As the world honors Earth Day (April 22) this week, it’s a perfect time to tell you about my trip to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in the Western Everglades. It was a great way to spend a morning nurturing myself in nature during my month-long stay in Naples, Florida this past winter. I was so glad that the team at Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau recommended a visit.*
What makes Corkscrew Swamp special?
It was about a 30 minute drive from North Naples. Driving solo, I was thankful to have my GPS guide me into the wilderness.
Renee, a communications associate for Florida Audubon and Corkscrew, welcomed me upon arrival. You could tell she had a fondness for all that the Audubon Society has done, and continues to do, to protect the old Florida land and its diversity of forests, habitats and wildlife.
Renee provided a brief history: “Established as a Sanctuary in 1954, the land encompasses 13,000 acres primarily composed of wetlands and includes the largest remaining virgin bald cypress forest in the world and one of the largest nesting colony of Federally Endangered Wood Storks in the nation. It’s also an important habitat for many other Federal and State listed species — the Florida Panther, American Alligator, Gopher Tortoise, Florida Sandhill Crane, Limpkin, Roseate Spoonbill, Snowy Egret, Tricolored Heron, White Ibis, Big Cypress Fox Squirrel and the Florida Black Bear. Several rare plants are also found here, such as the Ghost Orchid.”
A mindful experience step-by-step
Renee left me at the start of the 2.25 mile boardwalk and encouraged me to explore and have a good experience.
Normally a two mile walk would take me about 45 minutes. Not this morning. I was going to take things slow and go step by step It was an exercise in mindfulness – tuning into the sounds of the birds, the rustling of the wind in the fields and the vibrations of the species under the wetlands and lettuce lakes. There’s something to be said for communing alone with nature. My auditory perception and visual cues were on high alert.
I followed the path along the pine flatwood, through the wet prairie and around a marsh hunting for alligators. “Come out, come out wherever you are,” I said quietly to myself, hoping even one bold alligator would arise from under the water to greet me. He or she never did. Maybe it was the chill in the air that kept him or her away.
Appreciating a seat in stillness
Midway through I took a break and sat down on a bench. I appreciated the stillness and reminded myself of the importance of living fully present in the moment, of being not doing. Instead of closing my eyes as I usually do when I meditate, I kept them open, looking out onto the wide expanse of the wilderness. It was so peaceful.
Into the old-growth cypress forest
Finally the trail took me into the old-growth bald cypress forest. I felt like Alice in Wonderland as I crooked my neck to take a photo. It’s hard to believe that many of these trees were alive when Columbus sailed to the new world.
Per the Corkscrew stats: “These impressive trees, relatives of the redwood, tower 130 feet into the sky and have a girth of 25 feet. Their massive branches are draped with mosses, lichens, bromeliads, and ferns. The forest is also home to hundreds of alligators, otters, white-tailed deer, and red-bellied turtles. A wide variety of wading birds, songbirds, raptors, and the fabulous Painted Bunting can be seen throughout the year.”
“Come out, come out wherever you are,” I echoed again to these delicate creatures. No deers or bears or turtles appeared.
Others on the trail had binoculars and offered guidance on where to focus. Ooh, ooh, ooh, I listened intently to the knock, knock, knock and then I saw a Pileated Woodpecker in the tree. A few steps further into lettuce lakes out peered a White Ibis. All was well.
Reaching the end of the boardwalk
More than two hours later I reached the end of the boardwalk. My journey through Corkscrew Sanctuary had been an enlightening experience. I definitely would do it again and I bet the next time it would be totally different. That’s what’s so wonderful about nature, no moment is ever the same.
As naturalist and environmental philosopher John Muir says, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul.”
I’m glad that Audubon’s mission at Corkscrew is “to protect the wild place for the wild things.” They say ” it is wild Florida as it’s supposed to be. It’s worth protecting & worth visiting.” I agree.
More information about visiting Corkscrew is available on its website. Advanced reservations are required. No walk-ins are accepted and there is no entrance after 1:15 p.m.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau provided me with a complimentary ticket to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Regardless, I only recommend places, products or services I visit or use personally and believe will be good for my readers.
Note: P.S.: Stay tuned for upcoming posts about great places to eat in Naples and highlights from my trip home on Amtrak’s auto train. If you missed my previous posts about my month-long stay in Florida you can find links below: