Fireflies danced in the undergrowth and who has a soul so dead they don’t love fireflies?

The deer stayed in the thickets where they belong, not playing dodge-em cars out on the highway — which would have been a challenge in the first place since the nearest highway was a goodly number of miles away.

I wasn’t quite lost, but I could easily have been. Curiosity, a tourist brochure and a remote, winding, ill-repaired Louisiana blacktop took me to Tickfaw State Park, a spot not more than a couple hours drive from the Big Easy, but as distant from the sin and bright lights of Bourbon Street as a fellow can be without being in church.

What makes this special for a boy raised amid the orderly corn fields and platted towns of the Midwest is that Tickfaw, the name means “rest among the pines,” is situated in the midst of what most folks minds’ conjure up when they hear the word “swamp.” The air is thick, humid — it sets off a trickle of sweat down the middle of your back if you dare make the effort to lift a cold beer. Cypress groves stand rooted in dark, still water, only the piercing cries of unseen, unknown creatures breaking through the suffocating silence.

It’s an unnerving place for a fellow accustomed to bright lights and always-on internet. Get very far from what passes as the main road and your cell phone is good only as a paperweight. To the urban eye, one tree looks an awful lot like the tree you just passed and the cautionary sign regarding the potential presence of venomous snakes takes on a tummy-tightening reality with every glimpsed curved stick half-masked with moss and fallen leaves.

The sun filters down from directly above, and night falls swift as the arc of the day drops below the treetops. Even with the door-zipper snugged, my little red and white nylon pop-up tent offers scant security amidst the rising din as the trees, water and the air itself come alive with the hoots, squawks, thrums, and buzzings of the night birds, frogs and bugs in their billions. I assure myself that the loud splashing just yards away must be the gambols of the trio of marsh rats that offered a wary greeting at the edge of my clearing as I dared invade their living space. I make a conscious effort to not think of gators and reluctantly slip into sleep, struggling to ignore the 100 decibel tree frog doing a pitch perfect imitation of my iPhone alarm — or is it the alarm that imitates him?

By and large, a swamp hasn’t been a popular place. Seen as dank, mysterious and pestilential, millions of acres of marsh, pot-hole prairie and bottom land have been ditched and dried and even today, “Drain the Swamp!” is a popular political rallying cry among some folks suspicious of what goes on in a political environment they fear as hostile and haven’t taken time and effort to experience and understand.

For the swamp is a place rich in life and opportunity for those who know its inlets and outlets; who have learned where the quicksand lies, how to recognize the poison ivy, and how to keep the ‘skeeters at bay. Slow moving and seemingly impenetrable as it may seem it nurtures, filters or eliminates what enters in a myriad of ways. To drain the swamp without knowing what lies within it and how those things change and maintain the environments where we choose to live out our day-to-day lives is, at best, short-sighted and generally disastrous.

It may get rid of some ‘skeeters, but it also kills the fireflies.

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Jerome Christenson is a former reporter, columnist and editor at the Winona Daily News.


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