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Honey Island Swamp

Honey Island Swamp

Echoes of a Forest Primeval

by Jeff Junker

It’s been years since I was in the Honey Island Swamp, so I felt it was time for a return trip.   Three previous occasions were camping trips taking place in the dead of winter. I never did see any wildlife on those trips, but I certainly heard eerie sounds coming from deeper in the swamp.

This time I hoped to see some critters, so I booked a trip with Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp tour outside of Slidell, Louisiana. We headed down the West Pearl River towards it mouth, and then took a westerly turn into an oxbow. It was here that the voluminous canopies of cypress and tupelo gum trees seen from the raised portion of I-10 open up in hauntingly prehistoric vistas.

It’s easy to suspend belief here, making a Bigfoot-type creature roaming the ridges that rise feet above the murky swamp a possibility.

Jay Toups, author of The Storm, was on one of those earlier trips with me about 40 years ago. In his book, he talked about his experience in the swamp:”Darkest dark I ever remember: no moon, no stars. I remember thinking it was so dark, that it felt as if the dark would invade and remove all the heat from my body.”

Here nature’s beauty is as breathtaking as it is dangerous, as it wasn’t long before alligators started circling our aluminum-hull boat. I could have reached down and petted them.

Spanish moss covered gum trees, salvinia-matted water, and exposed cypress tree roots dominated the landscape. You could almost hear the faint echoes of long ago black bears padding through the muck; of deer treading softly, nibbling on the underbrush; of raccoons foraging along the banks; of alligators barking in the distance.

Longfellow painted the picture perfectly:

“This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic  .  .  “

Dr Wagner’s Swamp Tour is in Slidell Louisiana, off I-10 on the opposite side of the Cross Gates subdivision.

Photos copyrighted by Jeff Junker