The Swamp and Old Mr. No Shoulders

I was in my early 20s when everything I knew to be true, sure, and certain in life was destroyed. 

I remember the day well. I was at Oak Mountain State park on a sunny, fall day. I was sitting on the bank of the lake when I saw a snake swimming toward me. I wasn’t worried because it was in water and I was on land. 

A little voice told me to keep watching it anyway. So I did. 

I watched as that snake swam across the lake, slithered up onto the land, then went straight up a tree!

It wrecked me! 

You see, up until that point, I really, truly believed that there were water snakes, land snakes, and tree snakes. Maybe a land snake could be in a tree or vice versa, but I never in a million years did I dream that one snake could be in all three places. 

What else in this life had I been so wrong about? (Interstate signs are one thing, but that’s another story for another day.)

The vision of that snake swimming, crawling, and climbing haunted me for years. Then I saw a National Geographic special where a snake lurched out of the tree and seemingly flew! What the hell? No limbs, no fins, no feathers but yet…

For lo these many years, I’ve given snakes a wide berth because they apparently somehow have supernatural powers. That’s why, this past weekend during an excursion to the Ebenezer Swamp Ecological Preserve, when I suddenly spied Old Mr. No Shoulders in some shallow water just off the boardwalk, my heart skipped a beat…or ten. 

But for some reason, I didn’t scream and run away. And I didn’t spend too much time wondering if snakes can lurch themselves from the water, three feet straight up and onto a boardwalk. I just held my breath and watched it.

A copperhead (EDIT: I misidentified this snake…it is a common water snake identified by the “saddle” marking), its colors were the most magnificent pinks, oranges, burgandys and browns. I couldn’t get over how beautiful it was! And I wasn’t afraid at all.

Tragedy and I stood there stock still until I guess it felt us and started to make its way under the walkway. We watched it come out the other side and head over to some deeper water. We followed it along for quite some time until it finally disappeared for good into the shady, brackish swamp.

Unfortunately, this rare, unspoiled ecosystem and its inhabitants, like my new friend Mr. No Shoulders, are currently endangered by development of the surrounding lands into “house farms” that are slowly but surely choking off the groundwater and streams that feed it. Here’s the public notice for the most recent one. 

Among other things, it lists all the endangered species that might be affected and talks about things like “proposing to discharge fill materials into 20.45 acres of wetlands for the construction of housing foundations, 4.1 acres of wetlands for the construction of roadway foundation, and 2.69 acres of wetlands for the construction of storm-water detention structures.” That’s almost 30 acres if you’re trying to do the math. It goes on to talk about the thousands of feet of stream that will be filled in and the conversion of “forested wetland habitat to scrub-shrub wetland via mechanized land clearing.” Scrub-shrub is when all the old-growth trees are cut down and only the small, bushy things remain. 

Y’all know I’m a swamp witch at heart, and it just hurts me to the core to see our wild places being built over. It’s got to stop somewhere, because before we know it, everything we know to be true, sure, and certain – like flowing waters, tall trees, and woodland creatures – will be destroyed. And much like my naivete, that’s something you can never get back.

A few more quick things:

2 thoughts on “The Swamp and Old Mr. No Shoulders

  1. Beaitiful writing as always. Glad you and Mr.. No Shoulders had a peaceful co-existence!
    Regarding the development. Surely there is a way to prevent this from happening?
    We are losing our wildlands and farmlands at an enormous pace to greedy developers and clueless conspicuous consumption yuppies w/ McMansions in what I call “vomithoods” (neighborhoods they just throw up).
    It’s got to stop!

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