In the south of Georgia, endless pine flatwoods part to make way for a great swamp, Okefenokee, in whose thickets and bays lives a population of black bears so healthy that the straight, sandy roads of that territory are crossed and crisscrossed by the imprints of their pads. Often they are glimpsed at dusk, disappearing into titi thickets. The bears ignore a delineation drawn in 1821, after the Spaniards conceded, that marks the boundary of Florida. And they ignore Highway 94, which changes to Highway 2 at the state line, built to connect minuscule Fargo, Georgia, to equally small Saint George, Georgia, after passing briefly through a corner of Florida. The bears traverse freely through country mostly alien and uninhabitable for humans, where the world yet belongs to the processes of rain, sun, water, fire, and wind. The names of the places where they forage, they mate, they birth, and they nurse their young in the mysterious patterns of black-bear society are not the names we have given these locales: Grand Prairie, Sego Bay, Sandy Drain, Sawgrass Head, Little Suwannee. Knowledge of these places is contained permanently in a vast and secret black-bear culture.
Many miles south of the immense swamp, the one named Okefenokee, lie the pine flatwoods of north-central Florida, interrupted by branches and bays, that we know as Osceola.
Okefenokee Swamp, Osceola National Forest.
The areas of these two wildlands, which are owned by the people of the United States, total more than half a million acres.Between them is a pocosin, connected to Okefenokee by sluggish Breakfast Branch and to Osceola by Impassible Bay.
We know it as Pinhook Swamp. The land between.
It is 170,000 acres of dreary dismal. A giant piece of ground too deep for a human to wade in, too shallow for a boat to draw. Too tangled for passage. Full of mosquitoes and yellowflies. A place that holds the world together. A natural feature full of natural features. Some of the last real wilderness in the South.
Pinhook’s fate has been to be ignored, even unnamed. Not that it wasn’t logged. Like most of the country, it was. But somehow Pinhook Swamp never lost its wild character, its mystery, its incomprehensibility, its elegance. The loggers logged and left. The trees returned.
Nobody knows much about it. Except the bears.
What if we bought Pinhook Swamp? What if we joined Osceola to Okefenokee? What if we preserved this “land between” for perpetuity? What if we added Moccasin Swamp to the east, Double Run Swamp to the west, Impassible Bay to the south? What if we dedicated ourselves to preserving and restoring a wild landscape, a corridor—O to O?
In the late 1980s that’s what began to happen, patch by patch. And in 2001 the piece of the puzzle that finally connected Georgia to Florida ecologically, a heavily logged pine plantation owned by a timber company bordering Florida Highway 2, snapped into place.
The public-lands corridor was connected. Not complete, but not severed. Not broken. And the buyback continues.
I am not writing simply to describe this particular place, Pinhook Swamp, a pocosin neighboring grand wildness, but to tell you its story, the sad and happy of it. Because it is the back of a turtle, this story, on which many things can ride.