Dispatches From the Gulf Coastline – The Honey Island Swamp

FOR ME, EXPLORATION HAS Usually Started AT CIVILIZATION’S End. In most destinations, a person must retreat from the neon signs and golden arches and thoroughly exit the concrete jungle to locate wilderness. Commonly, if I have even just one bar of reception on my cell mobile phone, I haven’t wandered far more than enough. Most populated spots in The us endeavor to integrate wilderness into civilization in the variety of “eco-friendly areas” – finely manicured plots of lawn and picnic benches that are supposed to convey a sense of character and openness. In the Deep South, it truly is the other way about. Here, modest towns carve a sense of civilization into huge, untamed wilds. Even larger suburbs seem to be strained to keep 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 region saturated with rivers and bayous, exactly where little gravel roadways direct to stilted household neighborhoods deep in the marshes where by you would not assume neighborhoods would or could be. It’s a lowland so reduced (3 feet, to be precise) that the phrase “terra firma” isn’t going to seriously apply. And not like most destinations in the state, listed here a single can simultaneously be deep in the wilderness and a stone’s toss from a Waffle Property.

Slidell is bordered to the east by the West Pearl River, which flows from it really is headwaters in the area of the Nanih Waiya Indian Mounds in central Mississippi and drains into the Rigolets and sooner or later into the Gulf of Mexico. The Pearl is residence to the Honey Island Swamp, 1 of the most lovely and minimum-altered river swamps in the United States. It normally takes it is name from tales of abundant wild honey produced by renegade bees that experienced escaped their beekeepers.

SWAMP Certain

We had manufactured no lodge reservations. There was almost nothing on the itinerary. We had no plan other than to travel lonely roads and take a look at overlooked corners of this subtropical wonderland. We drove little by little along Hwy 190, seeking to take every little thing in. I shortly observed that tombs were not the only objects stolen absent by Katrina’s flood waters. A huge tugboat loomed just off the freeway, miles from any open up drinking water. I got out to just take some photographs and was quickly attacked by swarms of what appeared like over-sized traveling ants. These very little monsters came in mating pairs, and I was stunned that they would consider the time out of their procreative rite to sink their enamel (or fangs, or pokers, or whichever) into my forearms. My only option was to operate until eventually I bought close plenty of to snap a few photographs, then dash back again to the car. It’s wonderful how fast an out-of-form thirty-calendar year-aged can run when remaining chased by hordes of two-headed satan bugs.

A couple of miles and quite a few a lot more beached boats later, we pulled into a clamshell ton fronting a swamp museum on the banks of the Pearl. A wooden walkway led out to the lender the place we satisfied two swamp tour captains, both with hefty Cajun accents. It was early afternoon and each captains had ended their tours for the day. The swamp tour company was superior before Katrina, they instructed me. Honey Island Swamp guides are now fortunate to have just one comprehensive boat per day, and it would have been a squander of gas and time to consider only us on an just after-hours tour. As we had been turning to stroll back again to our automobile, another tour boat floated by and supplied to get us aboard.

Ah, the swamp. A little something I’ve witnessed in a lot of a movie but under no circumstances seasoned for myself. It was amazingly peaceful for an location so loaded with wildlife. The placing was ideal out of the boat launch scene on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland- besides that certain journey scene was almost certainly taken straight from below. Old ramshackle boathouses lined the financial institution across from the start, and I fifty percent expected to go a fisherman strumming ‘O Susanna’ on his banjo in advance of plunging down a waterfall into the environment of swashbuckling pirates. But this was the true offer. It was clear that Katrina experienced been listed here. Lines of boathouses floated abandoned along the shore. Across from the launch a person medium-sized boathouse rested atop a a great deal lesser outhouse. A smaller boathouse floated beside the very first, seemingly untouched by the storm.


“I’m heading to change on a tiny AC,” said Captain Neil Benson, operator of Pearl River Eco-excursions. “Oh fantastic,” I assumed. “I’m dying out in this article!” Turns out he just meant he was likely to drive the boat definitely rapid. It did truly feel very good while. Right after rushing along the key waterway for a mile or so, Captain Neil stopped to convert into a narrow channel major into a slough he termed Lifeless River. A slough is a shallow backwater lake technique that parallels the primary bayou waterway. The Honey Island Swamp is a 70,000 acre maze of these sloughs.

“Look at out for the huge 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 previous. “That’ll minimize your fingers very fantastic.”

Neil Benson grew up in the swamp. He to start with established out by yourself in a pirogue at age 10 and owned his initially motorized flat boat at 12. “I know some people out right here that are fairly strange. Every person who lives in the swamp is jogging from a little something- both the regulation or the voices in their heads.”

