A few years ago I had an opportunity to join a group of photographers at a workshop in the Okefenokee Swamp in southeastern Georgia. For some reason, I've always been fascinated by swamps. Maybe it's due to the type of animals and creatures that live there, or maybe it's the suspense of not knowing what lies hidden in the darkness beneath the water's mirrored surface. For whatever reason, the magnetism beckoned me, so I packed up my camera gear and went.
The Okefenokee is a mysterious, but beautiful place. It's a place where dark eyes peer cautiously from among green lily pads... watching... and staring at the passing intruders. It's a place where cypress trees stand tall in shallow water with their limbs draped in veils of Spanish moss swaying in the soft breeze. It's a place where mirrored images reflect from the water's smooth black surface. It's a photographer's paradise.
For one segment of the workshop we stayed in a cabin in the Stephen C. Foster State Park near Fargo, Georgia, and made excursions from there out into the swamp by boat and canoe. Dr. Edwin (Chick) Flournoy from Albany, Georgia, and I used the canoe. This one morning after breakfast, our group headed out into Billy's Lake, a main waterway through this part of the swamp, to take advantage of the soft light.
At one place where we stopped to take photos, a small gator came to see what we were doing. Cautiously, it swam closer and closer until it was within just a few feet of our canoe. It watched curiously for several minutes and then disappeared under water when we decided to move on to a new location.
Later, Dr. Chick and I were following a meandering water trail through lily pads when we saw a dark object moving several yards ahead in a clearing. Recognizing it as an alligator, we stealthily sliced our paddles noiselessly as possible through the water, and quickly caught up with the huge reptile. When the canoe glided alongside, we were only about six feet away. It was a much larger reptile than I anticipated... probably about a 10 footer or larger.
Suddenly it swung its massive tail, and with a loud smack and splash, it vanished beneath the surface churning the water which sent a wave crashing against the side of the canoe. For a few quick moments my adrenaline flowed like a stream while my heart pounded like a hammer as we sat there rocking back and forth in the unsettled water.
The others in our group had been following a short distance back, but no one took any photographs of the event. Maybe next time someone will take a picture if I'm foolish enough to canoe that close to a big gator again. From now on, I plan on staying a safer distance away from the big critters that live in the swamp.
(Click on photos to see bigger image)
Story and Photos © Steve Margison
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Last updated or revised on February 5, 2013.
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