He has come here to die…

​A spooky excerpt from A Florida Sketch-Book, by naturalist Bradford Torrey, written in 1895:

Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura, perched on a dead Cypress with Spanish Moss; Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 5, 2017. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

​There—going one day farther than usual—I found myself in the borderland of a cypress swamp. On one side was the lake, but between me and it were cypress-trees; and on the other side was the swamp itself, a dense wood growing in stagnant black water covered here and there with duckweed or some similar growth: a frightful place it seemed, the very abode of snakes and everything evil. Stories of slaves hiding in cypress swamps came into my mind. It must have been cruel treatment that drove them to it!

Buzzards flew about my head, and looked at me. “He has come here to die,” I imagined them saying among themselves. “No one comes here for anything else. Wait a little, and we will pick his bones.” They perched nearby, and, not to lose time, employed the interval in drying their wings, for the night had been showery. Once in a while one of them shifted his perch with an ominous rustle. They were waiting for me, and were becoming impatient. “He is long about it,” one said to another; and I did not wonder.

Cypress Trees, Spanish Moss, blackwater of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 5, 2017. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com

The place seemed one from which none who entered it could ever go out; and there was no going farther in without plunging into that horrible mire. I stood still, and looked and listened. Some strange noise, “bird or devil,” came from the depths of the wood. A flock of grackles settled in a tall cypress, and for a time made the place loud. How still it was after they were gone!

I could hardly withdraw my gaze from the green water full of slimy black roots and branches, any one of which might suddenly lift its head and open its deadly white mouth! All about me gigantic cypresses, every one swollen enormously at the base, rose straight and branchless into the air. Dead trees, one might have said,—light-colored, apparently with no bark to cover them; but if I glanced up, I saw that each bore at the top a scanty head of branches just now putting forth fresh green leaves, while long funereal streamers of dark Spanish moss hung thickly from every bough.

The dismal swamp had me under its spell, and meanwhile the patient buzzards looked at me. “It is almost time,” they said; “the fever will do its work,”—and I began to believe it.

iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/32788894

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