The following are original photos taken by Maggie Rubin, with the final few photos taken by myself, during our recent trip into no-man's land. It was a three day trek in search of the great alligator known to the locals as Fred. Legend has it that if you sing "Way down upon the Suwanee River" to Fred, and he likes the way you sing, he will grant you one wish. Being a couple of city slickers, we had to find out if there was any truth to this legend. All we had was a canoe, a tent, a sleeping bag, some food and water and a digital camera which did not zoom well, so we had to get real close to the subjects in order to take these photos. There are sixteen photos on this page; they may take some time to load. Thanks to Richard, Dave and Joan for helping us survive this journey, which was over one thousand miles away from Chicago.
Once you pass this sign there is no turning back. It takes two complete days of paddling through the thickest of swamp land to get to the spot where Fred likes to hang out. Since the keepers of the swamp only allow one party per day to pass this sign, there is no chance of meeting other human beings beyond this point. Suddenly I feel the power in the palms of my hands.
The water was black like tea and covered in lilly pads and peat moss. Obstacles included underwater logs, which our canoe constantly got hung up on, as well as hundreds of spiders which fell from the trees onto our heads and into the boat. We were one with nature and never feared.
We paddled on, even through a downpour of rain which lasted several hours. At one point a massive owl, perched upon a branch, looked down upon us. Tiny lizards and praying mantids crawled on the bark below it. Somewhere in California a fire was starting. We saw no black bears.
Some of the swamp path was no wider than the canoe itself, and it zig-zagged at all different angles. At times the Suwanee River merged with the swamp, creating a current which caused our canoe to go crashing into pricker bushes. I've never heard Maggie curse so much. But we both had faith so there wasn't any real danger.
We saw many alligators on the way, sticking their heads out of the dark water, their eyes glowing with the reflection of our flashlights, but none was as large as Fred. When a fish swam by they would open their jaws and snap them closed in a flash with a splash. Otherwise they hid like logs.
Due to how thick the vegetation is in the swamp, there were times when we had to look very closely to see the sights. Here you can see a group of giant white birds hanging around behind the brush. Above them were about 20 vultures soaring around. We assumed there was something dead up ahead. Startled by the camera's flash, the giant birds took off like a scene from Jurassic Park.
At other times the sights were right in front of our eyes, floating there, beautiful discovers otherwise unseen by the human eye: turtles clinging to stumps and toads leaping with a splash into the swamp. I'm used to dealing with slimy creatures. I know how to handle them at home, and I sure as hell wasn't going to let them bother me in their natural habitat.
Due to the dark color of the water, the swamp reflects everything like glass. It was very disorienting. What was up? What was down? At every turn it seemed we would fall down into the vast sky below. It made me wonder what exactly reality is after all.
We were surprised that there were very few mosquitos or flies in this swamp. Then we realized why. We were surrounded by carnivorous plants. These are pitcher plants. Insects are drawn into the mouth of the plant and then they are literally eaten alive.
They hung out in the trees, urging us to continue on in search of Fred. When I banged the side of my canoe, hoping to make them fly, they simply looked down at me as if to say, "Silly mortal, we're up here in the sky and you're down there in the muck."
In the middle of nowhere we found it, an old abandoned cabin once owned by a man named Floyd. History has it that Floyd was responsible for killing all the Native Americans in this area. There was a sign over the door which read "Okefenokee Hilton." We took shelter, despite the cabin's tainted history.
During the night a visitor paid us a visit and attempted to steal our food. Also, we heard dogs barking. Sixty-six year old Dave got up to investigate. When he returned the dogs had stopped barking. We didn't ask.
We kept warm near a roaring fire. Richard brought his propane stove and made gourmet chicken stew, as well as chili.
Ahhh. But back to Fred . . .
On the final day we found him, Fred, the mother of all swamp beasts. After the canoe tipped over and Joan took a plunge, we got our bearings back and canoed right up to Fred in order to get this photo. Luckily, Maggie is a very good singer, and Fred seemed to really get into her rendition of "Suwanee River." Can you see him smiling? I think I'll wish for a big poetry party in celebration of the fourth anniversary of ChicagoPoetry.com and the twentieth anniversary of Letter eX. Yeah, that's the ticket.
Fred is real. You can find him at the Canal Run Shelter, but the problem is you'll have to go through Canal Run in order get out of there, which is a bitch. Though it only took an hour and a half to fly to Altanta, it took a good four and a half hours to canoe through the final five miles of Canal Run. If you attempt to find Fred to collect your wish, count on getting your feet wet (Dave's feet).
"We got our wish."
--Captions by C. J. Laity
--Photos by Maggie Rubin
--Photo of Fred by C. J. Laity
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