Give Us this Day our Daily Plague

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All right folks, it’s storytime!  Time to sit back for a moment and I will tell you a tale that will leave you all warm and fuzzy inside.  Yes I am talking about our local plagues and diseases.

I find it interesting that whenever I spend a full day away from the Swamp, I breathe a lot easier.  When I am here in the Swamp, I stay in a state of rather persistent sinus congestion.  When I visit places in South Carolina, northern Georgia – even Mayport in Jacksonville, I actually can breathe significantly better.  I am not the only one who has made this observation.  My wife and both her teenagers have said the exact same thing here just recently.

That got me to thinking (a dangerous thing).  You see, when I grew up in Charleston, I remember the story about how, in the 19th Century, Drayton Hall’s plantation house was saved.  When the Federal army was “liberating” the locals of their worldly possessions late in the Civil War, they also had this tendency to burn whatever they could not carry off.  This included the houses of the local land owners.  The owners of Drayton Hall, who noticed their neighbor’s houses go up in flames one-by-one, decided to fly a flag in front of their house stating they were in quarantine due to an outbreak of small pox.  Not wishing to risk a deeper investigation at some personal risk, the troops in blue marched on to Middleton Place Plantation next door where they proceeded to burn down the main house and dig up the family cemetery plots to look for buried valuables.  The house that stands there today is merely the guest house and office – not the original dwelling.

Here in the Swamp during the 19th Century, they seemed to have this persistent problem with local plagues.  Unlike Charleston, this port had no quarantine station.  That was a problem.  So any trans-Atlantic voyage that would create the inevitable sicknesses involved with humans living in close proximity with poor sanitation had no filter to keep these maladies away from the locals.  Also, considering the eastern half of the Okefenokee Swamp drains into the St. Marys River, you honestly never could imagine what new horror of beast or pestilence would emerge from the fetid local waters.  The local cemetery here bears witness to these plagues which included outbreaks of Yellow Fever, Malaria, Small pox and so much more.  Think about that as you add in the features that the sand gnats and mosquitoes are horrific (as I have mentioned) and they used to slaughter cattle along the waterfront (again this is the 19th Century) before shipping off the “fresh” beef to the West Indies.

Bearing all of this in mind, I was thinking the other day that maybe I should set a “plague flag” in front of the house.  Although it would not be false advertising, I am sure the locals might take umbrage to a Hazmat symbol hanging from a flagpole in the front of my house.  I do know the missionaries sent to my part of the woods from a variety of the not-so-local churches do not visit my house anymore.  I wonder if it was due to the time I chatted with them on my front porch during the Spring when the bugs were at their worst?  I figured if they wanted to chat, I am sure the local bugs would appreciate the blood contribution.  After all, I am used to being chewed alive when I am outside.  I think back to that moment and believe that those Utah residents may not want to visit Georgia ever again after that evening.

So some, twenty years ago when I moved here, I once possessed a fairly keen sense of smell.  Not so much these days.  I have spoke with my personal physician and they have prescribed me a variety of medications that “might” help.  They don’t.  But maybe this is not such a bad thing because as they continue work on the local sewers (don’t get me started about that debacle), it does not seem to bother me as much as the other folks – even the nasty smells that flood the main intersection of Georgia Highway 40 at Spur 40 near the middle school.  The locals know the one I am talking about.

Such is life here in the Swamp.

And you wonder why the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) is located in Goergia?  Well away from the Swamp!?

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The latest from the Swamp

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Over the past few months I have been blogging about life here in the Swamp.  As I have stated, I call it the Swamp by the fact I live downriver from one of the largest swamps in North America (the Okefenokee) and also by simply looking out into my backyard.  It sure looks like a swamp back there.  If you look at the map I have shown I live right under the area where its reads “Osborne Road.”

It is generally accepted that this place where I live is a small town in every sense of the word.  Some people like that.  As for me I grew up in the suburbs of Charleston (S.C.) where we did interact with Mother Nature – just not at the intimate level we do here.  I have mentioned before there was a transition time for me when I moved here in ’95 because I discovered flora and fauna living here that has yet to be imagined by the most exotic Science Fiction writers.  Being the self-proclaimed tree-hugger that I am, I figured my experiences in the marshlands and backwoods of Carolina would translate well to these woods.  I was wrong.  SO, so very wrong.

Lately, due to the unusual weather we have had this year, Mother Nature in this area has decided to write new chapters in animal behaviors.  There are things in bloom now due to the December temperatures in the 80’s that usually do not bloom until March.  To make matters worse, The winter allergies are also colliding with the early Spring allergies.  My dying chili peppers suddenly have found new life and are exploding in growth along with my chocolate mints plants and peppermint plants (I also see by the weather forecast where the temps are going to be near freezing in 48 hours).  I have seen a bobcat trying to make a home in my backyard, which means the pesky squirrels are all up in the trees nearly petrified in fright.  I know bobcats are shy of people and as long as these local ninja squirrels stay away from my house I can live with a freakishly shy predator in my backyard.  Then again, most felines are psychopathic serial killers and drama queens – just look at the common house cat.

One new development that has my attention now are the reports of feral hogs all up and down the coastal regions.  From the Saint Marys River (where the actual Georgia-Florida border is located) up to the Crooked River State Park are quickly becoming infested with feral hogs both large and small.  It seems the abundance of flora that grew during the massive amount of rain we received this year, which has been prolonged by the very warm temperatures, has led to a serious population explosion of the ugliest black hogs you have ever seen.  These foul-tempered beasts are angry (because they are pigs) and they are motivated.  When the food begins to dry up come the new year, they will be looking for food in all the wrong places.

Not to be deterred from a free meal, I spoke with some of the locals who are planning to take full advantage of the pork chops on the hoof running in their backyards.  I was told that these pigs cannot see green light, so they are ordering their Greenlight Scopes for their rifles now.  When deer season ends (and it will be over soon), then these porcine vigilantes will be out with the green lights, making pig noises in the dark to attract the fastest piece of BBQ ever created.  Nor that the locals are out in the woods at night making pig noises is unusual, but bear in mind they ARE armed.  Also, it seems word got out about the demise of the local’s version of “Hogzilla” who brazenly attacked a local game warden while he was fully armed and on duty.  Hogzilla is now peacefully located in that game warden’s freezer after he was processed by the local wildlife butcher.  As to the actual size of this monster all I can say is I did not see him personally, but I hear estimates are in the 400# range.

This past weekend, I was startled to hear gunshots on the railroad tracks behind my house.  I called the non-emergency line and asked if the local constables were aware of these gunshots.  They dispatched this nice lady officer who said it was fireworks.  I respectfully told her that it was not fireworks because I have been on enough gun ranges to be familiar with the rapport of a 12-gauge shotgun.  She laughed and said she knew that, but that she was telling the residents what she had been told to say.  She went on further to tell me that another off-duty police officer had phoned in a call describing the exact thing I was saying.  As we continued to talk she did mention that wild pigs had overrun the place where the old paper mill had been located – less than a half-mile from my house.  So likely it was either a pig hunter looking for a Christmas meal or somebody acting in self-defense to yet another creature of the swamp.  All I know was I would not going in my back yard without a spotlight that was strong enough to flag down a 747 on its final approach to Jacksonville Airport.

Now I know we have all heard of Murphy’s Law.  You know the one where if something can go wrong it will go wrong.  Well this year my wife and I decided after getting slammed with high water bills during the drought of 2014 we broke down and bought a water barrel to collect the water draining off the roof.  We knew Whole Foods in Jacksonville was selling them for $85.00 and it could hold up to 55 gallons.  It has a screen on top of the barrel to inhibit mosquito infestation and the barrel is clearly marked “non-potable water.”  To save money, we would use this water for cleaning and to water the plants outside with nature’s own water and not the city’s more expensive potable water.  So go figure, we get so much rain that the barrel regularly overfills and we only have used the water we have collected for cleaning the truck and scrubbing floors.  Why do I mention this?  Well my next door neighbor has lived in her house since it was built in 1960.  It was her late brother that built my house.  She asked me about the barrel, because she had no clue what it was looking at it from her yard.  Then she told me that when she was a little girl, they too would collect rainwater.  She said her mother would place a piece of copper in the water because it would taint the water enough to stop mosquitos from laying eggs in it.  I confessed I had never heard such a thing.  Needless to say, we found some copper to place inside the barrel within a day or two.

Again, knowing my luck, some pig will come by the middle of the night and jam his tusk into the bottom of the barrel right before another drought begins.  Call it a drive-by tusking….

So there you go.  We have bobcats chasing squirrels, pigs chasing game wardens, porcine vigilantes shooting at pigs in a warped “Stand Your Ground” shooting scenario and weather so out of whack that even Mother Nature is going, “what the heck…”

Such is life in the Swamp.

Ya’ll have a great Christmas, Yule, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Saturnalia and/or New Year.  I will be staying inside.

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Fallout Shelter – Swamp Style

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Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, we came to recognize the symbol above as a place where you would hunker down in case of a sudden nuclear attack.  We can laugh at this today but please bear in mind we had films and such that conveyed to us that if we were smart and we ducked under our desks if we saw a bright flash we would make it through World War III alive.  Nevermind the very desk we were ducking under would be kindling after the blast wave arrived….

