Written by Elam Stoltzfus
October 7th, 2013
This 90-second interstitial is a segment from the 13 part series I produced for WUSF and funded by the Mosaic Company. Creating this series was an opportunity to dig into the archives of previous footage and tell new stories about a collection of great natural environments in Florida.
In 1989 I made my first trip into the Big Cypress National Preserve. Bev and Mike Lewis of Silk Purse Productions in Tallahassee were producing a special PBS production about Clyde Butcher. This introduction was filmed with Clyde, a fine-art landscape photographer, and his wife, Niki. They were a gracious host and hostess.
What I found upon entering was amazing; the vast prairie landscape was dotted with miniature bald cypress trees. There was beauty of big open sky space. I remember walking through the swamp grass and feeling the sponginess of the soil. It was during the drier season of the year. We filmed in the Big Cypress area for several days. I recall climbing up a 12-foot ladder to film Clyde with his old pre-civil war view camera out in the middle of the prairie. There was sense of smallness in the middle of this huge landscape, yet an intimate moment of interacting with this ancient land.
Fast forward to the year 2008 and 2009: I was spending weeks in the Big Cypress National Preserve putting together an hour-long documentary, The Big Cypress Swamp: the Western Everglades. By this time Clyde Butcher had established the Big Cypress Gallery right in the middle of the Preserve along Highway 41. With the use of their cottage, this was home base for almost two years of documenting the swamp. The Preserve was a great partner providing logistics and giving me access to remote areas of the 700,000-acre region.
During my few years of documenting the Big Cypress region, I began to understand that this a hotbed of biological diversity. It contains a mixture of tropical and temperate plant communities that are home to a diversity of wildlife, including the elusive Florida panther.
I have several great memories from my time filming the documentary. One was being with two landowners, Steve DeLine and “Hoss” Cartwright, during a trip to their hunting camp about halfway between Monroe Station and I-75 within the preserve. The trip took five hours by swamp buggies. The location was remote and very wild; located among a series of cypress domes.
Another moment was coming back from Bear Island Camp area and seeing a young panther crossing the road. Sammy Tedder was traveling with me; he was able to get a quick image on his still camera.
One evening I had set up the camera and ladder, just north of Wagon Wheel Road to capture a time-lapse sunset. As I was standing on the ladder (this takes about 45 minutes) waiting for the camera to capture the sequence, I heard some sloshing in the distance. The sound became more prominent and closer. As I continue to scan the horizon for what was making this sound, I finally spotted a Florida Black Bear meandering around the cypress strand and slowing moving around to the right of my location. I never moved and observed his movement until the bear disappeared in the distance.
Big Cypress Swamp provided me with an interaction with nature, up close and personal. After spending so much of my time on location to document the “Eden swamp”, I took a bit of the swamp that now is part of my soul, but I also left a bit of my soul in the deep swamp of the Western Everglades.
Now, fast forward again to 2012, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition traveled through the Big Cypress National Preserve as we transversed from the Everglades to Okefenokee. Its here we met up with Bob DeGross, Big Cypress Preserve Chief Park Interpreter, and Franklin Adams, Florida Wildlife Federation Board member. They both talked about the importance to have large-scale wilderness areas for wildlife and for people. These places of quiet, remote wilderness are for the healing of the soul and renewal of the spirit. The Expedition team camped out in the primitive camp ground before hiking through the addition lands on our way to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation.
For more information about the Big Cypress Swamp: Western Everglades go to: http://www.bigcypressswamp.org/home.html or http://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/big-cypress-national-preserve. The National Preserve has a Visitor’s welcome center with a theatre and an educational display to learn more about the Big Cypress Swamp.
For more information about landscape photographer Clyde Butcher visit www.ClydeButcher.com. A must see place is the Clyde Butcher Gallery along Highway 41, halfway between Naples and Miami.