I recommend it, once in a while. Saturday’s outing started out as serious business. We stood just a stone’s throw from the Huntingdon Valley fault line, an ancient break in the underlying rock that stretches through Montgomery and Bucks Counties, and crosses the Delaware River somewhere around Trenton. Seven near strangers had gathered in a lot near busy Welsh Road to do some swamp stalking. For what, you ask? Grasses and sedges and forbs … and the occasional box turtle. From there we walked the converted rail line on our way to the active tracks, passed easily by joggers, bikers and even walkers as we stooped to examine mile-a-minute vine, or focus our scopes on the blue forget-me-nots and the yellow moneywort in the natural basin below the path. As I said in a description of a similar outing, if you’re looking for exercise, do not go on a botanical walk.
The tracks were the end path to our destination. I have to wonder whether placing the wooden beams 19-and-one-half inches apart so that stepping on each one is awkward and skipping every other one even more awkward is a decision made to thwart walkers … but I digress. The tracks were also the very reason for our being there. In the mid-1870s the construction of rail lines required large amounts of landfill, which trapped water that had formerly flowed into the Pennypack Creek. Thus, a swamp was born, populated over the years with sweet flag and cattails, sedges of all kinds, and hummocks of ash and alder.
Tromping through the muck turns out to be one of the great pleasures of adult life. Minds and bodies entirely engrossed, we cross a muddy stream on a precarious log bridge. We pull stuck boots from the mire with a satisfying slurp and pop. We play king of the hummock. With seven flawed memories combined into one brilliant machine we identify dozens of common and not-so-common swamp dwellers. We interrupt (unintentionally, of course!) turtle coitus, and speculate about the ages of trees and the reasons for the ripples on certain blades of sweet flag (Acorus calamus). We follow deer paths. We spot a large colony of lizard’s tail, a.k.a. water dragon, a.k.a. Saururus cernuus—an imposing and beautiful native of the swamp. Repeatedly stymied by deep water, we at first back up to find dryer routes. But the muddier we get the more inclined we become to charge ahead, and take on another layer of mud. We should have realized from the start that this was half the point.
Now for those who might prefer dancing, or bowling, or watching a movie, to mucking about with swamp buddies, I offer these arguments:
1. Mud is a great equalizer. There are no fashion statements in the swamp.
2. So happy were we to be communing with mud that there were frequent eruptions of: “This is fun!” This does not happen in a movie.
3. Spontaneous camaraderie is rare. One should grab it wherever it can be found.