Reflections on the Swamp

Tommy Malone, landowner and resident of Tallahassee, Florida, shares his view of what makes the Swamp so captivating.  

"Horn Swamp is a large parcel of land, cradled on three sides by the Alabama River.  It is river bottom land, but perched high above the river bed, and yet susceptible to spring flooding by the formidable swelling of the river.

As its name implies, swamp.  In many places the ground saturated and unstable.  It is isolated.  Unspoiled.  Wild and uninhabited.

It is a place cleansed and nurtured by the river.  Spring flood waters whisk the forest litter and debris away.  The under story remains clear and unobstructed.  Rich topsoil and nutrients are deposited and the deciduous hardwoods prosper, producing an abundance of fall mast.  Winter staples of the wildlife, ....

Once including, prehistoric man.  The Swamp was also inhabited by native Americans, as evidenced by the stone points, pottery shards, and middens which are commonly revealed upon the higher ground.  Chert, flint, sandstone and limestone are endemic and many of the implements found in the Swamp are crafted of these materials.  However, other artifacts produced from extraneous materials such as obsidian and hematite indicate that a prolific trade existed within the Swamp.

Horn Swamp is but a small portion of a larger antebellum plantation, owned by my family for generations.  It is dotted with the abandoned and dilapidated dwellings, barns, cribs, shallow wells, corrals and cemeteries of the sharecroppers and slaves  who once toiled the land. The remnants of these manmade structures are all but obscured as the Swamp has again reclaimed its ground.  It once was tamed by agriculture, but now has reverted back to the natural sylvan fauna of the Alabama Black Belt.

The small and irregular fields of cotton, corn, and soybeans are gone.  And too are the stands of ancient live oaks which once mushroomed, majestically, from within the boundaries of many of these small fields;  providing shade and shelter to the livestock released to glean the waste grains after harvest.  They have been usurped by pine plantations, native grasses and shrubs.

Little has endured of these now extinct cultures other than the artifacts and the memories of those old enough to have been witness.

The Swamp is timeless.  One can still feel the presence of the generations of people that once thrived here.  Their harsh, yet simple ways of life are duplicated in the behaviors of the wildlife. It can be seen in the mockingbird, warming in the late afternoon sun of a winter day.  It can be felt in the urgency of the flock of robins, the squirrels and the deer, hurriedly feeding in preparation of the coming storm. It can be heard in the swaying creak of the towering hardwoods, the lonely bidding of the barred owl, and the rallying barks and yips of the coyotes.

There is peace here in the Swamp. Harmony.  A balance of nature.  Yearnings are absent.  Needs simple.  Nothing is wasted.

 There are no excesses.

The wildlife which inhabit the Swamp are too,  timeless.  They have inhabited this land long before time was first recorded.  And shall long after our time here is done.   Individuals have come and gone.  The abundance of each specie over time has waxed and waned with the availability of food and refuge.  Yet with few exceptions, each has managed to survive.

The essence of the Swamp is infectious, slowly permeating one's mind, body, and soul.  Slowing one's pace.  It becomes an element of one's chemistry. It causes one to stop and marvel at nature, the interactions and dependencies, harsh yet beautiful.  And appreciate the little things taken for granted.

It initiates contemplation of the past, present, and future...

And wonder at how far removed we have become from it all."

Tommy Malone & a big 8 pointer 
taken from the Swamp's "Red Field."

All that stands from an old 
catch-pen, from the days 
that cattle roamed the Swamp.

Remains of a chimney at a former sharecropper's house-site.  

A log crib, its roof of deteriorated
cedar shakes giving way, causing the demise of one of the Swamp's oldest standing structures.   

An old sharecroppers cabin, with 
damaged tin roof, in its final 
years of existence in the Swamp.  


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