It’s easy, living in a vast metro area that sometimes seems to stretch on forever, to forget what lies just beyond it. Perhaps “forget” is the wrong word, since of course we know what’s out there—the beaches, the mountains, the swamps, the rivers. But stay away from them for too long and those places start to feel like abstractions. I was reminded of this as we went over the photography that’s the centerpiece of our issue devoted to the environment, and to the almost preposterous variety of natural treasures Georgia boasts.
I need to get there, I kept telling myself. Cloudland Canyon. Cumberland Island. The Okefenokee.
In fact, it was the Okefenokee we decided to feature on the cover. All of the places we ended up highlighting are pristine in their own way, but the Okefenokee has a quality about it that I can only describe as ancient. Vast parts of the swamp’s 700 square miles are so remote and inaccessible they remain unexplored. A few weeks ago Kristin Kellogg, our design director, and Caroline C. Kilgore, our photography director, met up with John E. McDonald, the photographer we hired to shoot our cover at the Stephen C. Foster State Park, which lies within the larger national refuge that is the Okefenokee. Michael Ellis, a park ranger with the state, took them around in a boat, pointing out the alligators with a friendly warning: “It’s not the gators you can see that you should worry about.”
Kristin and Caroline had covered themselves in bug spray before heading out that morning, but then Michael explained that the acidity of the water wasn’t suitable for mosquito larvae. So, miracle: no bug bites. Although it’s not friendly to mosquitoes, the swamp is home to several threatened and endangered species, like the wood stork. Gliding over the black water (black from the decomposition of the plant life in and around it) is a chance to step back in time and see a part of Georgia as it existed generations ago.
As envious as I was of Kristin and Caroline’s trip to the Okefenokee, I did get my own adventure for this month’s issue. Closer to home, I spent time with the researchers who are racing to save our bat population from a fungus that’s decimating multiple species, not just in Georgia but across the country. Millions have died, and millions more likely will follow. It was a reminder that in nature, nothing is forever.
This article originally appeared in our August 2016 issue.