There is nothing more exciting and mysterious as a swamp. We had the most fantastic swamp right next door. Our house was in a new project that featured curvy roads built on what used to be a dairy farm.
The land was still wild and was about to be tamed by builders, contractors and families moving into the American dream residential area.
The best thing about being one of the first in this project was it wasn’t nearly finished.
There was so much life in the swamp. In the winter the swamp would freeze up in places and you could even walk on it. And fall through. It was fun to listen to the ice crack and guess how far you could go before you had to run back to avoid falling in. It never lasted very long.
The cattails were the most interesting part. They were thick and during the summer you could walk through them. The dried leaves were like corn husks that cut our bare arms and legs. I say our, because we were always a bunch of kids that virtually lived in the swamp.
The dragon flies, bull frogs and tadpoles were amongst the most plentiful creatures. The bull frogs were very smart. They sounded like oodles in numbers, yet when you got anywhere close they were quiet and almost never were to be found. They were tricky. We tried so many times to catch them. Oh, the swamp water was very dark in the places where the bull frogs were, so I suspect they understood that they could not be easily seen. Every now and they you could see their eyes pop up on the surface, only to disappear as soon as you made any movement.
The tadpoles on the other hand seemed to like the more clear swampy water. That water was away from the cattails towards the centre of the swamp. There were two kinds of frogs as I remember. The little green ones and the bullfrogs. The bullfrog tadpoles were very big. The dragon flies where so beautiful, yet scary at times. Who knew if they could kill you. They looked so dangerous, but never seem to want to attack us.
I must have ruined many pairs of shoes in that swamp. My friend got big tall rubber boots his mother gave him. He looked professional. He had nets to catch the frogs and dragonflies with. They were richer than we were.
More interesting wise, I got used to going bare footed. It saved me from my mother’s wrath. It was also neat to have the mud squish up from my toes. I wasn’t scared about anything biting me. The mud was warm and friendly and very black. It did stink sometimes depending on where you went in the swamp. It was so black sometimes it looked like oil.
The swamp was also mysterious because at times there was a mist that formed on and around it. The mist looked at like eerie ghostly figures that moved slowly and then disappeared. I wasn’t afraid of ghosts. I did make my brothers afraid because I loved to tell stories that I made up about seeing ghosts in the swamp.
One day I found, or took, a cement trawl mixer that actually looked more like a boat. I don’t think they would have really missed it since they left it out in the plain open. Construction projects provided plenty of things that could be used to have fun with or to help in building forts.
The only problem with this mixer boat was that it had nail holes in it. The swamp boat, as I called it, gave us about twenty minutes of fun before it started to fill up with water and sink. It was easier to wade in the swamp and tip it over to get the water out than it was to bail it out with a cup. Had to remember to take off my shoes though. The thought of my mom helped me do that.
A stick was all that was needed to push the swamp boat into the deeper parts of the swamp. Two almost three kids could fit in the boat without sinking. I would stand up and use the stick to move us around just like they did in the canals in Italy so I imagined.
There is something about moving about on a swamp boat that makes it so appealing. There were places where the swamp was a bit dangerous. A few times I got stuck in the mud and started sinking like quick sand. It was scary. So I did it again and again.
I would take home some of the tadpoles in a jar and keep them in my room. Most of the time they just died and started to smell up my room. Mom wasn’t happy about that. A few times they actually turned into frogs. Then died.
Little by little big trucks came in and started to fill in the swamp. People were complaining about mosquitoes. I don’t think I ever got bitten. In fact none of us kids ever had a problem with mosquitoes. They either didn’t like us or were afraid of us.
In a few years they completely ruined the swamp filling it in with dirt, gravel and sand. They made a road through to what used to be best place in the project and the swamp was no more. They took away what made most of us kids so happy to stay in our own neighbourhood. Now we had to go to the woods and other places where there were swamps and other things.
The feeling of joy being on a boat must have stuck with me because later I got the chance to join the Navy and be on many different kinds of bigger boats on much bigger swamps.