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

“The swamp is a spot to lose yourself- in some cases on goal, from time to time accidentally. If you are jogging absent from daily life, the swamp will effortlessly accommodate your request and choose what ever earlier you had and hide it in its waters and beneath its cover of trees.”

We had been about a mile into Useless River’s labyrinth right before I understood I hadn’t been bitten by any bugs considering that we left the vehicle. Not even one particular mosquito, which amazed me, offered we were being on an open boat deep in the swamp. In truth, other than our toddler’s recurring tries to leap from the vessel, this was the most peaceful boat journey I have ever been on. The swamp is an eerily stunning place. Knobby knees of bald cypresses feel to float on the murky surface area. The continue to, darkish waters combine with the impenetrable fauna and moss-hung tupelos to forged a haunting, however enchanting spell. Wikipedia defines a swamp as “a wetland that features short term or long lasting inundation of significant areas of land by shallow bodies of drinking water.” Neil defines it as as an “underwater forest.”


Neil killed the motor as the slough opened into an oxbow lake or billabong, made when a large meander of the river is slash off. I discovered a modest environmentally friendly tree frog perched on the handrail next to my elbow. Nevertheless the swamp is densely populated with wildlife, it normally takes a skilled eye to essentially place most of it. After I saw that frog, I commenced noticing them everywhere. The swamp is like a 3-D Where’s Waldo e-book. The finest way place wildlife is to believe of just one style of animal and scan the banking companies right up until you see it.

We don’t have a large amount of critters in Utah. I rest on forest flooring and dive into lakes and rivers without the need of a second imagined. My Texas-bred spouse approximately went into cardiac arrest the first time she noticed me wade out into the Provo River for a swim. In Utah there is a noteworthy lack of animals that can hurt/maim/get rid of 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 ahead of placing.

What’s unsettling to me in this bathroom is the wildlife you are not able to see- the critters that lurk beneath the rusty floor of the h2o. Neil says swimming in the swamp is no much more hazardous than swimming in any other river. “Indeed, we have alligators, snakes and the occasional bull shark in the river. Yet, like most animals in their all-natural ecosystem, the animals are more afraid of human beings than people are frightened of them.”

Effectively, I guess if it can be only an occasional bull shark mixed in with the alligators and snakes. I sense so reassured!


Fairly of a political anomaly, Neil is a serious environmentalist who drives a pickup with an NRA bumper sticker. His really like for exploration and experience evolved into a enthusiasm for this delicate ecosystem, and he is been guiding swamp excursions for more than a 10 years. A couple of days right after hurricane Katrina practically stripped lifetime from the swamp by ripping off its canopy and flooding it with salt water, Neil ventured out to examine the problems with reporter Ben Montgomery of the Tampa Tribune.

“This is unbelievable,” he instructed Montgomery. “For the lifetime of me, I would have never guessed it. It’s absent. All of it.”

“It was my initial time again in the swamp just after the storm,” Neil tells me more than the mobile phone two years later on on the 2nd anniversary of Katrina’s landfall. “It was coronary heart breaking. I am not an emotional particular person, but I have to tell you I was in tears.” A pair hrs on a boat with Captain Neil reveals his zeal for this area.

Back again in open drinking water, we noticed our 1st gator. After we noticed 1, we began viewing them just about everywhere. As we handed, alligators would swim toward the boat angling for the marshmallows Neil would toss to them. He even reached out to pet the a person he phone calls Large Al.

In the swamp, you see a large amount of factors out of the corner of your eye. A frog or a snake right here, an alligator or a wild boar there. Tales abound about an elusive creature affectionately referred to as “The Point.” Of the quite a few claimed sightings, no intelligible photo has at any time been taken of the beast. But there are a great deal of believers. The Honey Island Swamp monster is additional than a myth to fisherman and swamp-dwellers. Above the yrs numerous investigators have generated plaster casts of the monster’s meant footprints. Neil owns a single of these casts. He favored not to go over it during the tour, “for the reason that I’d like to have some credibility.” His formal placement? “I imagine in the Honey Island Swamp Monster and therefore, it exists. If God did not exist, it would be essential to invent him.”

We did not witness this legendary creature that day. But then again possibly we were being only taken to the “tourist-helpful” regions of the swamp wherever the beast is less probable to skulk. Looking at a satellite graphic of the swamp I am shocked at how tiny of it we observed. Future time I’m down that way I strategy to convince Neil to introduce me to the far more secreted grottoes of this mysterious and excellent position.

Neil tells me he does consider people today out on prolonged private excursions, but he involves prospects to indication a “signal your existence away” waiver.

“For the reason that when you get that far out in the middle of nowhere, no one can predict what may perhaps take place.”

Signal me up, Neil!