When you know that you can walk into the wilderness, under extreme conditions, and you will forget all that and those tendrils coil around your fears and squash them….you have something special. Funny how, after all these years, after all the swamps, snakes, gators, and adventure – those tendrils still grow. To me, sitting here typing this it seems like yesterday that I jumped into the canoe with Little Kristen to begin a part of my life that changed me forever. I didn’t know back then what the world really looked like.. sometimes I wish I was still blind.

Oh, I had glimpsed pieces and parts of what I would later see, but I never saw that thing I would find not long after that first trek into the swamp. You, the reader, have seen glimpses of the world as it really is. You have just forgotten. They say there is a land whose inhabitants live long lives and time stands still. That place is not so far away as you may have read. If I told you how close it was and what it really held, you wouldn’t be here to read the next chapter.

So, John was wildly busy. Kristen and Jacque are awaiting his instructions….”what is it we are supposed to do?” we said. Well, I will tell you right now, those of you who know us personally know this – we don’t wait around!! We are take charge kind of gals. We decided to start going to these remote sites, and decided we would figure it all out in the field. How hard could it be? We had maps!

After all, we knew what it was we were supposed to gather. We knew where (ha) and we knew we were behind schedule already. So off we went into the Florida wilderness to collect stream data and begin a five-year adventure of a lifetime. In the beginning, it was our job!

I have to stop and admit – at this point in the story – things will be posted here as Adventures….but in reality, they weren’t all adventures. Just like an edited show, some content won’t make it here. There were days that you will never hear about. There were tears you will never see shed, laughter you won’t hear ringing in the forest, and fear you won’t smell as we sweat – we left a lot of ourselves out there for some other brave person to find. I can’t make you feel the way we felt standing there, scratched to hell and cursing. I don’t have the courage to type words that came from our hearts and souls. Instead, friends, I will give you a taste of the beauty and laughter two strangers found out there in the middle of nowhere.

And it all starts right here. It starts on this blog born from a loss so personal that no one will ever understand. The pain of losing a part of myself is what sparked this blog. You see, in the beginning, it sounded like a job we would enjoy….but in the end, well, in the end we found out what the price is for being truly happy in your work. Trust me, I have paid the price.

Enough of that – let’s start the Adventures!!!

Do not look forward in fear, but around in wonder.

Taunting us from outside our window...

Jacque and I were moping around the office the other day, wondering why we were more unmotivated than usual. And then it hit us: we had spring fever, a BAD case of it. Not only had we been stuck working on projects that required us to be in the office rather than in the beloved field, but we had also just pushed our clocks forward giving us an extra hour of daylight. Yet here we were, trapped in the artificial light of the office. So we decided to do something about it. We vowed that the next day we would spend our lunch hour (also known as “Lunchingtons”) actually going OUTSIDE.

Murky waters

What a novel idea. Our office does, afterall, sit right on the shore of Lake Bently, a little lake that we had completely taken for granted as it stared at us through our office windows for YEARS now.  While its water is more green than blue and its shoreline is highly developed with storm water drains jutting out every few hundred feet (it has a high LDI for any limnology nerds out there), it is home to birds, gators, fish, and even otters! So why not call it our home as well, at least for an hour?

Happy Jacque!

The excitement of our looming adventure got us through the morning grind, and at noon on the dot we grabbed our lunch (that Jacque had deliciously prepared) and our craigslist-purchased kayaks and off we slid into the murky waters. Within moments we were in another world. Just yards away stood our office building, staring back at us with its mirrored windows, hiding the sterile lights and jealous faces of our co-workers (actually, they probably just thought we were crazy). We paddled happily towards wood ducks and pelicans and ibises and limpkins and cormorants and ospreys and turtles and cypress trees and butterflies. We soaked up the sun and felt the breeze on our faces.

We returned to our offices 59 minutes later, refreshed and more than a little stinky. But we didn’t care. We had cured spring fever, at least for an hour. Do you have any tricks for curing spring fever? CWT would love to hear about it!

