Natural springs are rare in this part of Florida. They are an unusual gift, wherever they occur. There is one here at Longleaf that begins right on our easternmost property line. It forms a small pool, then goes through a culvert under our driveway to bisect the upper portion of the property and run darkly through the woods, braiding itself under the ground, then up, and then under again.
There are ferns, flowers and darting fish along that mystical-seeming watery ribbon. Shafts of sunlight spear themselves into the swamp’s dark heart.
It draws me. I hear its burbling call every time I walk to the gate.
Most of the year, I cannot answer the call, because the heat of summer brings wicked briars, ground rattlers and the occasional cottonmouth moccasin with an attitude.
Then, from mid-December through mid-February, deer hunting season makes that territory verboten for a wandering woman and her furry brown dog.
Buck and our friend Harold don’t hunt in the swamp. Really, they don’t hunt much at all. Buck goes to a stand and writes his book in his head while he enjoys watching the deer, or like today, a big he-coon and two turkey gobblers. One six point buck whitetail has gotten so comfortable on his food plot that he walks underneath the shooting house to graze, then out again to feed in plain view, bold as thunder.
Next Wednesday, February 18, is the end of the regular rifle season for deer hunting. Bow and black powder season will still be in for several more weeks.
After Wednesday, I can go walk around the woods, and even in the swamp, as long as I leave Maggie at home and wear some hunter orange. It’s our land, but end of season poaching meat hunters aren’t looking for rack buck trophies, but food for the freezer.
I’ll wear rubber boots, take along some Deep Woods Off to warn away mosquitoes, my camera, my five shot Lady Smith 38 Special, and my swamp guide (Buck).
The wild blueberries think there won’t be another freeze. Their transparent bell-like blooms, the thin red clapper lying at half mast, have enlivened the woods, just in the last week.
This year, delivery on the promise of spring is keenly yearned-for by everyone. I’ll go to the depths of the swamp to find it, to bring back a bucket of that fecund black muck with captured spores of ferns, of lilies, of life.