"All good things are wild and free."
-Walking, Henry David Thoreau
Virginia’s Account of Swamp Walking
"We are in Clyde Butcher's Big Cypress Gallery's Swampland- he owns 13 of these beautiful acres," said Carol Gowing as she leads us into the waters of the Big Cypress National Preserve.
This is where renowned artist Clyde Butcher has lived and created some of his most iconic work.
The approximately two-hour tour will take you through sometimes waist-deep water, but it's completely see-through.
"Our water comes from rain water and it's beautiful and crystal clear," said Gowing.
This alone lowers the “alligator/water moccasin encounter fear factor” by at least 27 percent ... that is, until we approach an open pond as we carefully work our way through a tight path in the watery forest.
"We have a mommy gator here. At one point she had 32 babies. And she kind of hangs out in this area,” said Gowing.
Gowing assures us these alligators have no desire for human contact or flesh—unless we bother the babies.
We see the babies. We record video the babies. We do not bother the babies.
Moving on, we are treated to some of the swamp’s smallest treasures—whirligigs spinning in circles on the top of the water, an orchard spider tending to its web, and a little gray moth on bright greenery.
There is lichen on the trees and air plants too -- bromeliads -- and delicate flowers called "Grassy Arrowheads' growing up out of the water, and the purple Pickerel Weed is in bloom.
“We want people to recognize how beautiful the Everglades are and to be a part of enjoying and keeping the Everglades as they are," said Gowing.
We try to be witness to all this without disturbing it.
Grassy arrowheads in the waters of Big Cypress National Preserve. (Bobby Collins, staff)
You can take an Eco-Swamp Walk – it’s about two hours. Or you can try a Photo Safari Swamp Walk -- those last about three hours.
They offer the tours year-round and they can be tailored to ability and adventure levels.
So if you want to walk waist-high in water like Virginia and Bobby, you can do that.
You just have to ring the Clyde Butcher's Big Cypress Gallery in Ochopee.
They are located at 52388 Tamiami Trail, near Mile Marker 55, between Naples and Miami.
Their number is 239-695-2428.
They are open 7 days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Clyde Butcher. (Photo courtesy Big Cypress Gallery)