Whenever you leave the safety and comfort of the office, gym, or living room to embark on your amazing adventures there are just a few things you need – and don’t need. I thought it would be helpful to share some of my field wisdom before you really mess up.

THINGS YOU DO NEED

  1. Water. Sounds obvious right? Not just for drinking, you can wash hands, rinse eyes, wash off muddy cameras, and a million other things. Don’t leave home without it.
  2. Other shoes. You will need them. Yours will get muddy, torn, broken, or otherwise not feel good to your feet after months of water logging and mud bogging. They will stink and so will you. Slipping into something dry will prevent heel cracking and make the ride home that much more betterer!
  3. Duct tape. Not just for car hoses anymore. You can make anything out of it. Hell, my son carries a wallet made out of it! Mix duct tape with your yard stick and you have a great tool that will last years. Mix ripped pants with duct tape and you save yourself embarrassment. Mix duct tape with open wounds – voila’ first aid.
  4. Camera. A picture is worth a thousand words. When the truck gets stuck, when YOU get stuck, when you see that one of a kind sunset or insect, you won’t want to miss the moment. Something to keep in mind is that they sell waterproof and shockproof cameras pretty reasonably. They take awesome underwater shots, too. This is especially important when a HUGE bowfin attacks your shoes in ankle-deep water. The photos you can take are amazing. TRUST ME. Olympus and Pentax make great cameras for under $300 and they last everything I have done to them so far. Don’t forget to add a flotation cuff – they are waterproof, not floatable!
  5. Backpack – good one! We have a backpack that we have used for years!! This thing has been abused at hundreds of sites. It has been rained on, drug around, dropped, dragged, and stuffed. It’s filthy and who knows what’s in the bottom of it because I have never cleaned it out all the way as it is always in use. Go for a good one – it will be your best friend. When your cheap backpack fails you in the middle of nowhere – use the duct tape!

THINGS YOU DON’T NEED

  1. Expensive sunglasses. That’s right – you will break or lose them. Get some cheap polarized glasses and go for it. In a thousand years, they will find about 80 pairs of sunglasses in the woods and will think some crazy ritual occurred. Nope – just bent over and off they went. Or, the cord broke, or layed them down, or fell and they went flying never to be found again! Also, get a cord that is bright pink or orange!!! This is experience.
  2. Expensive clothing. This mud stuff we keep talking about – yeah – it doesn’t come out. Some – NEVER NEVER NEVER will. Also, blood that has been sitting in there all day from scratches doesn’t either. Some stuff you don’t want in your washing machine. Just go to the thrift store – get your gear there!!
  3. Snake bite kit – yeah – those are not to be used! Do NOT ever attempt to use a snake bite kit on me! More serious injuries and infections have been caused and they are no longer recommended! PLEASE SHARE THIS INFORMATION. Calm victim, isolate bite site, ice or elevate – identify or photo snake if possible. GET HELP – do not waste the precious little time you have furthering the venom into your buddy’s system and your mouth! GET HELP!
  4. Perfume. You are saying, “But Jacque, I want to look and smell my best in the field.” Listen up! Bugs love perfume, bees love perfume, some mammals love the musky smell of perfumes….that’s right – just stink for one minute…no big deal because we will all stink together!! One big happy smelly family! Get over it…..if you can GO ANYWHERE – you can stink there!

    Alli's Adventure Art.....Tennessee Mountains....ticks abound!

  5. Jeans. If you think jeans are the ideal pant to wear in the field – stay home. Even in cold weather, they are not a choice! They will get wet, pull down, rub you raw, make you sweat in places that already stink because you don’t have on perfume, and generally be a drag. Go for something lightweight that dries quickly – you won’t regret it! You will regret wearing jeans. I won’t remind you twice – I will just smile when I see you picking your butt or pulling them up after wading in a little creek!

