Accessibility links

Life is Primitive, Slow, in the Old Okefenokee

There are several places in America whose names are so unusual, they are fun to pronounce. Places like Chattanooga in Tennessee. Bogalousa in Louisiana. Moab in Utah. And a swamp called the Okefenokee.

A good chunk of Florida is swampland. The famous Everglades, which are really a slow-moving sheet of water rather than a stagnant swamp, cover a huge portion of the southern part of the state. The Okefenokee, which is partly in Florida and mostly in neighboring Georgia, is a true swamp, with reptiles, tropical birds, and thick vegetation. You'll find orchids in the Okefenokee, as you would in Hawaii. Even flesh-eating plants.

The primeval Okefenokee was formed in ancient times when waters from a prehistoric ocean receded. Left behind was an 1,800-square-kilometer wooded marsh.

There's not a big city within 200 kilometers of the Okefenokee, but tourists from all over the world somehow manage to find it. They learn that "Okefenokee" is an Indian name, meaning "land of trembling earth." That's because floating islands in the swamp -- called hammocks -- are so unstable, they tremble.

Okefenokee water is dark, like tea that has steeped a long time. The color comes from the chemical tannin, which seeps from cypress trees so thick, they form arches overhead. The water moves slowly, very slowly, unlike some of the air boats that skim through the swamp, tearing up delicate foliage.

These screaming boats are but the latest threat -- along with wildlife poaching and pollution from nearby developments -- to one of America's last aboriginal places. Earlier this month, nature unleashed yet another menace when a roaring wildfire charred more than 940 square kilometers of woodland. That's about half of the Okefenokee Swamp.