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Local swamps make wonderful playgrounds

I recently got my hands on a Swamp People DVD and was interested in taking a look at it. We don’t have cable or satellite television and doubt we ever will, so seeing the DVD for a few bucks was just the ticket to experience what I have been possibly missing. The Swamp People DVD episodes were pretty realistic and actually made me think of my own time growing up. Granted, we certainly don’t have any dangerous

swamps in our area. Some have sinkholes and deep mud that you could sink in and drown I suppose, but the ones filmed in Louisiana have that plus water moccasins, gators, big snapping turtles and who knows what else.

Still, I can remember we often played in the swamp as kids. We had the grandest times doing so too and we learned a lot about nature and so on while playing in the smelly mud. I saw my first watercress, edible aquatic salad, while walking along a feeder stream into a swamp. My buddy and I also did quite a bit of fishing in many of the swamps in King George. It seems strange though because now I never hear of the young people, even the countryboys, talking about fooling around in the swamp. Jackfish were first discovered by us in swamps off the Potomac River. Old timers told us what they were. We had no idea. To us they looked like baby alligators that mutated and lost their legs or something. Once we figured out what they were we asked the old timers how to catch them and then promptly hit Spiros and Chesley’s Tackle shops (both now gone, sadly) for all the red and white Dare Devil spoons we could get. What a hay day we had catching jackfish from then on!

I think we learned about life cycles through the frog eggs, tadpoles and frogs we observed in those tea stained waters. We were totally amazed one spring while wading around in the still chilly waters to see water salamanders (Eastern or Red Spotted newts) swimming around too. I cannot tell you how many jars of frog eggs we ever hatched and then replaced the tadpoles back into the swamp. Toads were also high on our springtime list of things to observe with their stringy eggs.

It was refreshing to see one of my daughter’s friends get excited about going to the swamp on our property four years ago. The girls all headed down there and when they came back an hour or two later they were full of stories. One of the young ladies was so excited about the Eastern newts she caught. Some research was done on the Internet and we all learned something about them. Now we head to the water every spring to check them out.

Crayfish were another thing that we often looked for but had a tough time catching in the swamp. Swamps just have so much vegetation in them and the critters have so many places to hide. Snapping turtles were our only real fear, well except snakes. We knew there were not supposed to be any water moccasins in our area but we still worried. No one likes to encounter a snake up close and personal without knowing it was there before you got up close and personal. That reminds me of our favorite pastime in the swamp.

We loved to go frog gigging. Frog legs are really good and frogging is fun. Some folks simply grab frogs. I am not that stealthy. Some folks shoot them. That is me these days and for good reason that I will explain later. Some people fish for them with a bright red piece of flannel on a small hook. We started out gigging. That is the way that we always did things years ago until we had a bad encounter.

I hate snakes by the way, even dead ones. One night we were frog gigging and one of us gigged a frog but the gig (a trident looking spearhead) got stuck in the log the frog was sitting on. I think it was me that tried to reach down and grab the frog so the other one of us could wrest the spear out of the wood. Just as I reached for the frog, a snake (Northern watersnake) that we did not see struck the frog. I recall stumbling backwards and yelling but my father’s gig pinned the snake in quick order.

The snake wrapped around the pole of the spear and stunk up the whole night air. WHEWWWEEE! It stunk like nothing I had ever smelled before. Have I told you that I hate snakes? Well, I hate snakes.

Since that time I carry either a high powered pellet rifle or a .22 rifle into the swamps to shoot frogs. However, I still go into the swamps and the kids still enjoy poking around the murky waters I used to use as my playground. I am just glad I don’t have to worry about a gator or poisonous snake biting them!  It is too bad that kids nowadays don’t get outside much. Swamps are just one of the playgrounds we learned about life on.

 

Mark Fike

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