My house in the Swamp here was built in 1960.  Apparently the original occupant was scared enough during the Cuban Missile Crisis of ’62 that he had a bomb shelter built directly in the backyard.  Today I would ask him what he was thinking because (1) the warning time from missile penetration into U.S airspace to detonation here just north of Jacksonville would be no greater than ten minutes.  Also, (2) there is a reason why we don’t have cellar in the Swamp – they flood – badly.  Finally, (3) what naturally is attracted to dark, damp places?  Bugs, and lots of them.  Which is great because they would be the only residents  left after the radiation settles.  But whomever was selling these shelters apparently got three residents to buy them and have them installed.  Apparently the locals knew where to run in case of sudden war I guess.

When I first moved in to this house in 1995, I had no clue I had a shelter in my yard.  I thought the water pumps and pipes were a part of the city’s water system.  After living here a few years I mentioned this to a neighbor and they revealed it’s true purpose.  Then it was followed up by a stunning revelation.  Apparently as a child he had used it as an underground swimming pool!  Bear in mind this space is only 10 foot by ten foot by six feet in height.  Also, that explained all the water pumps and pipes in the area.  I asked him why they used such a small space underground for “swimming” and he told me it was to avoid getting sunburn.   Yea… okay.

About ten to twelve years ago I went down into the space and saw that it was dry.  I moved some “extra” furniture down there, but since then the ventilation pipes have collapsed and the space is now a bug-infested flooded space.  I dare no use the wooden ladder that was installed there because it would collapse under any amount of weight.  So I do what I can to make sure nobody gets in there by placing about a half-ton of concrete on top of the entrance hatch to the shelter.

I do occasionally get asked about the shelter.  Some of the locals tell me it is awesome I have it because I have someplace to go during a hurricane.  I respond with “Sure, with the storm surge I am happy I have a place where the rescue teams can find the bodies after the water subsides.  Some tell me it is a great place during a tornado, but again, after moving all the rocks off the hatch I am sure I will be in rough shape as the funnel passes and I am outside.

Hopefully those locals who know about the shelter will not pass this knowledge to their kin in case of World War III.  I can only imagine living within miles of a nuclear submarine base that this damp hole in the ground will keep all of us safe from a sudden strike.  Trust me the last thing I want is to become a permanent monument here in the Swamp.

 

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A Peg Legged Goose

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I was running late from leaving work earlier this week and I knew I was needed at home.  I drove my truck away from my office when I quickly encountered a large pack of fifty or so Canadian Geese loitering in the middle of the main road I use when I leave at night.  Knowing full well that honking at them with the horn is useless, I refrained from that course of action.  I edged just a few inches at a time towards the grounded flock and they got the message clear enough as they broke into two groups.  Suddenly, the group on the left of the truck wanted to rejoin the larger body of geese on the right side of the road so once again they ran out in front of the truck impeding my progress. And, as it turns out, the goose at the end of this procession was an adult goose with a limp from a damaged right leg.  Moving at the speed of lint, they finally cleared the road and I moved myself cheerily along.  When I was asked why I was running late, all I said was I was held up by a peg-legged goose.  My wife did not blink at my answer – in fact it appeared to be an acceptable answer.

We have lived here in the Swamp waaaay too long.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy where I work.  I have been nearly run over in the parking lot by deer and I have seen some prize wild turkeys foraging in the back of my building. Currently, I have been assigned the task of dealing with any of the snakes and insects that get INSIDE the office building (yes you read that right) and I am also called to identify any mysterious fauna that manages to pop it’s head into the view of any of my co-workers (because there is the threat it could kill us).  Near my office we have encountered eagles, hawks, ibis, spoonbills, storks, egrets, snakes of all shapes and sizes, gators and turtles in the ditches, geese, coyotes (way back in the woods), turkeys, opossums, raccoon, bobcats, angry wild boars, deer and marines.  One day I do expect the ghost of Marlin Perkins with his beloved Sherpa to come out of the woods from behind the building to say we have been filmed the whole time.

I will give credit where credit is due.  We have a veteran and talented Game Warden that works with us and an excellent staff of environmental engineers and technicians that make sure the wildlife in our areas are well taken care of.  Having come from an industrial work area whose biggest natural threat was a wharf rat the size of a large beaver, this was a bit of a change.  Trust me I am not complaining, but when I spoke with the police in our area I asked them what their biggest challenge was and they all said the wildlife.  And these guys are armed!

Such is life in the Swamp.

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