The very word “swamp” makes me itch. Visions of marauding mosquitoes, clouds of black flies, and other inhospitable creatures come to mind, so I had no real interest in visiting Okefeenokee Swamp. Still, the swamp called to me before I had completely passed the entrance to the Okefenokee Swamp Park, so I cut across the highway and headed down the five-mile road. Part of this journey is about facing my fears, and I fear mosquitoes the way some people fear bees. The bites swell enormously at times, and often the site of old bites itch when I get a new bite as if to welcome the company. (I still have scars from all the bites I got last summer.)
I sprayed myself with the most natural bug spray I could find (some eucalyptus & lemon thing manufactured by Repel that Consumer Reports had found to be as effective as Deet) and hoped for the best.
About a mile in, I got caught behind a car parked in the middle of the road. Young boys were hanging out the window, so I glanced to where they were pointing.
Oh, my. Alligators!
I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me to look for alligators in the swamp, maybe because I hadn’t seen any in Florida, but it was a great thrill to see the beast less than ten yards from my car. Very respectfully, I got out of my car to take a photo, then continued to follow the car. Several other times those same boys aided in my spotting an alligator.
This wasn’t the first time I received such gator aid — at Davis Bayou, I was taking a photo of a heron when a woman walking her dog came and pointed out the alligator all but hidden in the mud a few feet from the bird.
I’ve always known I wasn’t observant (I’d be one of those witnesses to an accident who wouldn’t be able to tell you the color of the cars or even the victims), so I was glad of the help in getting attuned to looking for the prehistoric creatures until I could find them for myself.
Almost as big a thrill as seeing the alligators was seeing the lily pads with blooming flowers.
On my way out of the park, I again stopped by the side of the road. No alligators, but I did see turtles sunning themselves on a log. (They were shy and slipped into the water before I could take a picture.) In the quiet, I heard a long low call, too gutteral to have been a bird, but I never discovered what sort of creature made the noise.
The lovely outing was made even lovelier by the lack of mosquito bites. I can’t verify the efficacy of the spray I used because to tell the truth, I didn’t see or hear a single mosquito.
Still, I am just as glad I didn’t hang around until dusk so the day-shy denizens of the swamp could find me.
(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)