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Swamp tours offer a chance to get wet in the Big Cypress Preserve

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swamptourMy wife was worried when I told her about our swamp wading tour at Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery.
Won’t there be snakes and alligators? Maybe. Aren’t you worried? Nope. I told her that hundreds of people have been on these tours, and they haven’t lost anyone yet. Finally, she found a way to relax.
“I’ll just stay in the middle of the group,” she said. “That way they’ll bite you guys first.” You can’t argue with that kind of logic.

In black-and-white
Butcher now lives in Venice, where he has a gallery, but he made his reputation along the Tamiami Trail in the western Everglades. His uses old-fashioned view cameras to capture black-and-white landscape photographs that describe the vast sweep of earth, water and sky in South Florida. In 2000, he earned the Sierra Club’s Ansel Adams Award for the use of art in conservation.

Before our swamp walk, Butcher, 71, gave a short talk on his work and the 40th anniversary of the Big Cypress Preserve. His wife Niki finished his sentences and helped him recall dates and places.
They were Californians living on a boat when they moved to Florida.
“We had no idea what the Everglades were all about,” Butcher said, laughing. “I never imagined myself in the swamp.”

swamptournaomiCool-and-warm swamp
My wife clung to my arm when we stepped into the swamp, but she was surprised at how pleasant our walking tour turned out to be.
The water was cool on our legs and the sun was warm on our backs. Our tour guide, a naturalist named John Kalafarski, had a nice turn of phrase.
He described the Tamiami Trail as “the world’s longest dam,” which has cut off the natural flow of the Everglades for nearly a century. He described how a few inches of elevation can make a huge difference in the life of the swamp. Kalafarski seemed to know the names for every air plant and orchid we encountered.

My wife was excited when she pointed out a caterpillar he didn’t recognize. We didn’t see any snakes or gators, but we did leave Big Cypress with a lot to think about, which I think is the whole idea.

Interested?
Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery, 52388 E. Tamiami Trail, Ochopee, offers monthly swamp wading tours November through March. clydebutcher.com. 239-695-2428.
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, 137 Coastline Drive, Copeland, Fla., also offers monthly wading tours from November through March. orchidswamp.org. 239-695-1023.

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Last modified: February 20, 2014
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