Dispatches From the Gulf Coastline – The Honey Island Swamp

Dispatches From the Gulf Coastline – The Honey Island Swamp

FOR ME, EXPLORATION HAS Often Begun AT CIVILIZATION’S End. In most destinations, a single have to retreat from the neon signals and golden arches and entirely exit the concrete jungle to find wilderness. Normally, if I have even a single bar of reception on my mobile cell phone, I haven’t wandered significantly enough. Most populated locations in The us try to integrate wilderness into civilization in the type of “eco-friendly spaces” – finely manicured plots of lawn and picnic benches that are intended to express a sense of nature and openness. In the Deep South, it’s the other way about. Listed here, tiny cities carve a sense of civilization into enormous, untamed wilds. Even much larger suburbs look strained to maintain a creeping wilderness at bay.

Slidell is a New Orleans suburb that lies below a canopy of loblolly pine on the northeast shore of Lake Pontchartrain. It truly is an spot saturated with rivers and bayous, where by small gravel roads direct to stilted property neighborhoods deep in the marshes exactly where you wouldn’t consider neighborhoods would or could be. It’s a lowland so very low (3 toes, to be precise) that the term “terra firma” isn’t going to genuinely implement. And as opposed to most sites in the nation, in this article just one can simultaneously be deep in the wilderness and a stone’s throw from a Waffle Property.

Slidell is bordered to the east by the West Pearl River, which flows from it can be headwaters in the space of the Nanih Waiya Indian Mounds in central Mississippi and drains into the Rigolets and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. The Pearl is house to the Honey Island Swamp, one of the most lovely and minimum-altered river swamps in the United States. It takes it is really name from tales of ample wild honey created by renegade bees that had escaped their beekeepers.

SWAMP Certain

We had produced no lodge reservations. There was nothing on the itinerary. We experienced no approach other than to push lonely roadways and explore overlooked corners of this subtropical wonderland. We drove slowly and gradually along Hwy 190, making an attempt to take everything in. I soon saw that tombs weren’t the only objects stolen away by Katrina’s flood waters. A large tugboat loomed just off the highway, miles from any open h2o. I received out to choose some pics and was instantly attacked by swarms of what looked like over-sized flying ants. These very little monsters arrived in mating pairs, and I was amazed that they would just take the time out of their procreative ceremony to sink their teeth (or fangs, or pokers, or what ever) into my forearms. My only selection was to operate until eventually I received shut ample to snap a couple pics, then dash again to the car. It can be awesome how fast an out-of-form thirty-12 months-old can run when becoming chased by hordes of two-headed satan bugs.

A few miles and quite a few extra beached boats later on, we pulled into a clamshell ton fronting a swamp museum on the banks of the Pearl. A wood walkway led out to the lender where by we satisfied two swamp tour captains, the two with large Cajun accents. It was early afternoon and the two captains had ended their excursions for the day. The swamp tour business enterprise was good before Katrina, they explained to me. Honey Island Swamp guides are now fortunate to have a single whole boat per working day, and it would have been a waste of gas and time to get only us on an following-hours tour. As we have been turning to walk back to our automobile, another tour boat floated by and provided to consider us aboard.

Ah, the swamp. Something I’ve viewed in many a movie but in no way expert for myself. It was amazingly silent for an location so rich with wildlife. The environment was suitable out of the boat start scene on the Pirates of the Caribbean trip at Disneyland- besides that unique experience scene was likely taken straight from listed here. Old ramshackle boathouses lined the financial institution throughout from the start, and I half expected to pass a fisherman strumming ‘O Susanna’ on his banjo right before plunging down a waterfall into the environment of swashbuckling pirates. But this was the actual offer. It was evident that Katrina experienced been listed here. Lines of boathouses floated deserted along the shore. Across from the launch 1 medium-sized boathouse rested atop a substantially smaller outhouse. A lesser boathouse floated beside the initial, seemingly untouched by the storm.


“I’m likely to change on a small AC,” claimed Captain Neil Benson, owner of Pearl River Eco-excursions. “Oh fantastic,” I considered. “I am dying out below!” Turns out he just meant he was going to push the boat seriously quickly. It did feel superior although. After rushing alongside the principal waterway for a mile or so, Captain Neil stopped to switch into a slender channel main into a slough he termed Lifeless River. A slough is a shallow backwater lake program that parallels the principal bayou waterway. The Honey Island Swamp is a 70,000 acre maze of these sloughs.

“Enjoy out for the large cutgrass as we go,” Neil warned as he pointed to thick patches of tall, broad-leafed grass that brushed the sides of the boat as we drifted past. “That’ll minimize your fingers quite very good.”

Neil Benson grew up in the swamp. He initial established out alone in a pirogue at age 10 and owned his 1st motorized flat boat at 12. “I know some folks out right here that are very odd. All people who lives in the swamp is jogging from anything- both the law or the voices in their heads.”

