Fear is an acceptable emotion that can lead to a heightened sense of awareness and ultimately protect one from a potential threat. I’m not afraid of ghosts. Nor am I afraid of seeking them but there are situations involved in the hunt that make you pause and consider that what you are doing is extremely dangerous and each step must be made with the greatest level of caution. The reward is ephemeral – 22 ivory white Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) blossoms floating under a canopy of Pop Ash (Fraxinus caroliniana) and Pond Apples (Annona glabra) in the midst of Florida’s greatest wildernesses – the Everglades.
The first step off the unpaved road is a hot one. Swamp Sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) radiates intense heat and although it’s just after 8 AM, it feels like someone opened the oven door. Drainage efforts over the years have created high and dry ecotones, where welcoming shade comes from Slash Pines (Pinus elliottii) along the trail. A Black Bear (Ursus americanus) footprint reminds us that we are not alone out here. This doesn’t concern me. The bear mostly likely knows we are here and has gone in the other direction.
Eventually the slightest elevation change brings us through a transition zone where towering Pond Cypress (Taxodium ascendens) draped with briars make the narrowing trail all the more difficult to traverse. There is no water here yet, but by the end of the rainy season, it will be two feet deep where we stand.
As the elevation plummets by the inch, the canopy closes in, the temperature drops nearly 20 degrees and we come to the edge of the water. The rainy season began a month back and the sloughs of the Everglades have been the first to fill. The limestone has been carved out by flowing water and has created the perfect environment for Pop Ash, Pond Apples and an assortment of native, spectacular orchids.
(to be continued)