Cover image for Okefenokee
Niemeyer, Lucian.
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Publication Information:
Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, [2002]

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x, 166 pages : color illustrations, color map ; 24 x 31 cm
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Central Library QH105.G4 N54 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

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Whenever human or animal feet stepped upon the floating land of Okefenokee, it trembled. This phenomenon gave the swamp its Native American name, Okefenokee, "trembling earth."

Okefenokee's beginnings in what is now southern Georgia and northeastern Florida can be traced back seven thousand years, when rivers veering toward the Atlantic Ocean created a massive ridge that held back a deep bowl of sand. Seeds and other organic matter drifting on its surface spawned floating islands. Over this fragile, now sedentary terrain flow many streams that feed two rivers--the Suwanee, emptying into the Gulf of Mexico, and St. Mary's River, into the Atlantic.

This is Okefenokee, one of America's most spectacular wetlands, a mosaic of plants and animals in an ecosystem unlike any other in the world. Cypresses draped in Spanish moss line the waterways. The floating islands harbor carnivorous plants and conceal the meanderings of alligators. From beds of sphagnum moss come the tack-hammering calls of carpenter frogs. Several hundred black bear still roam Okefenokee, and the haunting calls of sandhill cranes echo through the morning fog.

The fascinating image and the primeval spirit of Okefenokee are captured in this dazzling book of full-color photographs by the acclaimed photographer Lucian Niemeyer. Revealing the swamp's amazing diversity of wildlife and plants--alligators, cranes, trees, mosses, flowers, and both natural and man-made habitats--Niemeyer's images cover the swamp's length and breadth and make Okefenokee an invaluable overview of this wetlands treasure.

George W. Folkerts's accompanying text sheds light on the history of this lush, natural marvel and of the impact made by the settlements of Native Americans, European explorers, and modern Americans. He details both its fragility and the human efforts to assure the swamp's conservation. This is a sweeping, comprehensive portrait that reveals the vibrant beauty of Okefenokee's flora, fauna, and breathtaking landscapes.

Lucian Niemeyer lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His books include Chesapeake Country , Long-Legged Wading Birds of the North American Wetlands , Old Order Amish , Shenandoah: Daughter of the Stars , and Where Water Meets Land .

George W. Folkerts, a professor of zoology at Auburn University, has written textbooks on environmental problems and has published papers on a great variety of biological topics.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Photographer Niemeyer (Long-Legged Wading Birds of the North American Wetlands) and Folkerts (zoology, Auburn Univ.) successfully collaborate on a photographic and textual paean to this huge nearly half a million acres and famous swamp in southeastern Georgia and northern Florida. At first glance, Okefenokee might appear to fall in the genre of coffee-table book; there are pages and pages of stunning color photographs, many of them filling the entire page. But the text has substance: Folkerts's writing is as artistic and inspiring as Niemeyer's gorgeous photos, maybe even more so, and Folkerts carefully summarizes the swamp's geographical setting, geological history, and plant and animal life as well as the impact of Native Americans, European settlers, and modern Americans. Strongly recommended for all public and academic libraries in the Southeast and for large environmental collections elsewhere. Lynn C. Badger, Univ. of Florida Lib., Gainesville (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



