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A stroll through the swamp

by Daniel Lawton

Fountainebleau State Park in Mandeville, LA consists of 2,800 acres of swamp, woods, wilderness trails and camp sites, all bordered by Lake Pontchartrain. It was named after a forest near Paris by Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville, who first developed the land as a sugar plantation in the early 1800s. Today, the crumbling facade of the sugar mill can still be seen just off the park’s main entrance.

Only a few hundred yards away sits a sandy beach with swimming access to Lake Ponchartrain. The frame of the Causeway, the longest bridge over water in the country, dots the horizon, as does the occasional sailboat. And adjacent to the beach, a trail stretches its way through the brush and out to a boardwalk, where Bayou Cane, Bayou Castine and Lake Ponctchartrain all converge, a collision of three different ecosystems all flush with activity.

I went there at dusk, just as the burning pink sunset was dropping out of view below the distant cypress trees. I followed the boardwalk out to its end, at least three hundred yards into the swamp, and sat on a bench where a binocular had been stationed.

With it, I had an inside view of everything in the water. I watched the ducks milling about and occasionally erupting in a frenzy of splashing and spied two snakes, most likely water moccasins, swimming in a pair. There were no alligators in sight, despite the fact that the trail was named “Alligator Boardwalk,” but the water was constantly churning and rippling with mysterious activity, all of which I assumed was made by something gigantic and sinister.

One of the most startling qualities of a boardwalk is that it provides the illusion that you are walking on water, which makes it a bit scary and equally surreal. I was sitting on a bench in the middle of the swamp surrounded by fish, snakes, ducks and hundreds of other aquatic organisms, yet I wasn’t really in the swamp; I was just hovering there.

The breeze blew cold against my chest and the sun became fainter as the day slipped away. As darkness swallowed the horizion, the hum of the swamp seemed to grow more chaotic, more desperate. When there was no light left, I scurried off the board walk, down the winding trail and past a violently uprooted oak tree, before heading to my car.