There’s something about being in a forest during a light rain that refreshes the spirit. It’s late August and we expected heat, humidity, heavy air and an abundance of ravenous insects. The insects didn’t disappoint. But we were happily surprised to encounter a pleasant atmosphere within the depths of the woods. Despite the rain, the humidity wasn’t oppressive, probably due to the lower temperature from the overcast skies. It almost felt as though we were in the Appalachians.
Chassahowitzka is the largest and most pristine hardwood swamp south of the Suwannee River. The Seminole’s named this region “pumpkin hanging place” due to the abundance of a climbing variety of pumpkin. We were less than five miles from the Gulf of Mexico and within a mile of one of the busiest highways on Florida’s west coast. The only sound we could hear from within the dark woods was a Red-bellied Woodpecker announcing his presence and the droplets of rain striking the surface of puddles. In the early 1900’s, the area was heavily logged for bald cypress. Once the marketable cypress was removed, lumber companies cut Southern red cedar for pencils and cigar boxes. Elevated trams were built to haul the logs out of the swamp to a railroad in nearby Homosassa. Some of these trams still exist and make excellent hiking trails.
Once the cypress had been removed from the swamp, other species, primarily oak, took over and altered the landscape. For many years, fires were suppressed, something that had occurred regularly from lightning and which renewed the old cypress growth. In recent years, forest managers have been trying to restore the growth of long-leaf and slash pine. Controlled burning is removing the oak and other species in an effort to return the area to an open, dry woodlands and hardwood swamp. It’s a slow process.
The hottest part of the year is not when we expected to encounter wildflowers. What a nice surprise! Within the depths of the forest, we discovered Buttonbush in bloom providing a pincushion of pollen for a wasp and a potential meal for a Squirrel Tree Frog (okay, maybe his eyes are bigger than his stomach!). The Climbing Butterfly-Pea with its soft lavender petals and paintbrush-like strokes of purple and white was abundant and gorgeous against the backdrop of the dark forest. Occasionally, we found a splash of white and yellow flowers dotting a Loblolly Bay tree, as if forest nymphs wanted to brighten up the place. As we moved to a bit higher elevation of the surrounding sandhills, a prickly pear was almost bursting with pride at the yellow bloom it had produced. A thankful butterfly agreed to pass along a bit of pollen in exchange for a sip of nectar. Likewise, another butterfly visited a different yellow beauty, the Partridge-Pea. With feather-like leaves, the profuse yellow blossoms held the rain droplets as long as possible. To round out Nature’s palette, a fiery orange Butterfly Weed demanded its portrait be recorded. Closer inspection revealed a similarly colored caterpillar munching his way along a stem.
It was a morning of unexpected pleasures. That’s Nature’s way, though. Try to keep an open mind and She will fill it with wonders for you to enjoy and contemplate.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit.
Take a look at “Chassahowitzka WMA – August 2012” in the Gallery for more images.