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Dismal swamp

Dismal swamp,

Crackertown Florida isn't too far off from Hoodoo and Bugscuffle, down
southeast of Cedar Key. I'd come looking for rocks to build a live rock reef
the Orlando Embassy Suites Hotel, and felt like the sailor who once said
"water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink". Florida is full of
rocks, but none of them suited me. I was in need of a drink as well, so I
stopped in at the general store.

The flaxen haired lass behind the counter was much intrigued that anyone
could possibly want rocks, or could it have been that I was from somewhere
far away and wasn't one of her cousins? Now inbreeding can go either way,
it was clear that it hadn't done her lineage a bit of harm. Good swamp
stock. She'd been to Tampa, and dreamed of someday going to Disney World.
Hope blooms eternal.

I was so enchanted that I paid no attention to the other customers. Suddenly
we were interrupted by a great booming voice that said, "Rocks? You want
rocks? Why sheeeit! I've got a plenty of rocks!" There stood Marty Carter, a
huge shaggy bearlike man in bib overalls. He'd come to town (such as it was)
on his monthly trip in for supplies. He asked if I would pay for the rocks.
When I said yes, if I liked them, he would have jumped for joy if he could
have. This was his lucky day! I liked him right away, and figured he knew
rocks, so we headed back to his home at the head of Dismal swamp.

As we crept up the rutted dirt road it was clear that Marty hadn't lied.
There were rocks everywhere, rocks on top of more rocks, big flat slabs of
limestone on either side of the Holler going all the way up the swamp to
the St John's river. The rich valley bottom pasture was an overgrown
thicket of pokeweed, St John's wort and possumhaw. Marty only had a couple
of cows and a 
five chickens, but they were doing just fine. The swamp was a tangle of
vegetation worthy of the tropics, and in fact the next swamp over was called
The Devils Jungle. Marty's cabin made Snuffy Smith's house look like a
condo. It 
was easy to see that this was a place unchanged by time where life was still

I made him an offer and he accepted on the spot. Marty had been farming
all his life, but this was the first time he had ever been paid for it. I
told him I would be back in the spring when the job was due to start.

One fine day in May I rolled up the swamp in a big flatbed truck. My
faithful employee Big John was already standing there in Marty's front yard
holding up a big cotton mouth by the head. He had almost stepped on it
when he parked his truck in the yard. This was a brave and foolhardy act,
John wasn't a herper and had never picked up a snake before in his entire
life, but that's just the kind of guy he was, and that's why he worked for

It isn't neighborly to just begin work right away, good manners dictate that
you "set on the porch a spell" first. At the time I had a beautiful but
overly sensitive girlfriend who had come along for the adventure. She asked
Marty if she might use the bathroom. He was a shy man who hardly knew what
say, especially to a pretty girl, so he stuttered a bit and said, "Well Mam,
I ain't rightly got no bathroom". She replied, "I understand Marty, I meant
the outhouse". Marty blushed and said, "like I said Mam, I don't rightly got
no outhouse". It seemed that the hill behind the cabin served all of Marty's

When Cindy returned she told me that the hillside had lots of the flat rocks
that I was looking for, and that an old road ran up there so I could get the
truck to the site. The grass covered hill faced south into the warm spring
sun. It had been cold for the last week, but the sun was shining bright and
this was indeed a fine day in May.

Marty couldn't see very well and didn't move too fast, so we slowly ambled
the hill to look at the rocks. The first thing I saw was a big fat cotton
stretched across the road, then another on a rockpile, and another, and
another. "Look out Marty, you're about to step on one!"

There were copperheads to the left of us and cotton mouths to the right.
couldn't see any of them and was greatly distressed to discover that the
toilet facility that he had been using for his entire life was in fact a
snake den! None of this was more than 50 to100 feet from his back door, and
he had no idea for all those years. Once he realized that he was surrounded
by invisible snakes he was almost too scared to move. I suppose he has been
constipated ever since.

Marty begged me to catch or kill the snakes, so I complied and caught
thirteen of the cotton mouths, five or six copperheads, a huge blotched
almost seven feet long, a beautiful tricolored milksnake, two black
kingsnakes, a blacksnake, several garter snakes, several wormsnakes, one
coral snake and 
about a dozen ringnecks. It was the best day of snakehunting I have ever

Most of the snakes were released a short distance away, but Big John was
proud of having caught his first snake, and wanted to keep several of the
milksnakes for pets, so we built a nice big cage and installed them in our
Yuppie apartment complex in Orlando. Three of them were gravid, and after
the first shed and a feeding we released them all in good habitats around

Things didn't turn out quite so well for Big John. I paid him much too much,
so he developed dissolute habits and let the money go to his head, up his
nose to be precise. Shortly after absconding with a big wad of cash that he
had "borrowed" as he put it, another of his creditors put an end to his
career with a .38 slug between the eyes.

John's coworker Andrew had an even worse fate. He took the money I paid him
and went to law school to become a lawyer.

As for Dismal swamp, I passed by that way a few years ago. The road up the
holler was gated, and a subdivision was being built. I stopped in at the
general store. The lovely lass was a trailer wife. She told me Marty was
dead, and the store would be closing soon due to the new Walmart Supercenter
going in up the road. As for the snakes, I didn't have the heart to look.
But then again, those rocks sure were nice.