My daughter Courtney (nine years old) and I (ancient) had been planning a trip to the Okefenokee for about a year. We had held out little hope that it would happen because it can be difficult to get a backcountry permit in the swamp. There are only seven available campsites, and demand peaks during the spring season (when the bugs are low and the alligators are high!). However, we got lucky and were able to get a permit to camp at Canal Run on April 21. Against the objections, advice, and counsel of everyone we hold dear, we made our plans and set off to traverse the swamp from east to west. All told, the trip looked to be about 21 miles.
We set out at daybreak, Easter Monday morning, loaded our canoe, and entered the misty fog of the Suwannee Canal on our way west. We encountered three or four canoes during the first couple of hours, just day trippers exploring the edge of the swamp. However, after that we didn’t see another (human) soul for almost two days, until we reached Billy’s Lake.
The swamp lived up to expectation, and we saw many, many alligators, birds (including the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker), plants (some flesh-eating), insects (also a few flesh-eating species), and turtles. We stopped for lunch at Coffee Bay and dined with One-Eyed Jack, the 10-foot resident dinosaur of the area. As his name suggests, Jack has only one eye, the other likely lost in an encounter with another gator, or perhaps a paddle from some nervous canoeist. Unfortunately, in addition to his left eye, Jack has lost much of his natural aversion to humans, probably because he’s been fed by them much too often, and he approaches all too close.
After doing lunch with Jack, we continued on and arrived at Canal Run by mid-afternoon. We set up camp and then hurried off to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the Chase Prairie. On our way back to camp, we met Fred, the resident seven-foot alligator of Canal Run. Not unlike Jack, Fred appears to have been the victim of considerable human largess and doesn’t mind approaching closer than one would like. The evening spent with Fred was especially unnerving. Being the supreme predator in the immediate area, he spent most of the night noisily and happily splashing, hunting, and killing along the stream outside camp. Several times we pointed our flashlight out to see what was going on, and all that was visible were his two eerie orange eyes glowing in the night. Notwithstanding Fred’s nocturnal mischief, the rest of the evening was generally pleasant, with a nighttime chorus of the various frogs, owls, and crickets of the deep swamp. The Okefenokee is a real North American jungle and full of life, half of it always trying to eat the other half.