This is a short list. Of course there are many things you should and could take – keep it simple and light. Don’t over complicate it – the joy is in the adventure and experience. Some of the best experiences will be when you don’t follow these rules! Please share them! We all learn from mistakes – even yours! Remember – you can comment and share your insight or ignorance….it all teaches us something!

Yes – that’s right, sometimes you have to go where no man or Chick with Ticks has ever gone before. And, out in the woods, there isn’t always a path. Oh sometimes you get a path but there is something that makes using it a bit challenging…like a creek…in the wet season…in the Florida swamp! Well, Chicks with Ticks don’t let that stop them. No!

In the event that you find your path heading straight across water “of an unknown depth” (a popular safety meeting topic line), you should probably know a few things before you try to cross it.

Question 1 is obvious,

  1. Have you done this before? If the answer to this is no – DON’T DO IT! (although you might still) If yes, continue to question two.
  2. Is your vehicle four-wheel drive? If not – DON’T DO IT! If yes, proceed to the next question.
  3. How deep is the water? Now, there’s only one way to find out for sure. Oh, you may see a gauge with numbers on it – I wouldn’t rely on that one totally. You have to get out, grab a stick or pole (trusty yard stick works every time). Walk back and forth across the path until YOU COMPLETELY HAVE AN IDEA OF THE ENTIRE PATH’S DEPTH. “Jacque, why are you shouting at us?”, you might say. Well, I happen to have a lot of experience in doing it both right and not so perfectly right. The important thing to note about the depth is – will it float or flood the truck? If it will – DON’T DO IT! If you are not sure – DON’T DO IT! If not – keep going….at your own risk!

    Testing the depth is important!! ha ha

  4. What is the bottom like? If the bottom happens to be mucky, slimy, silty, organic (debris), or anything other than good old sandy dirt – DON’T DO IT (unless, of course you have done so before and are willing to suffer the possible consequences)! If it is good old sandy dirt – onward ho!
  5. Are you willing to get across without stopping, chickening out, listening to squealing field partners, risk the worst case scenario (floating or flooding), and just go for it? If not – DON’T DO IT!

    Floating without flooding is a skill!

    If so, put steady pressure on the gas and DO NOT GUN IT. That creates ruts that other people (like these photos of Kristen and me at Colt Creek) will get stuck in. This is rude and unprofessional….it also slings a lot of mud – roll up windows. Neeexxxttt…

    Winching out the Wenches!

  6. Did you make it? If not – hope you have a few boards, a winch (not wench), some rocks, or a friend to call, like we did. If so, congratulations, you will now want to cross every damned creek you come to and even some wet rivers! Enjoy it.

I hope you will keep in mind that safety is always first – but fun actually comes before safety so is easier to come by….combine the two and it makes everything more fun! And, we all know it is fun out there! Chicks with Ticks GO ANYWHERE!

As an added note: do not enter water that is flowing too quickly, is too deep, is filled with alligators (oh -we do that, nevermind) or otherwise poses a threat to you – a vehicle can become a death trap in water and it is no joke….please follow all safety recommendations.

Transformation

You stand by the edge of the water, it mimics the answers you seek

Only fingers beneath the glass surface lurk the things that inhabit the creek

Fragrant Lily - Oak Beach

So you wade in just up to your kneecap praying warmth shares her blanket of wet

but  your skin tingles white in the moonlight as you lay deeper just to forget

So the stream washes gone all the tear stains and the sand scrubs away all the sins

and your gills flutter pink with the current as you wiggle to test your new fins.

That’s right. I am going to share the secret, let the cat out of the bag, spill the beans, you know, let you in the club! In order to be a full-fledged member of the Chicks with Ticks you must have a sense of adventure. This sense usually accompanies a need to be outdoors and a basic disregard for what is proper.

I have begun a sort of Guidebook. A manual, if you will, that will assist you in becoming a Chick with Ticks (if you are not already) and guide you along on your journey to become a true member (or honorary member for you boys and men) of Chicks with Ticks!