This caught my curiosity. I asked him later to elaborate.

“The swamp is a position to shed oneself- sometimes on reason, in some cases accidentally. If you are jogging absent from lifestyle, the swamp will simply accommodate your request and get no matter what earlier you had and hide it in its waters and beneath its cover of trees.”

We had been about a mile into Lifeless River’s labyrinth before I recognized I hadn’t been bitten by any bugs due to the fact we left the car. Not even one particular mosquito, which astonished me, offered we were being on an open boat deep in the swamp. In actuality, other than our toddler’s recurring tries to leap from the vessel, this was the most tranquil boat experience I have ever been on. The swamp is an eerily gorgeous position. Knobby knees of bald cypresses appear to be to float on the murky surface. The nevertheless, dark waters combine with the impenetrable fauna and moss-hung tupelos to solid a haunting, however enchanting spell. Wikipedia defines a swamp as “a wetland that capabilities short term or permanent inundation of substantial areas of land by shallow bodies of water.” Neil defines it as as an “underwater forest.”


Neil killed the engine as the slough opened into an oxbow lake or billabong, produced when a vast meander of the river is reduce off. I observed a little green tree frog perched on the handrail up coming to my elbow. Nevertheless the swamp is densely populated with wildlife, it usually takes a properly trained eye to basically location most of it. After I saw that frog, I began noticing them in all places. The swamp is like a 3-D Where’s Waldo reserve. The best way location wildlife is to believe of a person kind of animal and scan the banking institutions till you see it.

We don’t have a good deal of critters in Utah. I slumber on forest floors and dive into lakes and rivers with out a second assumed. My Texas-bred wife nearly went into cardiac arrest the to start with time she noticed me wade out into the Provo River for a swim. In Utah there is a notable deficiency of animals that can hurt/maim/kill you when compared to the Deep South. The most perilous creature to hikers in Utah is the rattlesnake- and even he will give you good warning prior to placing.

What’s unsettling to me in this lavatory is the wildlife you can’t see- the critters that lurk beneath the rusty area of the h2o. Neil suggests swimming in the swamp is no far more risky than swimming in any other river. “Sure, we have alligators, snakes and the occasional bull shark in the river. Yet, like most animals in their normal ecosystem, the animals are much more scared of people than humans are worried of them.”

Properly, I guess if it truly is only an occasional bull shark mixed in with the alligators and snakes. I feel so reassured!


Relatively of a political anomaly, Neil is a significant environmentalist who drives a pickup with an NRA bumper sticker. His adore for exploration and experience advanced into a enthusiasm for this fragile ecosystem, and he is been guiding swamp tours for above a ten years. A couple of times following hurricane Katrina practically stripped everyday living from the swamp by ripping off its canopy and flooding it with salt h2o, Neil ventured out to inspect the harm with reporter Ben Montgomery of the Tampa Tribune.

“This is unbelievable,” he informed Montgomery. “For the life of me, I would have never ever guessed it. It can be absent. All of it.”

“It was my initially time again in the swamp after the storm,” Neil tells me about the cell phone two many years later on on the second anniversary of Katrina’s landfall. “It was heart breaking. I’m not an psychological human being, but I have to inform you I was in tears.” A few several hours on a boat with Captain Neil reveals his zeal for this position.

Back in open up drinking water, we noticed our first gator. As soon as we spotted a single, we begun viewing them everywhere. As we handed, alligators would swim toward the boat angling for the marshmallows Neil would toss to them. He even arrived at out to pet the one particular he phone calls Big Al.

In the swamp, you see a great deal of things out of the corner of your eye. A frog or a snake listed here, an alligator or a wild boar there. Tales abound about an elusive creature affectionately called “The Point.” Of the quite a few noted sightings, no intelligible picture has ever been taken of the beast. But there are plenty of believers. The Honey Island Swamp monster is much more than a myth to fisherman and swamp-dwellers. Over the several years quite a few investigators have produced plaster casts of the monster’s intended footprints. Neil owns one of these casts. He favored not to go over it in the course of the tour, “due to the fact I would like to have some reliability.” His official placement? “I imagine in the Honey Island Swamp Monster and as a result, it exists. If God did not exist, it would be important to invent him.”

We did not witness this mythical creature that working day. But then yet again it’s possible we were only taken to the “vacationer-friendly” regions of the swamp exactly where the beast is considerably less likely to skulk. Seeking at a satellite image of the swamp I’m impressed at how minimal of it we noticed. Following time I am down that way I plan to encourage Neil to introduce me to the far more secreted grottoes of this mysterious and fantastic area.

Neil tells me he does consider people out on prolonged non-public excursions, but he demands prospects to indication a “indicator your existence away” waiver.

“Since when you get that far out in the center of nowhere, no 1 can forecast what might come about.”

Sign me up, Neil!