Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Survivalman 2: Return to the Fakahatchee

Sequels never live up to the original but when it comes to my adventures with Mike in the Fakahatchee Strand of the Everglades, how can things not improve over the tale of survival from August of 2007?

Mike emailed me a few weeks ago and said he was heading down from Vermont and wanted to face his fears in the Fakahatchee. We had planned on meeting last year to search for 2 rare ferns in the 80,000 acre wilderness and instead he spent a rain-soaked night in the Everglades, listening to bellowing alligators and fearing the consequences of drinking water filtered through his own shirt. It was a life or death experience and now he was hoping to put that nightmare in the past and finally get to searching for the rare ferns we had hoped to find a year ago.

South Florida Jane's Scenic Drive in the Fakahatchee Strand State Park Our 3/10 miles bushwhack GPS track to "the pond" Jane's Scenic Drive
For most people - an invitation to walk knee deep in tannin-stained waters in a remote Everglades swamp with mosquitoes, high heat and humidity and a clausterphobically dense forest would be met with a resounding "no", but with a name like JunglePete, I have to say yes. Our plan was to bushwhack 3/10 of a mile to a pond where 2 rare ferns have been reported. This is no easy task. MaLe and I attempted a similar hike last year during the drought and the tangles of vines, briers, poison ivy and all around thick vegetation make any forward movement a momentous struggle. It took us 2 hours to go 1/2 miles.
Mike was waiting for me when I arrived at teh Ranger station and we drove out the 9 miles to the "trailhead". With cameras, gps, water and Mike's compass we set off for the pond. When Mike asked if I was ready I hesitantly agreed and stepped into 2 feet of surprisingly cool water. It was 9 am. Our judgement will no doubt be called into question when I point out the Water Moccasin pictured below. The snake held its ground before retreating a slow slither back into a rotted out cypress stump. We were well aware of all the dangers and were vigilant in watching every step. This place is truly the land of the lost. Pop Ash, Maples and Pond Apples are well adorned with bromiliads, orchids and vines. Every root, branch and tree trunk is a place for a fern, mushroom or flower to grow. There is little open space as everything competes to survive.

After an hour of slogging through ankle deep water, I paused to look around, giving our second Water Moccasin a chance to slither between the two of us. I shouted an expletive, jumped backwards and watched it swim into a small cypress hammock. My heart racing, I quickly and carefully waded up to Mike. After 90 minutes we began to hear the bellowing of alligators coming from the pond - loud territorial growls intended to keep us at bay. Had any of these alligators ever seen a human before? It's possible they hadn't but like any well behaved alligator, they took to the water and ceased their grumbling. The age old question is answered below. Bears do poop in the woods. That was one big turd. After 4 hours of listening to buzzing, swatting at bugs and sweating through my long-sleeved shirt, I was exhausted. The search for our ferns had been unsuccessful and torn and tattered we began to head back through the tangle of trees. My safari tour hat has suffered greatly - here appearing bent, soaked and dirty. As we dragged ourselves back through the swamp, Mike shouted out. This was something I had gotten used to, but was never sure if it was for a wild animal, a poisonous plant or an exclamation of joy. It turns out that after giving up, we had accidentally stumbled on the rare "Bird's Nest Fern". It looks similar to the common Strap Fern with a few subtle differences. To the common person it no doubt looks like any other green leaf and I wouldn't expect the image of it to change readers world. But after 4+ hours of searching it was truly exciting for us. Thoroughly pleased, we continued on and had just gotten under way when Mike said "Wait - here it is". And there it was - our 2nd rare fern species. An unassuming little thing that even I thought looked like every other green leafy thing. There is a great wilderness here and there can be little doubt that there are other rare species if not completely new species of ferns, flowers, insects and other living things. I wondered how such things could be found. We might have passed over something unknown. Mike said to me later - "You see what you know". Everything else is a mystery to be solved and something new to learn.
Mike suggested he couldn't have gotten anyone else willing to share that experience. You have to be a little nuts. But I couldn't be happier to have had the 2nd chance to get back out there. I'd say the sequel was much better.


  1. Nice blog today – you are nuts!!

  2. Thanks for the great sequel with Mike and your ferning success. Glad it was a better experience than last..... but you wouldn't have caught me out there... ever!!!

  3. Super cool! Nice to see the rare ferns and glad that Mike came back and had a good experience!! Hope yer little safari hat gets back to normal.- fire flower

  4. What a couple of Wack-A-Doos!
    So having discovered 2 more green leafy things in the jungle - how have you changed human kind for the better?
    Just think, if one of you didn't survive, there'd be one less carbon foot print in the world.

  5. Thankfully not all residents of the great state of Virginia share your nonsensical logic.

  6. way cool, my adventuresome friend! though i very much enjoy reading about your faunal finds, i am thrilled that you've also taken us on a floral expedition! congrats on finding the rtes... lizard kisser

  7. be careful what you wish for. You might get lichens and mosses next.

  8. I've just learned the identity of "Dean" who is not a heckling resident of Virginia but the famous quack Doc of Cape Coral who recently had his tongue surgically planted in his cheek!