Some general rules for Chicks with Ticks:

  • Backpack/purse – same thing
  • Snake boots go with everything (including shorts)
  • You can wear the same pair of socks two days (or weeks) in a row as they will only get dirty again
  • What happens in the forest, stays in the forest (this rule is to protect you – trust me some embarrassing stuff happens out there)
  • Call “Log”, “Hole”, “Don’t Move”, “Duck”, etc. to your partner if you are in front
  • Pick a tree to climb in the unlikely (yeah right) event that something comes at you
  • Never stick you hand in a hole – that’s why they call them sticks – DUH
  • You got my back – I got yours
  • Everything is Perfect!!

This is just for starters. An introduction, if you will. For all situations, there is an answer – we will address them in Sections.

Thank you for your interest in becoming a Chick with Ticks!

YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU STARTED!!!

Plunder Branch Hwy 62

It's Perfect!

The creek was long. You all know that. The creek was wide. The day was passing and the water was gross and we were working hard to get the survey done without messing it up and praying we would never have to come back and redo it. Funny thing about daylight and this chapter – both have an ending.

Some of you might be disappointed that the ending is coming. Some of you might be sitting on the edge of your seats. Well, what began to happen changed, forever, the way I would look at what we did. We had completed the survey and were packing it in when I noticed that the sun was beginning to go down behind the cypress trees in the distance.

The silhouette of the black tree line against the orange ball that was the sun was both beautiful and awful. Immediately I said to John that we should hurry. John, once again sharing words of wisdom and horror, said that we were lucky we didn’t have a flashlight – that alligators were nocturnal feeders and that the eyes lined up on the banks would scare us to death. John is such a comfort.

John - Our Mentor

I wondered to myself if he meant to say that out  loud. John knows more about working in swamps than we do but he also has a story about getting bitten by a moccasin that we don’t. You see, we were chest deep in nasty water pushing the canoes filled with equipment upstream as the sunlight faded. My initial reaction was to call my husband.

Usually Scott doesn’t worry too much about me – or at least that’s how it seems. I was more worried that I would not make it whole back to the canoe launch. I was really scared. I called and told him what was going on and that if he didn’t hear from me in an hour – I just wanted to let him know that I loved him and to kiss the kids for me. I wondered, as I hung up, if he had taken me seriously. I wondered why I decided I could do this. I also wondered how much life insurance I had.

The funny thing about darkness is that it is just that. It’s dark. We all know from our childhood that very terrible things lurk in the darkness. It doesn’t matter how old you get, you still believe in some things. I believed that this was a very serious situation and that I was sincerely afraid. I tried to sound flippant and keep Kristen laughing. I knew she was walking in holes over her head. I knew that every other footstep brought an unknown bottom that might hold a fallen and rotting tree and its branches.

I knew that the darkness was coming and we weren’t going to make it back before it fell. The fear that gripped me was overwhelming. I found myself gripping the side of the canoe even harder. I began trying not to touch the bottom. I started to make funny comments in a nervous voice. I started to panic.

It’s pretty obvious that we made it back. It’s probably not as obvious what followed us back to the launch. I can’t say when I noticed it. I only know that it is here, with me now as I write this chapter. It has been with me ever since that first survey. It seeps into the room when I am otherwise occupied. It takes me over some days.

It’s what followed us back to the launch that day that I miss the most sometimes sitting here at the kitchen counter writing. It’s that notion that anything could have happened and didn’t. It’s the feeling that you escaped, and cheated death. It’s knowing that there are two people who you don’t have to ask to watch out for you. It’s a part of me that is slowly dying. A part of my soul that is starving. A corner of my heart that is crumbling slowly and rotting.

Here, on this Halloween night, it’s what scares me more than the ghouls and monsters. It scares me even more that the fear of the things I couldn’t see as that sun went down behind the tree line. I can’t face my fear of it.

That I might lose the Team! Forever! Does that ever scare you?

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