THE NATURAL SETTING THE OKEFENOKEE. The name alone engenders visions of a place mysterious, of a region never completely knowable. Okefenokee, as a human utterance, belongs with Xanadu, Camelot, Atlantis, Avalon, and Hyperborea. These are legendary places of the world, places we all wish to know and experience, sites which it sometimes pains us to realize are largely imaginary. In older speech the Swamp was the Ecunfinocaw, Eckenfinooka, or Ouaqua-phenogaw. These ancient words slip from the tongue with a guttural softness that makes the place they name even more compelling and enigmatic. They are said to mean "trembling earth," supposedly alluding to the floating quaking masses of vegetation which occur in some areas of the Swamp. Unlike the fabled places of legend, the Okefenokee is real. It is real to the extent that it can be seen and experienced, real enough to allow one to feel the underlying throbbing and humming of life, real to the degree that devotees can enumerate the birds and plants in Adamic pursuits, but, one hopes, never so real that its magic and mystery fade into harsh twenty-first-century reality. The Okefenokee, like the Camargue, Okavango, Pantanal, Sunderbans, and other mystical watery places, is one of the planet's major wetlands. Lying in a region of southeastern Georgia and adjacent Florida that was little known until recently, the Okefenokee Swamp and its surroundings are rich in natural heritage and in the history of the study of nature. At the edge of the Atlantic lie the many islands of the "golden coast," a few still retaining vestiges of their primeval state. At the mouth of the Altamaha River are the fabled "Marshes of Glynn," made famous by Sidney Lanier's poem. Above them, somewhere along the upper course of this river, William Bartram found plants of the lost Franklinia, the only North American tree extinct in the wild state. In the stream of the Altamaha, the spiny elliptio, one of the strangest and rarest of North American clams, still survives, as do other unique mollusks. The Suwannee, which originates in the Swamp, is as rich in natural history as it is in the celebrated cultural history of song and story. The Okefenokee Swamp, with its various append ages, sprawls over nearly half a million acres. There is little point in trying to delimit its boundaries precisely. In many parts it more or less fades into the surrounding uplands, smaller satellite wetlands stringing off in many directions. To the south, across the Florida line, it is hard to tell where the Okefenokee ends and Pinhook Swamp or Moccasin Swamp begins. As with most swamps, there are parts that are wet at one time but barely moist or totally dry at other times. The depression in which the Okefenokee lies is itself enigmatic. Some believe that it was once a lagoon at the edge of the Atlantic. Others consider it to be the largest of the Carolina Bay depressions, mysterious elliptical shallow basins oriented in a southeast-northwest direction, which dot the Coastal Plain from North Carolina to southern Georgia. The method by which Carolina Bays formed is uncertain, with ideas ranging from a meteor shower to scouring by schools of fish at a time when the Coastal Plain was an ocean bottom. Research by J. D. Davis seems to indicate that certain of the islands in the Swamp are remnants of the sand ridges typical of the southeastern edges of Carolina Bays. Conspicuously curved raised areas such as Billys Island, The Pocket, and Honey Island do look a bit like sand ridges, some with their open faces to the northwest, and so could be components of these paradoxical depressions. Recently, a number of geologists have claimed that dissolution of underlying limestone has been the major reason for the development of the Okefenokee depression. If this is the case, one might think of the Swamp as comparable to a giant sinkhole pond, like those which dot the southeastern Coastal Plain in many regions. Presently, the Swamp is isolated from the Atlantic by Trail Ridge, a linear crest of sandy soil that extends south into Florida. This ridge is too large and of the wrong shape to be associated with a Carolina Bay. It is probably a remnant of a former coastal dune system or sandbar. As such, it could have formed at the edge of the Atlantic more than two hundred thousand years ago, meaning that the contours of land that eventually formed the Okefenokee were already then beginning to take place. Trail Ridge, although traditionally thought of as being the barrier that created the Swamp by isolating it from the Atlantic, may not actually block the flow of water from the Swamp to the ocean. Rather, rainwater that accumulates in the sandhills of Trail Ridge may eventually contribute to the water in the Swamp. This concept is an important one because, if correct, it means that alterations of Trail Ridge could result in significant changes in the Swamp. How was the Okefenokee formed? We may never know with certitude. As with the origin of Carolina Bays, as with the extinction of the dinosaurs, as with the origins of Appalachian balds, pick your hypothesis and you will be among a group of adherents. No matter what the method of formation was, many may view the Okefenokee as an "eternal swamp," and think of it as a habitat of exceptional age. Among the general public, few would quibble if it were claimed that here dinosaurs once tread. This impression, though obviously attractive, is wrong. In the oldest peats at the bottom of the mucky lining of the Okefenokee basin lie pollen grains, preserved for centuries by the acidity. The most ancient of these minute remnants is no more than seven thousand years old. This means that the early Native Americans of the region may have witnessed the birth of the Okefenokee, human beings having arrived in southeastern North America sometime between eighteen thousand and eight thousand years before the present. The earliest direct evidence of human presence in the Swamp dates from only about forty-five hundred years ago. It is likely that the Okefenokee depression was originally one huge complex of interconnected marshes, with few trees or shrubs. Four and one half millennia ago, cypress trees arrived at the swamp, dispersing to this area from warmer habitats near the coasts. Many other woody plants seem to have become abundant at this time. As a result of the melting of polar ice caps, sea level continued to rise during most of the Swamp's history. This implies that water levels in the swamp have also continued to rise gradually, keeping pace with the rate at which peat was accumulating and thereby maintaining swampy conditions. For the past several thousand years the Swamp probably resembled its state when the first Europeans arrived. The Okefenokee lies in an area dominated by warm temperate conditions. The average temperature is about seventy degrees Fahrenheit, warm enough for large reptiles, such as the alligator, to thrive. Between early March and mid November, temperatures seldom drop low enough to cause frost damage to plants. Even in the winter, the temperature averages above fifty degrees. Snowfall is very rare in the Okefenokee. In a century, one might expect measurable amounts of snow in fewer than one year of five. During the long hot summers, the average daily maximum temperature is around ninety degrees. Rainfall in a typical year is between fifty and sixty inches. The delivery of water to the