There was a slight drizzle of rain as Big Red followed Cathy and Keith toward the Great Swamp. After several miles on the main road, we turned onto the winding paved road that led deeper into the swamp to the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area on the eastern edge of the Okefenokee.
As we left populated areas and headed farther into the wilds, an peculiar quietness settled in. Only the mighty nickering of Big Red could be heard. Extending outward for miles from the snakelike road we were traveling was a sea of pine trees and palmetto bushes that, in the mist and drizzle, took on an almost eerie appearance. I had had some misgivings about our trip being rained on but now I felt good because we were seeing the swamp in a different perspective. Dark water filled a big ditch beside the road. We spotted several alligators lying in wait there for some unwary prey as we idled slowly along. I had no way of knowing how they perceived a high performance red Mustang convertible intruding into their territory.
We emerged from the woods into the imposing recreation area. We followed Cathy and Keith to a parking area and I reined Big Red in and let him rest.
The Suwannee Canal Recreation Area is big and beautiful. There is a dandy gift shop and a museum. There is a small deli where you can get a sandwich made to order. You can board a boat there and travel two miles along the Suwannee Canal into the foreboding Okefenokee. There is a huge picnic shelter replete with delightful tables and benches. The shelter is set in a mat of plush green grass and there are several Jim-dandy barbecue grills about the place. The scene was relaxing and invited us to loosen up and enjoy the day.
As we milled about our vehicles admiring the spot, Cathy, with smile and a sparkle in her voice, said the magic words “Do yall want to eat first or take the tour?”
Well, you know me. I could hardly wait to see what our Weight Watcher woman had packed for lunch. “Let’s eat, take the tour and then eat some more,” I promptly replied.
“That sounds good,” chimed B. J. and Keith.
We retrieved the delectable dishes from Cathy’s van and the drinks B. J. and I had brought and we selected a table under the big shelter. Cathy, having known me for a long time, could sense my anxieties. Keith had that hungry look, too.
Cathy set out big bowls of turkey salad, potato salad, and fruit salad all prepared in healthy Weight Watcher fashion. There were also some new kind of tasty chips and crackers. We said our blessing and got right to the fixings. I kept a cautious lookout for any primitive creatures that might be lurking in the area. I didn’t relish any ferocious reptiles joining us for lunch.
We chatted amiably about this and that as we munched happily on the toothsome edibles. Cathy and her family are lots of fun. We were getting off to a great start for the day.
Following lunch, we ambled over to the welcome center and the gift shop. I was impressed by the “swampy” design of the buildings and the interior décor gave me the feeling of indeed being in the Okefenokee. The gift shop displayed many delightful things. Of course, B. J. and I had to have a souvenir cup to add to our collection of cups from around the world. In addition, Keith and Cathy bought me a nice T-Shirt with the Okefenokee logo on the front. I am enjoying wearing it. Cathy introduced us to a friend of hers who is a true, born and bred, native of the Okefenokee. She is an employee of the National Park Service and is the youngest of 12 children who were raised in the Okefenokee just a few miles away from where we were standing. A visit to the home where she grew up was on our agenda for the day. I want to return some time and interview her for a story.
As we ambled about the museum and strolled outside, sure enough we spotted a big alligator lying quietly beside the Suwannee Canal just a few feet from us. He was in good creeping distance of the picnic area. I guessed that he didn’t like the aroma of Cathy’s Weight Watcher lunch. He opted for the frogs and fish abundant in the swamp.
Well, the time had come to begin the third phase of our trip. We had to ride several more miles into the swamp to begin the walking tour.