Journal notes from quality destinations across the country...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

One Man's Swamp is Another's Adventure

Recently, three teenagers and one middle-aged dad decided on some late evening exploration. My boys, Tommy and Terry, had their cousin over for a week and they wanted to take him bass fishing on the old pond in the woods where I took them several times during their gradeschool and junior high years.

This was no average pond. First, it was a pond I fished when I was in high school so there's some tradition involved. Second, this pond sits in the middle of a real life swamp. One of those places that most people just never go. When I was young the woods around it was logged and there was an old logging road that ran down to the edge of the swamp. From there, logs and old tires made a path through the mucky water out to where the pond sat in the middle of the small valley.

Of course, the years went by and the woods grew back up. When I took my boys back several years ago the old logging road was overgrown but we still found it and made our way down to the pond.

This time, however, the old signs were completely gone. Let's just say that you know you're getting old when you can remember a place being logged twice. We showed up at the usual spot and found all the trees gone, logged clear down the hill to within 50 yards of the swamp. The old logging road that we used to look for had been wiped clean and we knew it was going to be difficult to find that one access point that would get us out through the swamp and over to the pond. The boys began to immediately argue about where they thought the old trail used to be. I thought I knew, too, but I decided to stay quiet and told them they could figure it out. Such exploration and searching is a young man's game and there are far too few of our youth who know it. I would rather follow my boys in circles through the trees and brambles than let them grow up without knowing how to find their way, cut a trail, and read the woods and landscape. I would follow them.

Tommy took us down the edge of the clear cut and headed into the small strip of woods along the edge of the swamp. It was immediately apparent why we'd always headed for that one trail. The brush, trees, and briars grew thick in the swamp and at the first point where we came to it's edge we saw that it would take hours to hack our way through the vegetation, not to mention wading in filthy water that would have mud holes and other surprises waiting for us.

We conferred for a bit about what to do. From experience, I told the boys that it was 7:30 and the Black Bass in the pond would stop biting around 8:30, thirty minutes before it would get dark. That meant we weren't likely to find the trail and get out to the pond in time to catch some fish before they stopped biting. They agreed it didn't matter - they wanted to at least see it.

They asked me where I thought the trail was and I said my old compass was telling me that we were about 300 yards too far down water's edge. I suggested we just head in the general direction I was thinking and see if we cut across anything that might look like the old logging road. Everyone agreed and my youngest led off, taking an obvious deer path along the edge of the treeline.

After a while, Terry called out.

"This looks like an old road!"

I caught up with him and saw the low ground cover, sword ferns, and vines that were obviously covering an old road. Vine Maple hung over it from both sides. We looked at each other excitedly and took a ninety degree turn toward the water. Thirty yards later we were standing on the water's edge, looking at an obvious path through the thick growth.

"Looks like we came about 300 yards." Tommy said to no one in particular.

That was all the acknowledgement the old man was going to get for getting it right. Of course, I shouldn't think too highly of myself. If I'd only taken a look at the satellite photos on Google before we left, this wouldn't have been a problem. But then solving these issues the old-fashioned way by using our minds and our sense of direction was a lot more satisfying...

About then we realized we had another issue. This had been a hard, wet winter. The swamp was two feet higher than I was used to seeing it. That meant all the old logs and tires were submerged and we were going to get wet, not to mention muddy, navigating this path. I asked the boys what they wanted to do and everyone agreed we had come too far to let a little water hold us back so into the black water we stepped...

The boys had been trying to scare their cousin with stories of the pitfalls to be found in this swamp. The first unique characteristic of the pond is that the shoreline is made up of tightly woven grass, moss, and bushes. The entire shoreline around the small lake floats on top of the water. As you follow the trail out, you walk across muddy, submerged ground until you get near the pond and you step up onto that blanket of vegetation. When you walk out to the edge to make a cast, you see that your weight is causing the grass beneath you to begin slowly sinking into the pond. It holds your weight but it will continue to sink and soon you are standing in a foot of water.

Second, this floating shoreline is peppered with sink holes. When the boys were junior high age, we were walking the last few yards of the trail and had stepped up on to the vegetation. I stepped in a muddy spot in the trail and instantly sunk into the mud and into the lake beneath. fortunately, only one leg went into the hole so I fell forward and caught myself but in that heartbeat that entire leg had sunk clear up to my waist. The boys were young and already freaked out a little by this creepy place. That brief episode merely cemented their opinion that this place was dangerous. Of course, dangerous like a scary movie. You don't like it but you like the challenge and the creepy feeling you get being there. They would go on later to complain about how much it scared it them and beg me to take them back...

We carefully waded our way along and it only took a minute for the lead boy to bump a foot into the first log. We were then able to step up out of two feet of murky water and feel our way along the logs that were a mere foot under the water. We held onto the brush that grew tightly along the edge of the path so that we wouldn't slip off the logs and into an unseen sink hole. Of course, mud, water, and old logs make for slippery going and the boys would periodically slip off a log. Everyone would look to see if the unlucky guy was going to catch his footing in two feet of water or disappear up to his waist in a mudhole.

We were almost through the swamp and up to the edge of the lake when the boys pointed out the very sink hole that I'd gone into all those years before. Their cousin looked at it as we walked around it. He stepped a little close, on a spot where he thought it looked dry enough to step, and, slurp, he was in up to his waist. Everyone called out and he leaned forward and pulled himself out. Tommy couldn't believe it.

"Didn't we just say 'look out for that spot?!'"

Hey, what's a little adventure without a little peril?

After all the searching and the slog through the wet swamp, it was already 8:30. The mosquitoes were out and we made jokes about being carried off by some of the bigger ones. We rigged up a dry line and a fat popper and took a few casts but we knew we were too late. The bass had gone to bed. After 20 minutes of trying at three different spots along the lake we broke down the rod and made our way out.

We didn't mind missing out on the fish. After all, we had just successfully accomplished a great suburban adventure and had actually found the old pond.

It should be noted that, once again, the fish were just the reason for going...

Below: one fish taken the first year I brought the boys to see this place (2003).