Swamp by rain is not evenly distributed throughout the year. The period from October to December is the driest part of the year. Summers of ten experience over thirty inches of rain. Several severe droughts have occurred in recorded history, the most recent in 1954. Every few years, in late summer or autumn, the Okefenokee feels the effects of hurricanes that have moved up the Atlantic Coast or in from the Gulf. Although damage to native life forms is seldom noticeable, heavy rains associated with the tropical depressions often occur for several days. A hurricane in the 1800s is said to have destroyed live oak stands on some Okefenokee islands. The water in the Swamp usually has the color of a weak tea. The stain comes from humic acids dissolved out of decaying vegetation. Many streams and rivers of the Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States have similar darkly stained waters. The term "blackwater" is often used. Because they do not run for appreciable lengths over mineral soils or rock, they carry mainly substances found in peaty waters and therefore tend to be low in nutrients. Only small amounts of suspended particles are found in black water streams, causing them to have low scouring power during floods. This also means that black water streams have little material to deposit on floodplains during times of flood. All these features affect and are affected by the Swamp. Their influence extends down the Suwannee and St. Marys, eventually having consequences in the marshes at their mouths. The acid waters of the Swamp were known to sea captains as early as the 1600s. They traveled upstream on the St. Marys to take on fresh water, which kept for long periods because of the low bacterial count and acid conditions. Presently, the swamp varies in elevation from 128 feet at the northern end to about 100 feet or a little more at the southern end. The water flows slowly at most places, at some sites imperceptibly or not at all. Flow tends to be most rapid in the early spring, with another lesser peak in late summer. The most rapid water movement occurs in the watercourses that give rise to the rivers. The bulk of the water moves in a southward direction, although here and there one can find channels or passages flowing in almost any direction. Most of the water entering the swamp through rain and runoff from adjacent lands is lost to the air by evaporation from the surface, or returns to the air through the leaves of plants. The major areas of flow by which water leaves the Swamp form two rivers of respect able size. Originating near the southeast corner of the Swamp, the St. Marys River, the Thlathlathlakupkha of earlier Americans, carries to the Atlantic a little less than 10 percent of the water output. From the southwestern portion, the flow divide being just west of Chase Prairie, the Suwannee and its tributary, Cypress Creek, convey nearly a fourth of the water flow over a 250-mile course to the Gulf of Mexico. Surface water may move through the swamp in less than half a year. However, water among the peat fragments at the Swamp's bottom may be very old, perhaps residing for hundreds of years among the same particles. The portions of the Swamp that flow noticeably are the watercourses that eventually lead to the St. Marys and the Suwannee, and the capillary net work of "runs" that converge and sometimes divide again among the various swamp habitats. Many of the small streams that bring water into the swamp originate in the northwest portion. Although these contribute a small portion of the water in the basin, much of the water in the Swamp is derived from rain that falls on the Swamp itself. Broadening among the watercourses are lakes having gentler or nearly imperceptible flow. Most are long and narrow, their length sometimes reaching five miles but their width seldom exceeding a hundred yards. The familiar large lakes include Billys Lake, Minnies Lake and Big Water Lake. Many of the smaller lakes and ponds among the trees and marshes have enchanting names like Sometime Hole, Beegum Lake, Buzzard's Roost Lake, and Fishing Pole Lake. Some are named after people, such as Christie Lake, Dan Durkins Lake, and Coward Lake. We call the Okefenokee a "swamp." From some viewpoints it could just as easily be called a marsh or a bog. In the southeastern United States, "swamp" usually means an area of wet soil or water, flowing or still, in which trees are conspicuous components of the vegetation. Charles Wharton, the authority on Georgia's natural environments, refers to the Okefenokee as a "bog swamp," and considers it a unique mosaic of habitats. The complexity of the meshwork of natural environments in the Okefenokee is actually beyond description, but by attempting to simplify our viewpoint we may succeed in grasping some of the variety. Many of the habitat types bear names that originated in the vernacular of the early Europe an settlers of the area. Confusion often results unless one is provided with rough synonyms based on a more familiar terminology. The large open marshy expanses without trees, known as prairies, are the most unique and in some ways the strangest portions of the Swamp. Prairies lie mainly in the eastern reaches of the Swamp in areas with thick peat deposits. Water in prairie areas ranges from a foot to a yard deep during years with normal rainfall. The only areas with deeper water are the watercourses themselves and the scattered lakes. The bottom consists of a layer of soggy peat that may go down an additional ten feet. Only in rare periods of extreme drought do the prairies become dry, although the peat surface may be exposed during periods of low rainfall. Some prairies are dominated by plants with floating or broadly expanded leaves, such as fragrant water lily, floating hearts, golden club, watershield, and spatterdock. Other prairies, of ten shallower, are typified by dense stands of emergent herbs, including a variety of sedges and grasses. Most prairies are intermediate between these types, and they tend to run together. Also common are yellow-eyed grasses, pipeworts, and arrow arum. Fringing areas may be dominated by taller grasslike plants, such as maidencane and beakrushes. Three distinctive kinds of carnivorous plants also occur in prairie habitats. Virginia chain fern of ten forms dense stands, especially where masses of sphagnum moss have accumulated. These habitats have been called fern bogs. The larger prairies, such as Chase Prairie, Chesser Prairie, Grand Prairie, and Floyds Prairie, may be over five miles in their longest dimension. Chase Prairie occupies over six thousand acres, an area larger than many metropolitan airports. The aspects of the prairies are constantly changing as plants flower, produce seed, die, and are replaced by later bloomers. Flocks of birds come and leave again. As the prairies age they are invaded by woody plants. With the help of fire they may fight back the invaders and expand again. They are almost organisms. Frequent visits to the prairies reveal that each has a unique personality. In the words of J. G. Needham, famous student of dragon flies, the Okefenokee prairies are among the most "wonderful waterscapes" of the continent. Continue... Excerpted from OKEFENOKEE by George W. Folkerts Copyright © 2002 by George W. Folkerts Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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